• Author’s Note for the book ‘Scarred: Experiments with Violence in Gujarat’

    By Dionne Bunsha

    Penguin Books India 2006

    Scarred: Experiments with Violence in Gujarat
    27th February 2002:
    A compartment of the Sabarmati Express from Varanasi to Ahmedabad is set on fire at 8.05 a.m. after a fight at the Godhra station platform between Hindu activists on the train and a Muslim tea vendor. Fifty nine people were killed. Several activists of the fundamentalist groups, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad  (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, were in the train on their way back from a ceremony at the disputed site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

    28th February 2002:
    During the VHP bandh the next day, mobs target Muslims in Ahmedabad, Baroda and villages in 20 of Gujarat’s 26 districts, but mainly in north and central Gujarat. More than 1,000 people were killed.
    The violence continued in some places for three months. Refugees were stuck in relief camps for many months after.

    Three years later:
    Some refugees cannot return home.
    The culprits remain unpunished.
    Muslims and Christians in Gujarat still live in fear.

    “The golden rule of conduct is mutual tolerance, seeing that we will never all think alike and we shall always see truth in fragment and from different angles of vision.”
        – Mahatma Gandhi


    ‘Jai Shree Ram!’.
    –  ‘Hello, can I please speak to Mr Jaideep Patel’
    ‘Jai Shree Ram!
    –  ‘Hello?’
    ‘Say Jai Shree Ram!’
    –  ‘Namaste, I am a journalist and I would like to speak to Mr Patel’
    ‘Jai Shree Ram! You have to say Jai Shree Ram or I will not talk to you any further. Which country are you from? Aren’t you living in Bharat?’
    –  ‘But I did say Namaste to you, sir…’
    ‘Jai Shree Ram!’ (hangs up the phone)

    This telephone conversation was my first taste of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). On my first visit to Gujarat to cover the communal violence, I had called up their office hoping to speak to their leaders.

    I didn’t want to go back. One trip to Gujarat to report on the communal violence in March 2002 was enough.

    Hearing stories of inhumanity repeated in relief camp after relief camp. Making people relive their torture while telling me their stories. Sure, they were eager that I hear them and record their testimony. It had to be done. But it made me feel sick in the stomach. And it still hurts. I hoped it would disappear the first time I left Gujarat.

    But Gujarat would not let me be. What I saw and heard was too shocking to forget. The story didn’t seem to end. It just kept unfolding with more grisly twists and turns. For the refugees, the nightmare was just beginning. There was no way out of the camps. New victims poured in as more violence followed. Then, the police actually attacked two relief camps, claiming they sheltered ‘terrorists’. Here were people with little to eat. Still trying to find work, rebuild their homes. The attitude of the police alone could have easily driven them to violence. But it didn’t. They just wanted to get on with their lives.

    The government’s disregard made the refugee’s dilemma more tragic. And, at times, bizarre. Speaking to people from the administration or the middle classes made me wonder – were we talking about the same place?

    Any mention of the massacres was brushed aside if they had never happened, conveniently oblivious to the plight of refugees. Gujarat had to get on with business. Nothing should be said to damage Gujarat’s name. The thousands who suffered didn’t matter. ‘They (Muslims) deserved it.’

    Could people really think that?  Did children deserve to be thrown into fires? Did women deserve to be gang raped and later burned to death? Did innocent men, indeed anyone, have to be cut in pieces?  Even after hearing these stories often, I couldn’t fully come to grips with them. I wanted to understand the minds of people who could inflict such barbarism on others.

    I sought out both the big and the small fish. Funnily enough, some of them are now familiar faces to me, friendly when we meet.  And they are important characters in this book. (To be honest, it’s hard to always see them as murderers although I know they are.) In some strange way, these are people who have been programmed. They are whole-heartedly proud of what they did and can’t see it any other way. And the violence was all something that they had been trained and conditioned for. Prepped and psyched for it all these years at countless meetings, fed by local street gossip. The same doesn’t hold true for bigger leaders. Their motives were cynical in the extreme, and they made no bones about it.

    I still remember a senior leader BJP telling me, with a glint in his eye, that yes, he had also gone out on the streets to lead the trouble in his constituency. But then, ‘bus, ek do din ke baad bahut ho gaya. Itna nahin karna chahiye. (Enough, after one or two days. It shouldn’t go too far)’ But it did. Chief minister Narendra Modi allowed it to move to a dangerous extreme. (Over a span of more than two years, I tried to get an interview with him, but he kept refusing to grant me one.)

