While Muzaffarnagar riot victims battle for survival, political parties play politics over dead bodies
AIJAZ ZAKA SYED
Lord Meghnad Desai is aghast at the way Indian authorities and Supreme Court have dealt with the alleged molestation case involving Justice AK Ganguly. Joining a television debate from London, the formidable former London School of Economics don and author of many tomes on India and Pakistan, insisted that the retired supreme court judge–or for that matter a serving judge–enjoys no special privileges. “A simple FIR and police investigation could have dealt with the matter,” said the don, underscoring the fundamental principle that all are equal before law.
Now that is very perceptive of Lord Desai, known for his sharp analytical mind and an aversion to beating about the bush. The Justice Ganguly episode, coming as it does after the Tarun Tejpal case, goes to show yet again how low we have sunk as society. Even the most hallowed climes of the republic aren’t free of the rot.
But must the moral outrage of our pundits be always selective? If the law is the same for everyone, as Desai argues and as it should be, why doesn’t the same law and yardstick apply to his new hero and idol?
Not long ago Desai loved Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and his idea of a diverse, secular, all-embracing India, as envisioned by the constitution. Capturing the spirit of those heady Nehruvian times, Desai even came up with a rather fine book titled, Nehru’s Hero: Dilip Kumar in the Life of India.
The biography of the incomparable thespian, who has defined and dominated Indian cinema like a colossus over the past six decades, is also a chronicle of independent India. The life and times of the Pathan from Peshawar and the characters he portrayed and stories his movies told were interwoven and identified with the evolution of the nation.
Beginning his career in 1944, the life and story of Dilip Kumar has been the Life and story of India. Despite being born Yusuf Khan close to the wild Pak-Afghan frontier, he could portray a rustic, Bhojpuri-speaking, illiterate farmer, a trade union leader and a love-sick Mughal prince ready to spurn the throne for love with equal panache. Not for nothing is he seen as the finest actor India has produced, influencing generations of superstars and actors, from Amitabh Bachchan to Shahrukh Khan.
Someone so besotted with Dilip Kumar—and in turn Nehru, whose liberal, secular ethos the actor is supposed to have epitomized, I wonder, how does he—a Labor peer–now live with singing paeans of Narendra Modi?
While Desai demands swift justice and no special treatment for the likes of Justice Ganguly, when it comes to the appalling crimes Gujarat witnessed under his new idol, he like so many other liberals favors “burying the past and moving forward.”
If India Inc is in love with the Gujarat chief minister for his ‘pro-business’ policies, doing away with all inconvenient regulations and gifting away large tracts of prime state land and other freebies to corporates, reasonable and sensible people like Desai are ostensibly bowled over by the “Gujarat model of development” and governance.
The thrust of their defense is this: “Okay, some “mistakes” may have been made under Modi’s leadership. But look at the good things he has done for Gujarat on the development and governance front. He could do much more for India. Besides, he is sorry for whatever happened. It is time to move on!”
Seems if you promise ‘good governance,’ you can get away with murder—literally—and much more. Perhaps it’s unfair to single out Desai when everyone else seems to be falling over themselves to welcome the new emperor. Instead of holding him to account for his crimes against humanity, Gujarat’s generous ‘janata’ elected him, for three terms.
And now the BJP, ignoring all those court cases and controversies surrounding him, has chosen him to lead the nation, if the party comes to power in next year’s polls. Which looks like an imminent eventuality, if the recent assembly polls are any pointer. Who cares if a couple of thousands of Muslims were massacred and hundreds were raped?
We cannot hold his past against his good record and the promise of an even more glorious future!
Truth is, justice is relative. And the law cannot be the same for everyone. You have to take into account the circumstances of the crime and background of the accused and victim before dispensing justice.
If Tehelka Editor Tejpal is rotting away in a Goa prison for molestation following a long, bitter media trial, there’s a reason for it. Again if the same media and civil society remain indifferent to hundreds of rapes in Muzaffarnagar, there is a perfect explanation. We mustn’t view these things from a communal prism!
In its latest issue, newsmagazine, Outlook, has done a harrowing cover story on the humanitarian tragedy of Muzaffarnagar. ‘Thread Bared’ is based on first-person accounts of survivors and what the magazine calls “Nirbhayas (brave hearts) of Muzaffarnagar.”
It’s one of the most disturbing stories I have read in a while. The new, resurgent India that rose in a tsunami of protest over the gruesome Delhi rape last December, and more recently in response to the Tejpal and Ganguly episodes, has been deafeningly silent on ‘Nirbhayas’ of Muzaffarnagar.
Maybe because while media–at least some of its conscientious voices–has covered the shocking conditions of Muzaffarnagar relief camps with scores of children—and adults—dying of cold and disease, little has been reported about the other more sickening side of the story.
No one knows exactly how many Muslim women were raped or how many men were butchered. Even young girls and boys weren’t spared. Women were raped, sodomized and brutalized right next to the hacked bodies of their loved ones. Decomposed bodies continue popping up from predictable places—sugarcane fields, ponds and even wells.
Is it any wonder then the survivors, living in animal-like conditions and battling a savage North Indian winter, are terrified of returning to their villages and homes–or what remains of them?
And those who did this to them do not just roam free, they are being feted by their party which cannot wait to take over the reins of the country.
No wonder the BJP and its prime ministerial hopeful bristle at the idea of bringing in an effective law to check communal violence. Not that the Congress was ever serious or sincere about the legislation that it promised 10 years ago.
Having sat on its back for 10 years, the government has woken up to the idea of Prevention of Communal Violence Bill less than six months before the elections. But then what’s new? We’ve been here before. This is classic Congress skullduggery. But the ever-calculating party doesn’t enjoy monopoly over these clever-by-half antics anymore. Samajwadi Party, BJP, which sparked the communal inferno all over again, and Congress–everyone is playing games Muzaffarnagar survivors bury their dead, day after day.
If the Samajwadi government has been criminal in preventing the pogrom despite repeated warnings and in dealing with the aftermath, it continues to add insult to injury with its treatment of riot victims. Visitors are appalled by the pathetic, and absolutely revolting conditions of the so-called relief camps.
Four months after the riots, thousands of Muslims have been languishing in these camps craving for basics. Thousands more have scattered over neighboring towns and villages. A handful of charities struggle to cope with the challenge of feeding so many hungry mouths while the state government has completely abandoned them. SP chief Mulayam Singh has the audacity to suggest that all victims have been rehabilitated and those living in relief camps, well, they are not victims! And this is supposed to be a government and party that views Muslims as its loyal support base. Those in power in Delhi, barely 2 hours from Muzaffarnagar, have yet to show they care.
Despite visits by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, little has changed. The victims remain as utterly helpless and vulnerable as ever. It seems when it comes to Muslims, no one has to do anything. Mere visits and lip service followed by photo ops would do. Is this the “vote bank politics and Muslim appeasement” that Modi has been shouting about from rooftops? With friends lie these, who needs enemies!