Ten years ago, a madness, a
maelstrom of sorts hit Gujarat. Hundreds died in its wake.
Innocent lives lost, sacrificed on the altar of man's cruelty to
man. I was there and witnessed it all firsthand.
My thoughts go back to Feb 27, 2002, the black day that it all
started. It was late afternoon. And I, a student of the bachelor
of computer application programme, was attending classes at the
Faculty of Science at Baroda's M.S. University.
In the middle of the class, a man came inside and whispered
something to Rana Mukhopadhyay, my professor. Immediately
afterwards, with a look of concern on his face, the professor told
us, "Something very bad has happened at a place near our city. I
request you all to go to your homes and stay there."
Later that night, we got to hear the full story. A train carrying
Gujarati kar sevaks or religious volunteers from Ayodhya to
Ahmedabad had been attacked at one of the stations, the town of
Godhra in Panchmahal district. The kar sevaks had apparently been
burnt alive in their coach.
Communal riots were a common feature in Gujarat. Like most of
India, the state had a turbulent history of Hindu-Muslim
relations. In fact, riots had been common since medieval times,
when the state's Hindu Rajput kingdoms gave way to the Delhi
Sultanate and later, Muzaffarid and Mughal rule.
The towns and cities of Gujarat, especially the northern and
central parts, were communally sensitive. My own hometown Vadodara,
or Baroda as the British called it, was regularly affected by
clashes. But these were usually restricted to the walled city
areas. The common word for riot in Gujarati was 'dhamaal' (chaos).
However, 2002 was not to be like other years. I still remember the
night when a resident of our colony came to our house and said in
a sombre voice: "There are rumours that Muslim gangs from Tandalja
(a Muslim neighbourhood in the new city) will carry out revenge
attacks against Hindu colonies, including ours. Please arm
yourselves with whatever weapons you have."
Well, we did not have any "weapons" as such. All we had were a few
gardening and carpentry tools: a pickaxe, a spade, a sickle, a
handsaw. My father, my twin brother and I took these and went to
the colony gate.
I still remember that moment. The darkness, punctuated only by the
street lights. The gate, where we stood, armed with whatever we
could find. The empty road in front of us. Loud sounds, appearing
to be gunshots, resounding from the side of Tandalja. Any minute,
I imagined, a vehicle full of men could appear on the road and
Fortunately, nothing happened that night to us. But in the days
that followed, I found others had not been so lucky. Massacres
which have become today bywords for armed slaughter happened in
those very days - Best Bakery (Baroda), Pandharwada (Panchmahal),
Gulbarg and Naroda Patia (Ahmedabad) - story upon ghastly story,
highlighting the sheer frenzy that overtook my state in those
Some personal glimpses left me shaken - the blackened, burnt door
of a Muslim-owned shop in a posh complex, a looted shoe store in
another posh complex, the bright blue of RAF men sitting inside my
old school in Tandalja.
Since that year, Gujarat has never been the same again. The state
is now notorious across India and the world.
A state where Zoroastrians fleeing post-Sassanid Persia got
refuge, a state which had played host to vibrant Buddhist and Jain
civilizations, a state which had maritime and cultural relations
with pre- and post-Islamic Arabia, a state which gave the world an
apostle of peace and non-violence like Mahatma Gandhi - is now
reviled as one where the blood of innocents flowed even as the
state administration "fiddled like Nero".
For me, as a conscientious, middle class citizen, Gujarat 2002 is
a lesson - in politics, statecraft and human rights. It is also a
lesson to modern India as to what future it wants for itself - a
secular democracy where majority and minority live in harmony or a
theocratic, Nazi-style state, where there will only be turmoil,
chaos and bloodshed. It is something that all Indian citizens must
(Rajat Ghai can be
contacted at email@example.com)