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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 12, New Delhi, March 7, 2020

A Nation that Segregates and Kills the Less Privileged

Monday 9 March 2020

by Sukumaran C.V.

In the first week of September 2017, I was in Gandhinagar with my JNU friend who is an Assistant Professor at the Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar. He picked me up from the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport, Ahmedabad and while travelling through the city, I noticed a plastic mat was draped as a wall for a long stretch preventing our view beyond it and I asked my friend what was beyond the mat wall. He replied that it is a slum and it was ‘matt-walled’ in order to prevent its view from the sight of the Japanese PM Shinzo Abe who would arrive in Ahmedabad the next week.

When I visited Sabarmati Ashram and the medieval Sidi Saiyyed mosque, they were getting a facelift and my friend told me that they were beautified because the Japanese PM was scheduled to visit both the mosque and the Ashram.

When I read the news of the wall being built to block Mr Trump’s sight from a slum area along his route from the airport to Motera Stadium, I WhatsApped my friend and asked about it. He replied that it is the same colony that was hidden by a temporary mat wall in 2017, now being hidden by a permanent wall.

There have always been abstract walls in India, especially since Dr Manmohan Singh started the servile corporate economic policies—under the sweet name called Liberalisation in 1991—between the poor and the rich. But the Ahmedabad wall is the first instance of the abstract metamorphosing into the concrete. India is quite incredibly incredible!

Aren’t those people, whose presence is now hidden by a permanent wall, Indians? Can a democracy hide the underprivileged people from the sight of the VIPs who come from other democratic nations? Do those who rule the people by garnering these same people’s votes have the right to erect walls to hide their very existence from the President or Prime Minister of another nation? When elections come, won’t these people who erect walls to hide the slums go to these slums asking for the votes?

Huge amounts were spent to beautify the cities which Mr Trump visited. It is reported that 14,000 litres of water was released into the Yamuna in front of Taj Mahal to enable Mr Trump to see the monument in a stench-free atmosphere. Yamuna and all the rivers should be stench-free. But is pumping water into the rivers the way to make them stench-free? Why don’t we stop making our rivers sewers? Are only the persons like Mr Trump entitled to see Taj Mahal without having inhaled the stench the people of India are forced to inhale everywhere in the so-called Swachh Bharat?

If you can spend huge amounts to pump water into rivers and to beautify the cities for the road-show of VVIPs like Trump and Modi and for useless events like Namaste Trump, why can’t you spend anything to provide the slum dwellers with better living conditions? When you spend Rs 700 crores to build the Motera stadium, can’t you spend at least Rs 7 crores to ameliorate the pathetic living conditions of the slum dwellers instead of insulting them by building walls to hide their very existence? When you spend Rs 2989 crores to build a Statue of Unity, why don’t you spend at least Rs 200 crores to eradicate poverty and illiteracy to make the people really united?

India is the nation of Gandhi, the apostle of nonviolence, who said that “I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel it is their country, an India in which there shall be no high class and low class of people.” Can the walls that are erected to hide the very existence of the poorest help them feel it is their country? When the Father of the Nation sees the walls that have been erected between the rich and the poor in his country for whose freedom he sacrificed his life, he will be more pained than the pain the bullets of Godse inflicted on him. If the Mahatma sees the walls that are erected to hide the existence of the lesser beings of his nation, he will realise that the Swadeshi rulers are more alien than the real alien rulers who were made to quit India in 1947.

The curse of India is that our politicians/rulers, whether they belong to the Left or the Right, praise Gandhi in words and kill him in deeds.

The Ahmedabad wall reminds me of the Turkman Gate massacre during the Emergency (April 18, 1976) as a result of the demolition drive launched by Sanjay Gandhi to cleanse Delhi of its slums. When the residents of the Turkman Gate were asked to leave the colony, they refused and the police opened fire at the protesting residents and they were even run over by bulldozers. Still it is not really known how many people were massacred as the press was not allowed to cover the incident. The government, that was Indira Gandhi and her son, ordered the newspapers not to publish the news about the massacre. And Indians came to know about the massacre through the foreign media!

John Dayal and Ajoy Bose write in their book For Reasons of State: Delhi Under the Emergency: “The 16 bulldozers kept on moving. They did not stop that night, nor the next day or night. In fact the bulldozers worked round the clock till April 22, till they had decimated all signs of life as well as death in Turkman Gate.

“The rubble was scooped up into trucks and thrown behind the Ring Road every day where buzzards and jackals were seen rummaging through the rubble. Only the stink of stale meat which hung for days together over the thrown rubble remained to tell the story of the life and death struggle of the people of Turkman Gate.”

After Indira Gandhi was ousted from power in March 1977, the Janata Party Government appointed the Shah Commission to inquire about the Turkman Gate massacre. The Commission indicted many bureaucrats and Congressmen like Pranab Mukherjee. “The report was particularly scathing of Indira Gandhi, her son Sanjay Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee, Bansi Lal, Kamal Nath and officers belonging to civil services who helped Sanjay Gandhi.”

After Indira Gandhi returned to power in January 1980, she tried to destroy every single copy of the Shah Commission report and she virtually succeeded in her mission. And we know how prosperous were the political careers of people like Mukherjee, Bansi Lal and Kamal Nath. (Era Sezhiyan published Shah Commission Report: Lost, and Regained in 2011.)

The Modi era of India seems to be marked by continuous deaths of the citizens on the streets. First it was street lynchings; then people died standing in queues as a result of demonetisation. Then came the CAA and people started to be killed on the streets of UP. Now it has virtually become communal riots in Delhi. India has been scourged by communal riots in British era as a result of their divide and rule policy. The lack of unity among the Indians as a nation resulted in the greatest tragedy in the history of the sub-continent—the Partition of India. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was the greatest opponent of Jinnah’s two-nation theory and fought the Partition of India tooth and nail until the last moment, said in a statement he issued, as the President of the Indian National Congress, on April 15, 1946: “I have considered from every possible point of view the scheme of Pakistan as formulated by the Muslim League. As an Indian I have examined its implications for the future of India as a whole. As a Muslim I have examined its likely effects upon the fortunes of Muslims of India. Considering the scheme in all its aspects I have come to the conclusion that it is harmful not only for India as a whole but for Muslims in particular. And in fact it creates more problems than it solves....Two states confronting one another, offer no solution of the problem of one another’s minorities, but only lead to retribution and reprisals by introducing a system of mutual hostages.” (Quoted from his autobiography India Wins Freedom)

We have been witnessing the retribution and reprisals of the system of mutual hostages the Partition of India permanently created in 1947, ever since. Delhi 2020 is its latest manifestation. As long as the religious, sectarian and exclusive politics rule the roost, India will not stop witnessing people dying on the streets.

As the communal tension in India is having a larger historic context, it can’t be solved nationally. When an untoward incident happens in India, its repercussions are felt in the villages of Bangladesh (and Pakistan) as described by Taslima Nasrin in her novel Lajja written in the backdrop of the Babri Masjid demolition. The best method to solve the communal hatred the Indian subcontinent chronically experiences ever since the Partition of India is to form a federation of the sibling nations—India, Pakistan and Bangladesh—each nation committing to the safety of the religious minorities in it. Such a mechanism may help the systematic disintegration of the religious intolerance in each sibling nation and strengthen the secular democracy that is throttled in India today, and has never been allowed to flourish in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

A former JNU student, the author is now working as a senior clerk in the Kerala State Government Service.

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