On several occasions, in any given month, I want to write out of shock, anger, helplessness or even awe, but invariably life is too cluttered to do things that can wait for the monthly deadline. And then when I must, it seems all that I wanted to share has been said and also by then my impulses get tempered. Yet last November was different, as it marked the death of two individuals that left much to think about.
One of them lived a full life and died a natural death and was cremated before a mourning crowd of almost a million people. The images of the grand state funeral, round the clock media coverage, and the many outpourings of celebrity praise almost made one forget the antecedents of the man. All around was a tone so positive with many enlightening trivia about him, that it seemed like history was being forgotten too quickly. Although a reminder of the legacy of the self-declared admirer of Hitler did not take too long to surface. Some from the cadre soon got two young girls arrested, simply because they questioned on Facebook the de-facto bandh in Mumbai. Isn't it ironic that the girls were accused of being a threat to communal harmony and inciting hatred, when the man himself was never convicted for actions that were more than questionably divisive and sectarian in nature? But today, it is not about the man, but our own reaction to him and his legacy. Is our collective amnesia going to condemn us to repeat our mistakes?
Now about the other man. He, in his early 20s, was hanged and buried in an unknown grave, and the question of mourners doesn't even arise! He was no leader, no mastermind, just a dispensable foot soldier who was brainwashed to hate. His violence was overt and we would unanimously agree that he deserved the harshest punishment for his crime. But while serving solitary confinement in jail, one fine day, it was felt necessary to secretly whisk him away, and hang him. “Anonymity is the best security,” said one of the officers in charge. If so, then why do we waste crores of rupees in convoys and Z-security personnel for our beloved politicians? Don't we want them safe? Sorry, now I am digressing! So the man was hanged, without much ado, ironically or strategically, just the day after India voted against the UN draft resolution to abolish capital punishment. When majority of the countries are coming out strongly against it, with enough data to back the argument that neither does it deter criminals, nor does it encourage human reforms, then why do we feel the need to resort to it?
Going forward, how will we decide which crimes are the worst, deserving the harshest punishments? In our country the list is potentially long. Those who adulterate food and milk, impacting lakhs of children, or those who serially molest and rape, scarring the victims for life, or those who orchestrate rioting, looting, killing and defiling women with no apparent blood stain on their hands? Are these crimes any less heinous than that committed by that young boy?
This November gave us only a glimpse into the ironies we have gotten used to. The two men have gone, but their deaths told us less about them, and more about our own selves. Our need to deify and demonise, our personal biases and prejudices, our desire for revenge and anger and our unwillingness to confront difficult questions… all, a mirror to our own truth.
And yet there was a silver lining as the month ended where liberal opinions could not be silenced easily in the age of social media. After a public outcry, the two girls were freed, some police officers suspended and most amazingly, the Supreme Court decided to take it upon itself to find the real culprits. I know, today I write at my own peril, but I also know that it will find its resonance. So I am not alone.