I called it "Just as Orwell predicted", the Hindustan Times called it something else and edited it slightly ... this essay is on the oped page of the paper today (October 19). (Can't find web link just now).
- "According to the [Srikrishna Commission] report, the [1993 Bombay
bomb] blasts were the fallout of the riots that happened after
demolition of the Babri Masjid. Why have only we been found guilty?
What about the culprits who have been named in the Srikrishna
The questions Turk asks deserve answers, even if they come from him. But note that he's not the first man in this trial to mention the riots in Bombay. Now it may not be to everyone's liking to hear it. But several of the accused have spoken of how they were persuaded to play their parts in the bomb blasts as revenge for what they suffered during the riots.
For example, there's Pervez Nazir Ahmed Shaikh, pronounced guilty on September 21 for the bomb in Katha Bazar that killed four people. Shaikh used to sell clothes at Andheri station. He lost that business because of the riots, and was consumed by bitterness. When someone introduced him to Tiger Memon, and Memon spoke of "avenging" what had happened to people like him during the riots, Shaikh was only too ready to do his murderous bit.
You can argue about the perversity of such vengeance, but that's not my point here. Nor am I saying the riots justified the blasts: they did not. My point is simpler, and you don't really need to hear it from these men. My point is just the dates for these events: December 1992 and January 1993 is when the riots happened; March 12 1993, two months later, is when the blasts went off.
Why point out something as obvious as the sequence of dates, you ask? Well, it isn't quite as obvious as you think.
Take a well known Indian blogger, one even described by his fans as "accomplished". After the train blasts this past July, he dismissed chances of any "retaliation" with this: "[T]his is the third time in last 15 years [that] large scale bombing have [sic] taken place in Mumbai itself. Except for 1993, when Shiv Sena attacked Muslims in large number [sic], there has never been any retaliation."
Take the bureaucrat and thoughtful author Pavan Varma. In an article on the "New Middle Class" for Outlook (October 16), he makes a point about "the difference in the way the middle class reacted in Bombay to the bomb blasts in 1993 and 2003." If your brow is furrowed, wondering what reactions Varma is talking about, consider that on page 188 of his last book, Being Indian, he writes: "The 1993 bomb blasts triggered religious violence."
Take the writer Ashok Banker, now several well-received books into his massive project of writing the Ramayana for popular consumption. Given his subject, Banker must know the value of research and historical accuracy. Yet in Tehelka's issue of July 29, Banker refers to "the cycle of action-reaction that led to the 1993 bomb blasts being followed by riots."
A decade-and-a-half after those weeks of Bombay misery, it seems that an ever-increasing number of people have come to believe that the riots followed the blasts. That the riots were actually set off by the blasts. These well-known writers actually believe and pronounce as much, and they are by no means the only ones.
So let's get this straight. Actually, dear Mr Blogger, in 1993 the Shiv Sena attacked Muslims before the blasts; not in "retaliation" for the blasts. Actually, dear Messrs Banker and Varma, the 1993 bomb blasts happened after the religious riots.
How can each of you write the opposite? Why did your editors (well, not you Mr Blogger) not catch such mistakes? How is it that not even the ongoing bomb blast judgements, with their daily mention of men who confess to bitterness over the riots, has got you to correct your impression?
But more important, how did this inversion of history -- one truly worthy of Orwell and 1984 -- come to be? And why?
The "why" is simple. If people believe that the blasts set off the riots, they will say to themselves: yes, the riots were horrible, but they were, after all, a reaction. An unpleasant one, but understandable. Seeing them that way immediately lessens the horror of the riots; makes it possible to view them -- as so many do view them -- as a heroic stand against marauding bomb-setting mobs.
All of which helps explain why we have judgements being delivered in the blasts trial, but not one riot criminal has been punished.
So my theory is that ever since the blasts, there has been a systematic and subtle campaign to propagate this inversion. For just one example, take a beautifully printed book I have on my shelf. Called Sir Manohar Joshi, it is a biography of the Shiv Sena leader who was once Chief Minister of Maharashtra, written by a Dr Vijay Dhavale of Canada while Joshi was CM.
I searched through Sir Manohar Joshi for references to the riots of 1992-93. I found one such reference on page 99. Here it is:
- The bomb blast at the Mumbai Stock Exchange and some other prominent buildings in early 1993 not only took several lives, it turned the politics of the state upside down. The news that the prime suspects were Ibrahim Dawood [sic] and his gang ... touched off communal riots in several parts of the metropolis. Chief Minister Sudhakarrao Naik was judged to have failed to control them and Prime Minister Rao asked Sharad Pawar to take over the reins of power from Naik ... Pawar became Chief Minister of Maharashtra in March 1993.
(Aside: This is not the only turnaround of history that Dhavale's literary masterpiece propagates. On page 206, he painstakingly explains that the March 1993 blasts led to the October 1991 digging up of the Wankhede cricket pitch by the Shiv Sena).
And this book was published in February 1997, less than four years after the blasts. The good Dr Dhavale got going on his revision project very quickly indeed.
With efforts like these, it is no wonder that Banker and Varma and the blogger believe what they do.
It is also no wonder that while we've had a long trial that's now pronouncing verdicts for the terrorism of the blasts, we've had no justice for the terrorism of the riots.
No wonder at all. No justice at all. No end to terror.
Update: As someone reminded me by email, I've written on this theme before, in this space and elsewhere. When I have, I've had responses like "The jury's still out on the dates", and "OK, we can argue till the cows come home about which happened first, but so what?" and the like.
Well, let's say someone wrote a history of the Second World War. Let's say he had a paragraph in it that said the atom bomb attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima "touched off" the attack on Pearl Harbour. Given that the atom bombs were dropped in August 1945, and Pearl Harbour happened in December 1941, would it be OK to say "The jury's still out on the dates"?
Those dates too far apart for you, or too remote in history for you? Take another example.
Suppose a columnist wrote an article about the attacks on the World Trade Center. Suppose he claimed in it that the US invasion of Afghanistan (October 2001) "was followed by" the WTC atrocities (September 2001). Would it be fine to say "We can argue till the cows come home about which happened first"?
Over at Mumbai Matters, Bombay Addict has a short timeline.
Please read: After receiving the fourth comment to this piece (Anonymous at 825pm), I sent this note to the Hindustan Times:
- After my article appeared in HT yesterday, someone emailed me to say that the blogger I mention corrected his lines about the Shiv Sena retaliating after the 1993 bomb blasts. (i.e. this quote that is in my article: "[T]his is the third time in last 15 years [that] large scale bombing have [sic] taken place in Mumbai itself. Except for 1993, when Shiv Sena attacked Muslims in large number [sic], there has never been any retaliation.")
On his blog, those lines now appear with a line through them.
I'd be grateful if you would publish this correction.