THE MITTI KI SONDHI KHUSBHOO SMELLS OF BLOODby Shabnam Hashmi July 24 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 12 mins, 46 secs
The tragic and horrifying details coming from Manipur remind Shabnam Hashmi about Gujarat 2002. Wasn’t it predictable that this was going to happen, she asks.
“Man's dearest possession is life. It is given to him but once, and he must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years may never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past, so live that. Dying, he might say: all my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in the world…the fight for the Liberation of Mankind.” - Nikolai Ostrovsky
There are two sentences, which keep haunting me. Before the 2014 elections a much-respected senior journalist friend told me, ’Shabnam you are paranoid. There is a lot more to India than Modi and communalism,’ and a senior political leader said, ‘India is not Gujarat and it will never be Gujarat.’
Coming from a family, which lived in abject poverty after having lost everything during the partition years, having studied in ordinary sarkari schools, learning abcd in sixth standard and then dropping out of college after starting to teach girls and women in a Basti in Delhi, I could never speak or write in queens language, but what I did learn during my formative years, was a sense of politics and how various forces operate in society. This was a gift of both growing up in a highly democratic and progressive family and working in a Basti where the poorest of the poor lived.
I learnt to appreciate the mitti ki sondhi khushboo (the earthy scent after the first light rain) in my childhood. I spend more time on the ground than behind my computer and I don’t get my information from screeching anchors and WhatsApp university sources but I smell the ground.
I smelt fascism in 2002 while travelling across Gujarat, initially visiting relief camps and talking to survivors and later documenting stories of gang rape survivors.
I reproduce here a story that I recorded in 2002
‘Based on the Testimony of M…, Co-Ordinator Kallol Camp, District Panchmahal.
They were still not satisfied so the Ram Bhakts inserted the flagpole in her torn and already tattered vagina, the saffron flag proudly fluttering on the other end. M… hid behind the bushes holding his little brother’s hand. He could no longer hear the cries of his cousin sisters and other women from the village. Twelve-year old M… ’s whole world had collapsed under the feet of VHP and Bajrang Dal goons. A few hours ago M… still had hope. He was holding his uncle’s hand, in his little heart he knew that his uncle was leading him to safety. The three families had left Limkheda when the village was attacked on February 28, 2002. They had relatives in Pandu and M… with the rest of the family had boarded the local Dahod-Baroda train. They got down at the Dairol station. Unable to find any vehicle to take them to Pandu they started walking towards Pandu. A mob of about 150 people attacked them and started beating them. While some people managed to escape, 10 were surrounded by the mob. Z..., 18yrs, .S…, 20yrs, N… 14 yrs, A… 20yrs, R… 20 yrs and K…., 45 yrs were stripped naked. Then the mob asked them to run from Dairol village to a pond, which is almost three kms away - the hapless absolutely naked women and some children ran, the mob following them. Near the Narmada canal when the women could no longer run the fascists started attacking the women. A few more hours and M… could have reached Pandu but that was not to be. The turn of events suddenly made him the eldest among the victims. He had to give courage to the other five children who managed to hide behind the bushes. M… , Mo…., S…, A…, S… and F… between the ages of 7 and 12, watched the fascist dance of death. Each girl, woman was raped by innumerable VHP goons. After they had performed their sacred duty and planted their flag in women’s vaginas, some of them went and brought petrol and wood and burnt the women to death. An Adivasi who gave shelter to the kids sent a message to the Kallol camp, and M… Bhai along with the IPS officer Sanjay Srivastava went and brought the kids to the camp. M…. who related the whole incident is confident that he can recognize the men if he sees them. They came from three villages Jantral, Dairol Gaon and Sama. Four and a half months later not one was arrested. Out of 65 deaths in the Kallol Taluka, 42 were been declared missing including these six rape victims. “You can still see the saffron flag fluttering all over Gujarat.”
