January 15, 2005

Wheels Don't Move

When the film finished, I went up to the director and told her, I don't know how to tell you this was a good film, because right now I'm shaking with anger, burning up inside. An hour later, I still am. That's what Amu did to me.

Several thousand of my countrymen were slaughtered in Delhi in 1984, solely because they wore turbans. Because they were Sikh. Prominent Delhi Congress leaders urged thugs on as they killed. Police stood by and did nothing to stop the massacres, often participated themselves. An administration failed, a city went up in flames, a nation was shamed forever.

India has had plenty of ghastly crimes, but this was arguably the worst of the lot.

Yet there is actually something that shames us even more than those days of killing. In twenty years -- count 'em, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19-20, count 'em and weep -- we have not managed to bring one of the killers to justice. It's not as if the wheels of justice do move, but just slowly; after all, the two Sikh killers of Indira Gandhi were swiftly tried and punished. The truth is, for the victims of the 1984 horror, the wheels move not at all. Not one measly revolution.

Ah, but there have been inquiries. Eight official, government appointed inquiries into the murders, and a ninth going on as you read this. Count 'em, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9. These and other unofficial inquiries have clearly identified the guilty. Not one has been punished. (Here is something I wrote two years ago about these inquiries).

Amu reminds us of this 20-year-long charade. It left me so angry, I was unsure I'd be able to speak. Or type, now.

Because I hear all this talk about India Shining, and our Indian image improving by the hour, and being self-sufficient, and joining the war on terror, and aspiring to a seat on the Security Council -- and I think, how empty it all is. When we are a land -- let's be frank, shall we? -- of no justice whatsoever, what do any of those fine phrases mean? And when we are complacent about that absence of justice, what do those fine phrases mean? When we let the terrorists live untouched in our midst, even give them police protection, what do those phrases mean?

And if we won't give thousands of destroyed families the minimum we owe them -- a measure of justice -- we paint one broad-brushed certainty on ourselves: we will have more such days of shame. With each one, we will refine that lack of justice into an ever smoother art. Right enough: Bombay in 1992-93. Gujarat in 2002. Thousands dead. Nobody punished. People -- apparently respectable, upstanding people -- actually justifying these unspeakable crimes. That last, by itself, an even more unspeakable horror.

So if Amu doesn't shake the too-long dormant conscience of an entire country, nothing ever will. My gut tells me it won't. But go see it and prove me wrong. Please.


Anonymous said...

Well we are a country of mindless zombies .What else can explain the fact that we continue to assert overself to be a secular democratic republic .

Neither is the spirit nor is the letter of the Law upheld .

What we see is the reflection of a society of life forms which have ceased to be human .The few who recognize the value of Humanity (either via God or science) will cringe

After all millions of years of evolution allows one to survive by disabling or enabling the faculties which allow ones heart to pump a few extra beats even the soul has long passed away .

Well that is what constitutes India

We shall continue to be in denial

Rahul Bhatia said...

Dilip, I have faith in India. Not blind faith, but a kind that has taken shape after years of observing trends and behaviour. I've not lived here for long, so I cannot speak from experience about the riots in Gujurat and Bombay and 1984. But I've seen a terrible government voted out of power, and seen an overwhelming response to the recent tragedy, and have noticed little things that make a difference in the city we live in. The roads are now divided into lanes, and garbage cans are springing up everywhere. It may not be the kind of progress many imagined - after all, we have a backlog of thousands of court cases to resolve, and a police force to clean up - but in a very small way, it is progress. It instils discipline in a tiny way that could show up in other walks of life.

Amu moved me so much, the question I had for Shonali Bose - whether people were as closed about talking about the riots as the characters in the film were - stuck in my throat. I wanted to tell her how much this movie affected me, and how, for those two beautiful hours, I wished her a great career and a great life. But I didn't. Someday I will. But I know enough about the riots now to realise that I should know more. Justice might not come for the victims of the riots, but many of us, me included, might learn from history.


Anonymous said...

Its surprising that time and again we are stunned by the callousness of the "system" when it should have benn entrenched within us and it should actually, all feel quite normal.My point is, the very fact that inspite of incidents like this happening so often,we as a country and as people are shaken,gives hope that maybe things will change;for the better or for the worse I don't know but they will change.

(from many furlongs away !!!:-))

Dilip D'Souza said...

Rahul and Saraansh,

The thing is, I really want to share the optimism you show, and I'm glad there are guys like you to show it and slice thru the cynicism of guys like me. (Believe me, I say that in all sincerity -- comments like yours are like wakeup calls for me).

Yes, the fact that we got rid of the worst government we've ever had is a terrific thing; the response to the tsunami is another terrific thing. There are changes like the ones you mention, and perhaps I should find a way to take heart from those. If I start expecting change on my terms, as I want it, I'm destined for frustration.

But still, I'm struck by the continuing and profound way justice is simply overlooked -- not just by the "system" or the "government", but by all of us. What is it about us that allows 20 years to go by without justice for the victims of a great crime? Do you doubt that 20 years after BOmbay (92-93) or Gujarat (02) none of the criminals from those crimes will have been punished? I am certain -- as certain as I know the sun will set this evening -- that they will not have been punished. And that fills me sometimes with great despair. Most of all because there are plenty of people around me who don't really WANT that justice served in these cases. People sort of like me.

This is my pessimism.

Rahul, what happened to that Jammu guy in Churchgate?

Anonymous said...

Point taken however lets look at this way-Why do I get up every morning and come to work and do the same things and go back and satisfy my stomach related urges and go back to sleep?What makes me do the same mundane things day in and day out.To tell you the truth,its because I believe some where that maybe today will bring something new and something pleasurable and something that I can look forward to.Lets say tomorrow these ppl do get justice,then would'nt it seem like a miracle of sorts and would'nt it also be a vindication of your stand that you wont give in to the dredgery around you.In some way we all look forward to miracles or events we can term miracles just to do away with this ennui.
I love old fables and theres one that talks about a sage trying to save a scorpion from drowning;the scorpion stings him everytime he tries to take it out of the water and the sage continiues to try saving him.In the end the sage dies.
Moral-Dono apni aadat se majboor hain.
Believing in the world has become a matter of habit now.

Anonymous said...

Hey Furlongman
Forgot to sign the last mesage I sent.

Saraansh :-)

Rahul Bhatia said...

I found Ajay and called Childline, who seem to have a proper system in place of dealing with runaways. We spoke with Ajay for a long while before they ascertained that he did want to return. For two days he stayed at a shelter, and ran away on the third. The councellor who was taking care of him called me up to say that in the course of their conversations over two days, it gradually became apparent that the Ajay was used to Mumbai life, and that he did not want to go home. Dilip, he's only a child. I have a day off on Wednesday, so I'll head there and speak with him, and try and make him see reason.

Rahul Bhatia said...

Saaransh, on reading your first comment, it felt like a mini-epiphany. It's wonderful to think that even with all that's happening around us, we're still affected.