Gujarat 2002: Defending the Indefensible?

AnsariTavleen Singh’s widely shared opinion piece in the Indian Express titled Fifth column: Political pundits. Really? carried the byline that prominently quoted from the article declaring that:

“In Gujarat in 2002, both Hindus and Muslims died, but we called it a pogrom and the demonisation of Narendra Modi began.”

She started by pointing out that the ‘political pundits’ — whatever that means, but she counts herself among them — have been “more resoundingly defeated” than anybody else in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections perhaps because their predictions proved incorrect.

To begin with, her outrage at predictive failure is both badly misplaced and hugely exaggerated because it happens all time for well understood reasons, principal among which is that voters do not always disclose their real electoral preferences, which is how it should be because, after all, it is election by ‘secret ballot’. For a long time now politics in India has been in too vigorous a flow for any ‘political pundit’ to be able to accurately judge the outcome of nearly any given election, let alone by India’s largest electorate.

For instance, BJP lost the UP election in 1993 in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition when the party, riding on the high horse of Hindutva was, by all accounts, in nearly undefeatable position, and should have effortlessly bagged the elections because the Hindutva wave had supposedly swept the entire state. Didn’t happen. And the ‘political pundits’ were proved just as wrong — if not a lot more wrong — than in the 2017 elections. The ‘political pundits’ were just as completely wrong in the 2002 Gujarat elections as well.

So, what is Ms. Singh surprised at is beyond me because elections in India have been unpredictable more often than they have been predictable at least in the past few decades since 1990, particularly in Uttar Pradesh. But that is not the thrust of this piece. Ms. Singh turns around quickly and, instead of finding the causes, starts inventing them by mixing the real with the fact-fiction mixture readily available, and then adds to it a considerable amount of misinformation and loaded suggestions to simplistically conclude that ‘political pundits’ made mountains of the molehills while people drew their wise conclusions to bring BJP to power, which was almost like re-bringing Modi to power. The all-wise UP electorate has uttered the word of god, and in the light of the electoral mandate in UP, the ‘demonization’ of Mr. Modi was wrong right from the start regardless of the facts.

Ms. Singh goes on to suggest that since both Hindus and Muslims died in Gujarat in 2002, it was not ‘pogrom’ and because only Sikhs were killed in 1984 riots, it was “a real pogrom” and the expression ‘anti-sikh riots’ is for that reason a misapplication.

The expression ‘anti-Sikh’ means ‘against the Sikhs’, and if a riot is against only one community or ethnic group, it is by definition a ‘pogrom’. So, ‘anti-Sikh riots’ literally means a ‘pogrom’. In fact, the expression ‘anti-Sikh riots’ is actually a lot more specific than the expression ‘pogrom’. At the risk of over-simplification, the expression is not ‘Hindu-Sikh riots’, which is when it would have a different meaning than ‘pogrom’. Hindu-Muslim riots are not the same thing as ‘anti-Muslim pogrom’ or ‘anti-Muslim riots’. One could just as well call the Gujarat 2002 pogrom ‘anti-Muslims riots’ without any change or dilution of meaning. The two expressions, therefore, are semantically identical. However, Ms. Singh’s distinction is not only semantically meaningless, but is also simply false because the ‘anti-Sikh riots’ are in fact referred to as ‘anti-Sikh pogrom’ also. Khushwant Singh insisted that it was a ‘pogrom’, a BBC report titled ‘Indira Gandhi’s death remembered‘ refers to the riots as a ‘pogrom’, and there is a book titled ‘Betrayed by the State: The Anti-Sikh Pogrom of 1984 [Grewal, Jyoti, 2007, Penguin India, ISBN-10: 0143063030, ISBN-13: 978-0143063032], which, quite obviously, calls the riots a pogrom, as the title makes amply clear.