I recorded the testimonies of over 50 gang rape survivors in 2002, every woman had similar stories to tell - of being stripped naked, paraded, made to run, gang raped and left for the dead, every woman whom I interviewed said she saw another 8-10 being gang raped in similar circumstances and then burnt alive.
The administration had done wonderfully efficient work between April and July 2002. The carcasses of the burnt trucks, cars were all very carefully removed. One could no longer see the patches of melted tar at every hundred yards, left by burning trucks.
Travelling from Baroda to Hallol, Kallol and Godhra I realised the efficiency of Modi’s administration. They even cleared up those dirty roadside-camps full of crying women and children. After all they were eyesores and didn’t match with the beautiful roads. Modi would have of course preferred better efficiency. After all, comfortable loving middle classes had to be shielded from ugly patches of brutality. Roads had to be cleared of all the evidence of what had happened. And anyway, why should decent people be bothered about those who were the deliberate target of violence?
“VHP did not rape your daughters, did they? There were only two rapes in Gujarat”. Didn’t you hear Uma Bharti in the Parliament? And George Fernandes? He said ‘it has happened so many times. So what if you split a pregnant woman’s stomach, take out the baby and throw it in fire’. According to him ‘there have been many Kausar Banos in India’.
When the roads can lead you to Gir Forest, Lothal or Patan why should you bother to go to Fatehpura? Do you really want to spend the whole day in sharing the pain of those insignificant 38 women? Let me just reproduce a testimony here as it was audio recorded:
“I am a resident of Balaia Road. On Thursday (February 28, 2002) there was some tension near the bus stop of our village where some motorbikes and cycles were set on fire. On Friday at around three o’clock, the tension increased and some houses were set on fire. On Saturday curfew was imposed on the entire village. Since we live in a kuccha house we went to our brother-in-law’s house to seek protection. We were in his house. I was cooking and had fed only my son when suddenly a mob surrounded our house. They took some wooden logs and set our house on fire. We had little children with us and were trapped in the house. From 12:00pm to 3:00pm we sat inside the burning house but fortunately after 3:00pm the fire faded out. Then they broke open the door and entered the house. My brother-in-law offered to take away whatever they wished, but pleaded with them to spare their lives. He gave them Rs.10,000 and whatever we had. They broke all the cupboards and looted them. They beat us up with swords, sticks, batons and whatever they could find. They even beat up the kids. They were picking up the children and throwing them on the ground. There were about 15 children. They then threw petrol on all of us. We tried to escape through the back door. The goons then chased all of us and caught hold of the women. They started stripping all the women of their clothes and started insulting them. We were stark naked and were petrified with fear. Then all of us, about 25–35 women, were gang raped. My two brothers-in-law tried to save us as we were being raped, so they killed both of them in front of our own eyes. They were just taking turns. There were women next to each other, one man would catch hold of one woman and then the next. It was impossible to find out who was raped by how many. Three men raped me. We have received no compensation at all from the government. We have nowhere to go. Our house is completely burnt now. When we gained consciousness we ran towards the neighbour’s house to beg for clothes and help. But none of them even let us enter their homes. Then we ran through the farms and wrapped ourselves in whatever rags and tatters we could find because we had no clothes at all. We ran towards the police station. On the way we found a police van and we informed them about what had happened and begged them to rescue our little children who were hiding in the farms. But instead of helping us they asked us if we had read the papers and it was happening all over, and they said we should run away wherever we could. (28 names of the victims were given to us, 10 names of unmarried girls were not given. We promised the women not to publish the names).
I met an eight-year old S… in Godhra camp. He would collect small children around him at the Godhra camp and describe to them how the goons gang raped his mother, Perhaps that was the only way he could deal with the tragedy. It took the camp organiser L… days to make him understand that he should not be telling all this to small children. L…. introduced me to S… and his two brothers 10-yr-old M… and 12-year-old Y…, their father had died some years ago and now they had no one. S….. was a very shy kid with bright eyes. He said very little but I couldn’t control my tears. He told me “on the day when all this happened I was with my mother. She had Rs.50 in her pocket at that time and she handed them over to me saying that if you manage to remain alive then spend them. If you die then it will not matter. After giving me the money she said run-away, run-away. But I did not run away and hid close by behind a tree. From there I saw everything. How they attacked my mother, they removed all her clothes, then many men raped her and then burnt her. The three brothers were in the Godhra Camp till it was allowed to function. S….. and his brothers had no family, no money, no home… Gujarat was returning to normalcy. Soon there were fresh elections and Modi got a fresh mandate.
