Interview with Teesta Setalvad of Citizens for Justice and Peace.
TEESTA SETALVAD, through her organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace, has been at the forefront of the fight for justice for the victims of the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. She has also worked extensively on many other issues affecting minority communities in the State.
In this interview to Frontline, she speaks about Chief Minister Narendra Modi's new tactics and the marginalisation of Muslims in the State.
The Sangh Parivar, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), appears to have dropped its hard-line position on Hindutva, but its agenda is very much alive, particularly in Gujarat.
The agendas of outfits of the Sangh Parivar and their parliamentary face, the BJP, appear occasionally to be at odds with each other because of the pressures and pulls of both constitutional governance and democracy. While they appear to be dropping divisive agendas as and when it may electorally suit them look at what they have turned to in Uttar Pradesh , they actually have not, to date, ever abandoned the path that has actually reaped them electoral dividends.
Majoritarianism, or consolidating sections of the majority vote (even the Congress did this after the massacre of Sikhs in 1984), has happened. Now, whether in Gujarat or anywhere else, they play around this basic divisive consolidation, which is a reality. You cannot keep speaking of Hindu anger, Hindu outrage, Hindu persecution all the time. It is boring, if nothing else, so what do you do?
Having reaped huge electoral gains by dividing society and infiltrating structures of democratic governance you have policemen, teachers and even judges who subscribe to their anti-constitutional world view, who believe that equal rights to all are not a non-negotiable birthright of all Indians.
As someone who has worked extensively in Gujarat, could you comment on this insidious way of furthering their agenda? Why would Modi distance himself from hard-core saffron politics when it was this that brought him to power?
Gujarat is a special case study, a region with a rich pluralist past that has been consistently worked up since about the mid-1960s. When we speak of Gujarat we remember the inclusive and visionary writings of poet Narmad and Wali Gujarati, an Urdu poet who after all his wanderings found a home here. That his dargah was demolished surreptitiously on the night of February 28 in Ahmedabad by marauding mobs that had a free run of the State for three months in 2002 (it was on a road just outside the office of the then Commissioner of Police, P.C. Pande) illustrates the success achieved by the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] and its sister outfits.
Today Modi's apparent bid to don new clothing is superficial you only need to check government figures to see how over Rs.10,000 crore from the Central funds meant for the Prime Minister's scheme for scholarships for Muslim youth was cynically returned. How many of the public prosecutors appointed by the State government to handle cases of crime are Muslims? You have over 4,000 registered advocates in Gujarat. Is there proportional representation in the appointment of prosecutors, teachers and policemen?
There is hardened ghettoisation in many cities it was there even before 2002, only that it has got worse now and in some schools Muslim and Christian children simply do not get admission. But go to Kutch, Sabarkantha, even Dahid and Panchmahals there things are different or better. There is a feeling among many Gujaratis now that the divisive path is damaging to all.
Something that is rarely spoken about in Ahmedabad, Vadodara or Surat even the media live with it rather than publish the customary story is the silent way in which Christmas celebrations happen in these cities. Doors of churches have to be kept shut so that the sound of hymn singing does not waft out into the night air.
The targeting of Christian trusts, missionary trusts working with the marginalised, is also not being documented. There is day-to-day harassment and extortion too. The saddest truth is that for the media, this daily perversion has become something that needs to be lived with.
The [Gujarat Prohibition of Transfer of Immovable Property and Provisions for Protection of Tenants from Eviction from Premises in] Disturbed Areas Act ostensibly prevents polarisation but in effect encourages division. Could you tell us a little about this? It was supposedly amended after the riots so that people would not have to resort to distress sale.
This is a strange formulation that has actually ensured rigid communal divisions on the ground Dalit padas, Muslim bastis, and the others. The small number of Christians gets caught in between. This law has actually ensured that sales between and across communities are actively prevented in the name of avoiding distress sale.
The Modi government is using anti-conversion laws to target minorities, particularly Christians.
Yes, Gujarat and Rajasthan are two States that have brought in a law, ironically called Freedom of Religion Act, which actually curbs Article 25, the right of every Indian to preach and propagate freely his or her own faith. I believe these laws are intrinsically anti-constitutional.
There are reports that Muslims in Gujarat are deliberately not included in housing, education and employment opportunities. Your comments.
Absolutely. Look at these figures. Only 26 per cent of Muslims in Gujarat reach matriculation as opposed to 41 per cent overall. Enrolment of Muslims in schools is 75 per cent as opposed to 79 per cent overall. Urban poverty among Muslims in Gujarat is 800 per cent higher than among high-caste Hindus and 50 per cent higher than among OBCs [Other Backward Classes]. Twelve per cent of bank accounts in the State belong to Muslims, but loans are given to just 2.6 per cent.
In Gujarat, there is acute hunger and malnutrition among all. Anaemia among women and children has increased from 46.3 per cent in 1999 to 55 per cent in 2004 this is the fallout of Vibrant Gujarat. Between 1974 and 2008 Gujarat did not alter its GDP [gross domestic product] position with relation to other States nationally.
The tragedy is the diffidence of the Centre, even statutory bodies. The NHRC [National Human Rights Commission] has found, even in its annual reports since 2002, Gujarat guilty of non-performance in restitution and rehabilitation, but there is no pursuit of this.
The NCM [National Commission for Minorities] too could not look at the issue of non-implementation of scholarship schemes for Muslim youth. The NCW [National Commission for Women] and the NCPCR [National Commission for Protection of Child Rights] are silently watching the figures of anaemia among women and starvation among Gujarat's children. Why?
If we had an Equal Opportunities Commission as envisaged by the Sachar Committee report, and if it was supportive and independent, these figures that signal discrimination could have been addressed.
What is the recourse for this marginalised community?
The only way is to agitate against this discrimination through every means, petitions in courts, the NCM and the NHRC, international fora, and get recognition and redress for this denial. It is wonderful that community organisations provide help, but what about the Indian state, the State of Gujarat?
Does it not have a constitutional obligation and duty towards its citizens, all citizens, be they Dalits, Christians or Muslims? We need to collectively find out which departments of the state discriminate in the matter of housing loans, bank loans. The media need to play a role in bringing this out. [In] enrolment in schools, enrolment in higher education.
The real problem is that the insidious seepage into the public discourse of us and them has made even political opposition defensive. Pro-active, pro-poor, pro-marginalised agitations by the political class need to ensure that issues of denials of basic housing and educational rights for girls, women, Dalits and religious minorities are taken up.
When I say the political opposition, I mean the Congress. But what about other national secular parties? They can also help raise the bar of public discourse by campaigning here and building agitations. There was a time when AIDWA, CPI, CPI(M) [The All India Democratic Women's Association, the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)] had agitations, now they are nowhere to be seen.
Your comments on the Sadbhavna Mission for peace and harmony.
It is an insult to the word. It is a waste of taxpayers' hard-earned money. Apart from Modi, ask the [Arun] Jaitleys (who rescued Modi's political career within his party in 2002) and other national leaders of the BJP whether they unequivocally condemn the phenomenon of reprisal killings post-Godhra? Each one of us, secular groups, Muslim organisations, opposition parties, all condemned the tragedy of the Godhra train burning.
But why is the RSS/BJP/VHP [Vishwa Hindu Parishad] so reluctant to condemn the sickening brutality with which mass massacres and daylight rapes were organised to pay for Godhra? Because somewhere they know they have politically reaped the benefits of bartering in butchery and hatred.