‘The Anatomy of Hate’ review: Life after violence

A journalist traces the stories of three very different men who participated in the mass hate crimes of 2002

India has been the site of recurring episodes of horrific hate violence, which target people disadvantaged by caste, religious identity and gender. In all such episodes — of Dalit atrocities, communal killings, lynching, gang-rapes — we tend to imagine the perpetrators of these crimes who rape, murder and loot in frenzies of hate and bigotry, as faceless homogenous blurs of unmitigated evil.

We tend to forget that each of the men in these mobs (and they are almost always men) are also human beings with individual lives, aspirations, dreams, frustrations, and loves (hopefully) as well as hates. Most have families to which they go back to after their hands are stained with blood, and to the beds of wives and partners after they have raped other women. Who are these people? Why do they kill, rape and plunder? What do they do with their lives after violently acting out their hate?

Looking for answers

Revati Laul is that rare journalist who set out to find some answers to these questions after the brutal communal carnage of 2002 in Gujarat. A reputed investigative television and print journalist, Laul found herself obsessed with these very questions. Her stunning and disturbing book, The Anatomy of Hate, is the result of her quest for answers. This book was 14 years in the making. She took 10 years to talk to about 100 men who had joined in the crimes of 2002, and to find among them persons who were willing to tell their stories of hate, guilt and complicity. There were finally three men whose stories she resolved to tell. It took her another four years to understand their stories in their complex layering, and to weave these into a book.

We meet in the pages of her book a college student, Pranav, who would accompany his hostel-mates to loot stores every night during the carnage, to stock themselves with expensive shoes and clothes from shops owned by Muslims. We are unnerved by their casual utter amorality, their complete freedom from any guilt or shame. We balk to read of a night when they decide to loot a food-store because their midnight shop-lifts had left them hungry. It matters little that it is owned by a Hindu. After they ransack it, they set it on fire, and later blame Muslims for it.

We meet Dungar, an Adivasi who is drawn into the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, attracted by the power and status it accords him, and its call to Adivasis to give up liquor and meat. He is stirred when his leader invokes, ‘You have one day. Burn the Muslims’; and on this call, Dungar sets fire to the homes and fields of his 13 Muslim neighbours, driving them out of his village.

And we meet Suresh Langdo, from Chharanagar, adjacent to Naroda Patiya in Ahmedabad, who boasts of raping and pulping to death Muslim women, and who is charged with murdering a pregnant woman and killing her foetus. And we encounter the irony of his marriage to a Muslim woman Farzana, who he batters, abuses, rapes and loves in turn.

The back stories

Laul draws us into their back stories. Pranav who is born into a privileged upper-caste, landed household, in a village with traditionally segregated Dalit and Muslim enclaves, rebelled as a teenager by having eggs, which were taboo, and liquor. Dungar emerges as a spirited and intelligent Adivasi boy, ravaged by his father’s drunken violence against his mother. His upper-caste teacher takes him under his wing, and becomes his role-model. The Sangh recruits him, and teaches him to see himself as Hindu, and to detest Muslims.

Suresh is born into a family of professional thieves and illicit hooch makers. His childhood is wrecked by polio that cost him one leg, and his teachers’ taunts about his birth in ‘a community of thieves’. As a young man, he becomes notorious for robbery and raping women.

The most fascinating, and sometimes unexpected part of Laul’s story is the descriptions of what course the lives of these three men took after their role in the communal carnage of 2002.

Changing tracks

Pranav is riven by remorse, becomes an atheist, and devotes himself to rebuilding the lives of the survivors of the carnage, and also to restoring goodwill in the social relations between Hindus and Muslims, by joint cricket matches, and engaging Hindus in the rebuilding of Muslim homes. Dungar becomes an archetypical power-grabbing politician. And Suresh’s life plunges steeply downwards; his wife Farzana finally despairs of him and divorces him; he lands in prison, where perhaps he will spend the rest of his life.

Laul does not offer us a morality tale. She does not write fiction. She tells us, in eloquent prose and careful detail, the stories of the life-trajectories of these three very different men who participated in the mass hate crimes of 2002. By so doing, she holds a mirror to us as a people: to who we are, what we have become, and what we can become. Their stories must concern us, if we are to both understand and hopefully one day end hate violence.

This is a rare book, brave and fiercely honest, unsettling, deeply troubling. Those who worry about the future of India cannot afford to miss it.

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