If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Journey through a year of disbelief: From Dadri to Dangal

I believe it all began at 10.30 PM of 28 September 2015, when in Bisara village near Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, a 52-year-old farmer, Mohammed Akhlaq Saifi was murdered, his 22-year-old son Danish nearly killed, and seven others of the family, women and children, were brutally beaten by a Hindu mob for allegedly killing a cow that had never existed.

It happened in a two-storey house where the family had lived for 70 years and four generations. Muslims surrounded by Hindu families, they had lived in perfect harmony until that fateful moment. To their credit, some of their Hindu neighbours tried to save them. But they could not stop the mob incited by people close to the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), the ruling party of India today. Among those arrested and facing trial now is the son of a local BJP leader, Sanjay Rana. But what happened afterwards was even more shameful.

Any civilized society would expect that after such a horrendous organised crime, the government would do everything possible to avoid similar incidents in the future and put down the murderers and with a heavy hand. But no such thing happened. India’s normally garrulous prime minister didn’t utter a word on Dadri. Sundry leaders of the BJP spewed more venom on the family in particular and Muslims in general. The family had to leave Bisara and move to an Indian Air Force zone in Delhi a few days later. A false case was foisted against them, including the dead Akhlaqh, for killing the same imaginary cow.

Dadri was a turning point in recent history not because of the murder of a faceless law-abiding Indian citizen for no fault of his, but because it was followed by a series of terrible events that show a reckless ruling party is determined to turn India into a Hindu Pakistan. In 2016, India has made news in the international media for all the wrong reasons.

A brilliant Dalit research student in Hyderabad University, under the direct control of the federal education minister, committed suicide consequent to patently anti-Dalit discrimination by the university authorities. Another minister, who had no business to meddle in university affairs, had egged on the education minister to be tougher with students. Another Dalit, a student leader of Jawaharlal Nehru University was arrested just for expressing his views against the government and beaten up by pro-BJP goonda-cum-lawyers in front of TV cameras. This was followed by arrest of more JNU students who had expressed views against the government. Another student of JNU, Najeeb Ahmed, has been missing since 15 October 2016 after being attacked by ABVP (the student’s wing of BJP) activists. Strangely, a 25-point bulletin on the case released by the university, which too is under the Ministry of Education, omitted the fact that some ABVP students had attacked him the night before.

In July this year, we were shocked to see four Dalit boys – stripped to their waist – tied to an SUV and being beaten by evidently well-off young men in Gujarat. They took turns to beat their victims, calmly, ruthlessly, and unhurriedly, with the stick being exchanged at intervals. Their crime was that they had done what their ancestors had been doing since the beginning of Hindu history, skinning cows. And their tormentors? Shiv Sena (an ally of the BJP) activists and gau-rakshaks (protectors of holy cows). Over the next few months, cow vigilantes terrorized Muslims and Dalits, killing several innocent traders who sold or bought cows. The government as usual, responded with a stoic silence.

Parallel to this reign of terror against religious/social minorities, another war is being fought in TV studios, newspapers, and on the social media, where the BJP – in a coordinated manner – keep shouting the blithe clich├ęs of their majoritarian ideology incessantly, and badmouth everyone else, from Nobel Laureates to academics to actors, who speak up against them. They are also asked to go to Pakistan. Surely, the Indian democracy is seriously unwell?

It was expected that people would explode against actions that fly in the face of the very idea of a pluralistic India. But the people of India hasn’t whimpered, at least so far.

On the other hand, the space for agitation was usurped by people who are worse than the BJP, a group of Patidars (Patels) from Gujarat and Jats from Haryana, two well-off communities – the first in business and the second in agriculture – backward in terms of education and thereby, largely denied of the benefits of white-collar jobs. Instead of starting a movement to spread education among their communities, thereby leading to long-term benefits, like say, the Kamma farmers of Andhra Pradesh, they have gone for the short cut of getting a share of the job quota pie, which guarantees a few government/quasi-government babu jobs and seats in colleges reserved for the underprivileged.

Both these agitations led to massive vandalism and loss of public and private property, Jats being more destructive. And on the sad night of 22/23 February on the Delhi-Ambala Highway in the Sonipat District, Jat agitators stopped cars, dragged women out and gang-raped them in the wheat fields of Haryana. Women’s underclothing was recovered from these fields later, but no victim complained. That shows how much women trust your government, Mr Prime Minister, and the Haryana government run by your underlings. After much prodding by the media, a few women did register complaints but their story ended in police files to gather dust for eternity.

The Jat agitators’ contempt for women is perhaps a reflection of the general atmosphere of disdain towards women there, including the notorious Khap Panchayats (kangaroo courts), the so-called “honour killings”, female foeticide, and the worst gender ratio in the country.

It therefore has a touch of irony that in the last week of a dismal year, a ray of hope, a story of courage that reestablishes our faith in humanity, emerges from the same state of Haryana.

Dangal is a film based on the true story of two sisters and their intrepid father, a former amateur wrestler, Mahabir Singh Phogat, who says the film is 98% facts. His daughters, Geeta Rani and Babita Phogat have won 14 medals in international wrestling competitions including seven golds. Sakshi Malik, the first Indian woman wrestler to win an Olympic medal, has been carrying the tradition forward.

For people like me who haven’t lived in the claustrophobic world of women in Haryana it would perhaps be impossible to imagine the extent of social obstacles overcome by the sisters on their path to glory. And we can only bow to Mahabir Singh for his vision and courage to stand up against social norms. Such people don’t just make their offspring champions.

They change the world.

And let me bow to Aamir Khan, a wonderful actor and human being, who too – incidentally – has been asked to go to Pakistan. Aamir has played the role of Mahabir Singh in the movie to perfection. And to prepare himself for the role, he put on 25 Kilograms of fat on his muscular frame in just six months. In the film, you just don’t see the superstar, you just see an ordinary Indian chasing his dreams in the face of impossible odds.

Mohammed Akhlaq is dead, but there are Indians like Mahabir Singh Phogat, his daughters, and Aamir Khan. No, we cannot afford the luxury of losing hope.

[In the pictures, you see the Phogats on screen and in real life.
Pictures Courtesy The Business Line and Hindustan Times]

Saturday, December 24, 2016

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