Author of the best-selling “Hello, Bastar: The Untold Story of India’s Maoist Movement”, and the co-author of the critically-acclaimed “The Absent State”, Rahul Pandita is currently associate editor with Open Magazine. He has reported extensively from war zones that include Iraq and Sri Lanka and in the last few years on India’s Maoist rebellion. He is the peace loving sort, seriously.
We The Brilliant Tutorials
Our middle class collective consciousness was stirred when a young girl in Tagore’s Shantiniketan was allegedly made to lick urine by her warden to rid her of her bedwetting problem. We couldn’t bear it since it conjured up images of our own selves, sleepy-eyed in shorts and night suits, dropping off our children to the bus stop, carrying their heavy schoolbag and water bottle, arranging to outsource their school project of building Jantar Mantar, and dreaming of them making it to the fierce college cutoff lists. The news set Facebook on fire, and then twitter, and on television middle class anchors discussed it in show after show with fury on their brows.
And then by the evening, we learnt that even the Prime Minister’s Office had taken cognisance of the incident. So, was it the Prime Minister himself who was aghast at this undoubtedly shameful incident? Or was it some babu in his office who surfs the internet during lunchtime to find a suitable poem on protecting the environment which his daughter can use in her school debate? Who decides at the PMO what to take cognisance of and what to ignore and let pass like thousands of shameful incidents recorded every day across India? Does the PMO even know how many young children have died in and around Delhi in the last few years by falling in open manholes? Has it even heard of five-year-old Mahi Upadhyay who died after falling in a bore well a few kilometres away from Gurgaon, a city proclaimed to be Manhattan by its Congress chief minister? Was the PMO’s consciousness shaken by the abuse of the 101 inmates of a shelter in Haryana’s Rohtak, the home town of the state’s Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, and the Lok Sabha constituency of his son and one of Rahul Gandhi’s favourite young guns, Deepender Hooda? Is the PMO aware of how some girls aged between five and ten were sexually abused by the manager of the home, Jaswanti, and her son-in-law and his friends? Does it know that they were forced to drink liquor and then colour put on their private parts and how they were sexually abused?
“Humein nanga karke, murga banake, baans ke dande se maarte the”, one of the abused girls later told investigators. (We were stripped and beaten with sticks). The main accused, Jaswanti was given the Indira Gandhi Mahila Shakti award by the state government in March last year and she was also a member of the Juvenile Justice Board.
Has the PMO heard of a minor girl brought from Gumla, Jharkhand and then put into servitude with a doctor couple in Delhi who locked her up and flew for a holiday to Bangkok, threatening her with dire consequences if she tried preparing food for herself in their kitchen?
The thing is that we have heard of it, and so has the PMO who took cognisance of the Shantiniketan episode. But no cognisance will be taken of these incidents. Because it does not tug at our middle class consciousness, it does not conjure up images that we can relate to our own families. And the PMO will not take cognisance because it has the same middle class sensibilities. The fact is that we cannot imagine those girls in the Rohtak shelter home or the one from Gumla in the kind of school uniform our daughters wear. We cannot imagine them to be preparing for board exams; we cannot imagine them to fill in the prospectus for IIT-JEE, while we enroll them in Brilliant Tutorials classes. Our middle class consciousness is Brilliant Tutorial-consciousness. So, as long as we don’t see mirror images of our own selves, we will just shrug our shoulders, mumble “ghatiya desh hai” (it’s a pathetic country) and then wonder whether the Tata Sky connection is keeping our children away from achieving our dream.
It is this disconnect that keeps us from caring about so many other things. School teacher Soni Sori was arrested from Delhi on charges of being a Maoist conduit and shifted to Chhattisgarh even as she pleaded with the judge that she would be tortured there. And she was. There is a video of her writhing in pain on a dirty stretcher in a Raipur hospital. She later said that she was tortured by a senior police officer and that pebbles were put in her private parts. This was later confirmed in a medical examination. Her husband is in jail and so is her nephew. She also has three young children who now stay with their uncle. If she is a Maoist, how did her old father end up being shot in the leg by Maoists? Is the PMO not aware of it? And what have we done?
We are such voyeurs; we love to see such videos: of a woman writhing in pain, or someone shot in the head by a posse of Taliban militia, or poor kids made to work day and night in some zardozi factory. But it does not shake us. Neither does the fact that in Uttar Pradesh an activist couple, Vijay and Seema Azad, have been sentenced to life imprisonment for possession of prohibited literature which includes a book on Bhagat Singh. Upon being asked about it, a cop said that reading Bhagat Singh when we were colonised is understandable. But, he added, what is the need of reading him now?
Apparently there is. Because no matter what we think, the war will ultimately land at our doorstep. We cannot then eat our gluten-free pasta while ayahs from Gumla tend to our children. We cannot then as TV news editors offer two-minutes of airtime to the Assam floods and use two gigabytes of twitter space talking about it as if it were some corporate social responsibility. Because if we do, then for us, Assam floods become what a young girl called Binno was turned into for a man called Anil Agarwal.
You and I can no longer afford to be what the Hindi satirist Harishankar Parsai called “Madhyam vargiya kutta” – middle class dog. Perhaps it is time to read Bhagat Singh. Perhaps it is time to shed our Brilliant Tutorials sensibility.