Robin Hoods of Victimhood
I -Witnesses of the Mumbai Attacks
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, November 25-27
"The spectators laughed. And my lawyer, rolling up one of his sleeves, said with finality, 'Here we have a perfect reflection of this entire trial: everything is true and nothing is true!'"
-- Albert Camus, from ‘The Outsider’
Just suppose 26/11 had not happened. Unthinkable. Even as nightmare, it is an addendum of India, the footnote we seek to become a part of history in the making. Such history seeks no veracity, but has a voracious appetite for stories where good conquers evil and no one knows either quite well. It can subsist on lies for “everything is true and nothing is true”. Perceptions overpower falsehoods.
From casual tourists to world leaders, the 26/11 route is part of the itinerary. Voluntary agencies have not been prominently involved. The work has been taken over by diverse citizens’ groups. Hubris meets hype.
Does it matter that recent reports have mentioned that certain western countries, most prominently Denmark, have plans to pump in funds to create discord? That the government is probing into the finances of ten NGOs that have received millions of rupees “to stage protests and resort to other agitational programmes against government policies, thus creating unrest”? Is this not cause for alarm, especially given the fact that David Headley, it transpires, could well have been a double agent working for the United States as well as Pakistan?
It is no surprise that those who came out in the streets on November 26, 2008 are the same ones who are part of the people’s movement against corruption. Today’s insider guilt by association is a reflection of the guilt by dissociation from then.
“Life does not proceed by the association and addition of elements, but by dissociation and division.”
-- Henri Bergson
One of the reconstructed hotels has a red grand piano in its lobby. It looks like an installation made up of all the blood. A 13-year-old girl who has an iron rod fixed in her leg says she will kill all such terrorists. Remembrance pretends to be the great leveler closing the divide between disparate groups; fake egalitarianism walks a tightrope as pursed lips and hanky-covered noses touch the hearts of the little people.
Cracked glass of the windows has been secured between two rectangles of fortified glass. It is now less reminder and more attraction, seen through the golden haze of beer mugs at Café Leopold. Three years after the attacks, everyone remains a witness to the persecution. I saw, I heard, I touched, I felt, I know – the politics of eyewitness accounts is as fragile as those shards, memories engraved in renovated carvings. It is a personal ‘I’ witness monogrammed monologue.
They await the larger-than-life four-foot clay and bronze bust of the cop who was killed. Sub-inspector Tukaram Omble spotted Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor of the gang that carried out the attacks, playing dead in a car and confronted him only to take the bullets. His colleagues captured Kasab. In 2008, Omble was a sidelined figure who was soon replaced by kitschy toy cops along the sea-face promenade. It was a hollow sense of security, much like inflatable dolls. Sub- inspectors are not particularly important in the Mumbai psyche. As glorified statues, though, they will be garlanded. The other ‘victims’ who suffered through televised images will grant this man the honour he would never have received had he helped riot victims or doused fires in slums. It is their magnanimity superimposed on his martyrdom.
The superimposition is part of a larger projectile where two power centres play out their games. It is the moneyed class versus the establishment. “What about our security?” they ask. It is a perfectly-timed question. The rich taxpayers think they need to be protected; only they can beckon the government functionaries who we are supposed to see as public servants. They forget that they have elected the convenient candidates, the ones who will be good for business. That is what Kasab, too, was apparently told by his minders when he left his village in Faridkot to join the Lashkar-e-Taiyba: India is rich, they have goodies; you are poor, the son of a fellow who sells street food. If you want a better life, then destroy the best that India has to offer.
Mumbai has been killed often, but no one wants to go there, as I mentioned in my piece written then. So, why is there no closure in this case? We have the man in prison with the verdict of a death sentence. “Hang him!” is the cry of the herd. This is merely collective catharsis; no one cares. Not even Pakistan. This will end the matter, but just as the United States has to look for new wolves after they ‘got’ Osama, India has to keep this issue alive. There are tactical reasons.
Kashmir is a stale tale, and it is a porous border; the army is on the job. The conflict with Pakistan is like a long--playing record, with both sides getting royalties from the tremendous sales. Gujarat is too much of an internal saga. Ever since the innocence of Muslims who have been arrested for bomb blasts became news and it was not merely the ideology of the rightwing parties that could be blamed, but the failure of the intelligence agencies, it has become increasingly difficult to make the outside hand seem like a palpable reality. Mumbai, a city of immigrants, serves as a perfect example. Mumbai can mimic New York, it can have as many Ground Zeros as it wants. What it lacks in land, it makes up for in imaginary space.
“By means of microscopic observation and astronomical projection the lotus flower can become the foundation for an entire theory of the universe and an agent whereby we may perceive Truth.”
-- Yukio Mishima
Pakistan has given India a reason to live a Goth monstrosity as much as it gave us death. Why did Pakistan that lost all its three wars against India manage to keep a people hostage in their home territory? The vampire has been encrusted as icicles in cold consciences. Ajmal Kasab goes against the prototype terrorist we expect, and that is what fills the vacuum of paranoia. The city that did not sleep is now awake to every drumbeat. The sounds ricochet like bullets. We can now say, look, this guy could have been anyone, so everyone is suspect. This makes us all feel threatened.
No self-respecting society would wish to engage in friendly banter with an enemy that has caused it so much grief. Why does India persist in the dialogues, the trade initiatives, the exchange of cultural ambassadors, who incidentally follow a strict pecking order with only the big names involved, the dissenting patriots, the stooges of recusancy?
The peace motive is suspect. In fact, it is ‘insider trading’ where here too the corporate sector is involved. The man on death row is not just a number, but also a figure: Rs. 50 crore spent thus far to keep him alive. He is our ticket to barter minted myth. The anger that had manifested itself with such calculated fervour was mythical too. The only hammer to come out is during art auctions. Painted landscapes of a blood-soaked yesterday. Such memories are just strawberry daiquiris.
(c) Farzana Versey