A Requiem for Godhra

The trauma of burning!
Have you ever daydreamed with a cigarette between your fingers till the burning end slowly crept up and singed the intertriginous surfaces between them? Have you ever fallen off a motorcycle and experienced the hot silencer coming into contact with your leg? Have you ever touched a flame or a hot stove? Have you ever experienced very hot liquid or oil spill singeing your skin?

Just a three-second exposure to water at 1400 F (60 Deg C) or a one-second exposure at 156 Deg F (68.8 Deg C) causes deep thermal or full thickness burn. Above 160 Deg F, the burn is instantaneous. The temperature of freshly brewed coffee is 180 Deg F (82.2 Deg C).

The good lord has given us four layers of skin – to protect our flesh from heat or cold, bacterial, fungal or viral invasions or other environmental damage. Actually three of them comprising the epidermis are above the real skin or dermis, in medical lingo. We do not know whether the good lord intended us to have a complex about the complexion of the second layer from the top. If only we did not have a complex about its colour! Incidentally, we constantly shed the upper-most layer once in every four weeks.

What happens when the skin ceases protecting the body because burns morphed it? Burn injuries associated with smoke inhalation could be quite traumatic. The combination multiplies the chances of morbidity and mortality, because of circulatory burn shock, distant organ injury and the generation of free radicals, which in the presence of depleted body defence mechanisms cause more severe injury.

The mental trauma that a person who is on fire undergoes transcends mere physical injury. Sustaining burns through abnormal circumstances is a situation, which exacerbates the victim’s mental trauma; so is the case in which the possibility of returning to normal daily activity is ruled out; or when the person is concerned about scarring or body image, or there is obvious disfigurement.

In such circumstances the person under fire undergoes severe mental depression, social withdrawal, sleep disturbance and heightened stress levels. These psychosomatic symptoms are triggered by intrusive memories or visual images (of the fire and being on fire), hyper-vigilance (increased wariness or being easily startled) and fear or avoidance of anything related to the accident, including refusal to talk about the incident.

The loneliness of pain!
Ivan Illich observed, “the pain inflicted on individuals had a limiting effect on the abuses of man on man… Any society in which the intensity of discomforts and pains inflicted rendered them culturally ‘insufferable’ could not but come to an end.” According to Illich pain is so personal that it “means a breakdown of the clear-cut distinction between organism and environment, between stimulus and response.”

For the person experiencing pain, it is a sign for something not answered: “What is wrong?” “How much longer?” “Why must I/ought I/should I/can I suffer?” “Why does this evil exist and why does it strike just me?” ( Ref 1)

Lifton who studied people close to ground zero in Hiroshima described the impact of mass death on survivors as ‘simply ceasing to feel, being in a state of numbness without emotional response. And after a while this emotional closure merged with a depression which, twenty years after the bomb, still manifested itself in the guilt or shame of having survived without experiencing any pain at the time of explosion. These people live in an interminable encounter with death which has spared them, and they suffer from a vast breakdown of trust in the larger human matrix that supports each individual human life. They experienced their anaesthetized passage through this event as something just as monstrous as the death of those around them, as a pain too dark and too overwhelming to be confronted, or suffered.’ ( Ref 2)

Illich observed that what the bomb did in Hiroshima “might guide us to an understanding of the cumulative effect on a society in which…pain loses its referential character if it is diluted, and generates a meaningless, question-less residual horror.”( Ref 1)

When the whole body is on fire, the victim is “beyond exhaustion, locked into a private world where all existence is a miasma” to use a popular novelist’s quaint description of pain and “the will to survive ceases”, to invert his expression. The body prays the good lord to end it all!

No wreaths for the Karsevaks!
This was what the fifty nine Karsevaks including women and children travelling in S6, Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002 underwent – bodies wholly on fire, they were beyond exhaustion, locked into a private world where all existence was a miasma of pain and with the will to survive ceasing, praying the good lord to end it all.

godhra 2

Our good prime minister did not seem to lose any sleep that night – on February 27, 2002 – as he did on the night of the Glasgow bombings in 2007. For after all, only the minorities have first claim to our national resources and the prime ministerial sleep is a national resource. It does not come cheap – to the nation!

To be fair, our good prime minister was not alone in not losing sleep over the horrible, indescribable death that befell the hapless Karsevaks. Our society as a whole, its intellectuals, the leading lights of its media, the secular intelligentsia and the human rights brigade which rushes to defend rapists, child molesters and mass murderers disvalued them.

For us they ceased to exist not after the horrendous death; they never were! They died a horrendous death not because they committed some crime that deserved it but because they took to God’s work in a country in which nearly 90% of the populace worshipped that God!

The politics of death!
The objective of this piece is not to justify the aftermath of the horrendous death of the fifty nine Karsevaks – even a single unnatural death is one death too many. It is to focus on societal reaction to the two events.

In the six years since the Karsevaks died a horrendous death – bodies wholly on fire, beyond exhaustion, locked into a private world where all existence was a miasma of pain and with the will to survive ceasing, praying the good lord to end it all – nobody thinks of them; nobody talks of them; no commemoration meetings are held; no cenotaph erected and no prayer meetings held to pray the good lord to rest their souls in peace.

In stark contrast, the aftermath has been described as genocide, holocaust, pogrom et al. The English language media in India let its imagination run riot and quite a few media persons made a career out of the dead bodies of Gujarat – not of the fifty nine Karsevaks, but of those killed in the aftermath.

