February 12, 2017

India: A time to seek ‘closure’ of 1984 . . . (Harish Khare)

The Tribune - Feb 12, 2017

A time to seek ‘closure’ of 1984…

Harish Khare   

Between now and March 11 is perhaps the only time when it is possible to talk about the politics of justice for the 1984 anti-Sikh riot victims. At least till March 11, Punjab is in a pleasant state of a very agreeable limbo because the professional politicians are on a forced vacation. They know their exertions would have no consequence or value whatsoever. It is time to ask the question as to how long the professional politician would prevent a 'closure' on this painful episode in the history of the Sikhs, Punjab and India.  The immediate provocation for this thought is the newspapers’ report of last Friday (10th). According to a report of The Tribune, the CBI wants Jagdish Tytler to undertake a lie-detection test in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots’ case. After 33 years! What a farce, what travesty of justice, what a mockery of the so-called investigation by a so-called premier investigative agency! That moment in 1984 was a horrific shame. It certainly violated then — and it violates now — our collective sense of fairness and justice that so many innocent people should have lost their lives and honour. On the political front, the Congress party has been electorally punished many times over since 1984. In 2005, a Prime Minister had offered an apology in Parliament. Yet, no ‘closure’ is permitted.  If the insistence is that those ‘guilty’ should be punished, then after thirty years, it is fair to ask a question: why have we failed to punish them? The convenient accusation is that the likes of Jagdish Tytler have been able to frustrate and sabotage the processes of justice. But surely, we do know that since 1984, we have had some non-Congress governments, at the centre and in the state. And, in fact, so many commissions of inquiry have been announced and instituted. Yet, none has secured ‘justice’ for the victims. We also do know that periodically, politicians have helped themselves to a few brownie points with the Sikh voters.  The great hypocrisy is that everyone knows what the game is all about. Instead of making a sincere effort to locate collective responsibility for a historic wrong, the search for ‘justice’ has been reduced to a political argument — to be brushed up and brandished at election for partisans purposes.  No one has ever proposed in concrete terms what kind of ‘justice’ would be a satisfactory outcome and would invite a ‘closure.’ Journalists and historians, too, have got ensnared in the politicians’ game. On the eve of every Lok Sabha election, a few ‘investigative’ journalists come up with ‘new evidence.’ It has suited the politicians — the Akali Dal and other outfits — to keep demanding ‘justice’ for the ‘victims.’ The Akali Dal finds it a good stick to beat the Congress with. But, that is a game others have learnt to play. Newer outfits keep accusing the Akali leaders of failing to get ‘justice’ for the victims.  Individual lawyers, the Phoolkas of this world, have made a career — and, now an electoral career — out of this less than honest quest for ‘justice.’ And, the busybodies in North America have given a dangerous twist to this whole ‘injustice’ business.  In the process, a grave damage has got inflicted on entire Punjab — including the vast majority in the Sikh community itself. The politics of victimhood has allowed the Akali Dal and its ally, the BJP, to become indifferent to the call of good governance.  An obscure journalist shoots to fame because he throws a shoe at the Home Minister of India in the name of the ‘1984 riot victims’. It would be a wonderful comeuppance for the Akalis if that same gentleman is able to cook the Badals’ goose in Lambi.  A few days ago, when I was in Deoband (in Saharanpur district of western Uttar Pradesh), I got a chance to meet Haseeb Siddiqui, general manager of the Muslim Fund Trust, a kind of bank for the poor, an institution that practises the Islamic stipulation of not charging interest on loans given. This institution has been at it since 1961 and Janab Haseeb Siddiqui was there at the very start and continues to preside over it even at the age of 78, with an undiminished clarity of purpose. Siddiqui sahib is a city elder. He is associated with many schools, an eye hospital, a library and some training centres. With great pride, he told me that he had only a pen and nothing else when it was decided to set up a banking outfit, based on Islamic tenets, and since then, sheer dedication and faith have helped him steer the expansion and consolidation of this ‘fund trust.’ It is vibrant evidence of the civil society and its potential to fill the gaps left unattended by the state. What I found rather engaging about visiting the Muslim Fund Trust and meeting its general manager was a sense of serenity, an unperturbed sense of direction. Even though he wore traditional attire, there was nothing stereotypical about him. A modern, practical mind at work.  A horrific, horrific death has been reported from Sector 9 of Chandigarh. When I came to this city about eighteen months ago, I was told that Sector 9 was the last bastion of civilisation, it was an enclave of superiority and sophistication. It certainly has the reputation of being the most affluent part of City Beautiful. And, now we learn of this horrible death, a violent death, in the sector involving a luxury car and a cast of characters that can only be called ‘raeeszadas.’ It is of course deeply disappointing that the police have been seen dragging their feet because the accused happen to be ‘well connected.’ The police ‘moved’ only because the victim’s family was equally well connected and was able to bring to bear its own clout. This utterly violent death tells us only one thing: something is going horribly wrong in our society. We are becoming too angry, too edgy, too prone to giving offence and equally prone to taking offence. Our popular culture — films, television, pop singers — promotes a roughness in manners and morals. The counterpoise is missing. For an ancient society that takes inordinate pride in its civilisational resilience, the role models are few and far between. The schools are no longer imparting attitudes and values of moral rectitude. Even religious leaders have become petty entrepreneurs, hawking their wares and wisdom in the marketplace. The advertisers are vacuum-cleaning all noble values and healthy sentiments of their meaning by associating them with this or that product. There is a new feel of violence in the air. The Prime Minister is leading the way. Each day, he injects a note of aggression in his words and, what is more, he invites all of us to feel good about it. This daily exhibition of violent words has become the ‘new normal.’ Then, we have the wonderful blessing called the social media. We abuse and invite abuse and feel fully fulfilled being abusive. The anonymity allows us to be uncouth and uncivilised. History bears witness to a simple fact: violence in words invariably leads to violence in deeds, in the streets. I am afraid, soon we shall see violence in our Parliament.  LAST week I found myself in Deoband, the seat of the great Darul Uloom. Deoband suddenly brings you face-to-face with the diversity of Indian culture. I was there to try to make some sense of the electoral chemistry being cooked up; it was imperative that I should seek out influential voices in the town. The only problem was that the streets were too narrow for our SUV. Though the weather was fine, walking from one interlocutor to another would have been too time-consuming. Our local host had a solution: we pillion-ride with him on his motor-bike. So, it came about that I found myself having to ride a bike after nearly thirty years.  It was a hair-raising experience. Three of us, without helmets; it was nerve-wrecking. All the associations came flooding to mind. Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Bob Dylan crashing his motorbike. For those fleeting minutes I tried to practise what the Zen practitioners call ‘mindfulness.’ Nothing worked.  What does work is a bracing drink of hot, piping coffee. Try it.