Godhra, meet me at Gulberg

Today is the 10th anniversary of the Godhra massacre in Gujarat and of the riots that followed. The questions I want to ask are simple: What do we commemorate? What do we remember? Who remembers and whose memory has some power of truth? What I present is a composite story.
Imagine you are a survivor. Surviving and remembering almost go together. It is as if surviving is a craft which includes memory as a skill. I ask myself, what does it mean to survive and I tell my story to a social scientist. I call him the munshi of pain.
Imagine the riot like an onion. No. Not an onion. An onion brings tears to the eyes without feelings. Imagine a human being as layers of skin. Imagine you are peeling each layer as a scream of pain. The riot was a composite of different forms of violence. It began as a shock, a shock that your neighbour is a killer and wants to rape you. It is a shock that he hates you merely for who you are. The shock grows to fear as he kills without a thought in his head. Screaming every Godhra needs a Gulberg, he kills a family, rapes a child because he thinks he is balancing history. Riots create a strange mathematics where two wrongs make a right.
Peel the first skin of the shock, to reveal the scandal of fear, as the neighbourhood becomes a machine for murder. Peel away the skin that is not allowed to mourn or grieve because the violence is collective. Bodies are dumped and burnt anonymously. It is not even the logic of revenge I am talking about, but the logic of elimination. The voices in the crowd seek extermination, they want to kill so they can root out a community. It is murder as a collective act of erasure.
History is such an easy pretext for violence. But history is not homogenous. The accusing finger knows how to discriminate. Because in pointing the finger at murder, it can also show there were areas of Gujarat where the violence was contained. They existed. People survived and people were protected. Gujarat did not behave homogenously. To tell the truth of violence, we must tell the truth of non-violence, of people who refused to kill because simple decency and simpler civics did not allow for it.
Peel the third layer and there is horror about the kind of violence. Gujarat showed an intensity which was frightening. Violence combined arson, rape, murder, the burning of bodies. But it did not stop there. Violence was a hate which persisted long after the bodies were dead. Violence was a tactic that prevented a return to normalcy. Violence became prolonged when we could not return to our homes, our neighbourhoods and had no access to our livelihoods.
Peel another layer and one confronts a survivor who must be a witness. It is not that we do not want to heal, forget or move on. As women, we do not want our children to carry the burden of violence, the trauma of perpetual fear. But to forget we need to be normal. Do not forget, work is a form of therapy and justice is healing.
A survivor has to be a witness and being a witness is a rediscovery of citizenship. To obtain dignity, we had to reinvent ourselves — to witness was an act of learning, an act of citizenship where we discovered our rights. To tell the truth is to state you are citizen. To tell the truth is to discover a community of truth. To discover the truth is to discover that you are not alone in telling the truth.
To be a witness is not easy. It is to stand up in court in front of a society that threatens you, in front of the men who have raped and murdered and point to the truth. It is to relive the violence and tell a truth which the perpetrator and the police watch with contempt or indifference. It is to be treated as an illiterate by the law as you seek refuge in the law.
For us, the law is a claim to sanity. The law as a rule of law is a protection against majority politics. For us the law is a guarantee that those who threaten us are still subject to the law. The law is a guarantee that even the policeman and the bureaucrat are under the law. When the law lets us down, then the survivor becomes truly homeless.
There is something about the language of riots that hurts. The politicians say things are normal, that we must forget, that we must all develop together. We want normalcy and we want development. Come to our transit camps and explain why transit is a word for a place that is 10 years old today. Explain what transit means to children who were born there and know no other life. Forget justice, give us tap water, jobs, a guarantee that you will not repeat this on our children and we are ready to move on.
This is why many of us meet at Gulberg today. Gulberg was a scene of mass murder.
Gulberg is all of us. It demands from you an ethics of memory, a code of honour and our rights as citizens. Till then, the houses at Gulberg stand empty to remind you of the emptiness in our lives. Gulberg, as it stands, is the beginning of the sadbhavana yatra. The path to healing begins with truth. This means no chief minister, no special investigation team, no majority can destroy the citizenship of survival as a community of truth.

The writer is a social science nomad

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