The assertion that in 2002 “both Hindus and Muslims died” for the purpose of suggesting that it was a Hindu-Muslim riot rather than an anti-Muslim pogrom is nothing short of a deliberate and mischievous gloss over because while the government did report to the Parliament that 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed in the riots, it remains unclear as to how the 254 deaths were caused because no mob clashes were reported, and hardly any incident of Muslim mobs raiding Hindu houses was reported either whereas organized violence against Muslims was widely reported. One can only speculate that some of the 254 dead might have suffered lethal injuries rioting, and some might have died from the acts of self-defense when those attacked tried to defend themselves in whatever way they could. But, yes, though it stems from the fact that no incidents of organized violence or mob clashes between Hindus and Muslims were reported, it is still speculation. The point, however, is that except for the number given by the government, there is little to back the suggestion that there were violent clashes between the members of the two communities, which is principally the reason why the scholars have not bought the official classification of Gujarat 2002 riots as a “communalist riot” and have chosen to describe the violent events of 2002 as part of a pogrom. We all know that bare statistics, unless duly contextualized, do not tell the complete story. In fact, out of context, numbers can be quite misleading.

GodhraIf Ms. Singh wishes to bring the Godhra incident into the picture for her purposes, it doesn’t work either because Godhra incident was a trigger and was not part of what is called the ‘Gujarat 2002 pogrom’ or simply ‘Gujarat 2002’, which is also because it was not a case of communal rioting at all, but was found to be a well thought out conspiracy, for which 31 were convicted, out of which 11 were sentenced to death and 20 got a life term. Even the official press release issued on the evening of February 27, 2002, by the Gujarat government called the Godhra incident a “preplanned inhuman collective violent act of terrorism”, and The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance was initially invoked against the accused but they were never charged under POTA, when the ordinance became an Act, after the POTA review commission decided not to charge the accused under the Act in May 2005. So, there is no way Godhra incident can be clubbed with Gujarat 2002 riots though it was certainly the trigger, but it was not a communal riot. The Gujarat pogrom is the carnage that took place in the wake of the Godhra incident.

However, the numbers don’t really matter because this is not about which of the two communities lost more people. Communal riots are not new in India and there have been numerous others, but what sets apart the 1984 and the 2002 riots from other communal clashes is the complicity of the state. Not being able to prevent loss of life and damage to property during the riots is one thing, but allowing it to happen is quite another, even if we ignore the allegations of active assistance to the rioters by the state machinery. This is not to say that failure to prevent loss of life during such circumstances is somehow excusable. It clearly is not, but in terms of accountability it is better placed compared to a willful abdication of duty.

Ms. Singh goes a step further and hauls the media into the docks for joining hands in ‘demonizing’ Mr. Modi for reasons best known to Ms. Singh. She writes:

“The Indian media’s demonisation of Modi was so effective that leaders of important countries treated him as if he were the first Indian politician responsible for organised ethnic violence.”

In another dishonest gloss over, which is more blatant than clever, Ms. Singh reduces Mr. Modi to a mere politician to sneak him out of accountability. And she makes it sound like it is alright for a “politician” to be “responsible for organised ethnic violence” so long as he or she is not the first. Well, it is certainly not okay to incite violence of any kind. Besides, Mr. Modi was not just a politician in 2002, he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. He was not the Chief Minister of a part of Gujarat or of a section or class of people in Gujarat. He was the Chief Minister of the whole of Gujarat, and that’s where the accountability rises because in acting as the Chief Minister, Mr. Modi was acting as ‘state’ (not in the sense of ‘State of Gujarat’ but in the sense of a ‘sovereign political entity’). So, what he did in his official capacity as the Chief Minister of Gujarat is attributable to the ‘state’. A ‘politician’ is a nobody trying to be somebody whereas a Chief Minister is a Constitutional functionary with sworn allegiance to the Constitution of India. He could not do a lot as a mere politician than he could as a Chief Minister, but he could, on the other hand, get away with a lot more as a politician than he could as a Chief Minister. With power comes accountability, or so it should be. But perhaps accountability has many twisted versions to it as well, for the accountable might choose who they want to be accountable to, in which case the responsibility shifts from the accountable to those who the accountable seek to be accountable to unless the shift of accountability is blocked by way of clear and unambiguous political distancing.