    My conversations with people like Babubhai Bajrangi, the main accused in the Naroda Patiya massacre, made me aware how confident the perpetrators were of getting away with murder, rape, kidnapping. Babubhai recounted with relish how he and his volunteers thrashed Muslim boys who married Hindu girls. Or happily described how he told the media waiting outside the riot commission: ‘Muslims are like diabetes and the Bajrang Dal is the medicine’. He proudly displayed press clippings as proof. Babubhai could get away with it because he knew he was pleasing the most powerful and had their support.

    Curious about what makes people like Babubhai, I visited a VHP camp, where they train their fighters in rifle shooting, karate, lathi practice. The recruits also attend a daily lecture where ‘knowledge’ is imparted, ‘knowledge’ which mainly spews hate against the minorities and glorifies Hindutva. I have tried to place the violence in the larger context of social and political processes that have contributed to the closed climate that exists today. Communal education, ghettoisation, the saffron takeover of the administration and the absence of any other organised political force have all led to the dominance of saffron groups that keep the fear of ‘the other’ brewing on both sides. And provides a climate that is ripe for any small incident to spark an outbreak of violence. Long after the killings were over, not only the victims, but Gujarat’s people and its social fabric remains scarred – by intolerance.

    There are less obvious victims of the riots too. Top police officers who happened to be Muslim. They were forced to watch helplessly while the city burned. Their high-ranking positions meant little in that period. They were not even posted on official duty. As thousands called begging to be saved, they couldn’t do much to help. Their own safety was fragile, the buildings they lived in were attacked. It drove them crazy. To de-stress, one officer practised golf at the Police Stadium. (It also disturbed him that he was playing golf while the city was burning) Months after the violence abated, a senior police officer was still scared to venture out for his morning walk. Two years later, they are more reluctant to discuss their marginalisation now than they were when it was happening.

    As time passed, I saw outspoken people lose their nerve. With the BJP re-capturing the state assembly less than a year after the violence, the dissenters ran out of steam. Too many people were lapping up the BJP’s version of events, however twisted. That’s when I realised the need to document what I had seen. To share with others the encounters I had with different kinds of people – on either side of the fence, some even sitting on the fence.

    Prominent businessmen publicly lionised him. One of them, a Parsi (who are normally quite clannish), told me that top industrialists like Jamshed Godrej and Anu Aga (also Parsis) were a bunch of idiots – because they publicly criticised Modi. ‘Nothing happened. Leave Gujarat alone,’ was the refrain. As one newspaper editor joked, ‘In a year, the BJP may succeed in convincing people that the riots didn’t happen. It was a mere fabrication of the ‘pseudo-secular’ English press.’ He was not far off the mark. That was indeed the BJP’s line.

    After the election, Gujarat virtually disappeared from the news pages. There was no violence. But that didn’t mean things were normal. Some refugees hadn’t left relief camps, especially those in rural areas. Even Salim Sindhi, the sarpanch of Kidiad village, was living in a tent at the Modasa relief camp in Sabarkantha until April 2004. None of the Muslims in his village could return home. They sold all their agricultural land there. Here was an entire community camping miles away from home, with no idea of how to find work and survive. Landowners reduced to casual labourers, roaming the streets everyday in search of work. In cities and towns too, an economic boycott was enforced. Shops were warned not to hire Muslims. Many employers were scared to take back their Muslim staff.

    Witnesses weren’t only fighting battles against the accused, but also against the police and prosecutors who did their best to botch up cases or close them down. They were also wrestling against their own fears. Around half the cases were closed as ‘true but undetected’. Literally, there were thousands of people waiting outside police stations everyday just to say – ‘Listen! This is what happened to us! This is how my mother was killed! My wife gang raped! My son burned!’ But the police were deaf, and also heartless.

    Refugees were fighting not only to rebuild their lives, but to get justice. It would have been easier to give up and move on. What a brave front they put up! It isn’t easy, fighting with everything possible ranged against you. Being the butt of lewd remarks in court while you narrate how your daughter was raped. Few would have the stamina or the courage to go through even one of those court hearings. But many did. Their stories had to be told. I wanted to take the story of Gujarat beyond the violence. To give the numbers faces and names. I also wanted people to see ‘the other side’. To understand Babubhai and his fellow activists in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Who were the ‘mobs’ in saffron bands and khaki pants? Why were they there?

