So I've just spent four hours of my life in a too-cold YB Chavan Centre auditorium, gazing at a stage on which sat Shivraj Patil, RR Patil, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Pratapsinh Rane (respectively, India's Home Minister, Maharashtra's Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister, Maharashtra's Chief Minister, Goa's Chief Minister), with other ministers and bureaucrats. The audience had more bureaucrats, police officers, journalists, NGO workers and many others. Mostly male, but a sprinkling of women.
This was at a seminar to discuss the new Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005.
We heard from the assorted dignitaries, then the Honourable Home Minister opened up the discussion for inputs from the audience. Several people made lots of points, about this or that provision of the bill, the importance of prevention, that sort of thing. (I sent up a slip because I thought I had something to say about prevention of communal violence, but time ran out before my slip came up. Not that I'm bitter, oh no).
All pretty routine stuff.
Then the Home Minister began summing up, because he had to leave. Whereupon, a swarthy man with a large moustache got up and shouted: "You have not listened to anyone speak about the other side of this draconian bill!" The Home Minister asked, what is that other side?
"You are only listening to one kind of person's views on this draconian bill!" The Home Minister asked, what kind of person is that?
"Only these maulanas and fathers!"
Upon which I hastily reopened the book in which I had been taking notes, to take a look at the names of the persons from the audience who had spoken till then. Here they are, those names: Ribeiro, Suresh, Mathai, Anees, Solanki, Pasricha, Sinha, Keswani, Asthana, a maulana whose name I didn't catch, Ramdas, deBritto (a father), Rathod.
Yes, yes, all maulanas and fathers. That kind of person.
The man proceeded to the stage where he told us he had come as part of a delegation sent by the Government of Gujarat. He launched into an attack on the bill. "This bill is anti-Gujarat!" he said.
He fished out a booklet which, he said, was the Government of Gujarat's official critique of the bill. "Unfortunately I have only one copy," he said. "But if anyone is interested, you can give me your name and address and I will pass it on to the Government and you will get a copy by post."
And he came off the stage and sat down.
At the end of the meeting, I gave him my name and address, and he gave me his card: Saurabh Shah, editor of the Gujarati weekly Vichardhara. With a genial smile, he promised that I would get the booklet soon.
Went upstairs for lunch. A man walked in with a huge duffel bag, opened it and took out hundreds of copies of the same booklet. Put them down in piles all over the room (most next to where icecream was being served, sort of like desert), went around handing them out to the attendees. I have a copy: "Government of Gujarat: Analytical Comments and Suggestions on The Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005; Dated 24th January 2006."
And oh yes, my name and address, on a little slip of paper, is on its way to the innards of the Government of Gujarat.