THE MEETING, MURDER AND FAKE ENCOUNTERS

The Godhra train incident took place on the morning of February 27, 2002. Whatever confusions might have been there regarding the cause and perpetrators of the tragedy, there couldn’t be any misgivings about the potential of the incident to spark off communal riots, given the long history of communal violence in Gujarat. The first response of the government in such a situation would be to mobilize the forces — both police and paramilitary — to take care of the possible unrest with the army on a ready standby. An effective government with reasonable foresight and an authoritative leadership, which the Gujarat Government did have back then by all estimations, would get down to the business of maintaining law and order right away.

Haren 11Haren Pandya, the then Revenue Minister in the Narendra Modi government, told Outlook (June 3, 2002) that Mr. Modi had a meeting on the night of February 27, 2002, at his official bungalow in which he specifically instructed bureaucrats and senior police officers, including Ahmedabad police commissioner P.C. Pande, to allow “people to vent their frustration and not come in the way of the Hindu backlash” [A Midnight Meeting On Feb 27 And A Murdered Minister, Outlook, November 12, 2007].  Outlook published the news report without naming Heren Pandya as the source of the story, though the report did mention that it was indeed a “minister” who had made the shocking revelation. Mr. Pandya spoke to Outlook once again on August 19, 2002, and this interview was duly taped by the magazine. Mr. Pandya pleaded, “Don’t disclose my identity even verbally. My name should not be quoted in any story, not even as minister or BJP leader. If you write BJP leader, I will die. If you write minister, even then I will die” [A Midnight Meeting On Feb 27 And A Murdered Minister, Outlook, November 12, 2007].

Mr. Pandya also testified before The Concerned Citizens Tribunal on 2002 Gujarat riots, and the report of the Tribunal noted:

“The tribunal received direct information through a testimony from a highly placed source of a meeting (on February 27, 2002) where the CM, two or three senior cabinet colleagues, the Ahmedabad police commissioner and an IG police were present. The meeting had a singular purpose: the senior-most police officials were told that they should expect a “Hindu reaction” after Godhra. They were also told they should not do anything to contain this reaction.”

On 26 March 2003, at about 7.40 in the morning, Mr. Pandya was shot dead by two unidentified assailants. He was shot five times after he had finished his morning walk in the Law Gardens in Ahmedabad. He kept lying in his car for two hours. The dead body was found in his Maruti 800, and he had been allegedly killed sitting in the car. One of the five bullet wounds indicated the point of entry to be the scrotum, which is nearly impossible if Mr. Pandya was shot sitting in the car. The prosecution failed to explain the injury among many other things, which resulted in the acquittal of the accused.

Mr. Pandya’s father maintained to his last breath that his son had been killed by his political opponents. However, Mr. Pandya’s wife has been a little more cautious. [Haren Pandya’s father had blamed PM Modi for his murder, now his wife accepts key Gujarat post].

According to a newsreport published by DNA (Daily News & Analysis) titled ‘Was it Tulsiram Prajapati who killed Haren Pandya?‘, which cited ‘sources in state police’, Hiren Pandya was killed by Tulsiram Prajapati, but it was Sohrabuddin who was assigned the task of eliminating Pandya “by some influential people”. Sohrabuddin first contacted Asgar Ali for the job but Ali refused, after which Sohrabuddin handed over the task to Tulsi Prajapati, who executed the killing. In a separate report published by India Today [Tulsiram Prajapati killed Haren Pandya, says Sanjiv Bhatt], IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt is cited as saying that Asgar Ali himself revealed it to Bhatt that Asgar was contacted by Sohrabuddin to kill Pandya, and was brought to Ahmedabad for the purpose. As per Bhatt, Asgar also said that in this connection he met Abhay Chudasma, who promised to hand over a weapon for the job, but eventually Asgar backed off and returned to Hyderabad, which was when Tulsiram Prajapati was given the task.

