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DAWN - Features; October 09, 2006

October 09, 2006

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DATELINE NEW DELHI: Being bloody-minded in the land of Gandhi

By Jawed Naqvi


WERE he alive today, Professor Kailash Nath Kaul would be traumatized by his own insights into man’s bloody-mindedness, more particularly the penchant for blood and gore the largely vegetarian Indians possess. Prof. Kaul was brother of Kamala Nehru and brother-in-law of Nehru himself. His gentle demeanour and facility with refined Urdu endeared him to Lucknow’s old elite, his adopted city where he taught botany.

He believed that like many races of mankind a vast number of South Asians had most probably descended from social groups that practised cannibalism. The language we speak betrays our weakness for raw flesh, he would say. For example take the invectives or expletives that we, both men and women, take recourse to in anger. Tera khoon peejaoongi; Teri chatni banadoongi; Tujhe kachcha chaba jaoonga; Tera qeema banadoonga. These and several other blood-soaked phrases, Prof. Kaul would tell the riveted listeners during his occasional visit to our house, reflected a history.

It stands to reason that Gujarat in 2002 relived Prof. Kaul’s anguished prescience that flowed from a sick past when we were obsessed by blood. Ironically, speaking of Gujarat, a very moving column by Ardeshir Cowasjee deserves to be read by all who care for that culturally endowed part of the world. He wrote a tribute to Gandhi in Dawn last week, a tribute that becomes even loftier because an avowedly ardent admirer of Jinnah has written it in praise of the man with whom the Quaid had serious differences.

Gandhi lived and preached his message of ahimsa, the ultimate dharma, as Cowasjee observes, in Gujarat and from there spreading it across the rest of India. Many Hindus of Gujarat are followers of Lord Mahavir, founder of the Jain sect, staunchly vegetarian and avowedly peace-loving. It was here that women were raped and slaughtered in broad daylight as onlookers celebrated with macabre music over weeks of mayhem in 2002. It was here that Muslim families were to be thrown into ghettos and where they would live in mortal fear of the state and the police with no sign of reprieve.

As we become prosperous as a nation under the guidance of Messrs Manmohan Singh and Atal Behari Vajpayee, and as we acquire a new material culture that seeks to usher in a new dawn for India, the state is confronted with a dilemma. Gujarat is a model state where prosperity thrives and all the plans for the future are currently drawn. But the model also includes the Muslim ghettos and the extreme isolation of the Dalits and the tribes people. Any replication of the Gujarat model of prosperity would be resisted elsewhere by the people who were marginalized in Gujarat, as is shown by the Naxalite movement and indeed by the insurgents in the north-east who are predominantly tribal.

The All India Committee Against the Death Penalty, led by the respected Justice Krishna Iyer, has estimated that 90 per cent of the inmates awaiting execution of the capital punishment imposed on them are Dalits. The figures are too shocking to be easily accepted without independent confirmation. But it is not a mere conjecture that the poor are by and large at the wrong end of the judicial stick. Several Dalit convicts are in fact awaiting the verdict of the president to their mercy petitions. So there are clearly two Indias in the offing. One that aspires to be a prosperous nation, the other that struggles to get rudimentary justice. In the media, this hiatus is even more clearly pronounced.

Take the issue of the Kashmiri convict Mohammed Afzal Guru. The Supreme Court has pronounced him guilty after a slew of reasoned arguments for his apparent role in the attack on the parliament in December 2001. The least that the media and the civil society (a corny concoction were it not for the desperate times we live in) could do was to give him some of the space and attention they have accorded to other cases involving capital crimes. For example, there is not a day when television channels are not discussing the story of the ill-fated model Jessica Lal. Her alleged killer was allowed to go scot-free because his father was a minister and because he was so well-connected.

There is a similar media interest shown in the brutal rape and murder of law student Priyadharshini Mattoo. The alleged culprit is now a lawyer and a son of a senior police officer. Then there is the brutal killing of Nitish Kataria, who it is alleged was bumped of because he loved the sister of his killer.

