Gujarat Genocide: Reflections on justice and media

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Academicians, activists, lawyers, journalists came together and agreed that forgetting was not a solution to the 2002 Gujarat riots

Shazia Nigar 
New Delhi

‘Memorial to a Genocide’ — an aptly titled seminar — was organised at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi on Friday 12 October to reflect upon the 2002 Gujarat riots. Organised by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) in collaboration with Jamia Millia Islamia, it was attended by students, academicians, activists and journalists. The first session titled ‘Justice for Mass Crimes’ was a search for solutions to the crimes perpetrated during the riots under the state’s watch. The speakers who were academicians, activists, lawyers and a former DGP, all agreed that forgetting was not a solution.

Noted novelist, essayist and historian Mukul Kesavan borrowing words from author Milan Kundera said, “The struggle of truth against falsehood is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” He emphasised that while forgiveness and reconciliation were important, there was a time for it. “When the BJP asks us to move on, they ask for our complicity through silence,” he said. “Unearned reconciliation betrays the victims, betrays the people who bear witness and subverts every one who struggles for justice,” Kesavan added. Activist Harsh Mander pushed for the Anti-Communal Violence Bill while critiquing the prevailing ‘culture of impunity.’

Lawyer MM Trivezi stated that the riots were a mass carnage supported by the state. He emphasised on the fact that for fair trials financial assistance must be provided to the victims and sufficient protection should be available for organisations facilitating the process of justice. He also expressed the need for stricter laws to end communal violence.

Professor Anuradha Chenoy focused on rape and gender during conflict and war. Explaining how patriarchy engulfs society in normal times is heightened during conflict, she said, “Women continue to be markers and cultural symbols of a community. To dishonour women is seen as an easy way to dishonour a community. It has happened war after war and in Gujarat.” She critiqued the media for its tendency to sensationalise the issue and then ‘invisibilise’ it. “Rape is an issue for all those seeking justice. It is not just a woman’s issue,” said Chenoy. The session was chaired by former Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Prabhat Patnaik.

The second session ‘Media and Mass Crimes’ outlined ways in which the media had erred while covering riots and pointed out the direction it should take. The speakers were well known journalists and academicians. Vinod Mehta, former editor-in-chief of Outlook magazine, chairing the session said, “We (the media) have only one power — to bring things to the public domain.” He went on to state that the biggest failure of the Indian state and the media was its inability to mobilise public opinion against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Mehta claimed that the media had played a positive role during the riots of 1984, 1993 and the Gujarat riots.

Academician Dipankar Gupta suggested a check list be developed by media houses, which should be used in times of crises. Holding Modi responsible for the Gujarat riots, he urged the media to expose people like him. “Those who kill and rape will not die for a cause, they will only kill for a cause,” he said.

“If electronic media would have been there Babri Masjid would not have happened,” said Rajdeep Sardesai Editor-in-Chief of IBN18 Network. He claimed that if electronic media had been there during the 1984 and 1992 riots the sustained pressure would have led to speedy justice. Critiquing the polarisation that dominates politics and media, he said there was a need to pave a middle ground. He explained that newsroom debates need to break away from the culture of pitching an extreme right position with that of an extreme left. Stating that the electronic media is a business venture, he admitted that the motivation was to catch the attention of the people rather than the pursuit of something larger.

Ashish Khetan, who is Editor, Investigations at Tehelka, and had played a crucial role in exposing the culprits involved in the Naroda Patiya riots in Gujarat, differed in his opinion from Sardesai. “Justice was not delivered because of the media. Justice was delivered because of the persistent effort of a few activists, lawyers and others who followed the case,” he said. He further critiqued the culture of communalisation that had permeated the media. In support of his argument he stated that example of communal riots in Karnataka on which the electronic media had maintained complete silence. He claimed that several pulls and pressures were working on journalists and the management to dilute the truth.

Photographer Ram Rahman talked about the immortality of photographs in comparison to moving images. He provided examples of photographs etched in public memory from the time of the Partition, the Vietnam War, the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and also Gujarat riots.

shazia@tehelka.com

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