    Children are always the most eloquent. I remember Noorunissa Ghachi, a small girl at the Godhra civil hospital, standing beside her father, Razak, who was slashed with sword wounds. As her father narrated the story of the attack in Pandharvada, the seven-year-old daughter girl kept looking up at me with big eyes. She waited for her father to pause for a second so that she could pipe in, ‘You know, they grabbed small children from their homes and threw them into the fire.’ She was anxious to tell me this. To let me know that she could have been one of those in the fire. Many months later, I met a young 13-year-old Bajrang Dal recruit at a procession in Rajkot. I asked him why he joined the Bajrang Dal. His answer was straight: ‘Miyaon ko marna (to kill Muslims)’. I couldn’t ask another question. This book is for both those children, and countless others like them.

    Hindus, too, suffered. The 59 who were burned to death in the Sabarmati Express. In the riots that followed, some of those who lived within Muslim colonies had to flee when their homes were burned. A few Hindu bastis were attacked in Muslim-dominated areas of Ahmedabad and Baroda. Their trauma, too, matters. However, those killed were overwhelmingly Muslims (713 of 975 according to government statistics). They were the targets of the pogrom. It was common in Gujarat to accuse the English-language press of being ‘pro-Muslim’. The truth is, you didn’t have to go looking for Muslim victims, the relief camps overflowed with them.

    Gujarat’s violence wasn’t a spontaneous Hindu Vs. Muslim conflict. It was politically engineered violence with a communal excuse. A planned, deliberate attempt to wipe out many Muslims. The targeting of Muslims had shades of the persecution of Jews by the Nazis in pre-World War II Germany. The marginalisation of this minority in Gujarat continues till today. I have tried to describe the daily forms of bias that Muslims encounter – ghettoisation, school segregation, job discrimination. Going beyond the stories of the victims, I have tried to understand how saffron politics affects people’s lives. Looking back in time, I’ve tried to analyse what makes Gujarat the BJP’s ‘Hindutva Laboratory’, a prototype for the Hindu right-wing party. What happened to Gandhi’s Gujarat where intolerance has reached such an extreme that VHP activists even attacked his Sabarmati Ashram?

    After the pogrom, Muslim refugees faced a hostile administration and social boycotts. Many are still barred from their own villages. Beyond the violence, I have tried to highlight the systematic discrimination against a community on a daily basis. With every riot, they are pushed further into ghettos. Despite having their families hacked, their homes burned, their wives gang-raped, they are the ones branded as ‘terrorists’. Such labels are used to justify the killings.

    ‘What about Godhra? Didn’t the Muslims burn the train?’ First, there is no clear evidence to show that the burning of the Sabarmati Express was a pre-meditated terrorist act. In fact, it might have been the result of a fight on the railway platform that escalated into gruesome violence. There is no clear-cut conclusion either way. It is unlikely that we will ever know the truth about Godhra, because of the political implications. But even if it was a terrorist attack, does it justify the killing of 1,000 other people, who had nothing to do with the crime? Because of the actions of a handful of criminals, can we punish all who follow the same religion? By that logic, do the actions of the Gujarat rioters damn all those of the Hindu faith? Hardly. In fact, the most Hindus had nothing to do with it and many rescued their neighbours and friends.

    People always expect that as a reporter covering such violence, I would have some interesting story to tell about how I saw someone killed, was attacked by a mob, had my camera snatched from me. ‘So tell us what happened in Gujarat.’ I just dodge the question. For one, I don’t think violence makes great conversation. Besides, I have no such ‘I was in deadly danger’ stories. The only time I was anywhere close to being mobbed is – believe it or not – at a relief camp in Godhra.

    As soon as we entered, hundreds descended on us. Everyone wanted their story recorded. I was whisked away into a room. People were brought in individually to speak to us. Those outside banged on the windows, desperate for their turn. When there’s no hope, you cling on to anything. I tried to temper their expectations. People have more faith in journalists than we deserve. These are times when you feel like a skunk journalist. Nothing you can do for so many, except interview a handful. And then what?

