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Mainstream Weekly, VOL LVI No 18 New Delhi April 21, 2018

How Gandhi led Niranjan Takle to the Judge Loya Story

Sunday 22 April 2018

At a commemorative meeting in Mumbai the journalist who did the story for Caravan talks about how Loya’s family decided that he should be the one to tell their story.

by Jyoti Punwani

Shortly before independence there was a journalist who was killed trying to save lives during a communal riot. In recent years there have been efforts to commemorate Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, and this year’s memorial meeting in Mumbai, organised by the Mumbai Sarvodaya Mandal and the Janmukti Sangharsh Vahini, ended up connecting some seemingly unrelated dots.

One of the invited speakers was an unassuming middle-aged journalist, a believer in Gandhi’s ideas, recently made famous by his story in Caravan on the mystery surrounding the death of Judge Loya, who was hearing the Sohrabbudin Sheikh case. Niranjan Takle spoke on the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi, communalism, and of how he came upon the Judge Loya story, back in 2015.

It fell into his lap, but Takle didn’t immediately set off to work on it.

And here is how it fell into only his lap.

In 2015, Takle undertook an unusual train journey. He followed the footsteps of Gandhi’s yatra 100 years ago. Soon after arriving in India from South Africa, Gandhi had undertaken a train journey in a Third Class compartment to understand the problems of the poor.

Takle followed Gandhi’s route, also travelling 14,432 kms in the general compartment, to under-stand how India had changed in the last 100 years, and whether Gandhi was still relevant.

Speaking at the meeting held last month Takle recalled finding many instances to show that Gandhi’s ideas remained relevant. He quoted a 27-year-old mason he met on the train, who said: “Earlier, they would hesitate, but today, many openly praise Gandhi’s killer. Yet, no one has had the guts to name his son Nathuram. When that name becomes common, we will know that Gandhi is dead.’’

He also recounted another instance wherein a Hindu mother and daughter had run out of water and couldn’t get off the packed train to refill their bottles. At 3 am, a Muslim youth woke them up to tell them he had got the water for them.

“I saw the real India on that journey,” he said, “And I realised that the poor are really secular. Because they need to be. They are dependent on one another for their daily needs. When your income increases and you stop depending on others, arrogance and isolation creeps in.”

Some weeks after his train journey, Takle was narrating to a friend his experiences and how much he had learnt from it. He was in the restaurant of a Pune hotel, where he was staying for a few days. The next day, a young girl visited him in the hotel. Introducing herself as Nupur Biyani, she told him her family had been looking for a journalist for a long time. After overhearing his conversation, she felt he was the one who could write their story. She then proceeded to tell him about what had happened to her uncle, Judge Loya.

But, recalled Takle, 80 per cent of her story was hearsay. Only 20 per cent was what the judge had himself told her. He needed to speak to her mother to get a more authentic account. That’s how he met Anuradha Biyani, sister of the judge.

Takle then went to meet Loya’s father. There, he met Anuj, the judge’s 18-year-old son. He asked him what he was doing, his grandfather replied that he was studying law. Where, asked Takle. Again, the grandfather replied. Why doesn’t the boy speak, asked Takle. “Because he has lost faith in everything after his father’s death,’’ replied the grandfather. “He no longer believes in the government, in courts, not even in the media. He doesn’t talk to anyone.’’

Takle left the house in a turmoil, and called up his 19-year-old daughter. “I asked her, can you explain to me how an 18-year-old can stop talking to anyone because he has lost faith? How can a teenager live like that?’’ Her reply is what finally prompted him to investigate the suspicious death of Judge Loya in earnest. She told him: “If he has stopped talking, what can you do for him? Can you restore his faith in your profession at least?”

“My profession was what fed and educated my daughter,’’ said Takle. “I wanted her to have faith in my profession at least.’’

Today, said Takle, his phones are tapped and he never gets a mail marked ”Unread’’, all his mails are read before he can read them. But his daughter is proud of him.

Despite this harassment, he felt the constant talk these days about “an atmosphere of fear’’ is exaggerated. “The more we talk about it, the more it multiplies,’’ he said.

Among the many criticisms Takle and the Caravan, which published his story, received for it, was that it was timed to influence the Gujarat elections. So they released the story only partially, he said. He continues to work on it, and many instalments are still to come.

From his talk, Takle’s strong feelings for Gandhi came through. He pointed out that when Modi and his Cabinet bowed before Veer Savarkar’s portrait in Parliament, they perforce had to turn their backs on Gandhi. On a TV discussion on Gandhi, a BJP spokesman had told him that he was not neutral, as a journalist should be. Takle had countered: “Can a journalist be neutral when it comes to writing about Ram and Ravan?’’ “So is Gandhi Ram?’’ the BJP spokesman had asked, to which Takle had retorted: “Have you accepted yourself as Ravan?”’

The meet on Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi was held at the Press Club of Mumbai. But it had not been organised by any media body. The Mumbai Sarvodaya Mandal and the Janmukti Sangharsh Vahini, comprise a group of Gandhians and Jayprakash Narayan followers who have been observing the journalist’s anniversary for the last three years. This year, they invited two journalists to speak on the occasion: Saroj Tripathi, former student activist, who writes for the Navbharat Times and runs the Bombay University’s Hindi journalism course, and Niranjan Takle.

Tripathi gave a detailed account of Vidyarthi’s life and work. The founder-editor of the weekly Pratap was as much a trade unionist as a journalist. When he was killed in 1931 while trying to save people from communal violence in Kanpur, he was just 41 years old. By then, he had been imprisoned twice for his trade union work and for sedition. He opposed the British, but he also opposed local bigwigs, superstition and communalism, said Tripathi. “That’s the reason even the Congress, on whose ticket he was elected to the UP Provincial Council in 1925, and whose State Committee President he was, never honoured his memory. He went against everything the Congress came to represent after independence. As for the current CM, Yogi Adityanath, he is even less likely to honour him, for “Vidyarthi once said: ‘Babas and bairaagis are the biggest enemy of society.’ He was against the concept of a Hindu Rashtra.”

Tripathi revealed that Vidyarthi was asked to flee while he was rescuing Muslim women during the Kanpur riot, but he refused to, and was done to death. “What role does today’s media play in times of communal strife?’’ asked Tripathi.

At the end, Takle pledged to make Vidyarthi his ideal. “Till now, when people or the press made a noise, things happened, sometimes Ministers resigned. Today, your phones are tapped!’’ he said, adding: “Yet, it’s up to us to keep the credibility of our profession alive.” He recited a brief verse in Hindi which translated into: “After death, a man neither says anything, nor thinks anything. But one who says nothing and thinks nothing while he is alive, may as well be dead.”

(April 6, 2018)


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