The Batla House encounter at Jamia Nagar in the Capital has raised a few fundamental questions about Indian democracy, its health and its ability to resolve conflicts on its own.
The most important players in the whole episode are the media and the government. The ‘Other’, in this case the Muslim community, is yet to speak up. But let us accept one truth: the media and the government are on the same side. Muslims are alone, on the other side of the divide.
Like earlier blasts and post-blast situations, the media deserves criticism. It is carrying out an ignorance-tinged subtle public campaign that will finally create an environment for punishment even before the suspects are proved guilty. It seems it has not learnt from the Aarushi Talwar case where the UP police and CBI gave contradictory comments. The case remains unresolved but the hurt caused to Aarushi’s parents remains unhealed and the case remains a mystery. The media thrives on fictions. And it loves terror as it is also a fiction.
The media can justify its love for terror as this is the biggest fiction right now. No one knows the exact definition of terror. No one wants the terrorist tag but every one likes to own a bit of terror. We all hide little terrorists within ourselves like Matrushka dolls. In this world of hidden dolls, finding a terrorist is a hard business. Nevertheless, terrorism has not stopped. It has become ruthless, indiscriminate, and in consequence pointless.
Let us look at Batla House on last Friday morning (September 19). Here the top police officials send their “best guy” in to a potential shootout assignment without flak jackets. Then they send the flak jacketed cops with space-age weapons. But they forget to give them space-age slippers. A few of them turn up in bathroom slippers and at least one special cop at Batla House appeared in a pair of bedroom pyjamas! Such actions are suitable for tele drama. But are they also meant for law enforcement authorities? Especially, after the “best guy” Mohan Chand Sharma dies of gun shots as he was not wearing the flak jacket?
Perhaps the answer can be left to the reader. The role of the police will be questioned many times in the coming days as this is one publicly funded institution with least credibility and almost zero accountability.
The Delhi Police, a great spinner of fictions, threw up more surprises. They took away four suspects in front of dozens of journalists at L-18, in Batla House. But next day, the media reported that only one was captured from house no L-18. That lies could be spun despite the presence of the media and the government machinery proves competence of both the media and the police.
A day later, the cops caught additional criminals after some exciting and perhaps highly macho operation, from some places in Delhi! Some more stories were filed and some more newsprints were spent. It is indeed interesting when the cops in Delhi forget their catches and deliver new terrorists day after day. Is it too difficult to figure out where did the additional guys of Batla House go last Saturday (September 20)? Perhaps there is a reserve of terrorists somewhere out there and the cops can “catch” as many terrorists as they want as and when they want.
In contemporary India, lies do not come as bare facts. That would be dangerous. They are rolled out in grand fictional forms. The police, the home ministry, the media are all spinning tales that suit themselves. The people finally are left to deal with the Rashomon moment. But that is not enough. Every one has his own Batla House story.
DELHI’S cops have done their bit to make the catch from Batla House thrilling. The Friday catch was showcased in black masks. Thankfully, black and white are neutral colours as far as terrorism goes. But the next three guys they captured were brought before the media in three new, crisp, keffiayas. Keffiayas or the Arab scarf was popularised by Yasser Arafat who covered his bald head with a twist of keffiaya that blended Arab machismo with Che Guevera-type anti-imperialism. Over the years it has been associated with many things. The chequered scarf was known as an accompaniment of Arab male, revolutionary etc. Lately, it is associated with the Arab-Muslim identity. In a black or white mask, religious identity can not be described. The red-white keffiayas made it clear that the three were at least “Muslim” terrorists. Covering the faces of these young men with keffiayas is the worst thing that the cops have done to their nation. Cops are not expected to play politics. They are expected to produce evidence before the court of law to nail the suspect. Yet no one questions why they use the media to generate public opinion against those who are already viewed as suspects in the society.
But do not blame the cops. These people are given arms to protect the poor in the poverty-struck Indian society. But does the young constable get enough motivation to fight? Financially, he is at the bottom of the social order. That deprivation sort of pre-programmes himself to act out the preposterous fictions India is known for. Cops, like Ekta Kapoor, are also a great narrator of fictions these days. Maybe someone among them will win the Booker Prize one day for telling the most thrilling modern crime fiction. Maybe Booker should open itself up to the crime genre sooner than later. The likes of the Police Commissioners and Inspectors and all those powerful guys in khaki will have a chance of literary fame then.
The cops tell fictions of the grand nature. But for a moment, let us visit the hospitals where the terror victims are taken. Jaipur hospital or Delhi hospitals are such that a victim of terror will be further terrorised. The crowd, the macabre display of the dead and the dying, the look of exhaustion on the face of the waiting in interminable queues, and the sweat, the tired legs and more are such that a terror victim though taken to the ‘Emergency’ section, will in all possibility feel nothing else but greater terror. Needless to say, many survivors complain of the shabby treatment they receive in such hospitals.
What is the benefit of life, reason, rationality in a society, where the complicit media, the creative cops, and the medical service prefer to narrate fictions? The hard fact is that very soon we shall be hit by the biggest terrorist of all: The lies at the centre of these fictions.
While the law and order forces are dealing with the terrorists, one needs to remember that terrorism has to be rooted out and that can happen if they go for its roots. That cannot happen as long as they revel in fictions of their own making. No one has any credibility in the farce over terrorism. The cops, despite the sacrifice of M.C. Sharma, the media, despite its annual awards for the best ‘story’, and the hospital sector, despite its penchant for “health parks”, cannot give us the truth about the cause of terrorism as it unfurls its tentacles in the heart of this land. Is it a sign of things to come when Incredible India will be incredibly incapable of handling its own problems? Perhaps that is a weakness that will not be just a fiction, but a hard hitting fact. But in a society where one likes to tell fictions, such a possibility cannot be discounted. The choice is India’s own. The civil society has to wake up to this challenge before a complicit media, and its cohorts in khaki surrender the truth-telling machinery to the fiction-selling counters.
Like a persistent woodpecker, terror has hit India repeatedly and brought down the shell that covers its weakness, and exposes its hollow claims of being a great democracy. All the vital forces of a democracy like the media and the tax-run government, that are supposed to protect citizens and build bridges between them, have turned on the same citizen, either in the name of religious terrorism, or violent revolution, something similar. The fact is terrorism or violent responses are aimed to destabilise the pluralist society. But they per force fail to disturb the core of the Indian project. But thanks to the incompetent handling that alienates communities and leaves the youth angry to cause further mayhem at an unspecified future, anti-terror operations and the current sentiments in the mainstream media seem poised to achieve exactly that goal. As already pointed out, in such a scenario, it is difficult to say who is a greater terror.