There are innumerable such stories, it was not the time of WhatsApp and smartphones.
Nation has been numbed by the Manipur video. It has flashed back in my mind the horrifying months of the 2002 pogrom.
Nothing shocks me any longer. I seethe, with anger at the insensitivities of political parties and the media. The future of Gujarat and India was written on the walls. It is not that there were not enough people who were exposing the reality. The industrialists, the media, and the middle classes were so blinded by the PR driven campaign of the Gujarat development model that they refused to see beyond. No, they saw everything but the hate virus had spread like a pandemic. The crony capitalists were happy, their blue eyed boy once in the centre will help them seize and plunder the national wealth. They had tasted the blood during the carnage.
Every single event of brutality that is happening in today’s India is part of the Gujarat model - lynching, grabbing of lands, dismantling democracy, educational and scientific institutions, controlling of media , growing sexual assaults on women, attacks on freedom of expressions and freedom of the press. Impunity enjoyed by non-state actors. There is nothing which was not already experimented in the laboratory of the Hindutva Rashtra.
Anhad, as many other civil society groups were constantly exposing the reality of the fascist build up but it fell on deaf ears.
We released a series called Kachcha Chittha: 5,46,56,819 sq mtr (5465 HECTARE) of land was sold to Adani in Gujarat through 30 orders from 2005 to 2007 for a SEZ. All rules were bent backwards. Twenty five applications for land were submitted on two consecutive days – 22 & 23/12/03 and 23 orders for sale of land were released on a single day 15th July 2005. The price of land charged from Adani was between Rs. 2.5 to Rs. 25 per sq. meter when the market rate was between Rs 1000 to Rs.1,500 a square metre.
Between September 2011 and February 2012 Modi organised 34 Sadbhavna Fast programmes in Gujarat, extensively covered by Media and the project ‘Image Makeover’ was launched fraudulently using public money. Letter No. GS.14.1/138/2018/2012 dated 22.3.2012 recorded the diverted amount, which was spent by various Departments as: (Narmada Water Works - 46,800, Information and Broadcasting Dept. - 64,34,000, Road & Housing Dept - 86,81,000, Sports Youth & Culture Dept- 4,97,209, Industry & Mines Dept - 56,832, General Administration Dept - 2,434.). Other planned projects of these departments were completely starved.
The Gujarat development model was a big sham but the Gujarat Model of converting India into a Hindu Rashtra is a successful model. Methods of discrimination, spreading disharmony, controlling minds, spreading irrationality, use of fear, the use of the tool of terrorism were experimented and perfected in the laboratory of Gujarat.
In 2007, Anhad along with 33 other groups organised the ‘Save the Constitution Campaign’. We covered 650 villages during the campaign. There was no response from political parties, in fact some political leaders asked, “Where do you see the constitution being attacked?” It is after 15 years that the political parties woke up to the fact that the Constitution of India is in danger. In 2012 we did major campaigns against hatred and fear. I would want readers to see one of the videos that we released in 2012 as part of 7 small videos fighting hatred and fear:
We organised chai pe charcha on the roads of Ahmedabad much before Modi picked it up. Tushar Gandhi led the campaign.
The fascist regime wants to keep us engaged in a new crisis every ten days, it is important to understand that this regime does not want us to work on anything constructive. It’s high time we realise that there is an urgent need to stop being crisis managers and work on an alternate narrative, which is compassionate, humane and loving. There is an urgent need to work towards dislodging this regime.
Join our national campaign for unity and communal harmony.