September 28, 2002


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Dilip D'Souza

And The Games Played On

From outside my home, as I write this, come the roared cheers and "Howzats" of an impromptu street cricket match. Down the road, for two rare souls who seem to dislike cricket, it's badminton. The corner fruit-seller has covered up his cart and lies on the ground beside it. He did not dare try selling anything today; the lack of business, he says, means he is unsure about eating today. (Besides his own fruit). On a far more massive scale than his economic loss is that to my city and my country: Rs 1.3 billion and Rs 100 billion respectively, industry figures told The Times of India.

How much is Rs 100 billion? One way of putting it in perspective: it's twice what we are paying to Russia for the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov. (Aside: forgive me, it is actually free. We only agreed to pay $1 billion to "refurbish" it. See my column But The Aircraft Carrier is Free).

So here we are: in what its organisers called a "total and spontaneous" bandh to express outrage and grief over the atrocity in Gandhinagar, the country's economy suffers a loss equal to two aircraft carriers. Slap this loss on top of what happened the previous day in Gujarat, largely shut down by yet another bandh. As a friend wrote in a note he circulated:

    'There is a large group of Indians who are eager to complete the agenda of the terrorists. The VHP and the Shiv Sena have played this despicable role of acting as the implementors of the wishes of India's enemies by calling for an India bandh...'

And if that's not bad enough, the most visible signs of the outrage and grief we are being asked to feel are cricket matches on empty streets.

Yes, on the Wednesday and Thursday following the massacre of over forty brother and sister Indians, we found two ways to grieve for them: playing games and choosing to bleed our country ourselves. What do you think, would they have wanted to be remembered like that?

As you ponder that, consider a few choice ingredients you can add to this odd mixture.

First, I'm losing count of the number of people who write me angry mail about the holidays on our calendar. The lack of "Hindu" holidays, they say, is yet another way Hinduism is "being denigrated" (really). You can note that our calendar is already crowded with holidays for such occasions as Holi, Diwali, Janmashtami, Dassehra, Gudi Padwa, Navratri, and Ganesh Chaturthi, with many more regional variations. But I wonder how giving a country even more opportunities to laze about at home amounts to respect for a religion. For anything. Then there's a bandh as an apparent mark of respect to 44 murdered Indians, and I wonder no more. Or I wonder some more.

Second, why did we not experience bandhs after -- oh, let's pick three occasions at random -- the massacre of 3,000 Indians in Delhi in 1984, the massacre of 1,000 more Indians in Bombay in 1992-93, and the massacre of another 1,000 more Indians across Gujarat in February and March this year? After all, those were terrorist attacks, assaults on our country, exactly as much as the slaughter at Akshardham was. Why did we not to choose to grieve for those several thousand murdered countrymen by shutting down the country and playing street cricket? (I'm grateful we did not, I'm just asking why).

Third, these bandhs were orchestrated by the very organisations accused of having blood on their hands from those three random occasions: the Congress in 1984, also in 1992-93 (Gujarat bandh on Wednesday); the Shiv Sena in 1992-93 and the VHP in 2002 (India bandh on Thursday). What value must we place, then, on their proclaimed grief over the attack on Indians in Gandhinagar?

Fourth, from the chief minister of Gujarat to the home and prime ministers of the country, much ministerial and bureaucratic talk blamed Pakistan for Gandhinagar. 'The terrorists either belong[ed] to PoK or the neighbouring enemy nation,' said the chief minister. In what appears to be a serious report out of Ahmedabad (Times, Friday), officials have 'ruled out the possibility of the two terrorists being local Gujaratis.' Ah, good; but on what evidence did they do this ruling out? 'One usually expect(s) to see the bodies of well-built, weather-beaten militants with hardy hands. Instead, what they had seen were two young boys who did not even have stubble on their faces.' No stubble, therefore Pakistan. Yes, this appears to be a serious report.

Aside: on this day for street games, I wonder what kind of evidence they use across our Western border. On Wednesday, not even a day after Gandhinagar, seven Pakistanis at the Institute of Peace and Justice in Karachi were tied up, gagged and shot dead. The Inspector General of Sindh told the press: 'Apparently, it was an act of terrorism... there was a possibility of RAW hand in this ugly incident.' Other 'analysts' (who they were, this particular serious report does not say) 'opined that [RAW] might have engineered this gruesome murder of seven Christians to distract world attention from the communal killings in India.' No stubble in Gandhinagar, therefore point to Pakistan. What did or didn't they find in Karachi that pointed to India? End of aside.

Fifth, why the urgent ministerial urge to blame Pakistan, to proclaim that the two thugs were not Gujaratis? Because then the ministers can dismiss the most obvious reason we ordinary folks might ascribe the Gandhinagar crime to: it was in retaliation for the 1,000 massacred in Gujarat in February and March. You see, retaliation for the horror of Godhra was 'justified' and 'an understandable reaction.' But retaliation for that retaliatory horror? No way! Because acknowledging it as even a possibility would mean it too is 'justified' and 'an understandable reaction.' Therefore, quickly blame Pakistan.

Sixth, but most important: some among us chose to express our feelings after Gandhinagar in ways other than bleeding the country. I can do no better than end this with what one of them, my good friend and inspiration Deepika, wrote today.

    Why I walked to work

    On Thursday 26 of September 2002 I walked to work.

    I walked because a national bandh was called by the so-called powers that be. And there were no buses, trains or taxis to take. Because two terrorists entered the Swami Narayan Temple and killed several innocent people. The terrorists claimed that they did it to take revenge on what happened in Gujarat post Godhra.

    I see very little difference between Bush, Osama, Musharraf, Modi, Advani or Thackeray. Each one claims to offer retaliation as a form of retribution. Retribution where only innocent people's lives and livelihoods are irrevocably hurt and futures threatened. Where Singhal's threat to replicate the 'experiment of Gujarat' hangs over us all.

    I walked because I wonder whether it would be easier to die in a communal frenzy or in a bomb attack of a suicide bomber.

    And I wonder whether the 'Government of India' has any plans to fight the terrorists within its institutional folds or do they feel that they can guard every temple, car or public place from future 'revenge bombers/terrorists'.

    I walked because I know that the Constitution of India assures every citizen equality, fraternity and justice.

    And because I believe that the Rule of Law and the idea of a Secular Democratic state is what Tilak, Gandhi and others fought for, and if this is not what the present leaders elected or otherwise believe in, they should not be allowed to stand for election or represent the people of India, and need to be tried under the very laws they have created, for disturbing law and order and threatening national peace and security.

    I walked also because I know that in the face of all this violence and hate, that the humanity of the ordinary Indian is still alive, maybe hidden like a tuber but very much alive.

    Even as I walked the few cars on the road stopped and asked if I needed a lift. But I continued to walk along with hundreds of others -- ordinary people like myself who refused to be intimidated, and who know that a future for our country, our people and our children lies in health, jobs, education and conserving our environment. In justice and equality, not in wars, arms or yatras.

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