These Are The Signs Of The Times

The New York Times reported that 10 years after the brutal sectarian pogrom in Gujarat, there’s a ray of hope that the victims will get justice:

“India was once the world’s wellspring of religiously inspired massacres. As such violence rages across the Middle East, the bougainvillea sprouting from Gujarat’s charred buildings offers hope that even societies steeped in blood can curb the self-perpetuating logic behind such clashes.”

But is there hope that the truth about the cause of those riots can be effectively conveyed by the Times? Not likely:

“The riots began on Feb. 27, 2002, when a train filled with Hindu pilgrims who had just visited a disputed shrine rolled into Godhra, a small city in eastern Gujarat, and was attacked by a Muslim mob. A fire started, and at least 58 Hindu pilgrims burned to death. Their charred bodies were brought to Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, and laid out in public, an act that all but guaranteed more violence. Huge mobs gathered to view the bodies.”

So the carnage began when Muslims attacked a trainload of innocent Hindu pilgrims … because they were Hindu, right? It’s precisely the same narrative used by Hindu fundamentalists to whip up the frenzy that killed nearly a thousand people. The Times isn’t a fundamentalist newspaper that shares the goals of Hindu supremacy – so why would it parrot that movement’s worldview?

It’s a rhetorical question – the Times, as a corporate media outlet that essentially shares the goals of American neocolonialism and as such distorts the news in its favor and otherwise gets things wrong, as I’ve noted elsewhere on this blog.

But apart from that bias in favor of the empire, this distortion is a curious one – in that it ignores a key cause of the pogrom and reinforces the false paradigm of “evil Muslims versus the rest of the world” that’s the domain of the anti-Muslim far right. Most likely it was done in the name of “objectivity” – that tradition in American journalism that seeks to detach the coverage of events from any sort of bias, yet at best, the more a paper runs from any sort of bias, the more it can end up reinforcing it – as the Times piece demonstrated.

What the article left out was the exact identity of the “pilgrims” that were on the train. They were a varied group, but included among them were Kar Sevaks, or Hindu devotees. It’s a broad term, but it’s generally synonymous with Hindu fundamentalism and sectarianism, and are associated with the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya Dec. 1992 which sparked sectarian riots that claimed 2,000 lives – a fact the mob that greeted the pilgrims were no doubt aware. In addition, Kar Sevaks on the train were engaged in provocations, as Dr. Muqtedar Khan noted on his blog:

“The karsevaks, who happened to be very unsavory characters, were indulging in atrocious behavior on the train. They were exposing themselves to women, harassing Muslim women and robbing petty shopkeepers all along the journey. Their reputation preceded them to Godhra and there when they refused to pay for the snacks they consumed they were attacked by Muslim youth and the altercation ended in the gruesome burning of the train in which innocent women and children were also brunt to death.”

This doesn’t the passengers – especially the children – deserved to die. Whoever set the train on fire are scum and deserved to be punished. But to characterize it as a “mob” versus “pilgrims” distorts the context in which this tragedy occurred. What happened on that train platform wasn’t good versus evil, but two variations of evil, the latter of which is Hindu supremacy, or Hindutva; the ideology the Kar Sevaks and the pogromists had in common.

This supremacist ideology was on display during an observance of the pogrom’s 10th anniversary:

“The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) on Monday paid tributes to kar sevaks killed in the Godhra carnage on the 10th anniversary of the incident. Announcing that VHP will start public movement against Jehadi terror, VHP’s international general secretary Pravin Togadia called upon all the Hindus for social and economic boycott of the jihadis as part of his campaign called “HinduSthan against Terror’. Togadia also implored people to recognise politicians who are hungry for Muslim votes and teach them a lesson.”

Yes, ignore Muslim votes –  that would be democratic. Nowhere was there any expression of remorse for the Muslims that died or for inciting Hindus to attack innocent Muslims – because they’re all jihadis. It’s the same ideologically structured sense of “victim-hood” that was the driving force behind the pogrom is also the core component of Hindutva supremacist ideology – which the Times promoted, albeit unwittingly.

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