Many more public memorials to the dead are required. These may serve as constant reminders to us, heirs to a century of massacres, and spinners of dreams for a better world
I feel honoured to have been asked to speak on this solemn and rare occasion, the Jamia moment, as it were, in the historic initiative underway at the behest of the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), to create a public memorial to the dead, murdered, brutalised and dispossessed children, women and men from Gujarat 2002, a memorial equally to the dogged fighters for justice from that time on.
I feel doubly honoured to be speaking at an event inaugurated by Prof Romila Thapar. She taught me at JNU during the 1970s. Her example continues to inform my own teaching while her academic rigour and passion for history, her willingness to stand up and be counted, to speak her mind with lucidity and grace on issues that matter and the values that she holds dear, continue to inspire many of us, especially in trying times.
I would like to begin by reading out a passage from an article I had written after a group of students from Delhi University and I returned from Gujarat in May 2002.
“No matter how much we may already know about the systematic savaging of the lives of Muslim citizens in Gujarat, it is when you step into the theatres of destruction, into the worlds of victims and survivors, most with nothing but their lives left to protect, the sun screaming murder, no water to drink, flies and the stench of urine and shit all around, it is then the hugeness of the tragedy that Narendra Modi, the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal have wrought in Gujarat, blows a hole in the solar plexus and hell into your being.”
I chose to read out these lines today to remind ourselves of the barbarism that engulfed Gujarat in 2002, the full horror and implications of which may never have come home to many students and me but for our close encounters with people and places in Gujarat during the fateful summer of that year. This tragedy must never be forgotten. It must be remembered and understood for it to never happen again, for justice to be done and for the living to breathe in freedom and peace.
I understood instinctively for the first time why Theodor Adorno, in 1949, might have felt compelled to reflect on whether there could be poetry after Auschwitz. As time passed, however, almost unnoticed by me, a poem made its way into, became part of, and sharply impacted my memories of Gujarat. ‘Nanhi Pujaran’ written by Majaz way back in 1936, had nothing to do with Gujarat 2002, but, to me, perhaps because it spoke of such innocence and vulnerable beauty, it has ended up getting intertwined with its macabre, threatening opposite, rendering my memories of 2002 more unbearable and Gujarat even more impossible to forget. The ways of remembering, and through the act of remembering, resisting, are many. I can no longer read ‘Nanhi Pujaran’ without thinking of the killing fields of Gujarat and vice versa, and this invariably brings a lump to my throat.
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