Fr. Cedric Prakash, SJ, Director of PRASHANT, Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, writes:
It’s exactly seven years since Gujarat witnessed one of the worst horrendous chapters of Indian history. The burning of the S6 compartment of the Sabarmati Express at the Godhra Railway Station and the subsequent carnage has left an indelible impact on the lives of many. Plenty has happened since 2002 and many indeed would like to move on.....even perhaps, to forget that 2002 ever existed !!! The fact however, remains, that the Gujarat Carnage was not only too traumatic for words but right from day one, there has neither been a political will nor a concerted civil society movement to address it.
Seven years down the road, there are still major concerns which have to be addressed immediately. These include:
Thousands of victims still yearn for justice. Some of them want to get on with life but they really are unable to do so since they still know nothing about their loved ones who are “missing” since those horrific days. Many still yearn for a just compensation for the loss of life and property.
Total rehabilitation is fundamental for normalcy. Many of the victims look forward to the possibility of going back to live and work in a place they once called “home”; they would like to live as a matter of right, anywhere in Gujarat, without fear of discrimination and / or ostracization.
Freedom from illegal detention:
Several Muslim youth were detained under the draconian POTA. In spite of POTA being repealed and Supreme Court Judgments negating these illegal confinements, they have still not been granted bail.
Access to basic amenities:
Vast sections of the minority population still live in dehumanizing conditions. In the wake of the Gujarat Carnage, many of them were provided hurriedly constructed shelters in areas which have no access to clean drinking water or primary health care.
Our city, our State have become extremely polarized. There has to be a paradigm shift in the attitude of a large section of people. Biases and prejudices seem to be mainstreamed. Civil society is either too apathetic or too afraid to come out and take a stand for what is right. Most do not want to have a minority as neighbours. Minorities are consistently stereotyped and made the butt of ridicule.
The aura of Immunity:
In spite of being named by various Commissions (both national and international), investigation teams and others, the main perpetrators of the Gujarat Carnage still remain scot-free with an aura of immunity. They cannot be touched, and their posturings communicate this.
Ultimately, at the heart of any change is the political will to ensure that the rights and freedoms ensured in the Constitution are guaranteed and protected for every citizen. This political will cannot be reduced to cosmetic promises and mere rhetoric, but has to be seen in a very tangible desire to address and to change what is endemic.
Seven years down the line, the situation in Gujarat is far from normal. While a good part of the violence has been institutionalized, the fact remains to be seen is whether civil society will have the courage to usher in a new dawn by addressing some of these key concerns. Gujarat needs a change for the better!