August 03, 2007

Who died alone

Spending substantial time in Dharavi in recent weeks, watching the 1993 bomb blast trial wind to a close, getting asked a question on another post here ... with all that, I've been thinking about incidents, people, episodes, from years ago.

One of those, I wrote up at the time. I mentioned it in various other essays, but here it is as I first wrote it (I called it "For Raju, Who Died Alone").

A thought for after you read it: Why would a country refuse to bring justice to the terrorists who murdered Raju (and about a thousand others) just as surely as it has brought justice to the terrorists who set off the 1993 blasts?

Your comments welcome.


This is for you, Raju. You did not know me, but for a few days in the middle of 1993, you were steadily in my thoughts. You had died -- for the way you died, euphemisms like "passed away" seem entirely inadequate -- you had died some months earlier. To the rest of us, you were just a statistic, one more number totted up with about a thousand others. To Samiullah the baker, you were his 14-year-old boy, groping to find your way in the world.

His only son.

Samiullah had just started feeling settled enough in Bombay, in his job at the bakery in the vast slum of Dharavi, to ask you to join him from your village in Uttar Pradesh. Until you found a more permanent job, the owner of the bakery had agreed to let you work there daily, running a few errands for him. You had been in Bombay only three months when that terrible night came around.

They destroyed the bakery that night. Then, as you were returning home alone, they murdered you. They surrounded you in the evil darkness that had descended on Bombay in those weeks. They hacked you into little pieces with their long swords.

In those last seconds that you were alive, you must have wondered: "Why?"

The truth is, Raju, I don't know. I don't know why you died your brutal, futile death. Why your 14-year-old promise was snuffed out. Why the light in your father's eye was switched off so suddenly, so permanently.

Oh yes, there was that old mosque in Ayodhya that they smashed into dust and debris. That set off the weeks of rioting in Bombay; the rioting in which you turned from a lively, energetic young boy into a pile of bloody rags, into no more than one of the thousand who died. But you would probably ask what that had to do with you. Why did that destruction happen?

Why did it lead to yours?

Fair questions, Raju. There's a whole section of us who were persuaded that destroying that mosque was our country's most urgent task. I know that makes no sense to you.

After all, you knew that neither you nor your father had any real job prospects in your village in Uttar Pradesh. If yours was like thousands of other villages across India, it had no school, no hospital, no electricity, no telephones. No drinking water. The bright lights of Bombay, the visions of work that would bring in even a few rupees, the chance for at least some of those missing basics -- these had already drawn your father there; now they had brought you to the city.

When making a life in your home was such an impossibility, what sense could it possibly have made to you that some people thought the national priority was to pulverize a mosque? That they said it was a glorious act of liberation, a redemption of national honour, a revival of Hindu pride? That you would then be overtaken by the events that followed? That you would die, almost as if it had been written that day somewhere in the rubble of Ayodhya?

Months after you died, Raju, I met your father. He was trying to claim the compensation the Government had announced for families, like yours, who had lost someone, like you, in the riots. I met him when a set of disgusting bureaucrats were giving him an extraordinary run-around.

First, he had had to pay a bribe of 200 rupees to get a coroner's certificate for your body. When he had that, they said there was no proof that you were actually his son, or that you had existed at all. Now broke because he had been out of work for three months -- the bakery had been destroyed, remember? -- he had to borrow money and make a trip to your village in Uttar Pradesh. There, he got the village headman to certify that he had really had a son.


Back in Bombay, the officials scrutinized the certificates and told your father to return in a few days for his cheque. Six different times they told him the same thing, each some days apart. Each time, he had to trudge from Dharavi to the heart of Bombay. Each time, he trudged home without the money.

Eventually, they did have the cheque, made out to your father, sitting on the table in front of him. Not two feet from him. But the ordeal did not end there. The officials told him they would post it to your village in Uttar Pradesh. After all, they said, it was from there that the proof of your link to your father had come; naturally the cheque would have to be sent there. Naturally.

"Take a train tonight," they advised Samiullah. "If they don't bring the cheque to your house," they continued helpfully, "go to the Collector's Office and demand it." For in UP, they observed smugly, unlike here in Bombay, "Government officers really create a lot of trouble."

I watched all this happen, Raju. Your father had lost his only son to the beast that was unleashed that day in Ayodhya. Now, to get the token the Government was handing out because it did not want to contain that beast, because it had failed to save your life, he had to contend with the grasping inhumanity of our bureaucracy.

Why, I think you're asking again. And what could the compensation possibly mean anyway? Could it ever bring that light back to your father's eyes?

Questions, Raju. Too many questions. They haunt me, too. That's why, years later, I remember your death. I will always remember. You showed me that the true meaning of all that rubble in Ayodhya is not some reborn national self-respect, not some righting of an ancient wrong, but your death. Your violent, bloody, futile death.

There's no self-respect there. Only shame.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Dilip,

Thanks, I think its the first time I read this post of yours. I shuddered by the time I got to "I watched all this happen..." and couldnt take the bleakness anymore.

I wish the major TV news channels spent some time on this kind of stuff rather than Sanjay Dutt, maybe they could make a difference?

Side note:

I've been wondering at the heightened discussion of the 92-93 riots and the clamor now for justice there(myself included), when this is something that should be happening anyway by my no-link logic.

For myself, I realize I had at least partly bought into the Hindutva line that 'secular' govts would soft-pedal on the bombs if (they felt that) that would win them elections.

That has lifted (I'm ashamed to say I'm a little relieved) with these and the CBE verdicts coming in and standing exposed in all its naked ugliness is the effort to sidetrack the 92-93, and Gujarat cases.

Somehow that has enabled an increased sense of outrage now. Thus I have linked these too, at some level :-(