Former Gujarat DGP R.B. Shreekumar, who was Additional Director General (Intelligence), reacting to Mr. Bhatt’s remarks, agreed that Pandya’s murder was planned, but said that Mr. Bhatt must come out with substantial evidence to corroborate his allegations. India Today report further cited Mr. Shreekumar as saying, “According to the intelligence inputs we had at that time, Pandya was not on the hit list of terrorists (who wanted to avenge the Gujarat riots) at that time. Pandya also deposed before the citizen’s tribunal and could have exposed much more than what he said to the Justice Krishna Iyer Commission later, which would have completely frozen Modi’s political career.” According to the India Today report, Shreekumar categorically added that it was chief minister Narendra Modi and his team that was the ultimate beneficiary of Pandya’s death [Tulsiram Prajapati killed Haren Pandya, says Sanjiv Bhatt]. CBI later called Mr. Pandya’s murder a “cut-out murder”, by which they meant that it was not possible to establish the link between the victim and the conspirator or motivator of the crime.

Both Tulsiram Prajapati and Sohrabuddin were killed in suspect encounters by the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) headed by DIG D.G. Vanzara, who was in judicial custody from 2007 to until his bail in 2015 on charges of having conducted a series of extra-judicial killings, including the killings of Prajapati and Sohrabuddin. The deaths of Prajapati and Sohrabuddin effectively closed the possibility of getting to the people who sanctioned the hit on Pandya.

Haren Pandya 2Former DIG, D.G. Vanzara also hinted at a political conspiracy behind Pandya’s killing during an interrogation by the CBI while he talked about Sohrabuddin’s role in the death of Mr. Pandya [DG Vanzara sings about Haren Pandya murder, says it was political conspiracy: CBI].

In his 10-page resignation letter dated 01-09-2013 (September 1, 2013) from the Sabarmati Central Prison, Ahmedabad, suspended DIG D.G. Vanzara said:

“I most respectfully would like to submit and state that I, along with my officers, stood beside this government like a bulwark whenever it faced existential crisis in the past. When I, along with my officers have been facing a similar crisis in my/our life/lives, it was expected of this government to reciprocate and firmly stand beside me and my officers with a similar vigour and determination, which to my utter shock and surprise, could not happen.”

  He also talks about his ‘silence’ about something:

“Accordingly, this government instead of construing my ‘dignified silence’ to be a ‘virtue’ worth rewarding has mistaken the same to be my ‘weakness’ worth ignoring.”

And then he comes out clear against the government and states:

“Gujarat CID/Union CBI had arrested me and my officers in different encounter cases holding us to be responsible for carrying out alleged fake encounters, if that is true, then the CBI Investigating officers of all the four encounter cases of Shohrabuddin, Tulasiram, Sadique Jamal and Isharat Jahan have to arrest the policy formulators also as we, being field officers, have simply implemented the conscious policy of this government which was inspiring, guiding and monitoring our actions from the very close quarters. By this reasoning, I am of the firm opinion that the place of this government, instead of being in Gandhinagar, should either be in Taloja Central Prison at Navi Mumbai or in Sabarmati Central Prison at Ahmedabad.”

However, he makes it plain that his love for Mr. Modi remains intact, but he talks about his ‘silence’ once more:

Vanzara.jpg“Let me also further put on record and clarify my stand that I have been maintaining my graceful silence for such a long period only and only because of my supreme faith in and highest respect for Shri Narendrabhai Modi, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Gujarat, whom I used to adore like a God. But, I am sorry to state that my God could not rise to the occasion under the evil influence of Shri Amitbhai Shah who usurped his eyes and ears and has been successfully misguiding him by converting goats into dogs and dogs into goats since last 12 years.”

Later, Senior Advocate, Mr. K.T.S. Tulsi, appearing for the Government of Gujarat, submitted before the Supreme Court that the Sohrabuddin and his wife, Kausar Bi, had been killed in a staged encounter citing the findings of the investigation. [Gujarat says missing wife killed;  The journalist who cracked Gujarat fake encounter case]. Tulsiram Prajapati was a witness to the staged encounter of Sohrabuddin and was eliminated in another fake encounter, as per the findings of the CBI, in connection with which Mr. Amit Shah was questioned by the CBI, arrested and later released on bail, and questioned a second time by the CBI. [CBI to question Amit Shah again in Prajapati case]. Mr. Shah was accused of masterminding the fake encounters.