    Yet, people always go out of their way to help. I remember driving down a dark road towards Halol, calling the relief camp organiser Mehboob bhai to ask him how to get to his house. There were trees on both sides. But nothing else for miles around. Mehboob bhai tells me, ‘Bump pe milenge. (We’ll meet at the bump).’ What? ‘At the speed bump (meaning Speed Breaker) on the Halol Road. It’s a famous landmark.’ He didn’t want me to get lost trying to find his house. But how did he ever expect me to find him in the darkness at the appropriate ‘speed bump?’  Finally, I found my way through the lanes of the town and reached his home.

    Writing this book has been somewhat like finding that elusive speed bump. I never really planned it. My editor, N.Ram (always incredibly encouraging and supportive) suggested the idea. I’ve been going down a road that has pulled me along. I only hope it gets somewhere. You be the judge. And watch out for those bumps. Beware: it may churn your stomach too.


  • What Clayoquot Sound Faces Now

    A historic opportunity to protect BC old growth forest, through new partnerships.

    By Dionne Bunsha, 19 Aug 2013, TheTyee.ca

    It has been 20 years since Clayoquot witnessed one of the biggest civil rights protests in Canada’s history against the logging of old growth forests. Clayoquot Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, is one of British Columbia’s most popular tourist destinations, with white surf, long stretches of beaches and towering rainforests. In the summer of 1993, over 12,000 participated in the historic protests and more than 800 people were arrested. The protests were accompanied by an international campaign to boycott timber from B.C. Today, efforts to protect Clayoquot’s intact watersheds continue. The old growth forests haven’t yet been logged, but they are still not legally protected. Clayoquot Sound is considered important for conservation because it has some of the last remaining rare intact watersheds and old growth temperate rainforests in Vancouver Island.

    The ‘Summer of 1993’ protests in Clayoquot prompted landmark changes in forestry, not only in Clayoquot Sound, but also influenced land use planning in other regions like the Great Bear Rainforest. In response to the protests, the government of B.C. appointed a scientific panel comprising scientists and First Nations elders to devise sustainable forestry practices. The panel introduced a new approach to land use planning called ecosystem-based management that recognizes the full array of interactions within an ecosystem, including humans, and allocates areas for protection as well as sustainable human use. It led to community-based watershed planning, which incorporated precautionary measures to protect the ecological and First Nations cultural values of Clayoquot’s forests. The watershed plans added a network of reserves, resulting in a total of about 61 per cent of Clayoquot’s forested land base in parks or reserves. As an alternative to clear cutting forests, the panel suggested variable retention, a system in which only a portion of the cut block is logged and the rest is retained in order to preserve environmental values.


    Will First Nations and the B.C. government find a way to protect their intact forests? Photo by SparkyLeigh, Creative Commons licensed.

    The major forestry company operating in Clayoquot sold its Tree Farm Licenses (forestry licenses) to the five First Nations in the area — the Tla-o-qui-aht, Ahousaht, Hesquiaht, Yuutuʔitʔath and Toquaht — who formed Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd., a pioneering First Nations-owned forestry company. “Iisaak” means respect in the Nuu-chah-nulth language, and the company has avoided logging in the intact forests so far despite severe monetary pressures. In 1999, Iisaak signed a Memorandum of Understanding with environmental organizations in which it agreed not to log in Clayoquot’s ecologically intact watersheds, and to adopt the international Forest Stewardship Council certification. In exchange, the environmental groups agreed to endorse Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd. as a model of ecologically sustainable forestry, assist in its development and help market its products.

    Big debt to chop down

    However, it has been difficult for Iisaak to balance sustainable forestry and economic viability, a challenge that some of the world’s biggest forestry companies shied away from in this controversial region. The company has to service a debt that it incurred to buy the Tree Farm Licenses from the large forestry companies. Under pressure to show financial returns, Iisaak toyed with the idea of logging Flores Island in 2011, one of the intact watersheds. The plan prompted opposition from environmentalists and some First Nations members, and was not executed. “It would be tragic if the intact forests were cut just to pay off the banks, with no benefit to the communities,” said an environmental activist.

    An alliance of environmental organizations including the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, ForestEthics Solutions and Greenpeace have been working with Iisaak and the region’s First Nations leadership towards solutions to protect intact watersheds. Along with philanthropic organizations, they are trying to negotiate a “conservation finance” agreement with the First Nations that own Iisaak. The alliance is trying to raise money to pay off Iisaak’s debt and to fund sustainable economic projects in return for an agreement that the B.C. government and the region’s First Nations through Iisaak will protect Clayoquot’s remaining intact watersheds. To accompany this agreement, Saya Masso, a resource worker for the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, feels that the B.C. government needs to reform forestry tenure law to give Tree Farm License owners the option of having a “conservation tenure.” This would ease the pressure on tenure owners to log and pay high rents to the government and allow sustainable options like carbon credits.

