Monday, November 7, 2005
Paris and Ahmedabad
As Paris burned, uncontrolled for the 10th day yesterday, my memories went back to the riots that broke out in Ahmedabad when I was there from 1990 to 96. That was a tumultuous period in the history of modern India. Though there were pathbreaking political, economic and social changes, what would be remembered most is the Babri Masjid demolition, which triggered nation-wide communal riots.
Ahmedabad -- the commercial capital of the state where the famed apostle of peace and non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi, was born -- had become a festering ground for rabid, radical, reactionary religious ideologies. To be tolerant was like being unworthy of existence; and every year there were at least half a dozen riots, big or small. For me getting curfew passes -- so that I could get to my newspaper office and back -- driving through deserted streets dotted with gun-wielding policemen, and listening to high-handedness of the administration and sufferings of people had become a routine exercise.
The way the Paris riots broke out reminded me of the way many of Ahmedabad riots broke out. Two children running frantically into a neighbourhood locality was enough to leave some 10 people dead by the end of the day. The fact that the children were probably running after a cricket ball wouldn't have been noticed. From nowhere a stone would have broken the glass panes of a house, in no time shops would have pulled down shutters, people run helter-skelter, probably some innocent stabbed, some car set afire.... another round of madness would have been let loose.
Before police could have arrived at the spot, the incident (no one would know for sure what it actually was), ominously catalysed by rumours, would have spread to neighbouring localities and other communally sensitive areas.
Paris riots is an explosion of pent-up tension in the social fabric, similar to bouts of violence India sees. India is worse in many ways, as we have to grapple with multiple issues of complex divergence.
Such incidents are also a reminder that there's no land of absolute equality, liberty and justice. Affluence, glitter and glamour also hide an underlying strata of society, struggling for ever to establish its dignity and worth. It's just a question of where do you belong.