In his resignation letter, Vanzara talks about Jehadi Terrorism, talks about the encounters he was behind the bars for, hints at Pandya’s murder being a ‘political conspiracy’ and also talks about his ‘silence’ several times over and connects his silence with “supreme faith” in and “highest respect” for the then incumbent Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Modi. Add to this what DGP R.B. Shreekumar, the Additional Director General (Intelligence), told India Today regarding Mr. Pandya not being on the hit list of terrorists. Hence, one might reasonably infer that in getting Mr. Pandya killed, Sohrabuddin was not acting as a Jehadi terrorist, but, perhaps, as a contract killer. However, building any further from here would be mere speculation. So, let’s leave it here and move to the aftermath of the Godhra incident.

THE RIOTS AND THE STATE RESPONSE

As noted above, it is reasonable to expect the state to respond quickly after the Godhra incident, for the riots are a very real possibility in such circumstances, and in view of the past communal riots, the state had absolutely no reason to be overly optimistic.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad called for a statewide bandh (shut-down) for February 28, which was endorsed by the government through a press note issued at 8 p.m. on February 27, which the VHP/Bajrang Dal saw as the endorsement of its stand.

A report titled ‘When guardians of Gujarat gave 24-hour license for punitive action‘ notes:

“The formal decision of the BJP to support the bandh call was announced through a press note issued around 8 pm. The VHP/Bajrang Dal took that as an endorsement of its stand. The BJP did agonise over the decision to support the bandh call chiefly because the state police intelligence chief, additional director-general of police G.C. Raigar, had warned of its consequences.”

The connection between the police inaction during the riots and the government support for the Bandh was noted by report published on March 03, 2002 in The Hindu titled ‘Saffronised police show their colour‘:

“The police may not have demonstrated such impotency without a tacit approval from above which they received from the ruling party extending support to the bandh call. In such a situation, the police would always be hesitant to act lest it hurt the interests of the political bosses. And the saffronised police also found a common cause with the criminals to ‘punish’ the minorities.

Insiders in the BJP admit that the police were under instructions from the Narendra Modi administration not to act firmly; apparently he wanted to please his RSS and VHP brethren in return for the help he received from the saffron brigade to acquire the top post and win the Rajkot-II Assembly byelection despite heavy odds.”

The same report further notes that Mr. Modi, even risking criticism, tried to “virtually ‘justify’ the vandalism on the bandh day as the “natural outpour of anguish of the people” for the “terrorist-type pre-planned attack” on the “Ram sevaks”‘ in the Sabarmati Express.”

Another report titled ‘Godhra incident godsend for Modi‘ quotes Mr. Modi as saying on February 28, 2002, “I am absolutely satisfied with how the police and government handled the backlash… I am happy that violence has largely been contained…”. The report further quotes Mr. Modi: “The five crore (fifty million) people of Gujarat have shown remarkable restraint under grave provocation.”

The Human Right Watch report on Gujarat 2002 riots titled scathingly as “WE HAVE NO ORDERS TO SAVE YOU  [April 2002, Vol. 14, No. 3 (C)] notes:

“Starting on the morning of February 28, Hindu mobs unleashed a coordinated attack against Muslims in many of Gujarat’s towns and cities. Despite the state’s claims that police were simply overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Hindu mobs—often numbering in the thousands—evidence collected by the media, Indian human rights groups, and Human Rights Watch all point to state sponsorship of the attacks. Eyewitness accounts cited throughout this report, as well as the history of police and political recruitment demonstrate the state’s partisan role.”

Gujarat 2Regarding the measures taken to bring violence under control, the report observes:

“After allowing thirty-six hours to pass without any serious intervention, the first of several contingents of army troops were deployed into Ahmedabad, Rajkot, and Vadodara on March 1. Many had to be flown in from reserves’ stations in south Indian as the bulk of Indian forces are stationed along the India -Pakistan border. Though the army arrived in Gujarat soon after the Godhra carnage, the state government refused to deploy the soldiers until twenty-fours hours after they arrived and only once the worst violence had ended.”

