Narendra Modi as PM: What It Means to Me
By Jinju S.
In February 2002, I was two months short of my thirteenth birthday. My most pressing worries revolved around exams, projects, and marks. I loved Sourav Ganguly, Aamir Khan, and Harry Potter. I devoured Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, and R.K. Narayan. I enjoyed chatting with my girlfriends and listening to Westlife. I was just another carefree urban middle-class schoolgirl.
Then the Gujarat carnage happened. And my world was never the same again. For the first time in my life, I became conscious of my identity as a Muslim living in a Hindu-majority country. Yes, I know the Babri Masjid demolition and the Bombay riots had happened before that but I was too young then for them to make any impression on my mind. Growing up in a more or less ‘secular’ Muslim family, surrounded by Hindu neighbours and friends, this was an identity that had always remained submerged and forgotten underneath the daily humdrum of city life in Kerala, a state that has a relatively better record of communal harmony than most other parts of India. I used to truly pride myself on my country’s rich diversity and thought that the more religions we have the better, since it means more public holidays and more reasons to celebrate!
It was this beautiful bubble of mine that was painfully burst as the events of those gruesome weeks unfolded before my horrified eyes on national TV and newspapers. I, who used to read only the Young World and other supplements of The Hindu, suddenly found myself poring over the main sheets of the newspaper every single day, first thing in the morning. I silently cried as I read about the pregnant woman whose belly was slit open and the foetus thrown into the fire, about the thousands raped, slaughtered and burned for a crime they had not the least association with. I lost my sleep, tossing and turning in my bed at night, haunted by the image of the crying handicapped man begging for his life with folded hands – an image that was flashed all over national and international media and later became the face of the Gujarat riots.
I also remember one of my close friends in school at that time proclaiming nonchalantly that the Muslims had brought it upon themselves, for hadn’t they first set fire to the train carriage in Godhra? Another good friend of mine, also a Hindu, had intervened then, reminding her that these victims were not the ones who had burnt the carriage. I, however, could not bring myself to utter a single word; I looked away from my arguing friends and hung my head in pained, perturbed silence. For the first time in my life, I saw religion turn into a Janus-faced monster. I did talk about my feelings with my family, who were also very disturbed by the events. It frustrated me that there was little I could do to change things.
So did I cut myself off from my numerous Hindu friends after this? Not at all! Because even back then, as I do to this day, I sincerely believed that an entire community could not be blamed for the actions of a few beasts. Did the Gujarat riots change me as a person? Yes, in myriad subtle but deep ways. For one, I realised I could not afford to be indifferent to politics any more. Hurt and let down by the way Narendra Modi and the NDA handled the Gujarat riots, I realised that the issue of who comes to power can be a matter of life and death. Literally. I would open the newspaper every day with a thumping heart, wincing at certain politicians’ statements about how Muslims are responsible for India’s backwardness because they do not practise birth-control and exhortations to Indian Muslims to prove their patriotism. And they were the ones who were ruling my country! I could hardly wait for the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, even though I was still below my voting age. I was euphoric when the UPA toppled the ruling NDA. I was in great awe of Sonia Gandhi for quite some time!
Now, twelve years later, when I hear people talking about a vibrant Gujarat under Modi or the ‘Modi model of development’, when I encounter the constant media hype surrounding his candidature for the post of Prime Minister in the 2014 general elections, it’s these wounds that start bleeding afresh: wounds that rudely shook a thirteen year-old out of her innocent childhood reverie and forced her to grow up in the span of a couple of weeks. Not that everyone around me noticed, but I did. When I hear people say, “What about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots?” every time the Gujarat riots are brought up, as if that’s an answer to what happened in Gujarat in 2002, despair swamps me. Yes, the perpetrators of the 1984 riots should be punished, just as Modi should ideally be behind bars! All human lives are equally precious, be that of a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, or atheist.
Just as 9/11 cannot be justified on the grounds of the millions murdered in Gaza with the US’s complicity, Gujarat 2002 does not become any less painful because of the 1984 riots or vice versa. I feel despair because many of the people spouting such comments are my peers from the Humanities and Social Sciences. We say we are more in touch with humanity and social realities than our counterparts in other disciplines but such statements make me doubt the authenticity of this claim.
Am I merely raking up skeletons of the past? Can’t I put 2002 behind me and embrace the “radiant” future that beckons with Modi at the helm? I could, but I wouldn’t for two simple reasons: twelve years after the Gujarat riots, Muslims in Gujarat continue to be systematically oppressed and discriminated against (to those who boast there hasn’t been a riot in Gujarat since 2002, I would like to ask: do the Muslims there even have a voice?); moreover, the claims of development in Gujarat are highly dubious, to say the least, as has been pointed out time and again by scholars like Amartya Sen, Atul Sood, Ramachandra Guha, Rohini Hensman, Ajay Gudavarthy and the like. What India needs is inclusive and balanced development that percolates to the grassroots level, not airbrushed images of an exclusionist model of development that caters merely to the corporates and the powerful.
Can I forgive and forget? Well, Modi has not apologised for the Gujarat massacre so far and I don’t think he ever will. So the question of forgiveness is pointless. Forget? Never ever.
Jinju S. is a Doctoral Fellow, Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad, India.