Monday, March 7, 2011

Excellent Article: Godhra: Reading the fine lines by Pravin Mishra

Godhra: Reading the fine lines
by Pravin Mishra on Monday, March 7, 2011 at 9:15am

Comparison of 9/11 WTC attack and train burning is about magnifying the events at Godhra so that any gruesome reaction to it can be justified

A week after the Godhra verdict, we must ask what we accept as ‘truth’. I understand the trauma and the pain for those who lost their loved ones in Godhra. Their suffering is real and it should not be denied. But we must be careful to avoid using one tragedy to justify another. I also yearn for closure on the Gujarat tragedy. But I know my closure will come only when the truth about what happened in Godhra emerges.

The conspiracy theory, as upheld by the sessions court, has once again put Godhra’s minority community in the accused box. The only logic used by the court is by posing 36 questions, the most significant being “Whether some Muslim Ghanchi of Godhra are communal minded?”

After posing these 36 questions, the judge arrived at the the most amazing conclusion — “It would not have been possible for the assailants to gather near the place of the incident, to make assault with deadly weapons, to set the coach S6 on fire and to kill 59 persons and to cause burn injuries to 48 others, within a short span of 20 minutes time, stopping the train at a lonely place and pouring the petrol approximately 140 litters inside the said coach, if there was no pre-planned at all and no conspiracy amongst the assailants.”

Citing the past communal history of Godhra, the conspiracy theory is upheld, even though the ‘master conspirator’ is acquitted. Of those convicted, 11 are to be hanged, 20 to remain in prison for life. From the day Godhra happened, the government has been pre-occupied with profiling the attack as an act of terrorism than in ascertaining the facts. Indeed on February 27, 2002, itself, our chief minister was quick to label the event as an act of terrorism.

The trial court’s decision mirrors this view — that Godhra was a pre-planned act. There is little mention of the altercation that occurred on the train platform between the kar sevaks and the vendors, or the harassment of a young Muslim girl, Sophia Banu, which prompted many Muslims near the platform to begin throwing stones. These incidents have been brushed aside as of no consequence. This lent credence to the state’s version of Godhra incident.

The verdict is about symbolism and recreating the past. It is about casting the entire Gujarat violence in 2002 as the natural response of Hindus to a pre-planned attack by Muslims in Godhra. We have already seen this in the language used in describing the large-scale killing of Muslims that followed as mere ‘post-Godhra’.

The images of 9/11 WTC attacks were compared with the burning pattern of S6 by forensic experts to establish the petrol theory that 140 liters were poured in to burn the coach. This is absurd as we all have seen how the smoke follows the instant explosion in WTC whereas there was no explosion in the S6 coach. The coach was packed with more than 150 passengers. There were more people who survived than those who lost their lives in S6. The first flame of fire was noticed 15 minutes after the smoke was noticed, impossible with the presence of such a huge amount of inflammable.

Surely there are other historical examples that can be used to understand patterns of smoke after an explosion. But the comparison with 9/11 is significant. It is about magnifying the events of Godhra so that any gruesome reaction to Godhra can be justified. We saw the United States, under President Bush, use 9/11 to justify bombing two nations, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths, that had scant connection to the 9/11 attacks.

Will we also use the Godhra tragedy to paralyse our own thinking? They say lie has speed but truth has stamina. But I add: only if we are willing to ask the right questions.

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