The report further observes:

“In Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s commercial capital and the site of Human Rights Watch’s investigations, many attacks took place within view of police posts and police stations. Human Rights Watch viewed several policeposts less than fifty feet from the site of burnt Muslim-owned restaurants, places of businesses, and hotels in Ahmedabad. Without exception, the Hindu-owned establishments neighboring the destroyed structures were unscathed. The same pattern was observed by India’s National Human Rights Commission during its fact-finding mission in March.”

So, no, the riots were not exactly Hindu-Muslim communal clashes, as Ms. Tavleen Singh would want us to believe, but were nothing short an organized massacre of the people belonging to a single community, and for that reason they are called a ‘pogrom’, much like the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Police participation did not stop at letting the rioters do the rioting. The report notes:

“Press reports and eyewitness testimonies, including those collected by Human Rights Watch, abound with stories of police participation and complicity in the attacks. Their crimes range from inaction to direct participation in the looting and burning of Muslim shops, restaurants, hotels, homes, and the killing of Muslim residents. Worse still, officers who tried to keep the peace or act against murderous mobs have been transferred or have faced the wrath of their superiors.”

Suffice it to say that there is overwhelming evidence of state complicity in the riots, but to hold anybody individually responsible requires direct evidence linking the person to the crime, which is missing for obvious reasons. To get sufficient evidence against anybody in power is nearly impossible. In this respect, Mr. Ashok Narayan, who was Home Secretary during the Gujarat 2002 riots and testified before the Nanavati-Shah Commission in connection with the 2002 riots, told Rana Ayyub, the undercover Investigative Journalist, as follows:

“Q) Who will take action against the ministers?

A) Let me tell you, I was the Vigilance Commissioner post the Home Secretary position. You know there is the Lokayukta in every state which looks for the ministers. So one day I go; now honestly AC kamron mein makkhiyan nahi hota, warna I could have used the word ki woh makkhiyan maar rahe the. So I asked what is happening?

They said sir, what to do. Nobody complains about ministers. When people are not willing to take on ministers in cases of bribery and corruption, how will they gather courage to [go] against ministers involved in riots. Kiski shaamat aayi hai.

Unless they come forward. And they are so smart they will make the conversation so smartly on the phone — they will call up the officers and say, ‘Achcha take care of that area.’

Now a common meaning for a layman technically would be, ‘Take care that riots don’t take in that area’ but the real meaning is ‘take care that the riots take place in that area.’

They don’t do things themselves, there are agents and agents and agents.” [Ayyub, Rana, Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up, 2016, ISBN: 978-1-943438-88-4, p. 87-88]

AFTER THE RIOTS

Mr. Modi has consistently maintained that all went down well in Gujarat during the 2002 riots. In Becharaji, during his Gujarat Gaurav Yatra, in his infamous Hum paanch, Hamare Pachees speech, which the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) demanded a text of for its apparently inflammatory content, Mr. Modi said on September 9, 2002:

“The Congress also accuses me of bringing the Narmada waters to the Sabarmati river in the month of Shravan. But the dam has already been built… I want to ask the Congress, why do you object if people on the banks of the Sabarmati derive spiritual peace through the Narmada waters brought in the month of Shravan?

When you come to power, you are free to bring water during Ramzan. When we allocate funds for Becharaji, they do not like it. And if we bring Narmada waters in the month of Shravan, then too they say they dislike it. So what should we do? Do we go and run relief camps? Should we open child producing centres?

We want to firmly implement family planning. Hum paanch, humare pachees (We five, our 25) (laughs). Who will benefit from this development? Is family planning not necessary in Gujarat? Where does religion come in its way? Where does community come in its way?”

