I am a non-convent educated, ordinary Gujarati. My teachers too, were mediocre, middle class people, who never thought of saffronising the curricula they had so meticulously adhered to for decades. They never taught me to wear a murderous weapon like the trishul.
My forefathers settled in Ahmedabad city nearly five hundred years ago. It is said Ahmedshah Badshah wanted to build Ahmedabad fort on the model of the Patan fort. He invited artisans from Patan and its surrounding villages. My ancestors, who came from Patan, built the fort and the Badshah rewarded them by granting them land to settle in the heart of city. With this background, I humbly claim that nobody in the Vishva Hindu Parishad can match my knowledge about the history and geography of Ahmedabad.
Let me narrate my firsthand experiences with fascism, another name for Hindu revivalism in my state. The year was 1981 when I was preparing for my Third B.Sc. examination. It was a chilly winter day and I was trying to concentrate on my books. All of a sudden, I heard some noise at a distance. A mob of around 500 people gathered near our Dalit ghetto. They were shouting “Come on, fight with us” (They were abusing us with a derogatory word used for Scheduled Castes in Gujarat). The mob was carrying a two-wheeler lorry, which in ordinary times is used by sweepers. They showed us the lorry and said: “This is for you. Come on. Sweep.” Then, they pelted stones, acid bulbs, petrol bombs and whatever they had. This was but one of the ugly scenes of the anti-reservation movement in Gujarat, when a particular section of society was systematically isolated. Press, police and politicians joined hands to add fuel to the fire.
Much has been written on it, but the point is that for the first time in the history of Gujarat and the entire country, the Dalits, in retaliation, boycotted a holy festival. It was a gesture, a warning signal to Hindu society. After 1981, Hindu revivalism gained ground in Gujarat. After 1981, most of the religious processions, which passed through the road adjoining my area, shouted viciously anti-Muslim slogans. It was the same mob which participated in the 1981 anti-reservation agitation. The same hatred, but the target was different.
In 1985, another anti-reservation movement ravaged Gujarat. But, this time the ruling party had taken care to turn the anti-reservation movement into communal rioting. A senior leader of the Congress party declared in a meeting of party workers, “We have succeeded in turning this agitation into a riot. Hence, our government is saved.” The same year witnessed a 70-day long, historical strike of Gujarat secretariat’s upper caste employees. After some years, Advani was welcomed in the secretariat’s premises by the same upper caste leaders. The then Chiman Patel’s government did nothing to prevent the politicisation of government employees.
The vital blow to the secular ethos came in the form of shameless selection of Keka Shastri, the chief architect of Hindu revivalism, as president of the Gujarat Sahitya Parishad in 1985. Prominent Gujarati writers and Gandhians whole heartedly supported Keka’s selection as head of the most respected body of literature. The recent attack by BJP activists on peace meetings at Gandhi ashram was nothing but the result of criminal silence of the Gujarati intelligentsia, who have buried their conscience under the heap of Hindutva.
Raju Solanki, Indian Express, 24th April 2002
(when I was in financial Express, I used to write in Indian Express. This particular write up was published in 2002. Thanks to Pamela Philipose, the resident editor of IE, New Delhi. A kind lady, who I have never met, painstakingly edited and refined my articles)