Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2009 > September 2009 > Fake Encounters in Gujarat, Khushwant Singh on Partition

Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 40, September 19, 2009

Fake Encounters in Gujarat, Khushwant Singh on Partition

Monday 21 September 2009, by Humra Quraishi

I was all set to write on the two recently published books on the Kashmir Valley—In The Valley of Mist by Justine Hardy (Rider-Random House) and the other one titled, Jammu and Kashmir—Cold War and the West by D.N. Panigrahi (Routledge, Francis and Taylor Group)—but just as I was settling down, trickled in those reports of the fake encounter death of Ishrat Jahan. She was killed five years ago along with three others, after being branded terrorists, supposedly on way to kill the Gujarat Chief Minister. It took five long years and an upright Magistrate to tell us that she was an innocent girl, who had been gunned down in that treacherous way because the politician-police-babu nexus indulged in yet another round of ‘terrorist’ killings …yet another round of the state terrorising its people.

Perhaps, they wanted to show the very effectiveness of the police functioning by gunning down more and some more human forms! Muslim names and surnames fit the already hyped notions of who-could-be-potential terrorists. And this middle class girl was killed by the same force which is said to be there to protect! Protect whom? Just about that bunch of those VVIPs and the so-called rulers of their day? What about the rest of us, ordinary people like you and me?

This time those one-liners won’t do. No, it’s not enough to simply state that that encounter was fake. The fact is that Ishrat Jahan has been killed by state functionaries. And along with her those three others also killed under those garbs in vogue. And along with them their families … killed for times to come. Killed indirectly, in more ways than one …terrorised by the state. So mere condolence sessions and hollow words and panel discussions won’t do. The families of these slain have to be compensated by the government of the day.

The Government of India has to do the needful. After all, it has created Commissions and Ministries to look after the disadvantaged. And not to bypass the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. Let it bring about some level of relief to the affected families of these youngsters whom we decided to kill. In his next speech the Prime Minister could add more to that rather effective one-liner from him—“no one shall go hungry to bed …” This fits in well in these drought-ridden times. And if only he could add more to it, along the same strain—no one will get away with fake encounter killings …

Also, looms large another factor. Who has empowered the police to kill? Why are encounter killings on the rise? As the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit priest, Father Cedric Prakash, informs, this is just the tip of the iceberg …Between October 2002 and April 2006, there have been at least 21 fake encounters in Gujarat. …Two more families of extra-judicial killings now demand justice. The mother of Mahendra Jadhav and the widow of Jaffer Quasim—victims of illegal bullets and torture by the Gujarat Police now demand justice.

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Last week when I met Khushwant Singh I‘d asked him what he thought about Jaswant Singh’s book on India’s Partition and the role played by Jinnah and Nehru. And this is what he told me:

Jaswant’s book has nothing new to say … I have gone through it and except for some pictures which I hadn’t seen before, there’s nothing new at all…The country was never ever integrated…no real meeting of hearts between Hindus and Muslims…they were friends but mostly on superficial levels and there was no real intermingling, no inter-community marriages taking place …Of course, Jinnah cashed on the fact that the Muslims were apprehensive of living in a Hindu majority state …Partition was inevitable, it had to take place, but the only thing is that it could have taken place without so much of violence and bloodshed. It was the bloodiest exchange—with one million killed and ten million rendered homeless ….I think Pandit Nehru nor Jinnah never ever visualised that this level of violence would take place. In fact both of them seemed to live in a dream world of their own—Jinnah had even hoped that he would get back to Bombay and live in his house there. …

The only person who did seem to comprehend the very seriousness of Partition and all that could follow was Mahatma Gandhi. He did not take part in any of the independence celebrations … he‘d kept quiet and even went on fast, forcing Patel and Nehru to give the promised money share to the new country—Pakistan…But, even Mahatma Gandhi couldn’t have prevented Partition …it was impossible for anyone to halt it…

And on his own experiences during that phase Khushwant told me:

From March (of 1947) the movement had begun, in the sense communities had already started going to and fro and by April riots had broken out and by August it was a full fledged movement…I was in Lahore till about the 6 or 7 August. Stayed on, though there was an apparent air of tension. Then, one day the CID chief—a British, Chris Everett—came over and told me that it is dangerous for me to stay there any longer. So I sent the children to Kasauli to be with their maternal grandparents and my wife and I decided to leave for Delhi …On the way, as we were heading towards the railway station with a police escort, we met Manzur Qadir and I handed him the keys of our home …we were sure that once the tension settled down we’d get back, but that was not to be … In fact, we first reached Kasauli and then from there I drove to Delhi and I could feel that things were not quite okay... there was not a soul to be sighted… I drove non-stop, carrying a pistol with me but didn’t even know how to fire the damn thing …

Of course, we could never go back to our home in Lahore …And when we realised this, Manzur Qadir took pains to send across all my household things—yes, all things which included half-empty whisky bottles… He had sent them across the border, to one Bhagwan Das—Sessions Judge at Ferozepur. This man (Bhagwan Das) drank all the whisky but sent ahead furniture and other items…

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