Gaurav YatraWhy is the Chief Minister of Gujarat — the whole of Gujarat — addressing one community against another community? Why does it have to be Congress to bring Narmada waters during Ramzan? Why can’t the Chief Minister of Gujarat bring “Narmada waters to the Sabarmati river” during the month of Shravan as well as during Ramzan? And why is the issue of ‘family planning’ being used as a stick to beat the minority community with? Population control is not a new issue and could easily be talked about without resorting to community bashing, had the intention been to address the problem. But in September 2002, having already resigned in July 2002, Mr. Modi was not speaking as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, but as BJP’s Chief Ministerial candidate for Gujarat. The 2002 Gujarat elections were conducted without much delay despite a difference of opinion within the government officials regarding the suitability of the political atmosphere for a free and fair elections without untoward incident. The government wanted early elections, and it is reasonable to believe that the ruling party thought that early elections were in their interest and they could be better rewarded for their past performance in the communally charged atmosphere. The move could have backfired, like a similar manoeuvre did in 1977.

What was done during this time by the government to ease the situation and make the environment conducive for the election is reflected in the well guarded statement of Mr. Ashok Narayan, the Home Secretary during the time of the riots, recorded on December 13, 2009 by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) investigating the matter. Here is a question and the response by Mr. Narayan:

Que. Please see a copy of the D.O. letter dated 22-4-2002 addressed to you by Shri P.C. Pande, the then CP, Ahmedabad to you with a copy to DGP and ADG (Int.). What action was taken by you on the said letter?

Ans. I have gone through the. D.O. letter and I recollect having discussed the issues raised by Shri P.C. Pande, the then CP in his letter with the DGP as well as the CM. I emphasized upon the CM to prevail upon or use his good offices on the Sangh Parivar activists including VHP and Bajrang Dal to restrain them from indulging in such activities. However, the CM was non-committal and used to make public statements in a general manner that the State Govt. was committed to the safety and security of all the citizens living in Gujarat. I don’t recollect having put up these references in file.

In July 2002, a Rath Yatra was proposed, and Gujarat was reeling under the aftermath of the riots. In such a situation a Rath Yatra, which had to be a political grandstanding of a certain kind, could be detrimental to the peace and order. A report on law and order situation was called in. Mr. R.B. Sreekumar, the then Additional Director General (Intelligence), submitted the report. This is what Mr. Narayan told about the report to the SIT:

“This law & order assessment report was called for in view of the Rath-Yatra which was likely to be held some time in July, 2002. Shri R. B. Sreekumar, the then Addl DG (Int.) was of the view that on the various grounds mentioned by him in his letter, the Rath-Yatra should not be taken out in the near future till an atmosphere of durable peace and goodwill between the majority and minority community was established. On receipt of this report, the matter was discussed by me with the CM, who was of the view that the Rath-Yatra could not have been stopped simply on the grounds mentioned by ADG (Int.) in his letter and that the police should make fool proof bandobast so that no untoward incident took place. Accordingly, the administration did not agree with the views of ADG (Int.) and Rath-Yatra was taken out in the year 2002 under police bandobast, and no untoward incident took place anywhere.”

One might wonder why was the Rath Yatra so important that even the apprehension of a law and order situation and the possibility of violence communicated by no less than the ADG (Intelligence) in his official report was paid no heed to.

Even as late as in August 2002, things had not calmed down enough for a free and fair election, which is why the early elections that the Gujarat government wanted were also a source of disagreement among the officials. Mr. Narayan was questioned about that, too, by the SIT. Mr. Narayan said:

