Thursday, September 21, 2006

From sometime ago

Today I was reading about the Gujarat anti-conversion act and all the protests around it. Am not sure what people are more upset about - having to take 'permission' before changing religion or that Buddhism has been clubbed with Hinduism! I find all this strange and disturbing. Religion, God, these are so personal, yet world over people fight in the name of it.

I was working in Gujarat during the violence in 2002. Overnight curfew was imposed and suddenly I was home bound. For me, to start with, it was a logistical challenge, since I lived alone and didn't have a fridge and therefore was without any food. My landlady and some neighbours were really nice at that time and called me over for meals, which was a really good thing since the curfew was for over seven days. Meal time was also when I would catch the news on TV (since I didn't have one) and the horrors around the city and the state. Incidents like Best Bakery, Naroda Patia and Bilkis Bano were just inhuman and chilling. I still can't believe how people behave in a mob and even now when I see any big group and a hint of violence, it scares me.

I lived in the 'new' part of the city and with an exception of one night was never scared of being a victim (most of the violence was in the old part of the city). The exception was on one of the days when the shops on the main road near my house were broken and looted. There was a rumor of a 'Muslim back-lash' (most colonies I think were fairly homogeneous in terms of religion, not sure for a fact though). Everyone got together and decided that the men would be on guard all through the night and if there was any sign of trouble then they'd raise alarm so people could escape. The 'ammunition' they had was iron rods from a nearby construction site which didn't really count for much. I sat in my room, awake half the night with my handbag ready with money and passport (not that I was planning to go abroad, but its such a hassle getting a passport!) making my mental plan of how fast I would pick that and run. Thankfully, I never had to use any part of my plan and in a week things had calmed down.

A couple of weeks later I visited Ahmedabad to stay with an aunt for a weekend. There were so many signs from the riots - burnt shops, broken glass all over, burnt movie halls, the cloth market totally destroyed. It reminded me of when of 1984 in Delhi when we lived there. I still vividly remember standing on the terrace of our house and seeing smoke rising in the distance from the close by market being burnt down. And when I later went there .. it was much the same sight .. burnt walls and destruction.

During the time of the curfew when I could only interact with my neighbours, I was surprised at the level of emotion and hatred they had in the name of religion. Maybe I don't understand because *touch wood* I have never faced a tragedy or loss to it. Long back I had met a girl from Kashmir whose brother was taken away by the security forces and never came back, the intensity of her hatred towards them (the security forces and 'India') was scary, and we were only 14 then. Hatred leads to a vicious cycle I suppose, wish there was a magical solution to wipe it all away .. and get 'world peace'.


Mr. J said...

Letting something as personal as religion the very political factors is a shame.

This post reminded me of those riots we had back in Hyd back in the 80's. Watching someone being killed with a sword... damn!!

The ugly side of life.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pea, I worked with victims after the riots in Ahmedabad. You are right- listening to those stories,it was chilling. It was the turning point of my life...

Pea said...

[Me] Not sure I would ever get sleep again if I saw someone being killed by a sword. In '84 I had heard of an old sikh man who was going with his grand-daughter and they were attacked by a mob. The child was doused in kerosene and lit and then they stripped him and did the same. I didn't see it, but just hearing it made a terrible impact.

[Sunrayz] You are so brave and strong! I don't think I could face someone who has gone through something so terrible. I think, I could deal with destruction from natural forces but this is different - so avoidable and so pointless.