2002 Revisited

In Gujarat, the media only speaks to riot victims, not the perpetrators

The stories written by many journalists reflect their own anxieties, stereotypes and ideological leanings rather than what they have seen.

A few hours after Gujarat's polling booths opened last Wednesday, a local editor called to ask if I could write an election report for his newspaper. He and I spoke a few days earlier and I told him I would be happy to do so but instead of writing about Juhapura, I wanted to roam around the city and interview first time Hindu voters.

That idea no longer interested him. “I was wondering, Zahir, when women in Juhapura wear the burqa, how do they vote? I mean do they remove their veil? I think this would make for a great story,” he said.

I have invited this editor many times to have dinner with me in Juhapura to show him that not everyone here keeps a four-inch beard or wears a burqa. He has never taken me up on this offer and if he did, perhaps he might see that during dinner, women who wear the burqa simply lift up their veil. No one notices, because no one thinks there is anything to notice.

In writing about these elections and meeting those covering it, I have learned that people often write their story before they reach their destination. As a result, the stories they produce often reflect more about their own anxieties, their stereotypes and ideological leanings.

In March, a photographer called me from Bangalore. I admire her work and when she asked for my help to do a photo feature on Juhapura’s residents, I gladly obliged. We met outside my apartment building, where many had gathered for my neighbor Mutassim’s wedding. The photographer’s disappointment was evident when she arrived. There was no biryani or qawalli. Most men wore shiny suits. At one point, a stage was set up and the hosts invited a dwarf to dance for the guests. My neighbor’s 12-year old daughter Sifa wore heels for the first time. She cheered the loudest when the music began.

“These are not the images I wanted,” the photographer said. “I want to show the conditions of Muslims, to show how people are facing hardships under [Narendra] Modi’s Gujarat.”

I smiled. “The only suffering in Juhapura tonight,” I told her, “is that the DJ is playing far too many Enrique Iglesias songs.”

She did not laugh.

When the photograph does not fit the frame

I understand that photography is a visual medium. The problem was that the photographer had already developed the images of Juhapura before she arrived — she just needed to take the pictures. When I introduced her to Sifa’s dad, she immediately asked him about the 2002 riots and Modi. If she had not walked away when he said the riots did not affect him, she would have learned that Sifa’s dad is worried what will happen when his daughter is ready to start secondary school. The Gujarat government has failed to provide schools in Juhapura and Sifa’s dad cannot afford the area’s private schools or the transportation fees to send her to a school in a nearby Hindu area. I tried to convince the photographer to relax and enjoy the evening. It was a wedding, I reminded her, but like others I have met, she was careless about respecting people’s privacy and trauma.

In December 2012, as Gujarat held its state elections, a German journalist asked if I would introduce him to some survivors of the 2002 pogrom. He had covered Afghanistan and Iraq and I thought he might understand what questions not to ask. I took him to meet my friend Salma, a courageous woman who helped counsel many women since 2002. On the night of the tragic Godhra train attack, Salma began receiving text messages from Muslim friends who, like her, lived next to Hindus. When she heard that they had to flee their homes, Salma grabbed a bucket, filled it with water, and waited by her door. Her husband clutched a cricket bat. They stayed in that position throughout the evenings of February 27 and 28.

“I was worried they would rape me,” Salma said.

The mob never came to her street but she was shaken by the news of her friends who were killed. On March 1, they moved to Juhapura, where they continue to live. She does not like living in Juhapura. She has lost touch with many of her Hindu friends; some told her she was being “too sensitive” for shifting.

“So technically you were not forced out?” the journalist asked.

Salma wore a light purple salwar, her dupatta scarf wrapped around her neck, her hair uncovered. She did not respond.

“I mean no one made you leave, right?” the journalist asked.

When we left her apartment, I asked the photographer why he did not take her picture. “Oh I am looking for something else,” he told me. Later when he allowed me to scroll through his photos, I could see a pattern: nearly all the photos of the Muslim men he took had beards; almost all of the Muslim women were wearing hijabs.

The journalist kept probing. “So do you think you can introduce me to someone who was more directly affected by the riots, maybe someone whose husband was killed? That would be a great story, especially if they were like, you know, a first-time voter too,” he asked me.

In the arithmetic of suffering, worrying about being raped was not enough.

