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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Three Centuries with the Eternal Guru

To mark the celebrations of the tercentenary of the elevation of the Guru Granthh Saahib as the Eternal Guru (teacher) of the Sikhs, a rather comprehensive yet concise write-up has appeared in the Sunday Magazine section of 'The Hindu', on October 26. In it have been described the events leading up to the elevation, those whose writings have been included in the holy book, besides the nature and structure of its contents and the manner in which these have been set to Hindustani classical music.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Where Do We Go Now?

My father and I were at a local chemist's to pick up some of my medicines, when I saw two young women leaving a neighbouring shop. One look at them and I was convinced that another sport India could possibly expect gold-medals from, as soon as it is included in the Olympic games, is Sumo wrestling. In any case, they walked away carrying polythene-bags filled with their shopping. As they did so, however, one of them dropped something. It looked like a very thick pen, but probably was a make-up tool. Since they failed to notice the loss, I rushed to pick up the instrument and return it to them. They left after briefly mumbling a few words of thanks.

A day or two later, I found out about a young lad who had tried to act as a good Samaritan, in a crowded market-place in New Delhi, and had his head blown off in the bargain.

These incidents reminded me of the lyrics of an old Hindi film song that went somewhat like:

"Ab kahaaN jaayeiN hum, ye bataa ai zameeN
Is jahaaN maiN toh koi hamaara nahi
Apne saaye se bhi loag darne lagay
Ab kisi ko kisi par bharosa nahi..."

(This can be roughly translated as:

"Where do we go now, tell us O Earth
There is no one that we can call our own in this world
People have begun to fear their own shadows
No one trusts any one else any more...")

One kind of organisation that is being trusted to a great degree these days by a large proportion of India's population though, especially with respect to the arrests of several 'masterminds' responsible for bomb-blasts in different parts of India and some such men being shot down in New Delhi, is the police.

It is quite interesting to note that the police did not inspire the same kind of trust amongst the public when they claimed to have solved the murder of a teenager, Aarushi Talwar, in Delhi's suburb of Noida and arrested her father for the heinous crime, in addition to having provided 'details' of the teenager's 'affair' with one of the family's servants, who was also found murdered at the same time, as well as the manner in which her parents were supposed to have swapped spouses and performed orgies along with another couple. In fact, some senior police officials were not only transferred by the concerned state government, but also severely reprimanded for making such 'wild allegations' by no less than the Union Minister of State for Women and Child Welfare.

The police also failed to inspire the same kind of confidence amongst the public when Manu Sharma could not be prosecuted for the murder of Jessica Lal, whom he had shot dead in front of several people in a restaurant, or when Santosh Kumar Singh could not be prosecuted for the rape and murder of Priyadarshini Mattoo, in the trial courts. Both these men were convicted in higher courts only after a massive public outcry, especially amongst members of 'civil society', and an intense campaign by some sections of the news-media.

Even if one were to put aside charges of inaction and even complicity, levelled against the police, the fact remains that hardly any convictions have been secured in cases related to the anti-Sikh communal riots, in 1984, in several parts of North and Central India and the small number of convictions achieved in cases related to the anti-Muslim riots that occurred in the state of Gujarat in 2002 have largely been in those cases, which have been moved to courts in states other than Gujarat.

It is rather strange that a large number of people are prepared to accept police officers' statements as the gospel truth, whenever these are related to any action of theirs that has the words 'terrorist' and 'Muslim/Sikh' associated with it. I recall a time when, in my home-state i.e. Punjab, one could literally have any one bumped off by the police, for an appropriate 'fee'. Soon thereafter, a report would duly appear in all major newspapers, describing the deceased as a 'dreaded terrorist' who had been shot down in an 'encounter' with the police and providing details of the arms and ammunition supposed to have been found in his possession. At other times, young men from well-to-do families were picked up and demands for ransom made from their near and dear ones, threatening them to pay up unless they wanted their boys to meet a fate similar to the one described in the previous sentence. Later on, when enquiries began to be carried out regarding police excesses, some senior officers preferred to commit suicide than to face up to their past deeds. During these men's heyday, they were, of course, hailed as heroes by the news-media as well as large sections of the country's population. Among extra-judicial killings in other states, the alleged murders of Sohrabbudin Sheikh and his wife Kausarbi by some policemen in Gujarat and the subsequent arrest and trial of the errant officers have been well-publicised in the recent past. Condemnation for such abominable acts has come even from within the ranks of the police, at the highest level.

Coming to the recent 'encounter' in the Jamia Nagar area of New Delhi (which has also come to be known as the Batla House 'encounter'), the police's version appears to have been accepted completely by most Indians, including members of the news-media who had raised a lot of din regarding the investigation of cases related to crimes against Aarushi Talwar, Jessica Lal and Priyadarshini Mattoo. Questions, even as there seems to be plenty of scope for these, are being raised only by some leaders from within the Muslim community, a few politicians from the Samajwadi Party, in addition to two civil rights groups.

