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Mainstream, VOL LII No 9, February 22, 2014

‘You Murderer, Get Out From My Place!’

Saturday 22 February 2014, by Humra Quraishi

MUSINGS

Don’t want to post-mortem Rahul Gandhi’s interview given to a news channel; just about the crux—he came across as forthright and earnest. No, no moron! Nah, none of the flaws those hawks were trying to hound and pound him with. The only flaw was this—Rahul should have apologised for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, for hundreds were killed, with the state machinery not curbing the rioting. I was then residing in New Delhi and could see the rioting spreading. In fact, homes and business houses of the prominent Sikhs of this Capital city were marked and targeted and destroyed. It was apparent the cops were directly or indirectly ordered to stand as mute spectators and just about watch the destruction! It was sheer barbarism, with the state not controlling the rioting.

Butchery-cum-barbarism along the same strain took place in 2002 in Gujarat. In fact, music composer Vishal Dadlani’s tweet—stuck between a moron and a murderer—has brought to centre-stage the killings of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. And if I were to dwell some more on Dadlani’s tweet, I’d rather sit with a moron than with a murderer. At least I would sit alive with a moron! The murderer would first rape and then kill me and together with that circulate those conflicting bizarre theories! The murderer would simply pretend that he killed none or killed for self-protection! The murderer would whitewash those killings, camouflage those encounters by those masks and garbs of the day.

Also, don’t overlook the fact that the very word moron is used more along the strain of playful tactics. Don’t we keep snapping at each other with that occasional prefix ‘You moron...’? But, obviously a murderer is a murderer! There can be no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ attached to a man who had the entire pogrom conducted, directly or indirectly. In fact, in one of my earlier columns I did write what CPM leader Sitaram Yechury and a couple of other politicians had to say about Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 riots/pogrom in Gujarat. And the very aftermath of the 2002 pogrom continues to this day. Yes, even today hundreds of survivors are awaiting justice, sit affected and bypassed, sidelined from the mainstream.

I have interviewed children and men and women of the riot-affected regions of Gujarat. I have heard them recount absolutely nerve-racking descriptions of political goons unleashing terror—raping and pulling apart human forms, looting and burning homes and hutments.

More along the ‘murderer’ strain, whilst writing the two books with Khushwant Singh—Absolute Khushwant (Penguin) and The Good,
The Bad and The Ridiculous
(Rupa), I had asked Khushwant how he would react if Narendra Modi came calling. Of course, no one can enter Khushwant’s home unannounced, as there is this one-liner nailed close to the entrance—Please do not press the door-bell unless you are expected.

But, then, just in case Modi comes barging in...?

And to my query, there was this outburst from Khushwant Singh:

‘Well, if Modi tried to be here I’ll tell him—You murderer, get out from my place!’

Memory of a Brother ... 

On January 25, I attended a lunch hosted by the children of the late Raja Jaswant Singh, popularly called Rajaji. Justice Anil Dev Singh and Prabha Mehta invited their father’s close friends to celebrate his 100th birthday. Nostalgic it was, bringing to the fore some very touching memories, some of those moving turning-points.

The late Raja Jaswant Singh hailed from the western town of Mirpur in the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir State. He lost most of his family members at the hands of the Afghan raiders. His parents, a brother, two sisters, their husbands and several other close relatives were killed by Afghan raiders on October 27, 1947.

But even with this massive tragedy in the background, Raja Jaswant Singh had the strength of character to reach out to Muslims. He had reached out to me so movingly that it is difficult for me to wipe out my memory of him—I had written a critical review of one of his books on the Kashmir Valley. Soon after the review was published I saw him at one of the dinner receptions. I can still recollect my first reaction on spotting him was that he could accost me for being so critical of his book. But I was completely taken aback when he smiled, extended his hand in genuine friendship and said: ‘Sister, thank you for pointing out those errors. Your criticism will definitely help me in the second edition of this book. Let’s make sure we keep in touch. I have made you my sister...’

And in keeping with those words he visited my home that year during Raksha Bandhan, with a rakhi and some sweets and a sari. I was more than touched. I tied that thread on his frail wrist, as I was to every year that followed... till he died about a decade back, at the age of 88.

Perhaps, he will be remembered by others because he held a series of important positions. He was appointed the Special Public Prosecutor when Sheikh Abdullah was tried and convicted for sedition and conspiracy. Later he became the Advocate General of J&K from 1956 to 1967, and then in 1975, the Chief Justice of that State, before he became a judge of the Supreme Court of India. But I will always remember him as a brother who, having lost so much in his life, did not turn bitter or cynical or vengeful. On the contrary whenever I tried to bring up the topic of 1947 he would look lost in nostalgia and although his eyes would moisten, he would not say a word. He seemed to have internalised that pain, that sorrow.