1984, 1992, 2002: Why riot survivors 'move on'

Everyone is moving on. The victims of the 2002 riots in Gujarat, the 1992 violence in Mumbai, the anti-Sikh killings of 1984. A small minority of die-hard advocates are left holding the banner of justice, while the rest just get on with their lives. The memories of the horror endure, as do the scars, but the desire for retribution wilts with the exigencies of time. This is what we call "closure" in India.

"Though justice still eludes them, the bravehearts have learnt to smile once again. They have shown the world 'LIFE MOVES ON'. Jeena isi ka naam hai!" concludes a recent Daily Bhaskar feature on Gujarati Muslims who suffered the worst of the violence. Qutubuddin Ansari still feels "betrayed and cheated" by all politicians, but his priorities are clear: "I just want aman, shanti and rojgar (harmony, peace and employment) in Gujarat. I don't care whether it's Narendra Modi or Congress, I want jobs for our neglected kids."

“I am still not been able to resuscitate. The scars will never heal. They will continue to hurt the future generations. My sister was chopped and push in bonfire," insists Fatima Bibi, but concludes, "We just want jobs for our kids and a decent livelihood. Modi's hat-trick will neither make us happy nor sad."

Riot affected people take part in a peace protest in Ahmedabad. AFP

Quote after quote reaffirms the same. The past is done, all we care about is the future.

Survivors of the 1992 Mumbai riots echo the sentiment in a recent Open magazine feature. They too have moved on -- and out, creating a more ghettoised Mumbai, with Hindu and Muslim victims opting for the greater safety of living among their own. Even so, Jyoti Punwani reports:

Today, it is education that is everyone’s aim, Sajid and Siraj point out. Globalisation has opened avenues for Muslims that the State had denied them. Moreover, the Judiciary remains secular. The hatred of the Ayodhya years and riots of the time belong to a century that is more than a decade past.

Those who have found a place in this new economic order have got on with their lives: Rizwan whose father's whose hands were cut off by the neighborhood shakha works for a Hindu-owned company; Ruksana whose husband is still 'missing likes her job as a cleaner, the only Muslim in a Marathi school; the Inamdars who who restarted their destroyed garment business in a Hindu-dominated area of the city. The unlucky -- like the parapalegic Pawan Patil or Rubina Shaikh who still has sharpnel in one eye -- continue to wait, not for justice but a better life.

Everyone has moved on, including, it seems, the Shiv Sena:

Today, many believe that Muslim youth are being falsely implicated in bomb blast cases by the Congress-led regime. Some say that they are keen to give the Sena a second chance, but cannot risk openly campaigning for it until the party puts up at least a couple of Muslim candidates in Hindu areas.

The Sena may oblige. “We are looking for good Muslim candidates,” says Sena leader Jaywant Parab, a man who was convicted of a hate speech in the 1992 riots but forged ties with Muslims during a brief stint in the Congress. He is not the only one. Baburao Mane, acquitted in a riot case, has started a multi-lingual school in Dharavi where Urdu teachers feel freer than they did in Urdu-only schools. Former Shakha Pramukh Hemant Koli, whose name featured unfavourably in the Srikrishna Report, today assures people that no riot can break out in his Masjid Bunder area: “We are all friends now.”

It's unlikely that many Muslims share Koli's rosy view, but both Sainiks and their victims subscribe to a clear-eyed pragmatism that accepts that bygones are indeed gone (never mind that the price of such pragmatism is far higher for the latter).

If the Sainiks have been let off the hook, so has the Congress party and its Gandhi-led leadership, which has long been forgiven by Sikhs for past sins, as MJ Akbar noted in a recent op-ed:

Congress ruled Delhi in 1984 when police looked the other way while around 5,000 Sikhs were massacred by mobs in the capital. The count across the country was much higher. Congress leaders who led the mobs and held back the police were rewarded with high office, which continues to this day; and Delhi's magnificent police still cannot frame a convincing case to send Sajjan Kumar to jail. In comparison, the judicial process in Gujarat has sent some of the guilty to prison. But Sikhs have moved on.

Everyone moves on -- except for a dedicated and vocal minority. 'Gujarat' v 'Delhi' become catchwords in a circular, polarised debate among die-hard BJP and Congress loyalists, while activists and some media outlets dutifully mark each riot anniversary as an act of conscience.

So is all this "moving on" a good thing? A sign perhaps of that famous Indian resilience in the face adversity? So it is, but such 'resilience' ought not to be mistaken for a choice -- or celebrated as one. These "bravehearts" -- as Daily Bhaskar puts it -- do not choose to move on, they simply have to. In a nation where legal justice remains an unlikely prospect, where communal violence and its consequences are determined by politics and politicians, waiting for vindication is a fool's game.

"That the Congress could get away without noting the massacre on its 28th anniversary this year is a reminder that the pretense of apology by the guilty may be the most effective way of denying justice to the victims," writes Hartosh Bal of Manmohan Singh's expeditious mea culpa to the community on a New York Times blog.

He's wrong. The 'most effective' is giving them -- as Shakeela insists -- "jobs, jobs, and only jobs, whether its Modi or Congress." If Modi wants to jettison the cross of Godhra, he needs to offer the Muslims neither sadbhavna melas nor apologies, but pay closer heed to Maulana Shamshuddin Sheikh, who bluntly says, “Muslims want a good livelihood, nothing else. It would help them make peace with the loss."

Better to seek a real path to the future than rely on fictitious promises to redress the past. The most vulnerable amongst us -- irrespective of community or caste -- have learnt this lesson, over and over again, long since the bloody days of Partition.  Justice is dead, long live vikas.

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