I’m cross-posting recent blog entries from my blog Journey to Gujarat here on Parallel Universe. Please sign up for updates to my travels there as soon as they are posted!
It’s been a couple of months since I left Gujarat for America but the images and conversations are still very much with me. I am glad to be spending the summer in the relatively cooler Texas than Gujarat but I try to keep up with happenings there through regular phone or web-enabled conversations with friends and family.
An ongoing theme, perhaps one that is never-ending, is that of the conflict between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat. The embodiment of this conflict is Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s (Hindu) chief minister, who is blamed with fanning the flames of communal violence in the 2002 riots that claimed tens of thousands of lives on both sides and destroyed Muslim neighborhoods. He is often touted as a possible future Indian prime minister and so much of the chattering among intelligensia is about Modi’s record in Gujarat, and how it should or should not be a model for the rest of India.
A new biography of Modi, written by Indian journalist, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, is out and seeks to peel back the armor that the CM wears. Modi is clearly contemptuous of any questions that go against the narrative he has chosen, he freezes out journalists who don’t tow the line and has an uber-paternalistic attitude toward his constituents. His supporters say he’s brought prosperity to Gujarat with his focus on law and order and friendly attitude toward business. He’s a polarizing figure either way.
Growing up in America, the only religious differences that I was aware of was how different we were from the Christian families all around us. We were respectful, learned to bow our heads in silence when prayers invoking Jesus were said — even at secular events. Most people didn’t make an effort to get to know more about our religion (though I did have to dissuade some fellow six-year-olds that no the reason that Hindus are vegetarians is not because we worship cows) but didn’t impede our celebrating Diwali or raksha bandhan either.
Visiting my family in Gujarat is to enter an upper-caste Hindu world. Portraits of Ganesh, Krishna and other gods adorn homes and businesses. The greeting upon meeting people is not “Hello” but “Jai Shri Krishna,” or Hail, Krishna. It would be as if Christians went around saying, “Praise Jesus” instead of “good morning.” It’s not a big deal. Just simply how people relate to each other.
I don’t even notice myself navigating between Gujarati-dominated settings, more Western settings where English is spoken or when Arabic dominates the chatter among Muslims either in the Gulf or India. I was surprised and disappointed at the low level of interaction among Hindus and Muslims in Ahmedabad, however. The people that I spoke to said the separation has gotten more acute in the decade since the riots.
So it was interesting to hear the discussion after a production of “Tales of Tears,” a play about a fictional rape trial set after the riots. The Q-and-A after the play put in stark terms how wary both communities are of each other. Time may have passed since the riots but Gujarat has not moved on.