    Several First Nations members have fought to preserve Clayoquot’s old growth forests. Some leaders were part of the summer of 1993 protests. Prior to the protests, First Nations led historic demonstrations against plans to log intact Meares Island and won a landmark Supreme Court case in 1985 that declared an injunction against logging there. Now, the fate of Clayoquot’s forests is in their hands. Will the First Nations and the B.C. government find a way to protect their intact forests?

    The Tyee, 19 August 2013.


  • Gone with the Waves


    Rapid sea invasion along the Gujarat coast is forcing families of fishermen to abandon the sea and their homes.



    danti1Villagers with bricks retrieved from their old homes in Danti.

    DANTI in Valsad district of Gujarat is being invaded. More than half the residents of this sleepy fishing village have fled already. It is not guns and troops that they are running away from. The sea they revere has swallowed up the village and is making them beat a retreat every year. Only the poorest remain on the edge of the village, with just a sea wall for protection. On one side of the wall are lashing waves. On the other are ramshackle, makeshift huts. No one here has permanent brick homes. They have to rebuild every year after the waters rush in over the wall. The sea knows no boundaries.

    Govindbhai Tandel is the first to face its fury. His hut lies at the tip of the village, very close to the seafront, unprotected even by a stone wall. Govindbhai is back home after spending eight months away at sea on his fishing boat. He returns to Danti during the monsoon, when it is too rough to be out fishing. But there is no rest at home. His family is hard at work filling their porch with sand, trying to elevate the entrance to prevent the tide from coming in. There is not much they can do. Water will flood their home anyway. It is only an effort at damage control.

    “We have moved back three kilometres in the last 20 years. Our original village was out there. You can’t even see it now,” says Govindbhai. “Three village wells have been submerged. We’ve relocated the school thrice. I’ve shifted home thrice so far. Can you see out there? That’s where my last house was,” he says pointing to a distant spot in the sea.

    The village is long gone, but lives in memory. As we walked around the village, most people pointed to various landmarks – all in the water. Nostalgia is the only thing that remains. During low tide, the beach is a hive of activity. Families are hard at work, trying to salvage bricks from the ruins of their old homes.

    On the seashore is a brick wall with an arch – the remnants of Damentiben Tandel’s house. “It broke three years ago. Since then, we have kept moving and rebuilding every year,” she says. “When the water comes in every monsoon, it’s knee-high. We have to put our kids on the roof in the pouring rain. We don’t have the money to buy land and move out, so we remain here.”

    danti2A road built two years ago near Kaladra village has been eroded. A sea wall (in the foreground) offered little protection.

    There is often a lot of water in their homes, but not a drop to drink. “Our wells are in the sea. We get drinking water from the tap once every week or in 15 days. Otherwise, we have to buy water. Tempos come and supply water. It is Rs.30 a barrel, which lasts a day,” says Damentiben.

    Danti is on the coast of south Gujarat, one of the most industrialised areas in the country. It is called the `Golden Corridor’, but has some of the country’s worst polluted spots such as Ankleshwar and Vapi. Dandi, the site of Mahatma Gandhi’s historic Salt March, is 12 km from Danti.

    “The fish have gone further into the sea because of [industrial] pollution. And the water has come further in; so we have suffered. We can’t go very far in our tiny boats. We used to get 400 to 600 fish in one night. Now we barely get a hundred,” says Shantibhai Tandel, a small fisherman. He has shifted back six times and is now in his seventh house. “I want my kids to study. The only thing is we can’t afford donations for their education or bribes to get them a job. If they are lucky, they will find a job, otherwise they will have to stay here, continue fishing and face the hardships.” Sandwiched as they are between the sea and the saltpans, there is not much further they can retreat.

    Many from the village have moved to other towns or to Dandi in the past eight years. But like Mahesh Hari Tandel, those who moved out for safety reasons still yearn for the sea. “My boat is still in Danti and I feel I have to go there every day,” he says. “When my father was alive, we shifted our house four times. After he died, our house broke twice and then we moved here. After we lost the mangroves in the last 15 to 20 years, many people had to migrate to big port towns like Mumbai, Porbandar or Veraval in search of work. Earlier, we could survive by fishing close to the shore and in the mangroves.”

