Coalition Against Communalism
Meeting in Mumbai
May 19, 2002
We - the undersigned - met on May 19th, 2002 for a preparatory meeting to discuss the agenda and proposals for the next larger meeting. (This preparatory meeting was meant to be for 3 hours but eventually lasted 6 hours!!)
Anyway, given that many useful suggestions had been forthcoming from many of us at that Saturday meeting at Bhupesh Gupta Bhavan, we set about grouping them under areas that need to be addressed in this struggle. Also, some people had responded to our previous e-mail with suggestions for this preparatory meeting.
The following are the sub-groups that we're proposing should be formed from among all of us, to address specific areas respectively. We will discuss each of these areas and their programmes for action at the larger meeting on the 25th. Those of us who would like to volunteer for one or more of these sub-groups can do so at the meeting this Saturday - based on our skills and inclination. A co-ordinator can be appointed for each sub-group and work on the same can begin immediately thereafter. (It is also quite natural that several of us can contribute to more than one sub-group and that several tasks of these sub-groups will dove-tail into one another symbiotically.)
1. Relief Work and Information Gathering in Gujarat
Apart from the need for material and other resources for the victims of the violence, there is still an overwhelming need for volunteers to actually visit Gujarat (not just Ahmedabad) to help in the relief work. We have been trying to mobilise more people to come - even for three-four days at a time - but there is an acute need for more help, more numbers.
Secondly, all of us know that the government is afraid of the truth and is therefore either actively covering it up or ignoring the task of recording facts. We need volunteers who will go around to smaller towns and villages to gather information about what really happened, how many people have been actually affected, and other relevant details. Volunteers will be guided and accompanied by NGO activists. This effort will be invaluable for legal purposes, for procuring relief and compensation from the government, and for eventually recording the reality of the Gujarat episode for all of us and the world to see and understand what is happening in India.
All of us agree that prejudices begin to form pretty early in life. There is a clear need to intervene at the level of schools and colleges to encourage students to question the myths and propaganda that are being thrown at them from everywhere. There is a need to sensitise young people to the implications of their prejudice, to the dangers of generalisations, and to try to understand the social processes underlying the Gujarat issue.
We have approached several teachers in colleges regarding this effort. The response has been heartening, as they too are trying to work out ways to include this issue in their courses/project work/even syllabi. We are trying to arrange a meeting of college teachers to understand their need for support for this. The Centre for Education and Documentation has volunteered to compile dossiers on a variety of topics concerning communalism. Some of the ideas that came up yesterday were: Form a group of teachers that we meet with regularly Help CED and other Centres construct information dossiers for teachers and students Approach organisations/companies to sponsor an annual inter-college (or inter-school) debate competition on communalism Organise exhibitions of posters, film shows, other events for school and college students
3. Media and Information
The mass media - especially the press and TV - are the prime channels for ideas and information. The propagandists know that and have used it effectively to spread their disinformation. We must set up a cell that will Monitor the English and regional language newspapers and magazines for falsehoods, disinformation, hate propaganda Identify journalists and writers who have a secular outlook Set up a documentation unit (an information bank - that'll include material from the press, journals, statistical reports, government documents, census material, demographic information, and all other relevant material that will help INFORM people, will help counter the on-going hate propaganda with information). Create site/s on the Net, or sub-sites of existing sites like Sabrang/CED Be regularly in touch with secular journalists Counter hate propaganda by immediately providing material to journalist friends to help them contradict it Encourage proactive secular writing in the press Aim to institute an annual award for the best writing on issues of communalism (Say a Rajiv Tiwari Annual Award). A citation plus say Rs.1 lakh. (We could approach a corporate house to collaborate.) Explore the possibility of raising resources for a professionally-run daily paper that will fight the propaganda of communal organisations
That Saturday all of us agreed that if the business sector were to become more proactive about this issue and take a stand, it would definitely impact the State. Fortunately this time, some industrialists have spoken out. Our business cell should Aim to lobby with business forums (Chambers of Commerce, Trade Associations) to pass a resolution on Gujarat, take a stand on it in the press, issue public statements condemning it, bring pressure upon the government to act to restore normalcy. Try to get journalists to conduct a poll immediately with fund managers on how Gujarat has affected investments into the country. Prepare a dossier on Gujarat for Foreign Institutional Investors and their clients (notably the pension funds) and for organisations that advise them (such as Pensions & Investment Research in the UK) so they know exactly what has happened in Gujarat, the sheer scale of the crimes committed, and are encouraged to intervene in some form. Investigate the several business houses that have been pouring money into the coffers of the Sangh Parivar. We are aware of a few of them at least, and plan campaigns against these financiers of genocide. Contact the appropriate authorities internationally to seek an investigation into the funding networks behind the VHP in the US.
5. Cultural Activities
The most vibrant method of spreading feelings of harmony, solidarity and peace is through arts and cultural forms. In earlier days almost every performing art had a bunch of progressives making their own plays, films, that served as symbols of protest and also highlighted social issues. Can't we work towards reviving such movements?
Already, organisations like IPTA (Indian People's Theatre Association) are revitalising themselves to respond to the growth of communalism. There are also many individuals in different arts that are agitated by Gujarat. Our cell must aim to Hold cultural festivals and events celebrating the richness of a diverse and secular culture such as we have Liaise and collaborate with existing associations like IPTA and others to help them hold theatre-festivals, other activities Approach the Azmi family with the idea of instituting a Kaifi Azmi Award for the best progressive writing (plays, screenplays, novels, short stories, poetry) that combats communalism of all kinds.
6. Legal Cell
Already people like Mihir and friends have been moving on this count in a very focussed way. They need lots of help. This cell needs volunteers to compile the evidence that will go into building a case around specific major indictments; this will require considerable and focussed investigation in the state File more FIRs on individual cases to help victims conduct the sort of scrutiny of the print media that will help file a case against the media (two newspapers in particular) launch a campaign to get India to sign and ratify the Statute of the International Criminal Court For all this and more, the cell will need volunteers immediately who are interested in helping to compile reports from the media on these issues, conduct legal research, etc.
7. Workers Against Communalism
A group of individuals interested in constructing an anti-communal platform among trade union activists and workers more generally. This will require a great deal of imagination and hard work and cannot succeed without the active involvement of the best trade unionists in the city.
There are many ideas, and lots of scope to do something. That is why we had all got together on the 11th at Bhupesh Gupta Bhavan - because we feel concerned enough to do something, whatever we can, in our own way. At this meeting, we have to concretise that urge into action.
Looking forward to getting together with all of you.
Mihir, Sandhya, Jairus, Rohini, Bharat, Ammu, Leena, Gaurang, Anjum