In India, violence has become an integral part of the culture to a point that very few question it. But Manoj Mitta, senior editor at the Times of India, believes he has an obligation to his people to reveal the truth about instances of horrible violence in his society.
Mitta came to Vassar on Monday to talk about his new book, “The Fiction of Fact-Finding.” The book deals with the Gujarat riots, or pogrom, of 2002 in the Indian state of Gujarat, which resulted in the deaths of over 1000 people and the injury of thousands of others as the Hindu majority population attacked their Muslim neighbors.
The Gujarat riots in India have been an incredibly controversial issue, as the recently elected Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, had long been under suspicion of his involvement in the riots and failure to act to stop them until he was recently exonerated by a committee reviewing the events of the riot. But, in Mitta’s opinion, there is much that must still be brought to light regarding the riots and Modi’s involvement.
“These are issues that are very huge,” illuminated Mitta. “But almost no one has done anything on them.”
“The Fiction of Fact-Finding” is a spiritual successor to Mitta’s previous book, “When a Tree Shook Delhi,” published in 2008. Like “Fiction of Fact-Finding,” “When a Tree Shook Delhi” discusses one of the largest instances of violence in post-colonial Indian history. This event, the 1984 anti-Sikh massacres, was spurred on by the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, by members of her guard who happened to be Sikhs. Over the next four days nearly 3,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi alone by the enraged populace.
According to Mitta, the Delhi death toll of the 1984 riots is officially stated as 2,733 lives lost. However, in the 30 years since the riots, only 30 people have been convicted for their part in the massacres in 12 separate murder cases, leaving the killers of well over 2,000 people still at large.
“This is the kind of culture we have in India. The documents [and reports of the attacks] weren’t available to the people,” Mitta said. “In America, issues of lesser scale cause a much bigger uproar.”
Mitta made a comparison to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City, which had a similarly large number of deaths as the Delhi pogroms of 1984. He compared the massive reaction of the United States to his own nation’s handling of the ‘84 riots. Where 9/11 has spawned huge amounts of literature and other forms of media discussing the attack, Mitta’s book is the only published book that delves in detail into the 1984 massacre.
To Mitta, it is a solemn responsibility to try and bring the truth of the Gujarat and Delhi riots to light.
“There has been very little justice for these people [the victims of the massacres],” said Mitta. “I feel I owe it to my society to explore these areas of violence.”
The Gujarat massacres have seen over 200 people, including one government minister, convicted for their roles in the massacres, but this is far from all who were involved. Mitta still believes more can be done.
“[The 2002 massacres] could not have happened if the 1984 massacres had been handled appropriately, without impunity.” Mitta stated.
Mitta started working for The Times of India as a reporter in 1985, not long after the anti-Sikh riots. Although he left the Times, which is India’s biggest English language newspaper, to work for several other newspapers and magazines over the years, these topics of violence have been a recurring theme in his writing and reporting. Since becoming an editor at the Times, he has specialized in legal human rights and public policy; these interests, combined with his years of familiarity with the topics, eventually culminated in his two recent books.
“These have always been issues of interest for me. I have pursued them throughout my career.” Mitta stated. “These are not subjects which are new to me.”
Through his books, Mitta hopes to help see that justice is done and those who are guilty receive their own justice. The title of his newest book was chosen because one of its major topics is questioning the commission that was set up to determine the involvement of now-Prime Minister Modi, who at the time was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The commission, which Mitta researches thoroughly, has long been thought to have subverted their findings to prove Modi’s innocence, despite ostensibly being charged to find the facts and truth of the events.
Mitta’s research for the book took him down a very similar path as the original commission, though Mitta reports a very different conclusion.
“I didn’t contradict their findings,” said Mitta. “I went closely through their documents on the case and found contradictions between the documents and their reports.”
“The Fiction of Fact-Finding” is the only book that calls into question the legitimacy of Modi’s exoneration. Because of this, it was a very hot topic during the recent elections for Prime Minister, which Modi ended up winning.
“The book made people think [about Modi and the situation],” said Mitta. “But it was against a big current. The fact that Modi’s hands were soaked in blood attracted many people to him. He also had a big reputation as an administrator.”
Though Modi ousted a government that had earned a reputation for being ineffective and having a stagnant policy, Mitta still questions the legitimacy of Mitta’s “clean chit,” a colloquialism that refers to someone’s exoneration of a deed.
“Only after the exoneration from Gujarat was Modi made the leader of the winning party,” Mitta pointed out.
Since the publication of “The Fiction of Fact-Finding,” Mitta has been promoting his book, seeking to raise awareness on the topic. Just last month, he was in Washington, D.C. speaking at a Congressional briefing about impunity in violence both in India and in America. Both there and at his speech at Vassar, Mitta hopes to get other people thinking about impunity and violence.
“I’m coming here in the best tradition of dissent to point out these issues that are missed in all the hype and hoopla of India’s achievements and the new Prime Minister,” Mitta said. “We’re seen as a rising power, the world’s largest democracy and market. I want to show that we have these problems. If the Indian system repeatedly fails, should there not be reform?”