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Ahmedabadi Youth: What Causes Moral Amnesia? Author(s): S.

Ganesh and Mrudul Mody Reviewed work(s): Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 21 (May 25-31, 2002), pp. 1969-1973 Published by: Economic and Political Weekly Stable URL: . Accessed: 28/09/2012 07:10
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Youth Ahmedabadi
Attemptedbelow is a profile of the 'Hinduterrorist'of Ahmedabad, youth.Amongmiddle class referredto here as the Ahmedtlbadi semi-educatedyouth whose expectationsandfantasies have been whettedby numerousdevelopmentsinternaland externalto the community,ragefollows if desires are unfulfilled.Such a situation is fertile groundfor the Lie -partial truths,limitedtruthsand untruthsskilfullywoven into a texturethat obscures, misleads and incites - to take root andfester. Thereare several reasons that might explain why this happens.

s Victor Turnerhas famously formulated, established canons of ormative behaviour are suspended during periods of 'liminality', and such group behaviour even becomes acceptable temporarily.A vivid example that springs to mind in the Indian context is the festival of Holi, in which the loosening of conventional sexual propriety and hierarchical deferences are positively celebrated. Social anthropologists have used the concept of liminality to explain mass behaviourwhen people believed they saw the icon of the deity Ganesh actually imbibing milk offered. The effect wore off soon enough on the discovery that capillary action had resulted in this phenomenon. Some explanationis needed for the moralamnesianow evident in Ahmedabad, a prolonged phenomenon whose logic and dynamics surely lie beyondjust liminality. No single factorcan explain recentevents in Ahmedabad. The city has a long history of tension between Hindus and Muslims. Jan Breman argues that the recent pogrom against Muslims is a consequence of the closure of a large number of textile mills in Ahmedabad which had resulted in fragmentation of a workforce which was earlier united across community lines. He also adds, that in Gujarat"The breakdown of civic society has been discussed from various angles, such as...a progressive state of flux in the caste balance caused by upward mobility and concomitant

assertion of the middle class" ('Communal Upheaval as Resurgence of Social Darwinism', EPW, April 20, 2002, pp 1485-88). This article argues that the youth in Ahmedabad have poor ethical moorings. A combination of factors and circumstances have made them ready for violence. While liminality is short lived, the suspension here of normative behaviour - moral amnesia - is nurtured,sustained and prolonged by the state's encouragement of falsehoods and half-truths- what can be called the Lie. As partof a harmony mission to Gujarat organised by Swami Agnivesh, I visited some partsof the state in early April. Signs that there would be no abatement of violence in Ahmedabad were sadly clear even based on this brief exposure. Our 72 member group included a dozen religious leaders from various denominations: Arya Samaj swamis, Sikh priests, Christian missionaries, a Buddhist monk, a Jain monk, and Muslim maulvis. There were also participants from all parts of India, including those from small towns, who came to express solidarity with the peace initiative. Ahmedabadmetedout summary treatmentto this group. Following threats, we were hurriedly evacuated from the inappropriately named Ishwar Niwas in Navrangpura and shifted to Gandhi's SabarmatiAshram.Outside the gates were young boys, presumablybelonging to some local group that was monitoring our movement, ubiquitous with their air-

conditioned cars, and mobile phones keeping trackand doubtless flashing SMS messages to their brothers-in-arms.They demanded the group's eviction again, requiring late night calls to be made to New Delhi to help arrangepolice protection. There were clear symptoms of impending violence within the Ashram itself, and indeed this did happen within a few days of our visit. During conversation, the boys had a clear, consistent message - "do not talk of Gandhi, do not talk of peace, do not talk of the Muslims" - in that order it would seem. It came as some surprise that the anti-Muslim feeling, was accompanied by a negation of moral and spiritual values to which at any rate lip service is paid, and the rejection of harmony. Can it be, the question arises, whether the Muslims are merely the most convenient scapegoat for the rage built up by some malcontents in society? In other words areMuslims the cause of animosity, or has animosity built up independently, finding an expression in attack on Muslims to suit the political agenda of the state? Given the long history of HinduMuslim conflict in Ahmedabad,the former would seem to be the case, but in the presenttime, thereseem to be some grounds for exploring the latter.

