Friday, September 29, 2006

There Are No Ambulances in Malegaon - How the 8/9 Terrorist Attack Became a Tiding of Good News

Nobody can bring back the sons, fathers, husbands, mothers and sisters who died in the Malegaon bomb blasts on September 8, 2006. Not even Sonia Gandhi. In her healing trip to the city - a city which is used to having its citizens killed in communal riots but never in a terrorist attack - she was seen offering cheques of Rs 50,000 each to the families of the dead.

One chemist whose son died in the blasts sensibly asked her that why were they being given alms. He blamed the state government for doing nothing for the town's development. The chemist passionately pointed out that many lives could have been saved if there was even a single civil hospital which, incidentally, was promised by the Maharashtra Chief Minister after the last major riots in 2001.

But nothing happened. No hospital was built. No development took place.

Mrs Gandhi merely whispered: 'Shaanti se boliyen'. Speak softly.

Why should the People of Malegaon speak softly?

It is said that there was a time when Malegaon was described as the Manchester of Maharashtra. Today it is not fit even for a goat to live in.

In spite of being a textile center power shortages last for more than eight hours. The town has no proper drains. The Mausam river, serving as the boundary between majority Muslims and minority Hindus, is reduced to being a nallah of filth and diseases. In spite of the promises made by the governments of the day, there have been no plans to improve the abysmal infrastructure of the city.

The Special Case of Malegaon

Malegaon could be any small town in India. But it is different. It is one of the few Muslim majority urban settlements in the country. The so-called secular government who came to power aided by the Muslim vote had a golden opportunity - a test case - to show that they actually have the interests of Muslims in their heart. They lost it.

The condition of Muslims can not be improved by continually attacking BJP's communalist agendas. Muslims can not be uplifted from their present state of ignorance and illiteracy by building special Hajj terminals in country's major international airports. Muslims can not become a rich community by organizing Iftaar parties during the Ramzaan. Muslims can not partake of India's economic boom by talking of job reservations for them every now and then.

Muslims are not beggars. They need not be given alms.

What they need is a serious policy that would target their economic sluggishness.

As one victim's father pointed out: "The fassad (disturbances) in Malegaon are born more out of economic reasons than religious ones."

Seeing the Good in the Bad

In a perverse way, Malegaon bomb blasts have done a lot of good. It has broken lots of myths and pre-conceptions of India's largest religious minority group.

Ideally, this is what should have happened following the blasts in this riot-scarred deeply-divided town: angry Muslims suspecting it a Hindu conspiracy would have carried out revenge attacks. Mullahs would have declared murderous fatwas. People would have been burned, knifed and so on. Finally, there would have been a curfew, perhaps an army battalion would have been called in, before things would have settled back to the familar grim state of hopelessness.

But something else happened. And it was beautiful. People were refusing government compensations. They were demanding an improved infrastructure. They were talking about open drains. They are asking for the guilty to be nabbed.

Besides, being failed by the government health department, Hindu doctors took charge of the injured Muslims. Hindu youths assisted in picking the injured Muslims from the bomb-hit streets and taking them to clinics or to the nearest town with a hospital. Hindus donated blood which dripped into Muslim veins.

Remember, this is a town often described as 'sensitive' and 'tense', and which has a history of fierce Hindu-Muslim conflicts. This is also a city often referred as a base for all sort of Islamic terror organizations. Malegaon is considered a launch pad for the attacks aimed for Mumbai and Gujarat.

The Hope Floats

But the bomb blasts proved that Malegaon's Hindu-Muslim problem could be addressed and that relation between the two communities is not irreversibly doomed; that people are capable of acting as simple human beings; that we all are a band of brothers.

Malegaon's post-blast aftermath has shown another new picture: Till September 7, Muslims as a community were still killed; but often in the riots or in police firings. It is perhaps the first time that they lost their lives in a terrorist attack primarily targeted towards them.

In TV screens throughout India, they - bearded men in skull caps and women with their heads covered - were seen mourning the death of their loved ones: a father crying for his son who was all set to fly to China to pursue a medical degree; a mother sobbing, simply sobbing, for her dead child. Their tears were not that of Hindus or of Muslims. They were just tears. Grief, it so happens, still has no religion.

If Only

Malegaon's tragedy could not be ignored. The precious lives could not be compensated by bank cheques. But Malegaon is brave and it has shown to the rest of the country that hope has not disappeared.

Now, if Sonia Gandhi want Indians to believe that she is different from other politicians, she should do just one thing: As Surat became India's cleanest city after the Plague scare, Malegaon should be transformed to India's most striking model town - a paradise of urban living, with hospitals and ambulances, with schools and colleges, with clean streets and functioning traffic lights - and it should also be turned into a perfect symbol of communal amity where Hindus are neighbors to Muslims, in as short a time as possible.

Condolence for the dead and cheers to the living - of Malegaon.



Blogger Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai said...

Dear Mayank,

These are general comments after reading a few of your blogs. As a Muslim, I feel the ruling class of Brahmins and others with Brahmanical pretenses, are hell-bent to make shudras of all Muslims. All their sweet talk is just a facade and their hatred is too deep-rooted to easily change in any near future. Though it is customary to say that India was partitioned. But for me, it is the Muslim community of 500 millions that was divided. Needless to say, in united India, if it would have opted to be democratic, Muslims would have been a powerful block and would have not been so badly victimised by the Brahmins. I do hope, that we see the borders dividing the 3 countries get irrelevant in any scheme of cooperation, so that Muslims should get their weightage restored. All communal riots are state and party organised. Muslims are kept terrorised so that they would keep voting for Congress, in the misguided belief that only Congress would guarantee them security of life and property. But in reality, it is the Brahmins in Congress that had kept the dirty business of organised communal riots being organised,at times with the help of RSS and its stormtroopers. Whereever, Muslims dominated certain trade or business, ruling party planned to destroy the survival prospects of the Muslim community, so that they may remain poor and not even dare to raise their head against the ruling click.

11:43 AM  

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