Although the doubts that have been raised are based on a rational line of thought, I suppose these could have been far more specific, had the questioners had a good look at Mail Today's issue dated September 24, 2008. It includes an eye-witness account that can turn the police's version on its head. However, since there appears to be little probability of the witnesses quoted in the report ever testifying in a court of law, it should perhaps be more prudent to concentrate on some of the contents of the autopsy (post mortem examination) reports of Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma (who was the only policeman killed) and one of the slain 'terrorists' that have also been published.

Regarding Inspector Sharma's autopsy, the newspaper report states the following:

"The autopsy report on Sharma, which is with Headlines Today, says he was shot at from extremely close range, no more than a few centimetres from him. He was hit by three bullets.

All of them entered through the back and followed top-to-down trajectory."

"Inspector Sharma was first shot in his left shoulder.

The next shot hit him a little lower with the bullet missing the spine and then, for the last time, he was shot just above the waist.

All three bullets exited his body from the front. No bullets were lodged in his body as an X- Ray showed. Also, the bullet wounds show that they entered Sharma’s body from a top angle. This indicates that whoever shot him had the advantage of height.

Under these circumstances, it’s very hard to say who shot the officer."
Whereas, with respect to the autopsy of one of the 'terrorists' it states that:

"The body of one of the ‘terrorists’ bears injury marks, sharp wounds and multiple internal injuries in the stomach. Doctors say such injuries are usually attributed to a scuffle, actually a violent physical assault. Someone may even have stamped on him."
For the uninitiated, the wound caused by a bullet at its point of entry into a human body is quite distinct from the wound at the point of exit, thus making it possible for experts who conduct an autopsy to clearly distinguish between the two.

So, it is quite difficult to comprehend the mysterious way in which the so-called terrorists were supposed to have shot at Inspector Sharma from his front-side, according to the police's version of the shoot-out, and yet the bullets that hit him were actually fired from behind him, as the autopsy report proves.

Also, since one of the 'terrorists' who were shot dead was obviously beaten to the ground and hit rather hard, as evident from his autopsy report, the reasons for which the police then let him go and fetch himself a gun to shoot at them are difficult to fathom. Anyhow, his being beaten up forms no part of the police's account.

If we assume that the 'encounter' was not fake, perhaps it so happened that as soon as the 'terrorists' opened the door, the policemen pounced upon them and gave them a sound thrashing (which the autopsy report provides credible evidence for), but soon the law enforcers were tired and decided to take a breather. During that interlude, one of the terrorists sneaked away and got his assault rifle and pistol from inside the house. Subsequently, he either jumped over Inspector Sharma's head or crawled between the Inspector's legs, without being seen by him (otherwise the Inspector might have turned around to face the 'terrorist'), to get behind him and then shot him three times from extremely close range. To my mind, however, it appears highly improbable, if not impossible, for anything like that to have happened, because the 'terrorist' would have had to be a comic-book super-hero with super-human powers, rather than a normal human being, in order to accomplish such a feat.

As the demand for a judicial probe into the incident is yet to meet with a favourable response from the government and the principal opposition party appears opposed to it as well, in addition to the courts not having taken suo moto notice of relevant reports in the news-media, there appears to be little hope for truth to triumph.

Besides, as shown by the mutually contradictory reports presented recently by the judicial commissions headed by Mr. Justice Nanavati and Mr. Justice Bannerjee, set up to investigate the events that led up to the anti-Muslim carnage in 2002, even judicial enquiries seem to have become politically motivated.

As the country continues to slide towards becoming a communal, capitalist, undemocratic republic, instead of the secular, socialist, democratic republic envisaged by those who wrote the Constitution of India, where does one turn to for justice, in the real sense of the word?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Communal Psyche

The following article appeared on page 12 in the E-Paper edition of Mail Today dated October 7, 2008. In the print edition, the article appeared on page 10, in the issue dated October 7, 2008.

Hapless Christians handy for minority bashing

by Dipankar Gupta

Why the Christians? Have we run out of Muslims and Sikhs, that a small and insignificant minority should be slaughtered, pillaged and raped at will by right wing Hindutva forces? This may sound strange, but in a real sense that the saffron mob has in deed — if not in words — run out of options. This is why they have now turned against Christians. They are the last soft target.

The Sikhs set the retaliation game in motion. They hit out, often randomly, at designated targets making it known to Hindu sectarians that taking on a Sikh will not be a picnic any longer. This stopped further attacks against them. The Muslims picked up this lead and set their own pace by orchestrating the Mumbai blasts of 1993, and several after that in quick succession. So the Muslims can no longer be hunted down either for casual Hindu amusement.

This only leaves the Christians. It must be borne in mind that Hindutva activists are at their predacious best when the kill is easy and their own safety assured in advance. This is why where Christians are in sizable numbers, such as in Nagaland, Kerala or even Goa, Hindutva sectarians dare not touch them. Instead they turn to areas like the Dangs in Gujarat or Kandmahal in Orissa where Christians are scattered and isolated. In these places it is easy to kill without the fear of being killed.