The Compound Lie

The erosion of moralandspiritualvalues and the rejection of harmony go against the grain of 'Indian-ness', propagated by the very exponents of Hindutva as characterising Hindu society of the past. This indubitable contradiction can be overcome, by the proponentsof Hindutva, including state, to meet the requirements of the larger agenda (electoral gain), only if it can be buttressed with what can be called the Lie. The Lie includes partial truths,limited truthsanduntruthsskilfully woven into a texture that obscures, misleads and incites. To sustain the effect beyond the liminal moment and make it extend for a period of time, the Lie cannot be single. The Lie has to be reinforced, compounded with new Lies. The quick succession of Lies that sustain and nourish the suspension of normative behaviour for a length of time aims to extend the period of moral amnesia, beyond liminality.

Economic and Political Weekly_ May 25, 2002


The first Lie in the current series relates to the pseudo-scientific explanation of spontaneousreaction to the Godhraaction. The initial incidents of spontaneous anger do not explain the planned, systematic and sustained violent attacks. The Lie thus provides ajustification for keeping moral issues in abeyance. The next cynical step was to demand immediate elections. This extends amnesia, by suggesting that if victorious,the popularmandatewould post facto justify the excesses - a remarkable Lie, even by Indian standards. The next Lie is more invidious, decrying secularists as pseudo-secular. This was a predictableLie, and belongs to a genre of branding critics as pseudo-Hindu and pseudo Indian - the type used by the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia to exterminate the intellectual class. Coming to the Lie itself, the pseudo secularists are alleged to suffer from the following four traits, they: (i) do not talk as much about Godhra; (ii) condone the Congress Party for pandering to the Muslim vote; (iii) did not protest when the Sikhs were massacred in Delhi following Indira Gandhi's assassination; and (iv) do not show the same concern for the Kashmiri Pandits, driven out of Kashmir, who are now living in refugee camps. This Lie at first sight seems plausible. It ignores the critical difference that in Ahmedabad the riots are state-sponsored to implement a bellicose Hindutva strategy for electoral gain. And, by attacking Congressmen as pseudo secular, it tries to give-the impression that all secularists have suspect motives. This is to decry all critics as biased, and so continue with the moral amnesia. It ignores the simple logic that while some politicians might wrongly claim to be secular, not all who claim to be secular are politicians. The Lies now build up in their desperation, at an obvious peril to national unity. Whatcomes now is a broadside against the rest of India, and a depiction of Gujarat as alienatedfrom mainstreamIndia. Sudhir Mulji (Business Standard, May 9, 2002) bemoans that "Gujaratisseem to have no The Gujarat place"in theDelhi bureaucracy. chief minister declares at what looks like an election rally that Gujarat "will give a fitting response to those who accuse five crore Gujaratis of being murderers and rapists".The public criticism from the 'rest of India' is in fact directed only against the lawless elements and not all Gujaratis. This Lie is an attempt by those who are guilty to associate their own guilt with the larger community by implying that all

Gujaratis are under attack. Cowering as they are in camps and curfew bound areas, the majority can now hardly claim to be intimidated by Muslims: a victim cannot be given the status of an enemy. Hence the need to proclaim that the rest of India is against the Gujaratis. Again, the same sequence, finding comfort in demonising the 'other' with the 'rest of India' now becoming the scapegoat. The latest Lie, as of May 10, is the declaration by the home minister that foreign terrorist outfits are instigating communal riots in Gujarat.This, coming 10 weeks after commencement of the carnage, is a curious timing. Had he said so earlier, this would have diluted the fervour to take 'revenge' against local Muslims the 'revenge' would then have to target the alleged culprit: Pakistan. Now, after the local issue has been settled, time is ripe to nail the old enemy. It is necessary here to note what B Raman, a member of the National Security Advisory Board and former RAW officer says: "Savageries of the kind witnessed in Gujarat inevitably have a painful sequel, a nemesis" (South Asia Analysis Group, May 7, 2002). He clearly states here that the state of affairs we have in Ahmedabad is of our own making.

Alienation of Ahmedabadi Youth

We attempt a profile here of the 'Hindu terrorist'of Ahmedabad, referredto in this paper as the Ahmedabadi youth, like all such classifications, admittedly a stereotype. The question arises, what about the Muslim youth? The Muslim stereotype already exists, considerable written material is available on the 'Muslim terrorist', and the Muslim youth belong to quite a different socio-economic, and obviously culturalmilieu,andso cannotbe paintedwith the same brush. Ahmedabad is a part of Gujarat, but the city has its own special featuressuch as ghettoisation,urbanisation, and different historical backdrop and so this analysis pertains only to the city, not necessarily implied for the rest of the state. Among middle class, semi-educated youth whose expectations and fantasies have been whetted by numerous developments internaland external to the community, rage follows if desires are unfulfilled. Such a situation prevails in Ahmedabad, and we argue that this city is fertile ground for the Lie to take root and fester. There are several reasons that might explain why this happens.