Was the aftermath the first communal riot in India? Wilkinson, no friend of what the western media fondly calls the Hindu right wing observed, “one can think of not one or two, but many instances when the ruling party was not the anti-Muslim BJP, or its analytic equivalent, the Shiv Sena, but deadly Hindu-Muslim riots nonetheless took place.”( Ref 3)

Wilkinson’s article purported to have been originally published in ‘The Economic and Political Weekly’ (October 29, 2005) was a reply to Ashutosh Varshney’s review of his book ‘Votes and Violence’ (2005, New Delhi, Cambridge University Press). The blog that reproduced the article, ‘Communalism Watch’, has a telling sub-title: “Resources For All Concerned By The Rise Of The Far Right In India” with only a parenthetical, “And With Occasional Information On Other Countries Of South Asia.” It is perhaps needless to add that the blog ‘Watches’ ‘Communalism’ through a monochromatic lens, in keeping with the political correctness and ‘secular’ ethic of the Indian media.

Wilkinson adds, “…at one time or another, Congress politicians have both fomented and prevented communal violence for political advantage. Congress governments have failed, for example, to prevent some of India’s worst riots (e g, the Ahmedabad riots of 1969, the Moradabad riots of 1980, and the Meerut riots of 1987) and in some cases Congress ministers have reportedly instigated riots…and have blocked riot enforcement.”( Ref 3)

According to him, in point of fact, “in the post-independence era Congress has at times benefited electorally from Hindu-Muslim violence and I find that we can identify no robust statistical relationship between Congress rule and the level of riots, a result I attribute to the widely varying communal character of the party and its leadership across time and place.”( Ref 3)

In a grave travesty of justice to the Karsevaks who died a horrendous death, one of the messiahs of social justice, Lalu Prasad Yadav had a report ‘made to order’ to garner electoral advantage in the 2006 elections in his home state.

The English language media would rather there was no reaction to the horrendous deaths of Godhra, in order to be able to praise the ‘resilience’, ‘composite culture’, ‘triumph of secularism’ et al.

Rajiv’s ‘Gandhian’ reaction to the Sikh killings following the assassination of his mother in 1984 – ‘the earth trembles when a big tree falls’ is too well known.

In reaction to the killing of a congress legislator in Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh) in 1990, the secular party cadres went on a three-day rampage burning and looting and systematically targeting the residences and businesses of a dominant caste in the state. The slain legislator was not exactly known for his Gandhian virtues but lived by the sword and later graduated into politics.

In reaction to the conviction of their leader on corruption charges by a court in Tamil Nadu in 2000, the AIADMK cadres went on rampage burning buses in one of which three unfortunate girls were burnt alive.

It was the turn of another secular party – the Telugu Desam – to avenge the death of its legislator in Anantapur (Andhra Pradesh) in 2005. The party too went on a three-day rampage burning more than 600 government buses. This slain legislator was also not exactly known for his Gandhian virtues but lived by the sword and later graduated into politics.

In reaction to the publication of a cartoon in a newspaper in far away Denmark there were not only protests but also burning and looting in Lucknow and Hyderabad in 2006.

In reaction to a news-report criticising one of the DMK scions published in the Tamil daily Dinakaran, owned by another branch of the ruling dynasty the ‘secular’ cadres of the DMK went on rampage burning the newspaper’s offices in which three unfortunate employees were burnt alive in 2007.

In relation to the police firing in Nandigram in 2007, the Marxian god, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya said, “they were paid in their own coin.” Just imagine how the ‘secular’ media would have screamed if only Narendra Modi had said this in relation to the aftermath of Godhra?

The foregoing was not an exhaustive list of ‘secular’ reactions to events nor does it justify any of them. Similarly it is just not just to vilify a single individual for the aftermath of Godhra.

Would the ‘secular’ polity shed a tear for the fifty nine unfortunate victims of Godhra at least now, six years after the event?

Ref 1:
(Illich, Ivan, 1977, The Killing of Pain, in Limits to Medicine, Pelican Books, p. 140-160)

Ref 2:
2 (Lifton, Robert, J., 1969, Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima, New York, Random House, cited in Illich, Ivan, 1977, The Killing of Pain, Limits to Medicine, Pelican Books, p. 140-160)

Ref 3:
Wilkinson, Steven I, Communal Riots in India, 2005, Communalism Watch, November 11, 2005, (reproduced from The Economic and Political Weekly,
October 29, 2005), communalism.blogspot.com/2005/11/communal-riots-in-india-steven-i.html

Editors Note: Post 9/11 the raids by the US internal security apparatus cracked on illegal muslim populations in USA. Quite a few families fled to Canada..
a) http://www.wsws.org/articles/2003/jun2003/depo-j11.shtml

USA unleashed its fury on both Afghanistan and Iraq.All this was in response only to the political terrorism with religious undertones. Wonder how would America respond if it was subjected to direct religious terrorism if a group of 59 American white citizens (women & children) returning from an Easter or Christmas prayer are burnt alive by Muslim fundamentalists in any state in the United States. Will it do any less then what happend in Gujarat or India. Will the response of Christian America be as isoloatory as was in Hindu India ? ……Its time the US state department gets over its silliness of being associated with this annual charade.