Ever since the Mumbai blasts the Muslims in that metropolis feel much safer. In many sensitive areas they have had no difficulty in increasing the plinth area of their mosques or the height of these structures. In fact, word has gone around among Muslims in the city that they can count on Shiv Sena support for these activities. If truth be told, the day after the Mumbai blast in 1993, the Shiv Sena newspaper Samna editorialized in a most conciliatory fashion asking for greater understanding between communities. Till then Bal Thackery, through this daily, was spewing hell fire and brimstone. What led him to alter his tone? What had changed?

The answer is ridiculously simple. One of the bombs in the Mumbai blasts went off outside the Shiv Sena office. This scared the Shiv Sena heroes into changing their tone and going immediately on the defensive. Something quite similar happened in Gujarat. After Godhra, bombs went off in different parts of India, including Ahmedabad, but this time there was no Hindutva “ retaliation”. If Modi could not control the Hindus after Godhra, how did he manage it in the face of a clear and direct challenge from Muslims in his own state? Clearly, fear of Muslim retaliation filled the bullying hearts of Hindutva partisans. They now realized that hate shrapnel could also be directed towards them. This took the shine off from anti- Muslim carnages. This gave them more than enough reason to pause.

And while they paused they pondered. If not the Sikhs and the Muslims, who then? Then the paisa dropped — of course, the Christians!

This is why it is important to distinguish between those who are willing to die for a cause, from those who are only willing to kill for one. Hindu extremist parties and organizations, all the way to the BJP, can encourage, condone and organize mobs to kill for Hindutva, but none of them is willing to die for it. This trait also separates fundamentalist from pure ethnic baiters. A fundamentalist like Khomeini, and even Bhindranwale, would encourage the faithful to go back to the foundational principles of their religion and draw strength from there. Khomeini said that America may be the house of the Shaitan , but Muslims must pay attention first and foremost to the five pillars of Islam.

No such catechism for the Hindutva mobs. Bal Thackeray said that to be a good Hindu one must be ready, willing and able to attack Muslims. He believed that this was the surest way of avenging centuries of hurt. It is, therefore, not necessary for Shiv Sainiks, or for most Hindu sectarians, to be well versed in Hinduism. This is why Shiv Sainiks believe that good Hindus can be in blue jeans, as long as there is hate in their hearts and saffron in their flags.

It should be clear by now that there is no social science behind the killings of Muslims, Sikhs, or Christians. Even so, academics, intellectuals, commentators and secular do- gooders are always searching for social and economic reasons behind these ethnic slaughters. What they do not realize is that the moment one gives into this kind of weak secular urges, Hindutva mobs find easy justification. Muslim terrorism today has nothing to do with Al Qaeda, Taliban, Palestine, or even Iraq. These terrorists are home bred and are direct outcomes of Babri Masjid and Godhra.


So when Christians are being killed let us not search for its causes in the rising graph of conversions. Such an exercise is not only fraught with difficulties, but it may also direct our attention to poverty- based explanations. Which in turn would be the reason for something else, and the regression exercises could go on. What such analysts should ask is: Why don’t these Hindutva activists go to Nagaland or somewhere else where Christians are in a majority and show us their nationalist derring- do there? Why is it that they are only active where their safety is guaranteed? In places where there is no administrative encouragement, sanction or connivance, Hindutva activists, of whatever description, dare not strike any minority community.

This is why such attacks take place largely in BJP run areas like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka or Orissa. Wherever Hindutva presence is built into the state administrative system, saffron forces are assured that every ethnic attack will be like a picnic. Even as L. K. Advani, Rajnath Singh and BJP national leaders assembled on September 14 in Bangalore, 16 churches were attacked in Dakshina Kannada, Chikmaglur and Udupi.


When it comes to linguistic and caste wars there is social science involved as jobs are to be won or lost on these grounds. But when Muslims or Christians are killed, nobody wants their income or livelihood. They are attacked only to make Hindutva organizations look good, and nothing else. This is why, in such contexts, social science of any kind is irrelevant. Social forensics, however, can be of some use in these circumstances. It would be interesting to know who killed whom, for how much and for what?

But it will not be a smooth run for too long. When people have their backs to the wall, they have to hit back. True, battle is not built into the Bible as it is in Sikh and Muslim texts, but that can be easily overcome. Remember the early history of Christianity is all about martyrs. In the medieval years it was about the Crusades. These are background memories that can always be enlivened.

The most effective way however is not to set up vigilante groups, or terror outfits, but to make the state responsible for protecting minorities, and ensuring that the Constitution and the law of the land are upheld. Citizenship knows no colour or creed, and if the Christians are the new Muslims of today, our state should bear the responsibility for this outcome.

The writer teaches sociology in JNU