Victims can also be prosperous

When people visit, it is not so much that they want to see more agony than what really exists but rather it is that they envision agony to look a certain way. I wrestled with the idea of what I was seeing (and not seeing) when I attended an NGO conference in Khartoum, Sudan in 2004. One afternoon, a doctoral student took me to visit the relief camps where tens of thousands had been displaced after the Sudanese government’s brutal assault on Darfur.

The refugee camps were horrific but it was not what I expected. One person had a larger TV than me. But there is a problem in looking at people’s experience solely through the lens of class. In the refugee camp, this Sudanese man had many things that others in the world do not have — access to a clean toilet, a TV, even a refrigerator nearby. Unlike others though, he also watched his village burned down by men on horses.

The size of his TV — or indeed the size of a bungalow in Juhapura — is not the point. The issue is how a people are made to feel, how they are pushed off to the side, how they are blamed for their own conditions, how their story is trivialised, perhaps unintentionally, when we tell them that people elsewhere are worse off.

But it is not only journalists who have to be careful of how they understand an area. I have seen heads of Gujarat-based NGOs exaggerate the conditions in Juhapura to convince sceptical donors. I do not condone this activity but I understand their reasons as Juhapura is an area that the state neglects and I have seen the benefits of NGO work here.

Muslim groups do the same. The worst example was when a family friend who runs an Islamic charity came to visit last year. I introduced them to about a half a dozen teenagers, each of whom articulated their needs. Later that day, this same family friend asked if I could take him to meet a particular sub-caste of Muslims that he and I both belong to so that he could distribute his money within “our own community,” a phrase I have come to hate. I refused and I asked what was his purpose in meeting other children if he only wanted to help this particular sub-caste in the first place?

“I just wanted to see,” he said. He did not donate any money.

I understand the good intentions behind these visits as well as the limitations of journalism. Writers these days have to file more stories in shorter amounts of time, leaving little time for depth; donors have limited funds. I also recognise the interest in this subject, given Modi’s role in the 2002 pogrom and his tenuous relationship with Gujarat’s Muslims.

And I accept my own culpability. In my articles and on social media, I have told people to visit Juhapura, to see Modi’s development model from a different angle. I am happy that many more are writing about the 2002 riots and Juhapura. These stories are important, as are the articles about the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits and gender-based violence, because they challenge us to view ourselves in new, difficult ways.

What we can't see

Yet we have failed to expand our imaginations. We go on Dharavi slum tours in hopes of capturing their “squalor” but we seldom ask Mumbai’s elite how they justify encroaching on other people's land with wide-spread impunity from the state.

Likewise, journalists who want to see a “riot-affected” space in Gujarat almost always visit Gulbarg or Naroda Patiya, where some of the most ghastly massacres happened in 2002. But what chilled me about witnessing the riots is that middle class mobs drove SUVs and also attacked the upscale Muslim-owned business like Pantaloons and Metro Shoe stores on Ahmedabad’s posh CG Road. Today this area is almost all Hindu and few see it as a riot-affected area. Almost no one asks shop keepers on CG Road what those days were like.

This is our collective failure — we do not interrogate the displacers, the ones who carried the trishuls, the people who stood idly by as their neighbors homes burned. Instead we place the burden of these stories on the “victims” and we grumble when they do not want to speak.

I have learned to examine the limitations of my gaze. Over the past few years, I thought I made every effort to understand the experiences of women in Juhapura. But it was only when a doctoral student named Charlotte Thomas, who has been studying Juhapura since 2009, came to visit that I learned how much I had missed. Was I asking the wrong questions? Yes, partly. But it was also that as a woman, Charlotte was able to witness things—the marginalisation and sexual abuse of women, for example—that I could not access.  Much of what Charlotte described I had never seen but that was her point: as a male in a patriarchal society, why would I see these things?

Last year, a Palestinian friend told me an expression that best describes my experience living in Juhapura: if you spend a week in Palestine, you will write an article; if you spend a month, you will write a book; if you spend a year, you will be too confused to do anything. I have learned to embrace my confusion. And I have learned to recognise that each time I ask questions of others, I have to ask many more to myself.

Often when I begin writing these days, I try to remind myself of these ethical questions by listening to the Palestinian poet Mahmood Darwish whose seminal work, “Passport,” was masterfully turned into a song by the Lebanese oud player Marcel Khalife.

They didn’t get to know me in the shadows that soak up my color in my passport.
And my wound for them was like an art gallery for a tourist who is enamored with collecting pictures.

 
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and Logitech X300 Bluetooth Speaker at 58% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.