Oct 15, 2008

Remembering Gujarat

It's a funny thing: get a job doing work you want to do, and suddenly all that spare time you thought you'd have after the years of grueling/non-relevant law school doesn't really materialize. I have a lot of things I want to do in my spare time, but the train ride home at night is barely enough to write a quick note to self about the day, or jot down an idea in my other notebook that I'm keeping to store brainstorms, or read even a short article in the New Yorker, which I can love to hate, but still enjoy digging into deep stories that are disappearing quickly across the landscape of American journalism.

So today, on the ride home, I decided to open up a collection of Arundhati Roy essays called the Algebra of Infinite Justice that my partner brought back from a trip to India (that shit which would cost $15 here was Rs. 225: i.e. about 5 dollars. I now believe the best deal to be had from India is books, believe it or not). The book collects some of her best essays, including "For the Common Good," her brilliant essay about the Narmada Dam Project (before the dam-builders won).

As expected, I didn't get through a lot, but I read the better part of two pieces: the title piece, which was an amazing piece she wrote right after 9/11, presciently calling Osama Bin Laden the "dark doppelganger" of Bush. You have to read this piece to fully appreciate her mastery of language -- and the truth.

The second piece was written after the 2002 communal massacre in Gujarat, which she and many others have called pogroms orchestrated and enabled by the BJP-led government. On the shaky grounds of retribution for a train burning in Godra earlier that week that resulted in the death of more than 50 Hindu "pilgrims" that was attributed to Muslim activists (the truth came out later - the train was not lit up by Muslim anything, and the people on the train, though they did not deserve death, were enroute back from a Masjid destruction tour), Hindus in the state of Gujarat killed more than 2000 Muslims, destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, and forced over 100,000 people into refugee camps in their own home state.

The detailed horrors of what happened are unspeakable, but Roy outlines some of it to start her essay (titled "Democracy"). Reading even these slivers that profile what happened shocked me to remember and realize what I did not really know. Gujarat in 2002, and Indian communal violence in general, are talking points of the South Asian left. But how much do those of us living comfortably in the United States really know of what happened? How do you reconcile "pride" in your heritage with this history?

And for me - as a non-Hindu, but someone who can easily pass because my people have strayed and are confused - how do I have an honest dialogue about these things with Gujarati Muslims? I feel like I haven't even started that process - and I want to do something about that, because this memory cannot fade, and it's not good enough to just namecheck it once in a while.

2 comments:

Bq said...

"Gujarat in 2002, and Indian communal violence in general, are talking points of the South Asian left. But how much do those of us living comfortably in the United States really know of what happened? How do you reconcile "pride" in your heritage with this history? "

What do you mean by the last part?

a bit of a tangent - I'm completely detached from the South Asian American left...I can recognize a bunch of the names that crop up in SAMAR, but that's about it. i guess it's kind of odd, considering my intellectual/"activist"(?) interests. it hasn't really been my political community. So I have not really been a part of the conversations people have been having across partition divides (even indirectly as children of people who experienced it). it's not something i can talk in detail about with my hindu bengali parents cus my dad was a refugee from bdesh and my mom is a hindu fundy (and generally not good to talk to about politics or history).

Rage said...

I think I was just trying to express the muddle of emotions related to "South Asian heritage" or ethnicity/national origin as a root for pride, and these recent and past histories that are so troubled. Many young people don't really think about these things when they wave their flag or talk about "Guju pride" or whatever. I feel quite conflicted in those spaces.

And honestly, I think it's good to have people you can trust and with whom you can speak about some of these questions/points in our crazy community, but there's also a lot of group-think that gets in the way on the left (particularly in the desi left). I have some folks who are good touchstones because they don't just buy the whole platform without any question. We're all too complicated and conflicted to fit easily and comfortably into one set philosophy. It's why we went left to begin with.