Writing Trauma: A Creative Writing Installation on women's survival in Gujarat, a post and present conflict zone

 

This collection of creative writing is just a sample of the prolific and profound stories produced by the women fieldworkers and staff of Sahiyar, a women’s rights NGO in Baroda, Gujarat. These women participated in a creative writing workshop called Writing Trauma that I facilitated from Fall 2011 to Winter 2012. This workshop was an attempt to balance the internalization necessary for everyday survival in a post and present conflict zone by centering women’s creative expression as a healing mechanism of self-awareness, consciousness and reconciliation. Self-reflection became a revolutionary space for these women who experienced the trauma of communal violence and the legacies of it in their everyday and often didn’t have safe spaces to engage in it. 

I decided my role as a gentle guide through the writing process, proposing ways to heighten and access senses, prompts to ignite imagination, activities to break down fears of judgment, exposure, inadequacy. Not being a fluent speaker of Gujarati I gave no technical critiques but encouraged others to share how they related or felt moved by others’ expressions. Beyond the frustration for the participants and myself when my Gujarati wasn’t sufficient to communicate a complex thought or instruction, the challenges were many. Conducting the workshops in an NGO space meant constant interruptions of phone calls, counseling clients, signatures, straying to project and event planning, stirring the sanctity of a forum space where one could listen and speak with clarity, peace and presence. 

Building on my own experience of Islamophobia in the U.S. and my growing desire to connect lived experiences of Muslim women transnationally, when first conceiving of the workshop idea, I primarily wanted to work with Muslim women and girls. Muslims in Gujarat were, and still are, the targets of Hindutva-led terror and genocide, and being cast as perpetual outsiders and threats to Hindu sanctity, were slowly, and quickly (see 2002) being eliminated to forestall the fruition of that fear. Throughout my meetings with feminist activists and organizers in Gujarat it was clear that 10 years after the communal violence of 2002 there was still suffering, displacement, ghettoization, an alive collective trauma and the anxiety of resurfacing and that this emotional work was not privileged in the pressing work of survival women had to attend to. Through conversations with Truptiben, a founder of Sahiyar, I found the courage to propose an idea to engage in this healing work and with her strength, insight and support, made our vision manifest.

On April 22nd, 2012, South Asians for Justice, Los Angeles, organized its first event, Gujarat Genocide and U.S. Solidarity, and at its heart were the voices of the Writing Trauma workshop participants displayed on the walls in an exhibit compiled, edited, and translated by Truptiben and myself. An emerging radical desi community in Southern California came together beyond Hindu-centrism, privileges and myths of the model minority, U.S. state detention and surveillance, and united in an awakening of social consciousness, compassion and commemoration. I feel blessed to be contributing to the enveloping energy of such a space of radical organizing that is critical, sensitive and courageous in its engagement. It is a real first for my life in the West to be forging a movement such as this with desi comrades and I am looking forward to the ways we continue to transform ourselves and our communities.

 

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Pineapple Lorry
Maryam ben

This story is about the riots that started up in Surat City when the Babri Masjid (mosque) was destroyed in 1992. I was young then and didn’t know what riots meant. Then I learned that when riots happen, everything goes under curfew. One time in our neighborhood they put us under curfew. When it was lifted, one brother came into our neighborhood with a pineapple lorry. He was really poor and what came into his mind was that if the curfew was lifted, he could come out and sell his pineapples. But in that time, the curfew was back on. How was this brother to know that the curfew would start up again? The siren of the curfew rang and a police car came. That brother left his lorry and hid in someone’s house.

The police car stopped and the police officer asked: “Whose lorry is this?”

So the brother came out and said, “Sir, this is my lorry. Curfew was lifted so I came out to sell my pineapples but how would I know that the curfew would be reinstated?”

Without listening to this brother’s words, the police officers began hitting him with their baton. They hit him so hard that it broke in half. How hard would they have to hit him that it broke? Think about how much this must have hurt this brother.

I was watching this through the hole in my closed door. Watching this, I became very panicked.

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Brothers and Sisters
Maryam ben


When I was growing up we were living in a Gujarati neighborhood* in Surat when the communalism broke out. We used to celebrate religious holidays with our neighbors. When the riots broke out everyone in our house was scared. “In this area our house is the only Muslim house and our children are small; if these people don’t help us then where will we go?” But there was one sister that lived across from us that was very nice and on Raksha Bandan** she would tie a Rakhi around my father’s wrist.

She said to us, “Don’t worry. Nothing will happen. If something does happen, we are with you. Send your children to sleep at our house.”

At that time we placed more trust in this sister than we did our relatives.

