It is already a quarter of a century and India has learned nothing.
Today, I am thinking about Suleiman. He should be 25 now. Is he hungry? Will he get his food? Is his house still ridden with bullets? Have the stains from the blood been cleaned? Has their memory been erased?
Suleiman was an infant lying on the lap of an elderly woman in Behrampada. I take some poetic licence here. I have named him Suleiman while writing this. When we met all those years ago, and his milkless baby cries broke the silence, he was nameless. There were far too many adults who were afraid of turning into numbers. I got their names, their stories. This little baby's story was plebeian. He was hungry. There was no milk. The water from rice acted as substitute. In all the violence and loss around, it was this tale that was witness to a more palpable loss — he was the life amidst death and destruction.
I have not been able to bring myself to revisit those places. In my mind, Suleiman could grow up to be a doctor, a businessman, a lawyer.
It is with sadness that I also know that whatever Suleiman does he will still be thought of as a jihadi. Or a haramzada even though it was those with legitimate power who had transformed his life into a tragedy when he could not even walk or talk.
December 6, 1992. The day something died in many of us.
The news had come in. The Babri Masjid had been demolished. And Bombay was on fire, a communal conflagration. I sensed fear around me like a shroud. I had felt a physical jab, its ache continues to resonate to this day.
- When I see Kapil Sibal appeal to the Supreme Court to defer the hearing on the Ramjanmabhoomi dispute to after the 2019 general elections, I wonder at the narrow vision. Did we not have any elections since 1992? Hasn’t it been a political tradition to keep the issue on the backburner and make use of it to keep the public on tenterhooks? Such pleas only help make the rabid Hindutva groups claim victimhood.
- When prominent celebrity activists join their voices in this let’s defer drama (the SC has rejected it), what one notices is that there aren’t any Muslim voices. If they are concerned about repercussions, why don’t they specify who the rioters will be? Recall how it was Khushwant Singh who suggested the banning of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses in India because of imagined repercussions? Singh did not suffer for it, but the whole Muslim population was deemed intolerant and of a jihadi mindset. This is how it always works. They ride on a Muslim issue and Muslims have to bear the flak for it.
- When I see Rahul Gandhi do a mandir yatra and walk around with a tilak (anointed by no less than the former president of India), and read and watch the sniggers about his soft Hindutva, I wonder about how convenient it is to target him with a catch phrase when the rot is deeper and more dangerous: That he, a supposedly staunch secularist, has to appease 80 percent of the population. Appeasement is never a good idea, but the tokenism that passes for it is sometimes a necessary gesture for those sidelined socially and politically, not the majority.
- When I read a liberal historian declare that L.K. Advani is the most divisive politician in India, I again see this as classic liberal cop out. We know about his role, about how his rath yatra inspired people. But the question to ask Is: why did it inspire them? This is important because Advani is now a has-been who had declared Jinnah a secularist. So why are even more people rooting for Hindutva? Why are they voting for a party that gets its orders from a rightwing fundamentalist organisation? Why are liberals afraid to call out majoritarian terrorism and why do they pussyfoot by saying we should not become another Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, as though we have no examples of indigenous terror?
- When I see Indian Muslims try hard to toe the majority line and do what they do in order to be accepted, I wonder how this would qualify as secularism. They have started interfaith Eid celebrations. Not only does this reek of iftar politics opportunism, it negates what is fairly common. Most of us who live in cross religious areas have never had our doors bolted against other faiths on days of celebration or even otherwise. To create a pedestal for a normal social event does not raise its stature, but alienates in its ‘specialness”.
It is already a quarter of a century and India has learned nothing. I learned my lesson in one day.
That day, when the phones went dead, there was silence in minds too. The government had clamped down on phone lines to prevent people from spreading rumours. People who spread hatred, who spread the word that would take thousands of kar sevaks to Ayodhya were afraid of rumours that would expose their truth.
I was walking down the lane, when outside a convent school an elderly woman held the hand of her grandson. She looked at me and asked, “Are you going in this direction? Can I walk with you?” I nodded.
I knew her faith; she carried the identity marks with confidence. I’d seen these all my life. But on that day, for that moment only, when she said, "Look what they’ve done to us?” I was angry. Very angry. Who had done what and to whom?
She said she was afraid, there was safety in numbers. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. Who was concerned about ensuring the safety of numbers — the majority? It was majoritarianism that was sought to be asserted, it was majoritarianism that was being catered to, it was all about majoritarian asmita and pride.
I said nothing. I listened to her, even though I was seething inside. Not against her, but what had become of her. And now me?
I dreaded the very thought. At a fork on the road, we parted ways. She to the safety of home, I to the confusion that had become my home.
As the day wore off, I began to feel ashamed for those few moments when I was angry with a stranger who trusted me. Weren’t we just two people trapped within our respective truths? Her fear was individual. That it has been emboldened by the collective was probably invisible to her.
It’s different today. Now they work in tandem, vikas and the virat, development at the point of a gun against an imagined enemy. In such opacity, it is easy to distort history and call it crystal clear truth.
On why 800 million Hindus find Muslims a threat and questions about minorityism:
On what happened in Ayodhya and the lies: