Drawing inspiration from Sunil Dutt in the divided times of Modi

Late Sunil Dutt, actor and Congress MP

With a dearth of loyalists out there to save India’s secular fabric, we should honour those showing courage to stand up for inclusion and brotherhood. Late actor-politican Sunil Dutt was one such soul

Why is there no outrage over right-wing goons denting and damaging an entrance to the heritage monument Taj Mahal? Why that eerie quiet in political circles, as lynchings seem to be spiralling out of control? Where are the political heroes?

Over the last few years, I have been asking the politicians I have interviewed one basic query— what is the way out from the heap of disasters hitting us? A politician who had come up with a practical solution was Sunil Dutt. In fact, on Sunil Dutt’s birthday, June 6, I kept thinking of his vision after touring rural India.

On four different occasions, I’d met and interviewed this actor-turned-politician. I recall asking him what could be a possible solution to the communal surcharge the country had begun witnessing right from the early 1990s. He had remarked, “Only last night, I was going through the latest Time magazine and the photographs from war-afflicted Somalia shocked me to the extent that I couldn’t eat.”

He went on, “The horrifying pictures depicted human beings lying injured and ill, dying, rendered so frail and weak that they couldn’t even walk or talk. And now, I am going to suggest that those pictures and connected pictures be displayed all over our towns and cities, at all public places and educational institutions. And displayed with this caption: See, what internal war, or strife, or unrest can do to you, to your country, to your fellow countrymen! Those pictures will touch one’s soul … will definitely have an impact and make us realise the havoc that internal unrest drags along.”

Sunil Dutt also said, “Though I have myself been a victim of the Partition and with that suffered tremendously, my mother taught us never to hate a human being. I have been brought up on this principle and have passed on this very principle to my children”

There was a certain degree of earnestness and humbleness to Sunil Dutt, which stood out as he spoke of the padyatras that he used to undertake to reach out to the masses. And though he sat surrounded by people, his answer when I asked him about his friends and foes was ironic, “I have no best friend, as I am own best friend! I believe that nobody is your enemy except your own destiny. But I suppose one has to fight on and go on with’s one life. Right from my childhood, it has been a struggle. But I couldn’t even imagine as to what happened to my son. These are the tests of life!”

Sunil Dutt couldn’t have dreamed of getting politically practical! He was a Congressman to the core and remained so, in spite of the fact that he got little political support when he was going through a harsh phase, with even communal tags and labels thrown at him .

As he had complained to me, “Why this propaganda that I’ve worked only for the Muslims? Earlier when I had undertaken the padayatra from Mumbai to Amritsar, it wasn’t for a Muslim cause. It was only for the Hindus and Sikhs.”

Added the late actor-politician, “Even during the Bombay Riots, I helped whoever was suffering and affected. Obviously, I couldn’t have first asked their religion and then got down to helping them! I have always helped anybody in pain, those in need and who are suffering.”

He also said, “Though I have myself been a victim of the Partition and with that suffered tremendously, my mother taught us never to hate a human being. I have been brought up on this principle and have passed on this very principle to my children. In fact, my son had really tried to provide every possible assistance to the riot victims but now he says to me, ‘ Papa I will never do any social work’.

Sunil Dutt: “Even during the Bombay Riots, I helped whoever was suffering and affected. Obviously, I couldn’t have first asked their religion and then got down to helping them! I have always helped anybody in pain, those in need and who are suffering”

Sunil Dutt detailed the trauma he and the family went through after Sanjay was arrested and imprisoned, “Filthy allegations were thrown at us. Allegations that I can’t even dream of. People called us Pakistani agents, desh drohis and whatnots. You could imagine how it must have felt.”

Dutt said, “Those days wherever I used to go, even the peons at the lawyers’ chambers would say it right on my face—desh drohi aa raha hai.”

“In fact, once my daughters had gone out shopping and told me that the moment they stepped into a shop, there was a minute’s silence and then the shoppers started moving out, walking out of that shop. Can you imagine even my dead wife was dragged into all this! I could hear people say that Sanjay’s mother was a Muslim . I told these people that you can attack Sanju and I as much as you like but at least spare the dead,” Dutt had said.

Dutt said he used to recount the work Nargis had done for children, regardless of their religious background, “Look, what we all we did for the country. During the two wars, we went to the border areas to meet the jawans and we even donated one lakh rupees towards PM’s relief fund. In fact, I am ready to do anything for the country.”

Honour those like Sunil Dutt who strive to protect India’s secular fabric

With a severe dearth of loyalists out there to save whatever remains of the near-ruptured secular fabric, something needs to be done. Perhaps, a way out could be to publicly honour men and women who are showing courage and conviction to protect and save lives.

I can think of at least four such persons who in these recent months have tried to reach out in their own ways. Imam Maulana Imdadul Rashidi, from Asansol, showed immense maturity when his 16-year-old-son, Sibtullah Rashidi, was brutally attacked and killed during the Ram Navami processions in West Bengal’s Asansol, yet he appealed and pleaded that there ought to be no cries for revenge or counter-killings. With that Imam sahib did what the police force couldn’t do, that is, protect the lives and limbs of hundreds of citizens of Asansol.

Then, there is west Delhi-based Ankit Saxena's father Yashpal Saxena, who sabotaged and halted all cries for revenge even as his son was allegedly killed by a Muslim family. Another person who stands out is the Sikh sub-inspector in Uttarakhand Gaganadeep Singh, who saved a young Muslim man from a communally charged mob.

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