    The villagers along the coast are not sure why the sea is advancing at such a voracious pace. Some fishermen guessed it might be “because there are more storms in the sea”. One of the reasons could be a rise in sea level owing to global warming. They don’t know what global warming means, but have become “environmental refugees”.

    Although they are barely surviving, the fisherfolk are facing the brunt of reckless consumption in more affluent places. Ironically, most of these villages have not been provided electric metres. People tap electricity from the power cables that run above their homes.

    danti3A house ravaged by the sea at New Kaladra in Bharuch district.

    Geologists from M.S. University, Vadodara, are studying the Gujarat coastline as part of an all-India study by the Space Application Centre of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). “Our preliminary observations reveal that the seawater has shifted in by 10-15 metres in 10 years, and at places it has moved around 80 metres horizontally,” says Dr. Nikhil Desai, who is heading the survey of the Gujarat coast. They are comparing recent satellite images with Survey of India maps prepared in the 1960s, and have observed that the contours of Gujarat’s coast are changing.

    Several places along India’s 7,500 km-long coastline are experiencing similar erosion. In the Sunderbans, two islands have already vanished from the map, displacing 7,000 people. Twelve more islands are likely to go under owing to an annual 3.14 mm sea level rise, which will make 70,000 people refugees. Five villages in Orissa’s Bhitarkanika National Park, famous for the mass nesting of Olive Ridley turtles, have been submerged, and 18 others are likely to go under. India is one of 27 countries identified by the United Nations as the most vulnerable to the impact of global warming-related sea level rise.

    Rising sea level

    “Observations suggest that the sea level has risen at a rate of 2.5 mm a year along the Indian coastline since the 1950s. A mean sea level rise of between 15 cm and 38 cm is projected by the middle of the century along India’s coast. Added to this, a 15 per cent projected increase in intensity of tropical cyclones would significantly enhance the vulnerability of populations in cyclone-prone coastal regions,” according to Dr. Murari Lal, a renowned climatologist engaged in research related to climate change vulnerability analysis in India. Lal has been one of the lead authors of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports for over 15 years, which collates research about climate change from scientific work across the world.

    danti4Jayantibhai Rathod repairs his fishing net at New Kaladra, where he resettled after the fishing colony at Kaladra was submerged 15 years ago.

    “No local studies have been done in India to measure the precise impact of global warming. But, in the last decade, several factors contributed to the loss of coastal land due to sea level rise,” says Murari Lal. “Arctic ice has melted three times faster than predicted by the IPCC in 2001. The sea level has risen twice more than projected by the climate models. Stronger surface winds and storms have resulted in higher waves, which reach further inland. Human interventions, such as the removal of mangroves, reclamation and construction along the coast, have also led to faster erosion of the coast.”

    “Sea rise due to global warming could be just one of the reasons for the erosion along the Gujarat coast,” says Desai. “Local factors could also be responsible. Neo-tectonic activity – shifts in the level of the seabed – could also cause the sea level to rise. If there are disturbances in sediment budgeting along the coast, the amount of deposits from rivers, it could also affect the water level.” Their study will determine which of these reasons is driving the changes along the coast.

    Further north, at the estuary of the river Narmada, Kaladra village in Bharuch district is also being nibbled away by the sea. Several houses are broken and hanging on the edge of a cliff of sand that threatens to cave in at any point. A sea wall built 20 years ago is now a relic of the past. A road constructed two years ago (at a cost of Rs.30 lakh) has been cut like a cake by the lashing waves. “The poorest are the most directly affected by this. Most families here are in a dilemma. They can’t afford to shift but they cannot stay here either,” said Desai.

    danti5Children help in raising the level of Govindbhai Tandel’s house in Danti as the family braces itself for the onslaught of the monsoon.

    Kaladra too has been almost abandoned. The Rathod fishing colony here was washed away some 20 years ago. The fisherfolk resettled in “New Kaladra”, a little higher up the estuary, but their houses are still temporary. Here too, there is no escape from the advancing water. “For around six days every monsoon, the water is waist deep. Then, we bring our boats to the doorstep and fill all our stuff in it,” says Jayantibhai Rathod, a fisherman.

    When fishermen are forced to run away from the sea and they do not want their sons to continue their trade, it is time to start worrying. “This is a land of sand so you can never tell when it will shift,” says Shantibhai Tandel.

    danti7A view of an eroded road in Kaladra.