* In Gujarat, labeling something as Gujarati is often synonymous with labeling it as Hindu. This is commonly used by both Hindus and Muslims.
 **Rakhsha Bandan is a holiday, predominantly celebrated by Hindus, in which sisters honor their brothers by tying a bracelet around their brother’s wrists, thereby demonstrating their respect, devotion and appreciation to their brothers (biological or otherwise).

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State Violence
Fatima ben

In 2002, after the train in Godhra was set on fire, Muslims were tortured. Bavamanpura police beat up women and used to say:

“Where are all your gutless men?”

They would make excuses and break into houses and tear things apart.

We used to go to the police station and ask them to write up our complaints and without hesitation they would refuse.

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My Experience of Communal Riots
Reshma Vora
   
On 1-5-2006 the Vadodara Municipal Corporation demolished a 250-year old historical dargah with the excuse of widening the road. This issue was discussed in the city for days. It is said that on that day the officials and elected representatives of the Municipal Corporation had organized a meeting with the Muslim leaders to find some middle path, while the meeting was still going on, they ordered the demolition.

As an aftermath of the demolition, communal riots broke out in the sensitive areas of Baroda. I reside in the Vora Colony near Ahinsa Circle at Ajwa Road, near Mahavir hall. I fail to comprehend why the name Ahinsa Circle (Non Violence Circle) is given to this crossroad because whenever communal violence takes place in Vadodara, it happens here. On May 2nd our housing colony was attacked. A 2500-3000-person mob encircled us and was continuously throwing stones on our colony from 9:00 pm to 2:00am. First, the mob tried to break the shops owned by Muslims in the ‘Shri Vihal Complex’ opposite our colony. Then they burnt cloths and other material from a laundry shop in a nearby complex, outside the shop, because Hindus were residing above it. Our housing colony and the one next to us, Kismat Colony, had about 100 houses with about 400-500 people total. From those, some of the houses were empty. The mob started throwing stones at our colony. They continued for about 3-4 hours. The mob was so big that it was not possible to confront or stop it. Men started shouting “ladies come out of the home!” If we didn’t go out to stop the mob, the mob would enter the colony. Everybody was shouting and screaming with fear. Small children and elderly people were absolutely frightened, “What will happen if they enter the colony?” Everyone was thinking about the communal violence of 2002. What if it is repeated??? Even men were frightened thinking about that.

We called the police. The police replied, “Go to Pakistan…”

We called police several times giving different names and different addresses but they did not respond. The situation was getting worse. Then I contacted Truptiben and conveyed the realities on the ground on Ajwa road. She contacted the Police Commissioner and various police officials. I was in constant phone contact with her and she was also continuously following up and pressurising police to take action. There was screaming and shouting in the housing colony. The young children were in distress.

My nephew asked me, “Reshu foi, will these people kill us? What will happen to us if they enter the colony?”  Every child was probably asking these very questions to their elders.

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My dilemma
Rina ben

In 2002, when I heard about the communal violence after the burning of the Sabarmati express and the death of karsevaks, women and children, a panic was generated in my mind. On the very next day riots broke in our locality also. The atmosphere was such that I felt that humans have turned brutal. Listening to many rumours everywhere, I was worried about myself and my family. Every moment I was thinking: who is responsible for all this, Hindus or Muslims? I never got any clear answer for that. Everyday I read the newspaper and keep on worrying about what will happen next. When will the next riots take place and what will be the impact on my everyday life?

In 2006, once again riots broke out. This time, several people set a Muslim man and his car on fire and he was burnt alive and died on the spot. Reshma ben saw this incident happen herself. Trupti ben also knows about it. I have only heard about it. Everybody was talking about the event. In our neighborhood a few people even tried to justify it. They said that that person tried to kill Hindus by running his car into them and that’s why people burnt him, in self-defence. After this incident Muslims organised a sit in (dharana) for justice near Mahavir hall.

I think the impact of this event was severe on Reshma ben. She always looked worried and fearful. As a colleague I could only give her verbal consolation. I was deeply hurt but could not grasp the truth. Till this day I am not sure who perpetrates communal violence. Who is to blame? I have heard that it is all about politics but I do not have any evidence. I feel handicapped as I am not able to resolve this dilemma.

 

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Comments

This was powerful. Thank you for sharing this online for those of us who don't live in L.A.
These photoessays of witnessing and the Gujarat Genocide & US solidarity event are such necessary and inspired steps toward a process of healing through collective accountability and making the invisible visible. Thank you for everyone's collaborative efforts in making this available for all of us. Congrats Naazu!!!
This is amazing and powerful! Thank you Naaz for being you and facilitating not only writing workshops but healing to occur across continents - transcontinental healing and visibility. This is great congrats!
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