When almost the entire top brass of the bureaucracy chose to side with a deeply divisive ruling class, Sreekumar, 65, was one man who stood against the State’s might. He filed four affidavits before the Nanavati-Shah Commission, placing on record the role played by the state machinery in the 2002 riots.
You are among the police officers who decided to speak out on the riots. It was as though you took on the entire Gujarat government. How has the journey been?
It was challenging, rewarding and at the same time energising. I always believed in performing my duties as a police officer in tune with the oath that I had taken in the name of the Indian Constitution. Everybody from a peon to the President of India gets the authority only after swearing allegiance to the Constitution. I have performed my duties according to the legal and structural framework. Since a majority of the people in the Gujarat administration deviated from their obligatory duties — even though what they did was abnormal — in the eyes of the people, they set the norm. Some of us who performed our legal obligations became abnormal. Since I had the support of my conscience and commitment to Constitution, I always knew I was doing the right thing. You can cheat the whole world but not your conscience. Therefore I found tremendous, inexhaustible strength. That’s what gave me satisfaction.
But there are discomforts — in the form of inadequate social status and a threat to security. There’s also the inadequate fraternity from friends, former colleagues and a large section of the Gujarati population. These are just part of the game. Once you give credence to these comforts, your greater goals will suffer. Lakshya Bodhasya Paashana Bedhanam; this line from the Upanishads means that strong goals break even big boulders. Finally, the legal institutions proved that I am right and these people are wrong. It was not that I took on the Gujarat government. I was posted as Additional DGP (Intelligence) after the major riots were over on 9 April 2002. I found that even though the state intelligence department had received so many reports vividly portraying the role of Sangh Parivar supported by Narendra Modi and BJP workers in organising, preparing and orchestrating anti-minority violence, nobody did anything.
There were so many other officers — including your predecessors — who have remained silent all along. Didn’t that unsettle you? Didn’t you feel like a pariah?
Many officials, in order to keep people at the top happy, did not do anything. Even my predecessor GC Raigar backed out. Subsequently, he was rewarded with a promotion even though he was my junior. He’s even been given a post retirement as a member of the Spurious Liquor Commission, which comes under a high court judge. But that’s the thing about motivation and happiness. The yardstick of happiness differs from person to person. For a gluttonous person, over-eating brings happiness, but for Mahatma Gandhi observing fasts brought content. Happiness is a relative thing. I never felt bad about the social boycott that we have undergone. Why should I be ephemeral about showing off friendship with people at the top? I had done nothing wrong and I fought back. My pension was delayed for 18-19 months and there were some financial strains. But ultimately justice was delivered to me and I got pension arrears with interest. The legal system is strong, but you have to struggle to make it work. To scale peaks, first you have to get out of your house.
‘Why are some of my erstwhile friends unapologetic about what happened in 2002? It’s because of the communal indoctrination that they have been subjected to’
I was the first one to note that Muslim complainants were not getting justice, their FIRs are not being taken properly, when they named Hindu leaders as perpetrators of violence, the police inspectors were refusing to note those names, police minimised the intensity of offence while registering complaint and would club several offences as one offence even as the communities were burning. I suggested specific remedial measures. A lot of these officials are culpable of dereliction of duty.
You live in Gandhinagar, which is a prosperous area. However, you should be having friends and neighbours who tend to justify what happened in 2002.
The distance between Modi sahab’s office and my residence is less than 3 km (laughs). Yes, people who used to be friends avoid us. There’s still a social boycott. But you should not expect much. As Lord Buddha says, frustration is the gap between expectations and perceived achievement. If you have no expectation you are immune to frustration. Why are some of my erstwhile friends unapologetic about what happened in 2002? It’s because of the communal indoctrination that they have been subjected to. The saffronisation of the Hindu population and Arabisation of the Muslim population has been going on for a while now. Sadly, there’s a reduced area of cooperation. Traditional, cultural cooperation that used to exist has come down tremendously. Everything, including cultural symbols, is getting communalised. I recently saw a film in which a maulana says ‘Deen main daadhi hai, lekin daadhi main deen nahi hai’ (Religion recommends beard; beard itself never recommends religion)’. Similarly, Hindus should learn that ‘Dharam main tilak hai; lekhin tilak main dharma nahi hai (Religion recommends smearing a mark on the forehead but the mark itself has no religion)’. We have a syncretic and symbiotic tradition, which the Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists want to bring down. Neither of these religions espouses violence.
That begs the question; you live in a highly indoctrinated society where communalism is deep-rooted. It must be suffocating at times. Did you ever feel like leaving Gujarat and going back to Kerala?
To be very frank; before the whole thing started, it was after a long deputation that I came here in August 2000. I was posted as Additional DGP of the State Reserve Police Force. My plan was to retire by February 2007 and go back to Kerala. My reporting and submission of four affidavits during service, supervision on so many inquiries, and subsequently chargesheets getting dismissed forced me to stay back. Now I’m very much associated with secular activities and helping the riot victims and survivors. Riot survivors meet me often and seek my advice. I draft letters for them. I don’t appear in court because that requires a different set of skills. Taking up cases also gives room for frustration. The whole stage of recuperation is over. I enjoy reading a Malayalam newspaper more than Gujarati or English. I enjoy watching Kathakali. But I have satisfaction here. I’m somehow being able to extend help to these helpless people. Bringing real facts about the 2002 riots is very satisfying.
Do you feel that you have sacrificed your precious time that you could have spent at home in a familiar setting?
Initially, I had felt this. When my promotions did not come, when my reports were ignored, as a human being, I felt vulnerable. But my rationale conquered my emotions. Once you have established a rational mind, you can set out to do anything. That’s what five stages of Indian philosophy tell me. Some people used to chastise me for “unnecessarily takingpanga (trouble)”. But I did not take any panga. I merely reported the facts. They started harassing me. I went to court. I did nothing wrong. Modi made an inflammatory speech, which I reported as having characteristics of communal incitement, which is punishable under Section 153. This was a bombshell for the home department and the chief secretary. They said how you can say this. I simply stated that it was my opinion and they could throw my report in the dustbin if they so wished. That very day, at 1 am, I was transferred without any particular portfolio. In that time, I finished two MAs in Gandhian Thought and English Literature. For that, I’m very grateful to Modi sahab (laughs). Now I have four Master’s degrees apart from a degree in LLM.
It has been 10 years since the riots. Justice still eludes the victims and survivors. Do you see any glimmer of hope?
It’s true that justice is yet to be delivered completely. Planners and executors of the riots continue to be out of the clutches of the law. They are still feeling that they are in a sanctuary of immunity from being prosecuted. We will pull the perpetrators from the islands of immunity. The SIT and investigating officers have tried to rub some holy potions of innocence on the sinful perpetrators; like baptism. If justice is not delivered, who will be happy? It only strengthens the anti-India forces.
But due to our efforts, there have been some progress and convictions. In the Sardarpura case, where 35 people were burnt to death, 31 accused were convicted. Modi is a programmed robot of the RSS, programmed to hate and discriminate against Muslims. He’s like Nathuram Godse. There’s hope. Compared to all other riots, the rate of conviction is very high in this case. No chief minister was pulled up by the courts in the past riots. During 1984, the perpetrators went scot-free. But do you think Modi is happy? He’s under a lot of stress. Please remember, it was judicial observations that raised this hope. Never before in the history of India did the judiciary call a state administration and its officials as modern-day Neros. No matter what the SIT report says, the records will remain public for students of law and history.
G Vishnu is a Correspondent with Tehelka.