As media headlines swerved from ‘Uneasy Calm, Situation Tense’ to ‘Mayhem in Panchkula, 30 Dead’, the articulation of the narrative about democracy, rights of citizens, notions of peace, and the hyper engagement with the rather elusive construct of Aam Aadmi also travelled quite some distance.
The middle-class conscience is a funny thing, and it swerves just as wildly in its relationship to a moral equilibrium.
Let’s settle some basic facts first. Allowing hordes of anxious, if not agitated, people to gather at one place was wrong if intelligence was available that it could lead to an untoward scenario. The obsequious deference that the regime displayed in dealing with a rape accused hardly upped the morale of the upright officers charged with maintaining peace. And the residents of Panchkula and other cities have every right to expect that they be allowed to live in peace, and not miss their morning walk in the peaceful verdant environs of the town’s parks.
Now that some of these postulates have already resonated with your point of view, may be you will stomach a few more points before throwing at me that weather-worn argument of, ‘But we are tax payers and State must protect us.’
The thousands of people who lined up Panchkula’s roads were aam aadmi. Yes, in the hyper-ventilating tone of the times, it becomes kosher to call them goons and worse, but the fact remains that in any such scenario, goons do their job with practised efficiency and the innocent hordes are left to make a run for their life in a manner most inefficient.
They run into bullets being fired by law-enforcing sheriffs, or are overcome by induced emotions. They are trundled, castigated and branded as goons by anchors in TV studios. As scenes of torched and mangled vehicles make it to the screen at the speed of broadband and harried citizens explain breathlessly how they were cowering inside their houses, gasping for Wi-Fi, the marauder is identified. ‘Someone who looks like a Dera premi.’
Three deaths, then six, and soon 13 dead. There is fear all around. In the space of a few more minutes, the toll touches 28, but then there’s a reassuring fact on the scroll at the bottom of the TV screen: Most of the dead were Dera followers. I have rarely seen such comforting calm descending upon an educated, shrine-going, peace-loving populace in so few seconds following the revelation of the identity of the dead outside their houses.
Next time, we are confused who is an aam aadmi, look for pictorial proof.
Of course, a child cowering under the bed because there are hundreds of people milling outside her house for four or five days is bad. Of course, a mother trying to keep her young ones away from the window of her own house is hardly a reassurance that we live in a country where the state is duty bound to protect its citizens. The residents of the suburbs have every right to demand that the state fulfil its contract with the citizenry.
But the utter absence of any questions about the death of a score and a half people on the roads of a city reeking of wealth says something stinking about its conscience. Northeast or Kashmir is too far, and given the national fervour fed upon cow milk, and much else that is as holy as dung, it is understandable that citizens in large swathes of India do not question any more why the security forces pump bullets directly into the protesting crowds.
‘If they are pelting stones, you can pump bullets,’ is an argument that carries much currency. Now, if they are outside their homes, and some goons are indulging in arson, you can pump bullets and punctuate Panchkula’s wide manicured roads with 30 corpses. We are just expanding the argument by expounding on it. It is only a matter of my personal curiosity to find out how far can we extrapolate: if they had burnt one house, and bullets had felled 130 people, would that have been okay, too?
Yes, I know, if you have read till this point, that you have already stomached a lot of what I had to say, and that your patience is giving way. They could have burnt Panchkula. Didn’t someone say on xyz channel that they will burn down Punjab and Haryana? TV crews were out on the morning of Saturday, speaking to residents who were grateful to the army, slamming the state administration, thanking God for the return of peace. “I was able to go for my morning walk after two days,” said a middle aged man.
Myriad TV channels beamed similar rambling conversations with residents, with not one referring to the 30 dead people. Television has yet to find someone seeking psychological help because he or she saw 30 people being shot dead. The region’s top circulation English-language daily, The Tribune, editorially commented on ‘Haryana battered,’ exhorting “the good, law-abiding citizens of Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh to pitch in and help the administration restore peace and calm in the region.” Not a word about the 30 dead people. Other newspapers did no differently.
So the 30 dead were all goons. Tried, convicted, sentenced, executed. Citizenry saved.
Just a minor interjection: they were citizens, too. And we are yet to see proof that they were vandalising property, toppling OB vans, torching vehicles. Panchkula’s citizens will do themselves and their children no favour if they do not demand proof that the 30 corpses are of goons. They must ask on whose hands lies the blood of these 30 citizens.
And yes, there is that question you have been itching to hurl at me with great force: what were these 30, and 300,000 others like them, doing in Panchkula? Why were they backing a rape accused? Have they taken leave of their senses?
On a different day, in a different write-up, one will be only too happy to delineate on this, but suffice to say this. Look at the social profile of Dera premis. Notwithstanding the grand ideals of Sikhism, the fact is that the larger Sikh community has dealt very poorly with the lower castes. Savarna Hindus had already marginalised them. Self-proclaimed godmen saw a market and sold them what the hordes needed most: a sense of belonging, a sense of relevance, some political muscle, and education, health care, sanitation etc. You cannot ask the eternally deprived to be very choosy as to who their middleman will be.
At times, it may turn out to be a rapist. As it did, this time. Still the argument did not work. You know why? Because “the good, law-abiding citizens” did not turn out in huge numbers against looters, plunderers, murderers and rapists of 1984, of 2002, of Muzaffarnagar and the many other massacres. Indian politics accepts some rapists, and not some others. The 30 dead have found out this, but they are not around to tell you their tale.