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."
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
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
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,
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.