AFTER a routine autopsy at a Delhi hospital, Khurshid Anwar’s damaged body was brought to the Communist Party’s Delhi headquarters, its portals now an abbreviated shadow of glorious days when it was the sole standard bearer of India’s working class.
Anwar’s comrades saluted him with clenched fists and grieved with his inconsolable wife. He had apparently killed himself by misusing gravity. The plunge from the fourth floor terrace was an act of defiance, not unlike the 53-year-old victim’s uphill struggle he had embraced against religious fascism of Hindu, Muslim, all hues.
Some comrades say a lynch mob of news vendors killed Anwar after his ideological foes from the Hindu right falsely accused him of raping an activist from another NGO. The allegation pertained to a party he hosted for colleagues at his house in September, where the alleged rape victim was a guest. A note he did not share with anyone was retrieved from Anwar’s office proclaiming his innocence.
However, he had already been condemned. His leading tormentor was a woman activist who had boarded the Narendra Modi bandwagon. She filmed Anwar’s alleged accuser and a copy of the CD found its way to a malicious TV anchor. Indian laws prohibit showing the picture of a rape victim but law has never deterred the right.
Anwar was still bracing to take the fight to his foes when a leading woman activist from a fellow communist bloc he respected also joined the accusation battery. It broke his heart and he died without being offered a hearing by an ally whom he admired greatly.
I am among those who have known Khurshid Anwar as a fearless fighter for the wretched of the earth. He was a gentle soul who had waged many battles on behalf of and together with workers, peasants and women in different fields — abused Dalit women, dispossessed tribal women, raped Muslim women. He deserved to be heard at least by his fellow leftists.
A simple cremation followed, which again raised conversely defiant questions. Why was a communist from a Muslim cultural milieu of Allahabad brought to the Nigambodh Ghat to be incinerated instead of being buried like everyone in his family? Pablo Neruda and Faiz Ahmed Faiz were buried, as was Karl Marx too. Over two decades ago, Safdar Hashmi, another promising communist of Muslim origin was cremated in Delhi after he was murdered by Congress party goons.
A comrade wrote on Facebook that this was Anwar’s way of expressing his belief in secularism. I am left speechless. Had someone said incineration by relatively clean compressed natural gas was environmentally friendlier there would be a reason to applaud. Advertising secularism or even one’s atheism by choosing a mode of going back to clay is a novelty that only a very troubled communist movement could explain.
It is perhaps this overused faith in symbolic acts passing for higher ideological principles that have moulded into a mountain-load of trivia, trapping much of India’s left in debilitating confusion. A glimpse came at a memorial meeting for Khurshid Anwar where his grieving comrades slammed the right but reserved vitriol also for a section of the left. In a way it was a continuation of an old pattern.
In the past communists across the world would readily split over, say, an incident like the one on the Ussuri River in the 1960s. That event brought communist China and communist Soviet Union to the brink of war but its echo was felt thousands of miles away in a hamlet in Naxalbari in West Bengal. That’s how reverberations of a distant stand-off within the communist bloc would be imbued with ideological colour for local consumption. The resurgent Indian right has been taking advantage of the left’s tendency to pounce on each other. The right thus helps itself to easy victories against a divided people.
Rape is easily the most horrendous crime against women. It becomes that much more revolting when it is carried out by a mob with political patronage against a targeted community. Recent anti-rape laws passed by parliament were designed to fill some loopholes. The left participated in the framing of the more stringent anti-rape laws. Khurshid Anwar’s tragedy has prompted some of its proponents to now consider a re-look and the reasons are not far to seek.
There have been three incidents of rape or sexual harassment naming those that supported the new laws. In one case, Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal has been put on trial for apparently molesting a junior colleague. Tejpal’s magazine did great service for victims of rape at the hands of the organised right, which makes his alleged assault on his daughter’s friend that much more bizarre. And yet, Soni Sori’s story, in which the police who shoved stones into the tribal woman’s private parts were given gallantry awards, would have gone largely unnoticed had Tehelka not shone the light on the tragedy.
Justice A.K. Ganguly earned a round of applause from the liberal corner when the former Supreme Court judge put the focus on the mistreatment of women in Indian scriptures as one of the legacies that women continue to endure at the hands of Indian males. That must have seriously offended many obscurantist Indians. Now the judge stands accused by an intern of making sexual overtures to her in a hotel room.
Khurshid’s tragedy is a link in this troika of ironies. All three events have helped turn the focus from the more institutionalised rape carried out by indoctrinated mobs, for example, in Muzaffarnagar and Gujarat. The left needs to discipline its own. But someone has to take on the right.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.