Consumerism is of central importance. The abundance of eateries that (used to) stay open late into the night are an outlet for youngsters. 'Eat the Best and Forget the Rest', reads one hoarding. Coming as the youngsters do, from trading backgrounds, deal-making is an important aspect of life and there is an abiding faith that all matterscan be 'settled'. The young are yet to learn that reciprocity is not only in mercantile matters, but also extends to the social construct.Lacking a professional education, and with limited employment opportunities, they are compelled to participate in the family trading business, an occupation that urban youngsters might find blas6. Prohibition of alcohol consumption, and even dietary restrictions, perhaps add to the feeling of repression. Breakingthe law, to avoid taxes is valorised as a means to succeed in life. That the law can, and should be broken, is a lesson learnt ratherearly in life, when the young boys visit the 'gaddi' in the family shop typically during vacation time: the culture needs to 'catch them young'. If icons or role models do exist, they probablyinclude the likes of the late HarshadMehta, a stock marketfixer. The nexus between disrespect for the law acquired at a young age, and its denial of ethics is not a matter to be lightly dismissed. The mental make-up of the youth is influenced by the absence of strong support for educational values. There are a few prominent institutions such as the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), but selection being on a national basis, relatively few local students gain admission. The services sector comprises primarilyof finance companies, where employment requires business acumen, but not a high degree of intellectual skills. Not surprisingly, the computer software industrylags behind in the city. Signs of an intellectual traditionthat can attractyoung people, and channel energies towards positive thinking are not evident. And the little reading is fed by virulent inputs such as those from the local language press, not to mention the hate literature in circulation. The trading ethos has not permittedthe growth of an industrial culture. A mere sprinkling of industries, several of which are polluting, or based on tax evasion, do not make for a modern, industrialculture. Absence of such a culture precludes the development of contemporary skills including technical skills. The absence of higher education, skills, and access to meaningful employment contributes to May 25, 2002


Economic and Political Weekly

Environmental Factors Leading to Uncontrolled Rage Lackof rolemodels Lackof controls parental

Lackof liberaleducation

Lackof uplifting culture

\ Alienation,lackof ethicalnorms

Lackof challenging work

Beliefin quickfixes Frustration, undirected rage of youth Make-up Actual injustices Actual differences Disinformation by relatives,friends

Belief in quickbucks


Axe-grinders, flame-fanners, vote gatherers, criminals (magnified) the scapegoat Finding Directedrage and frustration Perceived injustices, perceivedslights, perceivedinjuries

Provocation by fanaticsof othercommunities


State complicity ^

Religiousgroup encouragement Cold-bloodedness Moral amnesia Bloodlust revengefulness Self-righteousness



frustration. Boys from rich families can thus loot shops and sell the goods from the luggage holds of their cars without any apparent hesitation. The candid response of a traderwhen asked: why is animosity directedagainstthe Bohracommunity, who are normally considered closer in aspiration to the mainstream,was thatthe "Bohras compete with us in real estate business". So, business gain was seen as sufficient justification for physical intimidation, a peculiar preference. Indeed, The Times of India (May 10, 2002) cites an Intelligence Bureau report which blames the builder mafia in Ahmedabad for orchestrating the violence. The culture, dismissive of intellectual rigour as 'pseudo', and based on strikingdeals, leads to the erosion of value Economic and Political Weekly

A standards. benchmarks, systems,norms, civic society needs to acknowledgeand of compliance with accepttheimportance laws, thoughin practiceit may deviate. Moralamnesiaoccursmorereadilywhen thescriptitselfhasnotbeenfully accepted in the first place. Preparing this paper,I asked a Gujaratifriend, whetherhe accepted the Indianlaws. 'No', he replied, and also said that, "the stories about are 'exaggeratedby the press' ". Gujarat I asked his wife aboutwhat her friends andrelativesfelt aboutthe recentevents: "Ihavebeenbusytheselasttwo months", she said, "and have not found time to discuss the matter". Seeing these boys moving aroundthe city with sticks in hand,was something

