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PUCL Bulletin, 2004


Interview of Dr. J. S. Bandukwala, Viec-President, PUCL
given to the Times of India, 6 Sept. 2004

Calm after Storm

 
Is Gujarat normal now?
Not yet; below the surface, the situation is still
tense. It would have been very good if the Hindu
leadership had felt remorse and sorrow. But in the
last two-and-a-half years, not only has the political
leadership not expressed remorse, but even the
intellectual leadership, religious figures, business
leaders... none of them have felt sorry. The standard
comment remains: 'Muslims deserved it'. If they just
said the simple word 'Sorry, we'd come forward and
forgive, and the process of reconciliation would
begin'.

How did the attack on your house affect your daily
life?

I had to shift because the whole house was destroyed.
In June 2002, when I moved into the flat allotted by
the university, the other flats in the block were
occupied. One by one they left, maybe to their own
houses or to other blocks in the society. Even those
who moved into the society after that, didn't seem to
want to live in my block. I am all alone. This could
be due to other factors, but I have a suspicion it may
be because while other Muslims remain very subdued, I
speak out.

For instance, on March 27, Modi was being interviewed
on Star News. They wanted a Muslim to ask him a
question. No one in Ahmedabad was willing to do so
that goes to show the level of fear so they called
my home in Baroda. But I was in Mumbai. They were so
desperate for a Muslim that they traced me out. I
simply asked him: " Aap ney kuch baaki rakha hai? (Is
there still anything left to be done by you?). He just
blew up. "Why have you run away to Mumbai? Sitting
there, you are conspiring against Gujarat and
maligning Gujarat", he said.

Why didn't you rebuild your house?
It would have cost too much. Besides, my heart was not
in it. My wife had done it up. Also, the damage was
too scary. After all, I had been treated like family
in that neighbourhood.

Are you still close to them?
Since I returned in June 2002, none of them have
called on me. These include people who would drop in
after going to the temple and tell me that their day
was not complete till they met me. My immediate
neighbours saved my daughter's life, so I make it a
point to call them up on Diwali. I ask them how they
are, but they don't even ask me the same in reply!

What about your students?
They remain as warm as before. I don't like to boast,
but the fact is I am a very good teacher. I often
joke: The BJP wants to kill me, but their children
want to study under me!

Has the RSS economic boycott of Muslims worked?
It failed because Muslim businessmen began to sell at
cheaper rates, and became more polite. On the other
hand, Hindu businessmen became over-confident, feeling
that customers would have to come to them. The average
Hindu customer got fed up.

Hindu and Muslim businessmen in Gujarat are
interdependent. Every Muslim factory was destroyed, so
the Hindu trader had to go to factories run by Hindus.
But then the question of quality came up. Even for
Hindu festivals, the best rakhis are made by Muslims,
so also the best kites. The typical Gujarati will not
waste money on an inferior product.

Many Muslims had insured their businesses, and they
used the insurance money to rebuild. But the
two-month-long curfew broke the backbone of small
Hindu traders. Simultaneously, the impression of
Gujarat as a place where business could not flourish
began growing. Many big industrial houses that were
planning to come here, or expand existing businesses,
began having second thoughts.

Modi has been trying to attract investment, but the
atmosphere hasn't improved. On August 14-15, a string
of trishul-dakshina programmes was organised in areas
where the BJP is weak. The diksha was given by
Swaminarayan sants. Today, among Muslims, the
impression of the trishul is very bad. During the
violence, many Muslim women had these inserted into
their private parts.

Do Muslims talk about revenge?
In the first phase, the feeling was strong. Now, it's
not. Partly it's because they are too scared. Also,
they feel that peace is happening thanks to the
Supreme Court. Some of us are strong believers in
non-violence. We have been repeatedly urging them to
leave justice to God; revenge will only mean more
trouble for the whole community. Not that I have so
much impact, but today, I am interacting more with my
community. Earlier, I was treated with suspicion.
After the riots, there is a feeling of identification.
Conservative sections call me for talks, and I don't
mince words. I tell them no community can grow until
its women are treated properly. I talk about
education, talaq, polygamy. I draw from the Qur'an, so
that even maulanas can't challenge me.

I feel absolutely possessed now; I must change my
community. It must develop a modern middle class.
That's the only way of solving the Hindu-Muslim
problem. 

 

 

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