    “We will keep moving back as far as we can. Then, it’s in the hands of destiny.” It is total surrender to the forces of nature. But how much of Nature’s fury has been because of the recklessness of other people? The residents of Danti and Kaladra are too busy surviving the onslaught of the sea to dwell on the actions of others. It is the last thing on their minds as they sit on their rooftops in the pouring rain.

    Frontline, Jul. 14-27, 2007




  • The Holes in our Chappals

    Farmers are killing themselves in Gujarat. 


    Amreli, Gujarat

    “Gujarat’s farmers aren’t like those in other states. Our farmers drive Maruti cars,” chief minister Narendra Modi declares in his speeches at public meetings. If he met the widows of farmers in Gujarat who have committed suicide, he would probably choke on his words.

    Prabhaben Pungalpara was at her sister’s house when her husband Ramesh hung himself from a noose and ended his misery. He probably sent her there to soften the blow. Ramesh’s relatives rushed him to Rajkot hospital but it was too late. Now, Prabhaben’s nightmare was about to begin. “I have two girls and a boy. We will have to manage somehow. I sold off our two buffaloes after he died. My son has gone to Surat to work in a diamond polishing workshop. Ramesh’s brothers have taken care of us,” says Prabhaben from Sarapdar village.

    Ramesh and his four brothers have a 20–acre farm. “Our cotton and jeera crop failed for two years, so he was very tense,” said his brother Amarsibhai. But the police report says that he killed himself because of a family dispute. “The first police report said that he died because his crop failed, but later the police changed the story,” says Prabhaben. “They told me ‘you have such a big house, there must be some other reason for the suicide. If we give compensation in one case, people will start killing themselves and we will have to give them all’. The police just want to suppress the case.”

    “If the government can help Maharashtra’s widows, then why can’t they help women in Gujarat?” asks Prabhaben. Maybe because it would shatter the chief minister’s delusions? Across Gujarat farmers’ suicides are either unreported or wrongly reported.


    Pahubhai Dakhada, 35, preferred death to a life of debt. His suicide didn’t make it to the government’s records. Photo: Dionne Bunsha

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  • At a Hindutva factory

    Rifle shooting, lathi combat and how to fight anti-nationals. All part of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s training camp at Patan.  An account of a visit to a training camp run by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

    in Patan

    The gates to the empty school were wide open. But there was a bamboo barricade. Two rifle-toting Vishwa Hindu Parishad workers, in trademark khaki shorts, patrolled the entrance.

    The sound of gun shots greeted us as we drove inside. Rifle training was under way.

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  • Red carpet for lions, red card for people

    Some of the Gir lions needed another home. The adivasis in Kuno forest gave up theirs on promises of a better life. But were given little more than stony land

    in Kuno forest, Madhya Pradesh
    Akke and Kheru share a beedi with their friends and stare at the stone in front of them. Blazing heat and rugged terrain is all they have. No trees, no crop, no cattle, no food, just stony land. Nothing can be grown here. All they can do with it is hammer away, breaking rocks for construction. They get just Rs 70 for a 100 huge boulders.
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  • A kingdom too small

    Lions in Gir look for new territories as the sanctuary is not large enough for their population

    in Sasan, Gir forest, Gujarat
    Photographs: Ashima Narain

    A lion prowling the beach? Yes, small groups of the last surviving Asiatic Lions in the world have moved out of the Gir Sanctuary in Saurashtra, Gujarat, towards the coastal forests of Diu. They haven’t disturbed any sunbathers yet. Nor have they attacked people in the coastal villages. The Gir protected area is simply too small for the only 327 Asiatic Lions on the planet, so the younger ones have moved out in search of prey – as far as Diu, around 80 km away.

    The Asiatic lions of Gir are the world’s last surviving group of the sub-species in the wild.

     “It may seem unusual to find a lion on the coast, but this isn’t the first time that they have reached the shore,” says Bharat Pathak, Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), Junagadh. Lions were spotted in the coastal areas in the early 1900s as well, according to the Junagadh Gazetteer. Now, as the lion population is larger and open grasslands are shrinking, they are dispersing to reclaim the 2,560 sq. km. they once occupied in 1956. The Gir protected area is only 1,421 sq km of dry, deciduous forest, a little more than half the original size of the forest. There are territorial fights between lions, and only the strong retain their territories. The sub-adults have to move out.
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