Citizens´ efforts for relief and rehabilitation in Ahmedabad are now faced with the new challenge of state-enforced normalcy directed at mid-term elections. Forcible closure of relief camps, an undisturbed rathyatra of Lord Jaganath through the city under massive armed protection, and the subsequent dissolution of the State Assembly and resignation of the Chief Minister are symbols of BJP intentions. In the midst of these developments, the Citizens Initiative (CI) recently met to work out a strategy and administrative structure that could serve long-term strategies to replace the ad hoc, fire-brigade interventions that CI has had to make since February 28.
A situation update would highlight these facts: officially there are only ten relief camps, all in Ahmedabad, with 12,524 inmates. Another 4,000 people are living in camps officially closed. Many thousands have left, most living with friends and relatives as there is little security in original neighborhoods, still largely hostile and unrelenting. Some attempts at rebuilding homes have ended in tragedy: walls and ceilings have collapsed, killing and injuring those attempting to start again. Important cases hang in mid-air. In the Godhara train carnage case, investigation is incomplete and trial has not begun. In the Naroda-Patiya massacre, the investigation is also incomplete. Some have moved through private initiatives to new locations, and some have returned. The investigation into the Gulbarg Society massacre is also incomplete, and the area where 44 persons including former Congress M P Jafri died, is deserted with wreckage lying unattended. In the Best Bakery killings (Baroda) trial is yet to begin and in the Sardarpura massacre, investigation is incomplete. The only case where a trial has taken place is in the case of arson by Muslims in Lunawada (Panchmahals). All 9 accused were acquitted for want of evidence. The Inquiry Commission appointed on March 7 (required to submit its reports in 3 months) has till date conducted two public hearings and 3 days of recording evidence.
While the Election Commissioner in New Delhi decides on Gujarat´s normalcy, CI is planning for work at three levels: (1) support to activists and projects of relief and rehabilitation on the ground. (2) setting up a resource group for advocacy and political purposes and (3) providing space for networking and external support.
Relief & Rehabilitation:
The major work is required at this level for provision of shelter, restoration of livelihoods, a variety of counseling services, legal aid and attention to human rights and political dimensions of activities and events in Ahmedabad and outside. It is intended to identify partners and form coordination cells of 5-7 persons to take on responsibilities in these sectors. Full-time volunteers working in these areas could be assisted by resource groups. A fee-paying National Solidarity Forum have been suggested to build a stronger network for the long term.
This is a major challenge, made more critical by the prevailing indifference of State authorities. A more structured approach has been suggested, with clarity on channels for receiving, holding, disbursing and accounting for funds. As CI is a consortium, the need has been stressed for complete transparency on funds received by separate members for a common purpose of relief and rehabilitation.
Advocacy & Networking:
A proposal has been mooted for a National Convention in Gujarat to precede the forthcoming elections. It was felt that 10,000-12,000 delegates from all over the country could be brought together in Ahmedabad to reflect on the Gujarat situation and its national implications. Networking is also needed at a more modest level to tackle special issues such as the restoration of the many shrines that have been destroyed and where there is an apparent determination to thwart efforts at rebuilding. The symbolism of this opposition is of great significance. The active involvement of institutions like INTACH is essential.
CI has called a meeting on 26 July to consider specific proposals in support of these directions.
24 July 2002