Never forget the Gujarat genocide

Rakesh Sharma’s Final Solution documented the post-Godhra pogrom of 2002. Fourteen years later, in a sequel, he tries to understand what made thousands of ordinary Hindus complicit in unspeakable violence against Muslims. In an exhaustive interview, Sharma, who was in Kochi recently, spoke to TOI on the hazards of filming in volatile situations, ongoing attempts to whitewash history, on why if we think it is advisable to forget the horrors of our not-so-distant past we will be condemned to repeat them and, last but surely not least, why hatred or revenge should never even be an option for the victims

Wouldn’t ‘Final Solution Revisited’ be raking up old wounds?

People who ask ‘why rake up old wounds’, ‘why make them relive this’, don’t understand that they may have moved on, because they are removed from the context. But people who are directly affected do not forget. They do not move on. In most cases where I am following up with people, they have been engaged in a fight for justice in courts. And our legal system is such that it takes that kind of time. The Naroda Patiya case took up almost 10 years’ time. And during those 10 years’ time, they had to be perpetually prepared to go give testimonies in session’s courts. So the last thing that would happen is the victims’ families forgetting everything and moving on. They do not wish to move on. They are committed in their fight for justice.

Why is it in Germany we do not see the rise of a Nazi party-like formation, a fascist formation, after the gory episode [the Third Reich Hitler years] of history? On the other hand, why is it that we in India continue to repeat our mistakes, repeat the cycle of violence that began with Partition? The answer is simple. In Germany, they kept the discourse around all the goriness alive. The Nazi period was discussed in great detail in schools and universities’ curriculum, in art and filmmaking and playwriting. The themes were explored in various ways and not just in a black and white kind of way. They also saw to the banality of evil, how everyday people who were decent and nice ended up tacitly or actively supporting that kind of politics and why that happened. They spent much to probe the period and keep the discourse alive. However, in the Indian context, we are constantly being told to forget it; “move on, don’t rake up old wounds, what is the point”. And it is because of that we continue repeating the same mistakes. To paraphrase philosopher George Santayana, ‘we are condemned to repeat history if we keep forgetting it’.

Why did you set out to do a follow-up on the Gujarat riots, and not a new documentary on other communal riots that took place later on?

When I was filming in 2002, the context was very inflamed. A lot of people were either unable to speak, or were too apprehensive to speak. I am not talking [just] about Muslim victims here. I am talking about a lot of perpetrators, foot soldiers, and I have focussed on the second part on going across to a lot of karsevak families in whose name the violence was perpetrated and justified. In Final Solution, I was able to talk to only two or three of them. Five years later when I was filming in Gujarat, I was able to speak almost to a dozen more. I was interested in their stories in terms of what happened, what they feel, how they see the carnage of 2002. What is their perspective five years after it happened, and it’s a fascinating series of observations they make.

The second set of people that I have focussed whom I could not have focussed in 2002 is the foot soldiers. I went to a number of people who were participating in the mobs, who were actually responsible for the looting and arson. I asked the foot soldiers why they did what they did in 2002, and what do you think five years later. Because I think it is extremely important for us not to just look at a weak and victim narrative or the politics of hate narrative that I brought out in Final Solution, but it is also important for us to understand what triggers this violence, how it happens, why do people participate in it, what are their reasons for it et al.

What happens with these personal journeys in the arc of their fight for justice, relief and rehabilitation that happened, what are the long-term impacts of the carnage on the Muslim as well as Hindu community; the kind of ghettoization that took place, not just physically but the ghettoization of the mind too.

How was the experience of filming in highly volatile circumstances in 2002? Did you face hostility from the victims or perpetrators in capturing their story?

I did not face many problems talking to the people who suffered the violence, and there is a context to it. There were many people ­ several activists and journalists ­ who went in to lend their voice on behalf of the victims. There was no antagonism from the Muslim community ever on me being a Hindu. People readily shared their stories, readily spoke to me. When I’m filming someone, I go and meet them repeatedly. So there are personal relationships that develop and people start speaking to you much more freely as opposed to being a TV crew who land for 15 minutes to get their sound bytes.

If anything, the hostility was in terms of speaking to the party cadres, not to the average person on the street, nor the Hindu community at large. But the party cadre was emboldened in 2002 after their rioting in the street, and the police working in tandem, so there was fairly no fear about any police action.

But without such independent reporting, don’t you think there will be narratives denying the carnage sometime in the future, like holocaust deniers that are mushrooming now?

Yes, there would be attempts to deny this kind of narrative. Very clearly there have already been attempts to whitewash the narrative in the last 10 or 12 years. It’s not just from the part of party sympathisers and cadres; a great many agencies have been used to whitewash the reality. The Gujarat police force itself has been used. The SIT that was formed, headed by R K Raghavan, also aided in the whitewashing. The Nanavati Commission was also used to whitewash reality, as was expected from the day it was set up. Fourteen years later, it ended up giving a clean chit to the [then] government. It won’t be surprising to see carnage-deniers in the future.

Curiously there has been another phenomenon that happened. Narendra Modi from 2002 to 2006 travelled across Gujarat extensively during election time and gave extremely muscular and provocative speeches. Today if you look for them, you do not find them online. The whitewash has happened in online spaces. Modi has been sanitized there. These were the speeches that they proudly and widely circulated in 2002-2004. And these speeches have vanished completely.


(Article that appeared in Times of India, Kerala on October 8, 2016)


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