Prof. Irfan Habib’s tribute to Harsh Mander in glowing terms that it was reassuring to know that the country which witnessed massacres like Gujarat has given birth to not only Gandhi, but a person like him, of whom we were all proud, summed up the sentiments of all teachers, students and social workers who had assembled under the Presidentship of the industrialist-philanthropist Mr. Zafar Alam in the forenoon of September 16 in the Arts Faculty Lounge of the AMU, Aligarh for the release of his book Fear and Forgiveness: The Aftermath of Massacre published by the Penguin in 2009. Prof. Habib characterised the Gujarat carnage, which constitutes the background of the book, as not only an onslaught against Muslims but against the entire nation.
The programme started with recitation from Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain scriptures on the theme of sanctity of human life. The book was formally released by Dr. Zakia Siddiqi. It was followed by reading of passages from the book by Dr. Sami Rafiq, Haris Qadeer and Dr. Amadani Sridharan. Dr. Sami Rafiq compeered the programme.
Welcoming Harsh Mander, Prof. Iqbal A. Ansari, President Citizens for Peace and Human Rights, which organised the programme in collaboration with the Department of Political Science of the A.M.U, observed that Harsh Mander combined rare intellectual and moral integrity with compassion, which has made him undertake dedicated work for all marginalised, poor and oppressed people. Muslims in his view are not only target of violence of hate groups but also suffer daily discrimination and are being treated as second class citizens.
Introducing the book, Prof. Ansari said that the book affirms that there cannot be any durable peace without punishing the unrepentant guilty and fully rehabilitating the victims. However, going beyond legal retributive justice, it explores chances of restorative justice, by a process of healing and reconciliation which required: (i) acknowledgment; (ii) remorse; (iii) reparation; and (iv) justice.
The writer feels that none of them obtained in Gujarat. Instead of even slightest signs of acknowledgment of guilt, Modi and his gang celebrated the event as Gujarat’s Gaurav (Pride) – in the process Modi becoming a folk hero.
Prof. Ansari referred to passages in the book, which honestly brought out how the State’s institutions, the rights groups and secular intellectual class failed the victim group. However the book also points out that for the first time the efforts of civil society groups supported by the NHRC resulted in the reopening of cases and retrials leading to convictions under the direction of the Supreme Court.
Inaugurating the session, the Aligarh industrialist and philanthropist, Mr. Pramoad Kumar, pointed out the general state of lawlessness of the police and the law-enforcement system wherein false encounter killings and torture were common – which made Gujarat-like situation passively acceptable by the people.
In his detailed analysis of the book, Prof. Masoodul Hasan, one of the most distinguished scholars of the A.M.U, observed that the book written in a superb literary style combining the clinical and the artistic technique and tools was the outcome of sincere heart searching of one who had a heart of gold. He expressed appreciation of the coinage of the term Nyayagrah for people’s collective struggle for legal justice. Prof. Hasan also made copious references to Prof. Ansari’s work as an activist and scholar, including his work in the area of communal violence.
While complimenting Harsh Mander for his commendable work both as an activist and writer, Prof. Hamida Ahmad regretted lack of any progress in the accountability of law-enforcement system since early 1960s. She recalled how Subhadra Joshi’s visit after Hashimpura (Meerut) – Maliana massacre by the PAC in 1987 had inspired hope in her as a student, which was never fulfilled.
Dealing with reconciliation – the theme of the book – she appreciated that Harsh Mander distinguished between subjugative reconciliation of the oppressed to her inferior status and reconciliation with dignity among equals.
She made the perceptive observation that there was no question of acknowledgment of guilt by those who planned the carnage pursuing their agenda of hate and revenge. Recalling the oft-made observation including that by Harsh Mander that no riot could continue beyond a few hours, if the law was enforced impartially, she wanted to remove the distinctions caused by labels between ‘riot’ and ‘terror’. Both were the same. She hoped that Indians would remind themselves that they treated Ashoka the Great and Akbar the Great not Alexander the Great, and would remove the blot of Modi becoming the Great.
Prof. Khwaja Shamim Ahmad acknowledged the heart moving narrative of the book, which touched him. He recalled the Aligarh riot of 1978 in which the PAC had done targeted killings of Muslims. Were the rifles scientifically trained to recognise and kill only Muslims? He put the question to Prime Minister Morarji Desai, when he observed that when riots broke out, police would resort to firing.
The retired district judge Dharam Sing Ram commended Harsh Mander’s work, to which, he felt, we should extend support so that gross injustice to Muslims and other weaker sections could be removed, without which India’s claim as a law-governed democracy would remain hollow.
Dr. Mufti Zahid recalled Harsh Mander’s initial sacrifice by resigning from the administrative service and undertaking the mission of rousing people’s conscience. His sincere dedication to the cause made us regain hope. He felt that the facts of the incident of Ishrat Jahan’s false encounter killing coming to light was a hopeful sign of accountability.
Dr. Asim Siddiqi paid tributes to Harsh Mander, whose columns in newspapers he looked forward to reading with interest every week; and was moved by his recent account of the Nellie massacre of 1983, in the Hindu. It appeared to him that he wrote from the heart.
Dr. Shakeel Samdani recalled how as a mere Additional Collector he got anti-Sikh riot in Indore controlled, by calling the army without seeking permission from any political authority. Paying tributes to him, he observed that we should all seek inspiration from Harsh Mander’s work.
Prof. Shamim Ahmad forcefully brought out pervasive injustice to Muslims, who were in a unique situation of victimhood. He gave a call for trial of Modi under some competent international authority.
In his concluding remarks Prof. Ansari pointed out that issues of justice, peace and reconciliation in Gujarat could not be dealt with in isolation. Gujarat 2002 is the outcome of the failure of the judiciary since December 1949 till 1994 in the Ayodhya cases. Why did Ayodhya happen? It needs to be publicly debated, like the current debate over why Partition happened, fixing responsibility for not only 6 December 1992, but all events since 22-23 December 1949. He further observed that to be able to cope with the post-Ayodhya situation of which Gujarat is an episode required paradigm shift from pre-1947 secular communal polarised public discourse to a more comprehensive model of peace and reconciliation for the entire subcontinent making us rethink our concepts of nation, community, citizen and State in human rights perspective.
In his response Harsh Mander gave reasons for writing the book based on his experience in Gujarat since 2002 till date – especially the narratives of sufferings of the innocent victims, which needed to be recorded – as he discovered in Nellie (Assam) when he visited the victims of February 1983 carnage, who narrated the 25-year old events as if they had happened in the recent past. Since his idea of India was based on equality of rights of all citizens, especially equal justice for all, he initiated Nyayagraha movement to struggle for securing legal justice while adhering to truth.
Apart from the narrative of the pregnant Kausar, whose abdomen was ripped open and foetus smashed, he recalled the effacement of Wali Dakni’s shrine and overnight building of a road over it. However, it should be comforting to know that every night after the traffic comes to a halt Hindu devotees offer floral tribute to the Saint.
Referring to the findings of Ashish Nandy, he expressed satisfaction over the fact that during 1947 holocaust 26 per cent of people on both sides of the Indo-Pak border saved life of the other community as compared to one per cent savers of Jews in the Holocaust in Nazi’s Germany.
In his presidential remarks Mr. Zafar Alam, expressed his sense of pride in meeting Harsh Mander for the first time. He congratulated him as well as other human rights activists who were serving as catalytic agents for an ongoing change, and expressed his conviction that parliamentary democracy in India would be able to bring about structural reform in the model of governance so that recurrence of massacres and pogroms could soon become a thing of the past.