that struck me forcefully during the Harmony Mission. Are these boys at some inner psychological level, clinging on to straws for support, I had felt. Talking to them, the depth of their feelings comes through directly and clearly. The oft repeated 'mantra', not to talk of Gandhi, peace, Muslims, indicates minds closed to discussion. One boy had quivering lips, when giving vent to his expressions. But at the end, he was apologetic for losing his composure, almost as if he was snapping back to reality. Indeed, for all the bellicosity, he was probably close to tears. Despite the moral amnesia, these young men cannot but have the premonition that the expiation for their sins will have to be done by them in theirlifetimes, never mind if the law catches up with them or not. Society's acceptance of religion, but rejection of Gandhi, must also be creating confusion in young minds. The association of members of the Jain community in the movement, is yet another perplexing phenomenon. I G Patel in an interview has made a mention that the rioters "did'ntjust attack, their suppressed feelings came out too". He seems to imply some rage within, beyond what is expected in all rioters. There is also an interesting insight from him, where there is a mention of guilt: "I believe that the VHP gets its money power from abroad.People who have gone abroad feel guilty...this class has fallen prey to VHP propaganda".Narendar Pani in The Economic Times, (May 3, 2002) talks of the "public display of righteous intolerance by the BJP's younger leaders", and goes on to say that "In a society thatjudges success only on material terms, those who do not succeed financially lose their self esteem. And without anything positive on their horizon they can only blame, and hate, others". One factor of potential importance that needs to be investigated more deeply is the current popularity of mass-based 'pravachan' or religious discourse in Gujarat. What was earlier a sectarian, temple based small scale form of disseminating religious values in a popular format has become large scale, encompassing many different segments - high and low - of Hindu society. Such discourses are also available now in 24 hourTV channels. The scale of the current mobilisation aided by mass media and the spectrum of castes they cover is simply mind boggling. Personalities such as Asaram Bapu command massive followings and are virtually 1971

May 25, 2002

deified. In a recent talk to the alumni of IIT, Mumbai (April 27, 2002) Atmaram Kulkarni of the RSS when asked why Hindutva had spread more in Gujarat as compared to other states in India, stated that the main factor is the high level of religious discourse imparted by preachers. Without commenting on the content of such discourses, which is a separate subject in itself, it is worth noting that they provide a new context of mass based shared consciousness of being Hindu which can be exploited by astute strategists for other purposes than what is intended by the preachers. The self-conscious religiosity associated with such discourses are - not surprisingly - quite compatible with the current rejection of Gandhian values, which in turn, in fact draws from and reinterpretsa radical and reflective stream from the vast array of religious and spiritual modes available within Hinduism. The incitement to violence is not recent. As far back as 1985 Sujata Patel of Pune University had seen pamphlets that she

says "contained tips on how best to kill an enemy with a trishul" (quoted in The Times of India, April 28, 2002). Indeed, on our visit, I heard first person accounts of such sacrilege, in this case by attack on an unborn foetus. I also heard about policemen attackingpregnantwomen with rifle butts. Valour, the unauthenticated version goes, is the brandishing of young children at the tip of a trishul. Notice that with all the protest about exaggeration trotted out by the state apparatus, these stories have not been specifically denied. Could it be that the protagonists are too proud of their achievement to deny them? Or does the amnesia veil the very acts that were committed? Is this attack on the foetus, a primordialdeath wish, or a pagan ritual, or remnant of some tantric fertility rite in ourcollective subconscious, or some Freudian aberration?Better to just accept Romila Thapar's depiction in a recent lecture at the Nehru Centre, as the work of 'sick minds'. The repeated reference to sick minds, guilt, suppressed feelings, blame, hate,

rage provide some indication of psychological unrest. Psycho-analyst Shailesh Kapadia, who is also a keen student of developments in his home state, agrees with this proposition. He says that amongst several other factors, the prevalent cult of the child god (Bal Krishna) is one that requires further study. Another factor is the historical impact of the prolonged absence of males from their family, given the pattern of migration out of the state to make a living. According to this psycho-analytical theory, the 'deification' of the infant results in a weakening of the father figure. Kapadia furtherstates that "real morality or ethical values flows from fear of the fatherimage. The denial of paternal authority during childhood can result in weakening of the ethical code in lateryears". In other words, this corroborates common understanding that the lack of parental controls leads to indiscipline and disrespect for ethical behaviour. The subject needs further detailed examination, but the disrespect for law and an ethical code, denial of


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Economic and Political Weekly

May 25, 2002

guilt, the moral amnesia, the failure of conscience do suggest a deep-seated malaise.

