Friday, November 7, 2014

Gopal Gandhi - Children’s Day in Chattergam

The nation has not quite “absorbed” the Nobel Peace Prize to an Indian for his work on children’s rights.Children across the country have only just taken solemn pledges for national unity, as have grown-ups. They have stood, they have run, they have written, they have spoken, they have sung for unity in the name of Sardar Patel.

In about a week, the nation will celebrate Children’s Day, Bal Divas, extra special this year because it is the 125th birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru. He loved children, all children. And the crackle of army bullets kills two schoolboys in Chattergam near Srinagar at this precise moment. It is Muharram time, it has to be a season of mourning.

We will never fully know what happened to those two boys, Faisal and Mehrajuddin, out on a Muharram-related errand, driving at some frenzied speed to escape the wrath of the owner of a vehicle they had scraped. But it will never be forgotten by the people of that Valley of Tears. An inquiry has been ordered. The guilty, we are assured, will be punished. 

But who are “the guilty”? The army, which has been told, tutored, trained to act with alacrity? The state government, which is now “lame duck”? The “Centre”, which, regardless of who is in power, remains unmoving and unmoved by what is happening there? Guilt is a fugitive in Kashmir, justice, a nomad. But there is such a thing as the limit. And with the slaying of these two boys, the limit of insecurity in Kashmir has been reached. It has been crossed. 

I cannot claim to speak for Sardar Patel’s legacy. That has suddenly discovered many owners. But this I can say from “general knowledge”. Had this happened under his watch, he would have put “the guilty” through the shredder. No official statements, certainly not long ones; no media one-liners either. There would have been action, rapid action, what is called ad interim action, with inquiries to follow. And that action would have included a personal reaching out to the two stricken families. 

Sardar Patel, as home minister, had a grandson the age of these two boys. He would have known and felt in the pulse of his being what has happened to those families and to families in mourning with them in Kashmir. I cannot claim to speak for Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy either. That has had many patent-holders, though some of them would rather have that fact brushed under the carpet right now. But this I can say from “general knowledge”: Pandit Nehru would have flown into a rage, a righteous rage, using all of his Hindustani, his Hindi, his English, and sent his daughter to meet the stricken families ahead of doing so himself. He had, as prime minister, two grandsons almost this age and would have known what Faisal and Mehrajuddin’s families were going through. 

Let me return to “who is guilty?” Let those who are speak. Let others not point fingers. Let them self-identify. And let them make a sacrifice. Let them resign. What is a job compared to a life that has been lost? Not one but two If one, just one, officer, soldier, bureaucrat, politician, MLA, MP or minister says “I am responsible”, and quitting his office says, “I should be punished according to the law”, there would be a glimmer of justice done. 

Let one, just one, such person say and do that. Firemen perish extinguishing flames, soldiers die in battle unflinchingly, if also more often needlessly and tragically. We know how policemen and officers died battling terror in Delhi outside Parliament House, in Mumbai outside the sites penetrated by terrorists. Cannot, should not, someone resign from office over this shameful event? 

Such an act of atonement may not douse the fire of deprivation burning in the two homes. But it may help it from raging higher and longer. But more, it will tell us, as a people, that unity is not about speaking, singing and running alone. It is about doing, too. Also, that it is not about suzerainty, sovereignty and national pride. It is about simple humanity, about plain hamdardi. Guilt can be established. Guilt can be punished. But guilt can also be owned. Responsibility, a “higher” level of guilt, can be owned even more. And thereby sublimated.