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Before breaking into a song

Dawn 2018-04-17 06:56:27
    The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

    YET again they were singing and reciting Faiz. Elsewhere they perhaps do the same with Sri Sri, Kazi Nazrul, Pash, Robin Ngangom or other revolutionary versifiers in different Indian languages.

    An announcement at the Delhi meeting said there could be no genuine protest without Faiz, which is true. There is hardly a meeting of left or liberal citizens in Delhi where the overused muse does not make the mandatory appearance. Luckily, he has not yet been spotted by India’s right wing although he gets sometimes quoted in a bad budget speech. The Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan has reportedly gained better success by co-opting him.

    It is a fact that Faiz had introduced human volition in his remedy for ending tyranny. Mir and Shelley had merely described the inevitability of the tyrant’s passing. “Jis sar ko ghuroor aaj hai ya’n tajvari ka/ Kal uspe yan’hi shor hai phir nohagari ka” by Mir, and Ozymandias by Shelley, both speak of the inevitable fall of mighty rulers. Faiz too promised change, but his inevitability leaned on crowds who would rip the crowns from the heads of despicable rulers.

    But the crowds need a strategy, and plenty of luck, to get where they want to be. Or are we to assume that folks who put the box of exploding mangoes, if that is what happened, in Ziaul Haq’s plane, were inspired by Iqbal Bano’s rendition of Hum dekhenge?

    The tribal communities in India are fighting a desperate battle for survival against a predatory state backed by big money.

    So they go on and on. Sometimes they would recite Khusro too, and occasionally Jalib or even Sahir. Seldom do they acknowledge that if reciting energetic poetry could help anything, Pakistan would be a liberated zone. If singing Khusro’s eclectic poetry had the magic it is credited with, there would perhaps be no need for Pakistan. There would be a very different India. If the progressive poets had their way there would be a Soviet Socialist Republic of Indian States, including the four in Pakistan. Bangladesh would be the cheerleader.

    One day, after the Gujarat carnage in 2002, I joined a protest at Delhi’s India Gate against the mass murder under Narendra Modi’s watch. One young qawwal was singing Chhaap tilak sab chhini, Amir Khusro’s overspent qawwali. But enough of my gripe. Everyone who feels unequal to the challenge, as some like me with the enormity of fascism looming over India, must be allowed to ventilate their black moments before they can get on with the job of figuring a way out.

    In a more prosaic vein, the Delhi meeting was called to take stock of the political drift that has made it possible for rapists of little girls to win the protection of the Indian state, a right-wing Indian state, let us be clear. Eight-year-old Asifa was brutally murdered after her gang rape in a temple in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir in January. Two BJP ministers and an entire corpus of lawyers among others opposed a closer investigation.

    In Uttar Pradesh, the other BJP-ruled state where an unidentified girl was raped allegedly by the party’s MLA and his brothers last year, the victim’s father was thrashed for taking the case to the chief minister’s residence. The father died last week in police custody. Prime Minister Modi has spoken finally. The two ministers have resigned and the MLA has been locked up. But the poison has not stopped spreading.

    The meeting ended with important interventions by Asifa’s strong-willed lawyer Deepika Rajawat. She underscored her powerful identity as a “Kashmiri Pandit married to a Rajput army officer” and is bravely fighting Asifa’s case amid threats to her and her five-year old daughter. Talib Husain has worked for the rights of his tribal community of Bakarwals, the nomadic shepherds, Asifa’s people. He spoke in chiselled Urdu but with damaged vocal chords, result of a murderous assault by right-wing thugs. It’s a tribute to his grit that he has refused to be cowed by the death threats.

    Husain spelled out the problems his nomadic community faces. They suffer from discrimination no matter which party is ruling. There was a surge of discomfort among a few Congress party sympathisers in the audience who were enthused by Rahul Gandhi’s holding of a candlelight vigil against the Unnao and Kathua rapes, the previous night. According to Husain, 40 per cent of the Hindutva campaigners in Jammu who came out against the probe into Asifa’s death comprised Congress supporters. Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad has since dissociated himself with his election agent who was named as a leader of the Hindutva marches. What will Rahul Gandhi do with the rest?

    Husain’s testimony about the plight of the Bakarwal community and how they are sought to be evicted from their natural land rights as tribespeople places Asifa’s rape and torture alongside the unspeakable sexual brutality inflicted on Soni Sori in Chhattisgarh and the rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama in Manipur. The tribal communities in India are fighting a desperate battle for survival against a predatory state backed by big money. All three rapes were, among other factors, part of a strategy to clear the way for state-backed plunder of their virgin land. Of course, Asifa’s identity as a Muslim child would have also come into play against her in the meadows of Kathua.

    The story out of Unnao is less straightforward, not only because it is wrapped in more complex caste politics, but also because its main villain, the Thakur caste MLA, has won elections from all the political parties that one looks to for support against the Hindutva surge. Apart from sharing his caste privileges with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the MLA has won elections as a candidate of Dalit party of Mayawati as well as her rival-turned-ally Akhilesh Singh’s party of middle-caste peasants. And both are vital to defeating Mr Modi in 2019. What would Faiz make of that?

    The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

    Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2018