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A vehicle burning during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Photo: PTI
A vehicle burning during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Photo: PTI

Opinion | A different story about the nature of hate

Money, or the lack of it, was the main hurdle when Revati Laul attempted to nail the anatomy of hate

Revati Laul knew Suresh Jadeja—or Suresh Langdo as he was called because of his bad leg—was angry with her. Laul had been a constant presence beside his wife Farzana Bano in court as she finally gathered the courage to exit a violent relationship with her Gujarat riots-accused husband. So when he was out on parole, Laul, a journalist who was working on a book about three perpetrators of the 2002 communal riots, thought twice before going alone to his home to interview him.

Jadeja—part of the mob which ripped open pregnant Kauser Bi’s womb and pulled out her foetus with a sword before killing her in Naroda Patiya—got two plastic chairs outside the house where Laul waited, sat down on one and sat her down on the other. He asked his son Vivian (named after Jadeja’s favourite cricketer Vivian Richards) to get her a cold drink, putting her at ease, and then inquired of her: “What did my wife tell you about me?"

Before Laul could finish her first sentence, he lurched out of his chair, and hit her hard across one side of her face. “He was built like a wrestler and his hand made a thwacking sound like I was being hit by wood," she recalls over the phone. With one hand he pulled her by the hair and threw her against the wall, then tried to strangle her with the other hand and started kicking her, she adds.

She screamed for help but none of the 100 or so terrified bystanders reacted until Vivian jumped on his father’s back and with two other people managed to get him off her. As she fled the house, the mob ran after her to get her to go back. “Come back, sorry, sorry," Vivian pleaded as he clung on to her hand before Laul finally escaped in an autorickshaw.

Jadeja’s story, told mainly by his wife Farzana and his assorted other victims, is the most dramatic in Laul’s The Anatomy Of Hate, an interwoven narrative of three men who became part of that “one ball of hate" on 28 February 2002, the day that the author believes recast the political landscape of India.

But the terrifying encounter with Jadeja was not the biggest challenge for Laul in the three years she spent researching her book in Gujarat, nor were the eight drafts and one year it took her to write it or the 10 years that it took Pranav, the protagonist who was the inspiration for this book, to share his story.

The most challenging part wasn’t even the slow, methodical work she logged to identify other characters for her book. Equipped with an Excel sheet that listed worst-affected districts alongside names of riot accused and sources through whom she could meet each one of them, she dived into their stories. As she met nearly 100 men, Laul had a Eureka moment: Not a single person was easy with the violence he had committed. Many people spilled their stories, she says, because “they didn’t like what they were carrying around in their head".

Who is the everyday man who is part of the mob? Why do fantasies of hate excite us more than anything else? How much of a violent act comes from the madness of a moment and how much is personal history? How much is personal, how much political? When she moved to Gujarat in January 2003 with NDTV, the aftershocks of the riots hadn’t yet subsided. Everywhere she went, middle-class Gujaratis told her, “You won’t be able to understand why we supported the riots."

Laul became obsessed with one question: “How do you reach out to the other side without preaching?"

As a reporter for NDTV, she attended a workshop where activist Ram Puniyani was attempting to help polarized youth question their beliefs. When she turned the camera on a young man sitting in the front row and asked him if this workshop had changed anything for him, Pranav replied simply: “My whole thinking has changed." Laul says that’s when she realized that she had to break the binary of our everyday conversations to try and tell a different kind of story. Who is the everyday man who is part of the mob? Why do fantasies of hate excite us more than anything else? How much of a violent act comes from the madness of a moment and how much is personal history? How much is personal, how much political?

Laul was intrigued by Jadeja for the mystery of his Muslim wife. In interviews after the riots, Farzana always said: How could the man who married a Muslim attack other Muslims?

He’s also the only main character whose real name is used in the book.

Dungar, a Bhil tribal for whom signing up with the Vishva Hindu Parishad did something even a formal education couldn’t—it changed his power equation with Muslims in the area—is the third protagonist of the book. He burned 12 Muslim houses that night, a harder task than he had imagined and one that stayed with him until he made amends. He’s the most grey character in the book, flitting between political parties, part of the core base of the Sangh Parivar “but in a very disruptive way". Laul tells me that if we see the Sangh as a monolith and write about politics as if it is a normative space, “we are missing what the Sangh doesn’t want us to see. That they are not half as powerful as we think they are."

In the book she sketches the lives of the three men to show they were “not marionettes, being pulled by a dark gravitational force over which they had no control. Neither were they operating on a blank canvas over which they had absolute creative rights."

Money, or the lack of it, was the main hurdle when Laul attempted to nail the anatomy of hate.

After applying to various foundations for grants and coming up blank, she wondered if maybe her idea was not worth pursuing. But her last option—crowdfunding—underlined the power of her idea. She raised her target of 8 lakh plus the amount she needed to pay the crowdfunding website in just over 15 days.

Pranav and Dungar opened themselves up to her because they saw the veracity of her work, she says. Now she hopes her book will be the catalyst for a different kind of conversation, away from the binaries of us and them.

“The phenomenon of hate is one that the Sangh Parivar would like to paint as fixed, because that is the only way for their politics to grow," Laul writes. “But on closer inspection, we find that the minute we think we have nailed it, the anatomy changes on us."

Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.

She tweets at @priyaramani

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