Thursday, Oct 06, 2022

Theater Of The Absurd

Three years after the riots, there have been no noteworthy arrests, no genuine recompense for those whose homes, bodies and lives were brutally violated, no apology tendered, no justice served. That, and not the denial of a U.S. visa, is India's real

AP File
Mr. Narendra Modi's scheduled appearance at Madison Square Garden on Sunday in New York City turned out to be a damp squib. And it wasn't just the cold and rainy Manhattan day that did it. The show organized by the "Association of Indian Americans of North America" did go on, but without the physical presence of its main attraction at the fabled building on the corner of 31st Street and 7th Avenue.

Snubbed by the U.S. state, the visa-less Mr. Modi had to be beamed into the hall from thousands of miles away to address a smaller-than-expected gathering of supporters who had to run the gauntlet of a loud and raucous crowd of slogan-chanting, sign-waving protestors. The time-difference must have caused a disruption in Mr. Modi's sleep cycle. Not that he could have been sleeping much or too well, given the events of the last few days.

And what a strange few days it has been. The unexpected denial of Modi's diplomatic visa. The revocation of his existing tourist/business visas under INA Section 212(a)(2)(G) which falls under the category "Criminal Grounds of Inadmissability (Exclusion)". The unusual political bedfellows generated by this issue.

But nothing was more odd than the Orwellian Newspeak cranked out by the Modi machinery. Consider the following statements issued by Mr. Modi and his party:

"Human rights of African-Americans are being violated day in and day out in the U.S."

"Washington sees about 2000 murders a year, which is more than the number of murders that take place in the whole of Gujarat".

"In the U.S. hate crimes have risen steadily from 2001 onwards, that is, post 9/11. Should President Bush be held responsible for those crimes?"

"If an American wants to come to India, are we going to question what Americans did in Iraq and deny them visa?"

In a saner world, one would have imagined that these protestations were coming from a champion of human rights. But Mr. Modi speaking on behalf of the minorities in the U.S.?! Mr. Modi talking about hate crimes in the wake of 9/11, a majority of whose victims were Muslims?! Mr. Modi taking the Bush administration to task for its actions in Iraq?!

As a poet once angrily wrote in response to the cruel colonial British empire's demand that India help it in its "just" fight against the evil Nazis during the Second World War:

Zulm bhoole raagini insaaf ki gaane lage;
Lag gayi hai aag kya ghar mein, ke chillaane lage?

Forgetting your own oppression, you now sing to the tune of justice;
Why do you cry out now; is your own house on fire?

In a strange way though, this is about as close as Mr. Modi has come to admitting his culpability in the Gujarat violence. The argument seems to go like this: if a dictator like Pervez Musharraf can go to the U.S. despite heading a country where the plight of religious minorities has a long and gruesome history and if American officials can visit India despite being responsible for more civilian deaths than the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein, then so should Mr. Modi be able to travel to the U.S. despite the killing fields of Gujarat. Equal opportunity for all violators of human rights seems to be the bizarre and implicit demand.

Leaving aside the dark irony of Mr. Modi chiding President Bush for America's treatment of Muslims, his statistical comparison of the number of murders and crimes in the U.S. with those in Gujarat is off the mark. What happened in Gujarat under his watch was hardly a mere crime. The U.S. murders he refers to were committed by individuals against individuals. Gujarat, on the other hand, witnessed the systematic targetting of a particular community in an shameful act of collective "punishment".Besides, the land of Gandhi's ahimsa did pretty well on the number count, besting Washington's yearly murder rate in the space of a few short and horrific weeks.

Given this, the ongoing breast-beating and chest-thumping rings a bit hollow, as does the contention that the denial of a U.S. visa to Mr. Modi is an affront to India's self-esteem. Mr. Modi has not exactly been the repository of Indian pride over the last few years. The charge of sullying India's image in the world as a secular and tolerant society must be laid at the doorstep of the government he led at a time when the state machinery failed in its duty to protect its citizens.

Besides, obscured by this rhetoric, lies the fact that the resistance to Mr. Modi's trip was led by Indians of all faiths and political affiliations living in the U.S. The list of organizations that formed the "Coalition Against Genocide", which spearheaded the opposition to Mr. Modi, looks like a diverse Indian mosaic: Manavi, Hindu Vaishnava Center for Enlightenment, Indian Christian Forum, NRI's for a Secular and Harmonious India, Sikh American Heritage Organization, Indian Muslim Council, Students for Bhopal, Vedanta Society, World Tamil Organization...

And news reports from India indicate that several Gujarati organizations such as the Gujarat Motel Association of America, the Gujarat Patida Khedut Mandal, and the Gujarat Cultural Activity of America were opposed to Mr. Modi's presence in the U.S. There also appears to have been a split in the ranks of the Asian American Hotel Owners' Association, the organization that had invited Mr. Modi in the first place, as indicated by the statement issued by Mike Patel, the founder chairman of the association, and its subsequent rebuttal by the current treasurer, Danny Patel.

Defending himself against the U.S. charge that he was "responsible for...particularly severe violations of religious freedom", Mr. Modi says: "No court has given any decision against my government or me on the Gujarat riots issue." He is, of course, not referring to the court of public opinion, which in large measure has indicted Mr. Modi, at the very least for gross negligence and dereliction of duty, as have numerous reports of human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Institute of Religion and Public Policy, the International Initiative for Justice in Gujarat, Concerned Citizens Tribunal, and Citizens' Initiative, to mention a few.

Besides, the BJP's defeat in the recent Lok Sabha elections and the poorer-than-expected performance of his party in Gujarat itself are indicators of the public's disenchantment with the fallout of the violence. But one of the real tragedies of Gujarat is that Mr. Modi is right. Three years after one of the most violent chapters of India's recent history was written with the blood of thousands, there have been no noteworthy arrests, no genuine recompense for those whose homes, bodies and lives were brutally violated, no apology tendered, no justice served.

That, and not the denial of a U.S. visa, is India's real shame.

Kamayani Swami and Ali Mir are Indians living in the U.S. who know which side of the communal-secular divide they fall on.