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first-hand account on recent happenings in Gujarat

8 Mar 2002

Subject:      IIMA's experience

  Dear All
       The last few days have been the most trying for all in Gujarat. Some of us (faculty and students) were in deep anguish over what had happened at Godhra and Ahmedabad over the last few days. We had seen the city burn and were unable to do anything to prevent it. We saw on the media, faces of families plead for safety with police and saw pictures of families charred in the train and in their private vehicles. We saw people beaten and then burnt to death. And all this while our helplessness rose.

       Yesterday morning about 60 of us - some faculty members and a number of students sat outside the IIMA gate for a day long "fast for peace". We set up durries and sat there quietly, put up posters asking for peace and condemning the violence in Gujarat, and set up signup posters where any citizen could sign for peace. Our purpose was to express our anguish over! meaningless violence, help build confidence in civil society in the city and express support for non-violence in this land of Gandhi. And all of this was done peacefully. People started stopping by to sign our peace request poster - in couple of hours there were over 300 who showed solidarity by signing it.

       But there were others too.  As soon as we set ourselves up, a Maruti esteem stopped by and four people stepped out and condemned us for what we were doing - they accused us of being negligent of the majority community's woes (we could not convince that we were sitting in peace for all who have been affected in all violent incidents in Gujarat), deplored u! s of where were we when killings were happening in Kashmir, taunted us that we should sit in at Juhapura (one of the areas that saw large scale violence) and see if  we would survive there and warned us that we were here in the city to teach management and not indulge in "politics".

      Over a period of two hours several groups came by, shouted at us and asked us to go inside the campus. They felt that we were portraying a negative image of an area that was otherwise peaceful. Several well-wishers amongst the dhabas outside the gate and from within the campus also advised us that we should leave lest some people may hurt us. By this time, word had spread in the city about a group of people from IIMA who were holding a peace sit-in - by the way, this was the only civil society expression in the city till then.

       Media also came to know about it. Just then a crowd of twenty people walked over towards us. Most of us were sitting quietly and few of us were standing around. The crowd was very aggressive, repeated the same story (as others had done) to us, kept saying that if were Hindus then we should go indoors - we peacefully stood there without getting provoked; our faculty & students kept sitting with placards in their hands despite them being shouted at or being pushed; some in the crowd pleaded with us to go away, some threatened us and the institute, some counseled us and all condemned us as sympathizers of the minority.

       Soon we started seeing people showing up with cricket bats and wickets. The group tore all the posters and signature sheets and burnt some of them. They started pulling the durries from underneath those who were sitting. At this time we decided to walk away and go back into the institute. The crowd was happy, their mission was accomplished, and they raised slogans of Jai Shree Ram and Bharat Mata ki Jai and walked way. Quiet once again prevailed at the IIMA Gate.

      The boys and girls from IIMA who were joined by several students of CEPT/Gujarat University and staff of GIDR, PRL etc. were face to face with boys & men like them – somewhere between 17 and 35 years - all wearing decent clothing, some speaking impeccable English, mostly logical, many were assiduously trying to explain to us their positions; they may have been students and businesspeople and clerks as there must have been  fathers and brothers amongst them. Some s! aid that there  were two VHP municipal counselors amongst them. While there was peace in the eyes and face of those sitting, there was anger in the eyes of those who did not want us there. And all of us saw the face of  (un)civil society.

       This was a first such contact for many - at one level it has shaken all of us - not because of the aggression that we faced but because we lost the freedom to express peacefully. And this is the land of Gandhi. We came back in and continued our fast individually. We are very proud of our students who sat with Gandhian ahimsa in their heart and peaceful defiance of violence on their face. What they learnt was self restraint, self respect, tolerance and the need for pe! ace.

       I write this because I met several brave boys and girls who any parent, any employer and the entire society will be proud of. They have allowed to keep our faith in civil society alive. The entire event, however, was education for all of us.

      This time the violence  had some new characteristics: it was very targeted - shops, houses and establishments  of the minority community were singled out and destroyed; violence spread away from the old city to newer and more affluent areas of the city; and prominent citizens (e.g., former member of parliament, sitting judge of the high court, former chairman of MRTP commission etc.) were also not spared.

      And worst still, since yesterday "ten commandments" are being circulated - some of these are - people should not do business with the minority community, should not buy food from their shops or go to their restaurants, should not hire them for jobs, should not see films that have actors or directors etc form amongst this community etc. This is systematic violation of freedom in our country and the entire government machinery, the prime minister, home minister, chief minister etc., is unable to utter one word of solace to the community.

       The CM of Gujarat has ordered a judicial enquiry for Godhra, which is the right thing to do, but is refusing to do the same in Ahmedabad and other cities. Such is the face of the government. I hope people who support and finance these groups within the country and abroad will learn from this event.

       I just now came back from a peace march that was organized by the Gandhians from Kochrab Ashram to Sabarmati Ashram (both were places where Gandhiji had lived and are about 8 km apart) - this was attended by about 1000 people. The mood was somber but there was resolve to win over this situation. I think Gandhiji is more relevant today than ever. Hope things are well with you all.

Pankaj
(Prof Pankaj Chandra)


The Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia was formed in 1993 to combat rising religious intolerance in South Asia and to campaign for peace and justice in the region. We are committed to working towards a just, non-violent resolution of the crisis we are currently living through. If you are interested in joining us in this work, please call 617-983-3934 or e-mail info@alliancesouthasia.org

2 Jul 2007

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