The media as well as the two major political parties have left no stone unturned to re-open these cases, thereby casting aspersions on both the judiciary as well as the prosecution. It is alleged that the police deliberately botched up all the three cases for extra-judicial considerations, because the culprits were rich and influential. Human rights activists opposed to the death penalty per se and in any case to Guru being hanged, have been trying to put across the point of view that the Kashmiri convict’s case has been similarly tinkered with by the prosecution.

They have tried to explain that it was the because of the unusually tense circumstances of the India-Pakistan nuclear standoff along with the accompanying jingoism that Guru got poor legal support at the trial court. Guru says he was not even given the lawyer of his choice and some of those he wanted to hire were too afraid to accept the case.

A new handwritten note from Afzal Guru to his lawyer in the Supreme Court has come to light, and is being distributed by the campaigners who want his sentence to be commuted. The letter effectively suggests that the entire operation of attacking the parliament was the handiwork of security forces based in Kashmir. More specifically Guru has named the STF, a dreaded security outfit that Mufti Mohammed Saeed once promised to disband as part of his election promise.

Federal and state agencies are very upset with this line of reasoning by Guru and his sympathisers. Among them are Gandhian peace activist Medha Patkar and writer Arundhati Roy. A chorus of eye-for-an-eye protesters has been unleashed in Delhi to counter these activists.

The crowd, baying for blood, speaks the language of George Bush though they may not know it: If you are not with me, you are with the enemy. If you do not agree with Afzal’s hanging, you are a traitor. This is a different yardstick to the one these political parties and their street-fighters have used to actually question the bona fides of the police and the judiciary in the case of the three victims named above.

Do they have a greater currency with the middle class TV watchers? Quite possibly so.

In the din of the Afzal affair, and in the aftermath of the terrifying train blasts in Mumbai last July, another reality is getting masked. In the increasingly divided definitions of what constitutes a crime and what doesn’t, the meaning of 1993 is getting confined in the media to the acts of terror that were unleashed in Mumbai by Muslim suspects. Every second day the trial judge is handing out his verdicts to the accused. In this case, which arguably relates to a major act of terror, about 300 people were killed by mostly Muslim plotters or so it is alleged. But 1993 also means another thing to many people who may not necessarily disagree with the judgments given on the serial blasts.

To them 1993 also brings to mind the Justice Shrikrishna report that dealt with the state-sponsored pogrom in which 1100 people, mostly Muslims, were killed by police and their civil allies.

That report lies buried deep in some bureaucrat’s cupboard or in a politician’s drawer. Equally, it lies buried elsewhere too — in public memory, which Prof Kaul believed to have a longer lifetime than several generations put end to end.

jawednaqvi@gmail.com

KARACHI NOTEBOOK: The galloping poverty

Hours before Iftar time, hundreds of men, women and children begin converging on the footpath along Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman Road opposite Dehli Colony. Sitting on iron benches or sprawling on plastic sheets, some of them are reasonably dressed and appear educated. Their sole aim is to enjoy a free Iftar and meal.

Coming from various parts of the city, these people grow in numbers with every passing day. The charity that serves them also promises a few hundred rupees worth of rations and clothes for Eid.

With people whizzing by in cars and public transport vehicles, they might not be at ease being seen there. But here they are driven by sheer poverty and they are least bothered ‘what others might think’.

Travel down the road to the Cantonment railway station and you will see a cluster of huts erected along the railway tracks. The dwellers of these shanties have been there for months and one wonders that why someone in the government has not bulldozed their dwellings as encroachments on railway tracks. These people have no water, sanitation, gas and electricity facilities. The risk of the young ones straying onto the tracks while a train is moving is also there. Apparently they beg for food and get enough. But how tough their life otherwise is can be easily imagined.

And people compelled to sleep on the footpaths in Saddar and other marketplaces after a hard day’s labour are also not the ones who are comfortable with life.

The manifestations of poverty are numerous. The number of people begging in every nook and cranny of the city is increasing. They are, or pretend to be, afflicted with certain disabilities, or their mothers are in hospital suffering from interminable diseases, or their children and siblings have nothing to eat and drink.

