PUCL Bulletin, February 2003

Moral obligation to never forget the injustices
-- By Fali S. Nariman

The eve of the tenth anniversary of the Ayodhya incident has witnessed a spate of excellent flash-backs, particularly in The Asian Age of December 5. And without the occasion of an anniversary - but obviously with an eye to the impending elections in Gujarat - recent weeks have also witnessed a spate of books and compilations about the tragic incidents in that state post-February 2002. there is a common thread that runs through vintage "Ayodhya" and more recent Godhra (and post-Godhra) - the need to remember.

We all have a moral obligation to know and not to forget the wrongs that have occurred - because when we ignore the injustice that has been done and overlook it, we are somehow regarded in a sense as being accomplice to it. There has to be something beyond merely remembering. William Gladstone once famously said that the quest for a collective memory of the Irish problem was extremely difficult because (as he put it): "The Irish never forget and the English never remember."

The golden mean for those who never forget and those who never remember is an in-depth investigation into the mass deviations from the accepted norms. Such an investigation can be meaningful if there is a genuine attempt towards ultimate reconciliation - which is only possible with transparency without hypocrisy and above all with a genuine offer of reparation.

You will recall that the first commission appointed to investigate into the anti-sikh riots in Delhi in November 1984, did not have the cathartic effect that it was expected to have. People did tell their stories and their tales were heard, but there was no one to listen: because listening is different from hearing. Listening comprehends understanding and sympathy for what is being said. The sore did not heal. And ultimately a second commission had to appointed more than fifteen years later.

The recommendation of the Minorities Commission earlier this year had been to appoint a sitting judge to head a commission of inquiry (for the incidents in Gujarat) and give swift redressal and reparation for omissions, wrongs and grievances. During a debate in Rajya Sabha on May 2, 2002, I had endorsed this suggestion and pleaded for the immediate appointment of a sitting judge. The prospect of a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, I said, would restore confidence in all the right thinking people. A sitting judge is like none other. Simply because he derives his authority form the Constitution itself: but the only authority of a retired judge is the government order appointing him! The government of Gujarat having already appointed a retired high court judge to head a commission of inquiry, later did associate a retired Supreme Court judge to sit along. All to no purpose.

Although months have passed, there has been no inquiry worth the name (except statements recorded of a few witnesses), no interim report recommending punishment of errant officials nor any attempt at meting out justice to victims - no reparation, no calling officials to account. The wounds of the carnage continue to fester. And what is worse is that the arrogance of religious hatred goes uncontrolled and unpunished simply because the authority (the commission) appointed to look into the Godhra and post-Godhra tragedies is calling no one to account.

The other day a shrewd commentator of American affairs noting that President Bush had appointed Henry Kissinger to investigate into lapses of security around September 11 wrote: "If you want to get to the bottom of something, you don't appoint Henry Kissinger. If you want to keep others from getting to the bottom of something, you appoint Henry Kissinger."

An apt quote for the present situation. If you want to get to the bottom of what happened in Gujarat you don't appoint a commission of retired judge. If you want to keep "troublesome" people (including the bold chairman and members of our National Human Rights Commission) from getting to the bottom of what happened in Gujarat, you appoint retired judges on a commission of inquiry!
It was once said by a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States - "the important thing we do in this place is not doing." For judges in an investigative commission inquiring into a tragedy - doing nothing is simply unforgivable. By "not doing" (which includes not doing promptly), an indelible impression is left even with right-minded people, that nothing needs to be done!

It does appear to me that it is not despite the appointment of a commission of inquiry - but because of it - the injustice continues to remain the looming casualty of the Gujarat tragedy. And meanwhile political parties and organisations supporting them continue with their wordy duels: but I believe we must now look ahead.

The great humanist Rajmohan Gandhi said in a book published a couple of years ago, "non-violence" and "reconciliation" though distinct were related concepts. What is important, he writes, is not the sanctity of non-violence but the need for strategies for reconciliation. We need to formulate strategies for reconciliation even from the ashes of the Gujarat tragedy.

The world is inhabited by two sets of people - those who believe in retribution and vengeance and those who want to explore the path of reconciliation. At the moment the first group is in a preponderating majority. We must try to expose more people to the new winds of change. Hate and vengeance never cure anything; they only create conditions for more hate, and more vengeance.

And, we definitely need to look beyond elections in Gujarat.

When Bill Clinton was the President of the United States facing the worst crisis of his personal life, he turned to the side and worldly Nelson Mandela for advice. And Mandela's advice was as brief as it was effective. He said, "The only way things destroy you is if you give them permission to destroy you."

We must not give vengeance-seekers permission to destroy us.

And above all, we must never identify people by the way they vote - because - that way points to a permanent alienation, and ultimate disaster.

One of the fast-selling books of the last decade, Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, contains the story of the samurai, the Japanese warrior: "A belligerent samurai (it says) once challenged his Zen Master to explain to him the concept of heaven and hell. But the monk replied - I can't waste my time with the likes of you!' The samurai flew into a rage, his very honour being attacked, and, pulling his sword from its scabbard, yelled, 'I could kill you for your impertinence'. 'That', the monk calmly replied, 'is hell.' Startled at seeing the truth about the fury that had him in its grip, the samurai calmed down, sheathed his sword, and bowed thanking the monk for the insight. 'And that,' said the monk, 'is heaven'."

Like the samurai in the story - we all must now sheath our mental swords, and search for ways to heal the wounds of the Gujarat tragedy: that is the only humanitarian way, that is the only civilised way. That is the only way to work towards the unity of this great nation.

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