Friday, July 03, 2009

Gimme hope, Liberhan, gimme hope!

It’s strange that my memories of the years leading up to Dec 6, 1992 and the bloodbath that followed have sort of frozen into one sharp image which in itself isn’t particularly remarkable. We lived in a primarily upper class unstatedly Hindu locality, but of course, had secular thoughts and beliefs, which were slowly, slowly being questioned on a daily basis in the papers and in the news.

One day, waiting at the dhobi’s – Kismet Laundry – staring up at the stickers of devis, ‘good luck’ and ‘sceneries’ or strange posters of a park in Thailand as he tied up our clothes, my friend and I were startled to see a new sticker, orange in colour, full of swastiks and trishuls stuck on the beam above the shop. It said, ‘Garv se kaho hum Hindu hai’. We were embarrassed and a bit angry. My friend got into a conversation with him, her voice starting to get shrill and both our faces tight with disapproval. Recognizing hysterics when he saw them, the dhobi smiled laconically and sniggered and gave our anger a cold shoulder. Politic and measured, he just kept smiling at our annoying yapping. Finally, swallowing some paan spittle, he snarled, “Aage aage dekho kya hoga...”

Those years were full of these conversations where fissures appeared even as people spoke. It was like every second person had a personal stake in the Ram Janmabhoomi non-issue. Malayalee expat relatives from the Gulf, who by all rights should resent a daft Aryan agenda, suddenly turned belligerently and militantly Hidnu in their words. They were full of anti-Arab feeling, I guess, and every time they landed here, exuding an air of poshness, they would pronounce that it was time to ‘teach the fellows a lesson’, coolly forgetting that it’s one thing to hate your rich Arab boss, and totally another to want to unleash genocide on a large part of this country’s citizens.

Then suddenly one morning – on the 6th December – the unimaginable happened. The hate that Advani and gang had been steadily pushing us towards sort of erupted in the destruction of a heritage structure. I couldn’t believe they had done it, I couldn’t believe they had gotten away with it, and I couldn’t believe the spiral of hatred that we descended into.

One of our neighbours – a wealthy Marathi lady whose daughter had sung Catholic hymns and secular songs with the rest of us in school – made a little moue as she said, “Good ya, high time someone showed these Muslims good.” It distressed me that she was a school teacher, someone with access to kids on whom she could inflict her hatred.

I feel the whole progressiveness of the ’70s and the ’80s was carefully demolished by that single party and its determination to make a non-issue into something it could win an election with. It’s taken the Indian polity what, 30 years, to give the BJP the kind of trouncing it deserved? I’m not a great one for karma, but for every innocent’s death, I hope Advani, Joshi, Bal Thackeray and that gang of wretched fundamentalists writhes in a hell fire made specially for them. Or as my mother put it one day – wish someone would chop off their family jewels and put them in the sun to rot and die.

The thing with this sot of fissuring of a populace is that it serves your immediate goal of winning an election. It creates a need out of nothing – the standard practice of good advertising – and then where that need takes you, into what sort of despair and grief and trauma, it doesn’t care. But coming back to the fissuring – it doesn’t just end with religion, does it? I mean after you’ve take the whole Muslims-are-bad thing to its logical conclusion, you start needing more enemies. Marathis, then? Or maybe as we’ve seen in Mumbai, non-Marathis? Bhaiyyas, perhaps? Madrasis, maybe? Or how about Gujjus? Sindhis? Parsis? Catholics?

The MNS worked with a Marathi theatre group on a play called Bhaiyya haath-pair pasare about a dhobi who began by ironing in the landing of a building and went on to own the building one day, thanks to his industry and his native cunning. I’d like to meet the dhobi from Kismet all those years back. He’s a father of three now, managing a paan shop next to the laundry and a middle-aged paunch. I’d like to ask him if he had any stickers about how proud he was to be an Uttar Pradeshi Hindu in a city which was suddenly finding his kind uncomfortably competitive.

But that’s really asking the wrong guy for answers. I mean, all he did was put up a sticker. If a mob attacks tomorrow, chances are this poor guy will lose his life’s savings and his limbs. Safe in their homes, spouting hate, thinking votes will be the idiot ideologues, the Advanis, the Sudheendra Kulkarnis, the Manmohan Joshis, the Raj Thackerays, the Balasahebs.

Thank god the Liberhan Commission has blamed them squarely – the hate-spewing BJP morons and the dozing fiddlers like Narasimha Rao and Kalyan Singh. But more than the Commission’s finding, the trouncing of the BJP at the elections gives me hope. It means the sort of slap in the face that seasoned politicians like Advani and Modi and Jaitley can sort of begin to feel!

Oh, and all those who plan to leave nasty, anonymous, pro-Hindutva comments? You can be quite sure I won't be publishing them, especially if they contain the word 'pseudo-secular'. If anything, I think the secular agenda is the only one that isn't pseudo. I mean, in a country of such staggering poverty and so much social injustice, what can be more pseudo than raking up a mythological figure who may or may not have lived and fighting over his birthplace? It doesn't get any more false!


Aishwariya said...

Not really knowing the detailed version of Indian politics since I have never lived in India inspite being born to parents who grew up in India. I can say that throughout my life,any instance of religious or ethnic brutality that tends to occur has always left me wondering whether governments, politicians and people tend to conveniently forget about human rights. They conveniently de-humanize people to forgive the insanity, hatred and genocide that they themselves create. What the most ironic and horiffic part of all this is that these killings are in the name of religion and god; religion and god teaching us to be tolerant, accepting and peaceful. Isn't it interesting at how far human beings tweak their religion in order to carry out their own vicious agenda?

hansa said...

wow! saw the link on ajmal's facebook status message. pithily written and with robust feeling.
glad to see the mns play production finally out in this domain.

Sampath said...

Well said, anita/amit. i have my doubts, though, whether the rightwing radicals won't bounce back. we need another Liberhan who can get Modi off the CM's chair and send him where he belongs: prison.

Bidisha said...

I have been meaning to comment ever since the post about the book on India. But this post resonated on so many levels with my thoughts. I remember during that period in 1992, when I was still in school, having heated conversations with children in my class who suddenly had turned religious, influenced no doubt by what their parents were saying at home. It made me so mad then, the complete illogic of it. These were children studying in a private school, getting "good education" and in fact not learning anything! The sad part was that before Dec6, no one in school conciously thought themselves as Hindu or Muslim, or any other religion for that matter, suddenly it became an identity.

On another note, I think its wonderful, the kind of work you guys do, and I am looking forward to buying your book on India and your first picture book :)

Anita and Amit Vachharajani said...

hi bidisha, that's precisely what i feel the whole ram janmabhoomi did to our society - it ripped it apart, polarising people and making them aware of identities that were sort of stopping to matter. the foolishness of it all was that so many lives were lost, so much damage done over nothing - just a bit of history / myth that would have well been forgotten. the irony of it all is that it became a poll issue in a country with so much poverty and injustice going on. i feel it really took us back 20 years!