TO SURVIVE, every society needs a book of laughter and forgetting. A common vocabulary — a handy code — to melt away strife, disaster and the miseries that are our ordained lot. Without it, without the lightness of absurdity and amnesia, we would become immovably leaden, buried under our burdens.
But as crucially there is another book no collective — and what is a nation if not an ornamented collective — can, and ever should, do without. The book of memory and grieving. There are griefs that a people must never forget, wounds that must be resolutely left open to gaze and air, to remembering and correctives. The most important of these, by some length, have to do with the idea of justice. When men fail to abide by a covenant of common law that embalms the very best of the best of them, they ought to feel tortured by the lapse. When men succumb to tribal affiliations and animal instincts and proceed to wrong other men, they ought to feel the heat of shame and of penitence.
Those who would, in the name of amity, have us forget Gujarat 2002 or Delhi 1984, are plainly wrong.
In India because we do not redress, we repeat. Because we repeat and repeat, we are never redeemed.
The Jews fetishise their terrible sorrows and make of them a spiky armour — that protects and provokes. We who live in a space of great contestations — of belief and creed and skin — need to make do with a softer goad.
This then — the verdict of Naroda Patiya: the conviction of Mayaben Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi — is the softer goad. Not through counter-riots, not through vigilante action, not through terror bombings — this is how we must remember and redress and redeem. Through the excruciatingly tedious due processes of law. Through the slowly accreting mountains of evidence and testimony. Through persuasive argument and high language.
For three days in 2002, great evil was unleashed in Gujarat. It has taken 10 years — the long time in which a child enters and leaves school — to start closing some pages of the book of justice. We should be, collectively, proud of this.
For three days in 2002, thousands of Hindus fell prey to an alien, villainous idea of themselves. Over the last 10 years, hundreds of Hindus — lawyers, activists, journalists, politicians, philanthropists — have fought for the rights of murdered and maimed Muslims. We should be, collectively, proud of this.
And yet, while Gujarat is about the excesses of the Sangh Parivar, the loss of Raj Dharma is a wider malaise, sparing no party. All around us the covenant of legitimate rule — just and fair, to both heart and eye — lies in tatters. A rule of low guile and driving greed keeps making of us smaller and smaller men.
Here too, we must draw our lessons from the campaign of Gujarat. We must redress not through terror or vigilante excitements, but through persuasive argument and high language, through the markers of law, through the closing of ranks on overarching principle and not narrow identity.
In the long road to the verdict of Naroda Patiya, TEHELKA has tried to march as best as it could. Of the dozens of writers and journalists at TEHELKA who have participated in this march, one shines above all. At profound peril to himself, over six months of undercover reportage inside Gujarat in 2007, Ashish Khetan dug out testimonies that firmly established the organised nature of the Gujarat killings. His tapes proved crucial for the SIT appointed by the Supreme Court. Combining stellar courage with a superb grasp of complex detail and legalese, Khetan then went back to Gujarat to make crucial depositions. In a country run replete with exponents of laughter and forgetting he is a rare — and priceless — artist of memory and grieving.
Tarun J Tejpal is Editor, Tehelka