Sturdy men posing as eunuchs and begging on streets are also driven to this state by economic needs rather than any biological consideration. Women, including young and smart ones, work as housemaids for a pittance. There are men and women travelling in public buses who haggle over a rupee or two until the conductor drops them off for not having the required fare. Children taking a dip in the filthy and poisonous waters of the Malir and Lyari rivers and pools and puddles also do so because they cannot afford to visit swimming pools or the sea.

Corruption and prostitution, which have pervaded all segments of society, also begin with poverty before turning into greed climbs higher echelons.

And look at the second-hand shoes being sold on footpaths. Those who sell them and those who buy them and those who have stolen them from mosques all are poor. “Jo jootian churata hai so hai woh bhi aadmi; jo uss ko tarta hai so hai woh bhi aadmi (read a poor man).”

The worst manifestation of poverty is the sale of human organs. Dr Adibul Hasan Rizvi, the renowned head of the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation, says Pakistan has become the biggest organ trade country. It is poverty that forces people to part with their vital organs for a few thousand rupees.

What is disturbing is that these signs of poverty are growing as rapidly as those of affluence. And if we go by the government’s claims about poverty alleviation, they are abundant. The government says it has brought the ratio of population living below the poverty level down to 25 per cent from 34 per cent. But that’s only a technical issue and debatable too. The government is 'planning to build shelters for the homeless. It is providing jobs to the jobless. Giving soft loans to youths to help set up their own businesses….’

The government collects billions of rupees in zakat every year. There is the so-called poverty alleviation programme in place and for it billions are allocated every year. But instead of alleviating poverty, they elevate the riches. If this money is used judiciously, over the years it may really reduce the number of poor; by making them self-sufficient.

A girls’ school faces closure

The headmistress and two teachers of the Government Girls Primary School, Bhitai Colony, have approached Karachian to state that some land-grabbers or vested interests are after the school.

In a written note they said: “There is no peon. Thefts are common. Electrical fittings like switches, wiring and plastic pipes have been taken away. All the water fittings including taps have been pulled away. Thousands of rupees were spent on boring for water but all fixtures have been torn away by thieves. Door locks have been broken or removed.

“The entire office record consisting of 14 files has been taken away by some mischievous persons. The contractor who had began upgradation of the school has abandoned the work midway. Three to four times reports of these thefts have been lodged with the Ibrahim Haideri police station.

“There is disappointment and hopelessness all over. It is feared that this school will have to be closed down anytime soon.”

A girls’ school in a low-income locality is a blessing. But the circumstances the school is run in may force the lady teachers to pack up and go home. The closure of the school will be unfortunate. What it immediately needs is a watchman.

Painting the town red

A westerner who was here on a business trip last week came out of the Quaid-i-Azam International Airport, impressed by the well-maintained interior and exterior of the building. He told his business partner in the city that he was expecting the airport to be like the Indira Gandhi Airport in New Delhi or the Sahar Airport in Mumbai, but he was in for a pleasant surprise.

Two days later the surprise was over. He saw more plastic bags strewn all over in Karachi than in Mumbai. In Delhi they have banned the use of these monstrous bags, as they have in our own cantonments. But as far as other litter is concerned he felt

Karachi was at par with the two Indian megacities. “I just can’t understand why do people from the subcontinent spit a lot,” he said, disproving the common adage “First impression is the last impression.”

A few years ago, a backpack tourist from Europe, touring the subcontinent on a shoe-string budget, spent a fort-night in Orangi. He enjoyed dining at roadside restaurants, he didn’t mind taking sweet doodh-patti either, he bought a couple of shalwar-qameez and found them comfortable in the heat and humidity of Karachi. But while talking to a newspaper man, he said the one thing that he could not reconcile with was the habit of people spitting here, there and everywhere. The worst are those who splash a mouthful of red-coloured liquid after consuming betel leaf filled with tobacco. They certainly try to paint the town red.

Clarification

Apropos of last week’s ‘Teacher’s rights and obligations’, the administrator of the Clifton College for Women has explained why the gazette showed nil results against the college’s name. “No girl had appeared in pre-medical exam from our college in 2006, so how could we have 0% result?”

— Karachian

Email: naseer.awan@dawn.com