The Model
What leads to blood lust followed by thoughts of revenge - please note the inversion that it is not the latter that leads to blood lust? A combination of internal, and external factors influence the individual's movement on the rage scale. The accompanying flow chart suggests that a certain combination of environmental factors have led to the heady mix that has overtaken young men (and women?) in Ahmedabad. The factors are only external, and do not take into account the unique traits of the individual. But, aided by the barrage of Lies, even if one in 10 succumbs to the seductive logic that leads to criminality, that is enough to cripple civic society. In Ahmedabad, there are six essential steps that lead to the build up of hatred and violence. As the model shows, the make-up of youth is influenced by environmental factors, and to start with the frustration leads to undirected rage. It is in the next stage that perceived hurts are magnified, by use of the Lie and what results is directed rage against an identified enemy. In the final stage, state complicity, and religious encouragement lead to the abandoningof ethical norms giving way finally to blood lust, and search for revenge.

referred to here as moral amnesia will take people beyond 'temporary insanity', and it is known that persistent conscious denial of guilt leads to psychosis. Whatever may be the perceived benefit of this programme to put the Muslims 'in their place', this has to be measured against the

psychological cost it will extract from the protagonists. I1

[Ourthanksfor the valuablecontributionsto this paperprovidedby Shailesh Kapadiaand Kamala Ganesh. The visit detailing and the narrationare by S Ganesh. Mrudul Mody has conceptualised and preparedthe chart.]

Bt Cotton: Prevails


'Magical' Bt cotton seedsfrom Gujarathaveflooded the market and the governmentis yet to begin any sort of educationor informationcampaignto explain the problems with the seed and the precautions that need to be taken.

Directed rage results in blood lust and then revenge but this cannot happen in an uncontrolled way in the absence of state support and the state's endorsement of violence. Moreover, fanaticism requires an element of self-righteousness and this is aided by implicit encouragement from religious groups. The ethical divide has to be crossed in the mind of the killer, and this needs some tacit (if not explicit) endorsement by temporal and spiritual 'father' figures. Ahmedabad, with its consumerist antiintellectual trading ethos, provides fertile ground for the laboratory experiment of the Hindutva movement to establish how systematic uses of the Lie can be used to build collective, directed rage. But the people being used in the experiment are not laboratory mice. They are human beings. Prolonged denial of ethical values, Economic and Political Weekly

calculations, let us take an average of Rs 800 per acre. Pesticide sprayings work was travellingthroughsome villages out to another Rs 1,000 per acre. Wardha in Wardha district recently, talking to and almost all of Vidarbha is rainfed so farmers.Wardhais situatedin the cotton the yields are lower compared to the irgrowing belt of Maharashtraand its farm- rigated areas in Punjab and Haryana. The ers are quite aware about,agriculturalde- average cotton yields are around three velopments, atleast comparedto theircoun- quintals per acre in this region. The farmterpartsin many other partsof the country. ers here are demanding a monopoly pricWe talked about the situation of cotton ing system because cotton prices have been farmers of the region, and the talk quickly plummetingthese past few years, the whole turned to Bt cotton, both the new geneti- situation being exacerbated by the cally engineered hybrids sanctioned by the government's ad hoc decisions to import government as also the Bt cotton crop cotton, causing cotton prices to crash planted by the illegal seeds supplied by further. Navbharatseed company last year. Several In this situation, two new varieties of interesting points came up during the cotton, one legal and the other illegal, have discussion, many pertinentto the econom- become available to farmers.The Mahycoics of cultivating the Bt cotton varieties Monsanto varieties are to be priced at of Mahyco-Monsanto. Rs 1,600 per bag. The economics in this At present, farmersin Wardhaand other case will work out like this: Cost of seed regions of Vidarbha, predominantly grow per acre will go up to Rs 3,200. If pesticide hybrid cotton. Some continue to grow the use is reduced because of the Bt toxin, say 'desi' or local cotton but these are a even by as much as a dramatic60 per cent, minority.The principalsource of thhybrid savings on pesticide will workoutto Rs 600 seeds is private companies although there per acre. The yield will not be affected are some varieties supplied by the Punjab much since Bt cotton has not been bred Rao Deshmukh Agricultural University to confer a yield advantage but the advanlocated in Wardha and by the Gujarat tage of disease resistance. The main reason government. All the hybridseeds available the yields will not go up in any significant are priced between Rs 300 to Rs 450 per way is because of the lack of irrigation 450 gm bag. This odd size is standardhere facilities. So the economics of Mahycoalthough packages of 750 gm are also Monsanto's Bt cotton look very unavailable. favourable for the farmer. A total outlay Working out the economics of cotton of Rs 3,600 (Rs 3,200 for seed + Rs 400 cultivation, the farmersexplained thatthey for pesticide) as against Rs 1,800 per need about 1 kg of seed per acre which acre in the old system (Rs 800 for seed + works out to a cost of Rs 700 to Rs 900 Rs 1,000 for pesticide). This means per acre depending on the variety. For our the increased net outlay doubles to

May 25, 2002