If a major communal flare up could be prevented last week by the combined efforts of the police, community leaders and the administration in the Hauz Qazi locality of Old Delhi, then these queries hit: why is rioting not prevented by the administration in other sensitive areas of the country? Why is rioting ‘allowed’ to take place and then made to continue, till hundreds are rendered homeless and limbless? Why are innocent men and women and even children from the socially- economically marginalised sections targeted brutally as rioting continues under the watchful eyes of the police, who stand there as mute spectators or even play a partisan role?
In fact, while writing this, I’m reminded of what Gujarat’s first whistleblower cop, RB Sreekumar, had told me during the course of an interview: if the police and the politicians genuinely and earnestly want, then the rioting cannot take place and even if it does, then it can be controlled and contained within two hours. Perhaps, to elaborate this, he had detailed that even whilst the 2002 pogrom was peaking in Ahmedabad, the then DGP of Gujarat was helpless. To quote from Sreekumar’s book - Gujarat: Behind The Curtain –“In the afternoon (of 28 February 2002), I met DGP K Chakravorti in his chamber. I found him quite perturbed, helpless and stress-ridden about widespread mass violence in the cities of Ahmedabad, Vadodara and many rural areas. He lamented that things were taking a bad shape and activists of VHP, Bajrang Dal and BJP were leading armed crowds, and police officers, at decisive level on the ground, were not intervening effectively as they were keen on avoiding crossing swords with supporters of the ruling party...”
It’s obvious that if political and administrative rulers want, then the riots can be prevented and stopped. In the case of Hauz Qazi, it became apparent that Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP government in Delhi genuinely wanted the communal surcharge to be contained as swiftly and prudently as possible. And so sanity, calm and peace prevailed in that locality.
But unfortunately, in the majority of cases in other towns and cities of the country, the rioting has been made to continue by the political rulers, till hundreds and thousands are left dead or severely affected, perhaps for generations to come. In fact, ahile reading Harsh Mander’s book – Fatal Accidents of Birth : Stories of Suffering, Oppression and Resistance, what caught my attention was this particular chapter , ‘Life Among the Graves’.
It focuses on a survivor of Gujarat pogrom of 2002, Khalid Noor Mohammad, who talks “about the seventy -five years of his life, as though its significant landmarks were all major communal riots. He spoke of them the way other people talk of life events- births, deaths, weddings. The Partition riots of 1947 in which he lost his father, the Ahmedabad riots of 1969 which broke a long interlude of peace, the Jagannath riots of 1985, the sectarian violence that followed in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 , and now the carnage of 2002 … ‘I have seen many riots,’ Khalid said, ‘and each time we have moved on. But this hullad was completely different. My body may still have some strength, but this riot has just broken my spirit. Earlier, they killed our men and attacked our homes and shops. But women and children were mostly spared. Never before this merciless burning of our people, even of infants and small children. Never before this mass rape and humiliation of our women. Never before have so many of us been rendered completely homeless.’ ”
In fact, if one were to study the riots and rioting patterns in the country, the one big factor that hits almost immediately is this --the biased role of the cops under the direct control of the political rulers. In this context, a book edited by Iqbal Ansari, Communal Riots - The state and law in India is of immense significance. It carries reports by IPS officers: Padam Rosha, KF Rustamji, CV Narasimhan and VN Rai; by a civil servant, NC Saxena; by some well-known names of the judiciary: Justice Hosbet Suresh, Justice VR Krishna Iyer, VM Tarkunde; and also by reputed academics like Prof Mushirul Hasan and several others. These reports point towards the administration’s biased role and also that of the police.
Space constraints will not permit me to quote from these detailed reports but if any policy maker or ruler genuinely wants to study the destructive forces behind rioting in this country and the deadly aftermath of the biased role of the police on the already marginalised, then this volume holds out much in terms of the ground realities.
Seher Hashmi Raza’s Poetic verse and paintings…
Shabnam Hashmi and Gauhar Raza’s daughter Seher is going strong. She has organised her solo exhibition at the New Delhi’s Academy of Fine Arts and Literature, with this particular verse of hers in the backdrop-
“Colouring the wounds away/
I paint so that I don’t end up painting my/
Hands with blood/,
That time remember,
The cut I made,
When I was so low,
I cut with a paper cutter,
To punish my body for being a mess,
For feeling the worst,
Without any reason,
For having ups and downs,
And not knowing how to react,
Than harming myself,
So now what I do,
Is just paint colours,
I make sure I take it all out on the paper,
And not myself.”
Yes, Seher’s this verse stands out in the invite, together with this backdrop – “Seher used to paint as a small child but when she entered school and was asked to fill colours in different geometrical shapes instead of painting freely she suddenly lost all interest and totally quit painting. It is much later that, dealing with an internal turmoil that was occupying her young mind and heart that Seher started painting again. For a long time it was just a diversion which helped her overcome deep depression but over the last year with determination to fight depression, assisted by psychiatrists , counsellors and her family painting has again become a serious engagement for Seher …Painting has a soothing effect on her nerves and has helped her heal and overcome a difficult phase.”
With determination and grit, Seher is sure to achieve much – both as a poet and a painter.