May 30, 2005

Ghastly display

My short review for Time Out Mumbai of Iftikhar Gilani's My Days in Prison (Penguin India, 2005).


Maybe it's not right to pick out one phrase from an entire book; maybe you think it does not even best capture Iftikhar Gilani's experience. But it works for me. In four words, it speaks of everything perverse and venal in what happened to Gilani in 2002; perhaps in our country itself.

What happened when he first entered Tihar jail, says Gilani, was a "ghastly display of patriotism."

To understand this, of course, you need to know that Government hatchet men raided Gilani's Delhi home and "stumbled" on a computer file about Indian troop deployments in Kashmir. They used that to accuse him of spying for Pakistan, charging him under the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (itself an abomination). Denied bail, he spent 7 months in Tihar.

Never mind that this was a publicly available document that Gilani had pulled off the Internet, as you can. Never mind that Military Intelligence told the Government the document had "no security value." No, he went to Tihar regardless.

And when he got there, fellow inmates beat and abused him, calling him "Sala gaddar, Pakistani agent!" That is, he was punished as a traitor by murderers, rapists and thieves. Something there, quite apart from questions about Gilani's innocence, is perverse and obscene.

Yet that's just the lesson to take from Gilani's book, the perversities in this thing called patriotism. Consider: He was accused of dealing with Pakistan under an Act devised by the colonial power we fought to free ourselves from. The "evidence" for this accusation was a paper itself authored by Pakistanis (later doctored by Gilani's Indian accusers) and freely available. Then he was thrashed by criminals for being a "traitor" to his country.

And if all that irony hasn't sated you, think of this: after 7 months, the Government quietly dropped the case against him and set him free.

Altogether, a display of patriotism enough to turn your stomach. Ghastly all right.


Sriram said...

Dilip, this is not patriotism. I am afraid you are just misrepresenting patriotism. Look up the word in a dictionary; it just means "love and devotion for your country".

In reality, the tragedy here is the absence of the concept of rights and due process.

Anonymous said...

Who will be India's Kafka to tell Mr. Gilani's story? Scary and so tragic.

Patriotism seems to be as menacing as its not-so-distant cousin, terrorism.


Tanuj said...

Sriram - I agree with you.

Dilip - we'll probably not agree on this one, but in my mind there is a difference between a traitor (defined as the opposite of a patriot) and a criminal.

Anonymous said...

(aren't we missing the point here - rather misreading it?) misguided patriotism can be just as ghastly as treason - which is a lesson the Anil-Gadar-Sharmas of the world have caught on to very quickly...

Dilip D'Souza said...

Tanuj/Sriram, that's just the point: what happened in Tihar is not patriotism. Sure there is a difference between the dictionary definitions of a criminal and a traitor. But to me there is something simply obscene about a rapist or a murderer pronouncing people traitors and beating them up. So obscene that if this is taken seriously, to me it calls into question the very idea of patriotism. There may be dictionary definitions all over the place, but to me a murderer (for example) causes profound damage to his country, and by any definition or standard is therefore a traitor.

And to think all this happened to a man who was innocent to begin with.

Krishna and Charu, thank you. I couldn't agree more.

Tanuj said...

dilip: i agree totally - what happened in tihar is not patriotism. murderers pronouncing others traitors is obscene - no one's arguing with that, but are we to use this disgusting example to define the idea of patriotism?

also, i wasn't referring to 'dictionary definitions' when i spoke about differences between criminals and traitors. so here's an extreme, stylized example: if there's a war (on which one has no control) and one (non-criminal, honest, and yes - tax payer, too)is asked to help his/her country, what does he/she do? if one can help and does not - does that make him/her a criminal? or a traitor?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Tanuj, once again I feel constrained to ask, what are we disagreeing about? What you say is essentially what Gilani said: what happened to him, people thrashing him as a traitor in Tihar, was a "ghastly display of patriotism".

The reason I picked on this point in his book was that too often this is exactly the display of patriotism presented to us; too often patriotism becomes an excuse for criminals to evade justice; too often criminals feel free to tell us who is and who isn't a patriot. To me, all that's ghastly.

Anonymous said...


Didn't Gilani accuse cops in mufti of shooting him in Delhi? If they did shoot him, were they doing it under some patriotic zeal?

So why pick on some criminals in Tihar to drive home a point on patriotism?

Sriram said...

Without getting too deep here, "patriotism" is just another collectivism. What Dilip posted about was not patriotism in itself, but how it was misused to commit atrocities.

While that is true, the crux of the issue here is not patriotism itself - that is but an excuse! Why give central position in an argument to an excuse?

Throughout history, men have banded together, under some "attribute" that they share, to wield power and control the less powerful. Religion was regularly used. Within India, so was caste. Hitler used race, Mao and Stalin used communism.

In all these cases, the excuse used to abuse power is not all that important. What we learn from them is.

What I learn from this is the importance of fundamental rights and due process. Geelani has the right to free speech (documents in his computers). His habeas corpus rights were violated. He deserves a speedy trial.

An individual is the weakest member of a society. A great society is one where even an individual can stand up and defy the mighty state. What happened here was an instance of the state trampling over an individual's rights. Geelani's case is an excellent illustration of this point.

Statists, of course, will refuse to recognize this even when it is right in front of them.

Anonymous said...

FYI: There is honour amongst thieves. If you read about the Bombay Police Rapist getting a thrashing in jail, u will understand. Good show and a pat on the back to the Tihar Death Row.

Anonymous said...

Surprised that Dilip's not yet invited some foreign power to free Tihar Jail. Can a jailor in Tihar launch a coup a la Stauffenberg?