On 9-8-2002, Shri J.M. Lyngdoh, the then Chief Election Commission and the other two Election Commissioner Members held a meeting in order to assess the law & order situation in Gujarat to decide to pre-pone the election in the State. This meeting was attended by Shri G. Subba Rao along with DGP, Shri K.R. Kaushik, the then CP, Ahmedabad, Shri C.K. Koshy, the then Principal Secretary, Revenue, Shri P.S. Shah, Addl. Secretary (Home), Shri R.B. Sreekkumar, Addl. DG (Int.), Shri K. Nityanandam, the then Secretary (Home) and myself. As instructed by Shri G. Subba Rao, the then Chief Secretary, Shri Nityanandam, the then Siporetary (Home) started his presentation but he was cut short by Shri Lyngdoh with the remarks that they were not interested in an elaborate presentation. Thereafter, I took over and assured the Commission that in case in the event of election being held in near future, the Govt. would be in a position to hold the same in a fair and free manner and the voter who wants to exercise his franchise shall be given due protection. DGP also gave his view point. In the meanwhile, Shri R.B. Sreekumar, the then ADG (Int.) intervened and told the Commission that he had a different view point on the subject. Shri R.B. Sreekumar, the then ADG (Int.) was of the view that the tension still prevailed in a large number of Talukas which had witnessed riots and that 154 Assembly Constituencies were affected. The Election Commission passed a detailed order on 16-8-2002 and differed with the views of the government. The Election Commission was of the considered view that it was not in a position to conduct a free and fair election in the State.

Mr. Sreekumar replied to a letter by Mr. Narayan, which finds mention in the statement of Mr. Narayan. Here is what Mr. Narayan tells about the letter:

“Shri Sreekumar replied to my letter dated 9-9-2002 in which he stated that there was a perceptional difference between the Home Department and the State IB in assessment of communal scenario at the relevant time in the State and that the Election Commission had observed that the appraisal of the communal situation by the State IB was in consonance with the inputs received by the Commission. I did not enter into any further correspondence with Shri Sreekumar as he had already been transferred.”

Perhaps, Mr. Sreekumar had become too much of an inconvenience during a crucial time, and his inputs were not really doing much good. Another interesting part of Mr. Narayan’s statement is regarding the calls he made during the riots. He says:

“Today, I have been shown the call details of the government mobile phone 9825037405 allotted to me by the Govt. of Gujarat from the period 27-2-2002 to 4-3-2002. At the out set, I may state that I don’t recollect any of the numbers called by me or the numbers from which the calls had been received.However, on 28-2-2002, I had made/received many calls from police officials as well as government officials mainly from CP, Ahmedabad City in connection with the ongoing riots in the City. I do not recollect the talks held with them at this stage. It may be added here that I had received several distress calls from the public on my landline phone as well as my mobile phone but I am unable to decipher the same.”

What Mr. Narayan says regarding the distress calls from Ahmedabad is interesting in the light of the fact that Mr. Narayan was the Home Secretary and received several distress calls on that day alone whereas Mr. P.C. Pande, who was the Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad, says talking to Rana Ayyub:

Q) So, you were there during the riots?

A ) Yes, it was one of the most horrific times of my life. I had already seen 30 years of service. But look at this; there were riots in 85, 87, 89, 92 and most of the times the Hindus got a beating. And the Muslims got an upperhand. So this time in 2002, it had to happen, it was the retaliation of Hindus. Also post-1995, people felt that the government was theirs, especially because it was a BJP government. They say I did not reach people. Not a single person called me, I am not clairvoyant to figure who is calling me. [Ayyub, Rana, Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up, 2016, ISBN: 978-1-943438-88-4, p. 132.]

So, while the Home Secretary, who is not directly involved in maintaining the law and order situation, gets several distress calls from Ahmedabad in a single day while the Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad, was not called by “a single person” at any point of time during the entire ordeal? If the portion cited above does not make it clear as to why Mr. Pande takes that position of denial, perhaps what he says further might indicate better:

Q) So, Modi is the poster boy?

A) You know Mallika Sarabhai, that dancer, she is a big Modi basher. They say the riots of 2002 are because of him. He says I didn’t go and burn the train at Godhra. So if I didn’t do that, how can you blame me for whatever took place after that. If that had been done by me, this was also done by me. See, this was a reaction to what happened there. I mean if you see it logically, here is a group of Muslims going and setting fire on a train, so what will be your reaction?

Q) You hit them back?

A) Yes, yes, you hit them back, now this hitting back, you must have already done research that they [the Hindus] got a beating in 85, 86, 92 and so on, what happens, here is the chance, give it back to them…. Why should anybody mind it? [Ayyub, Rana, Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up, 2016, ISBN: 978-1-943438-88-4, p. 132-133.]

The former Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, goes further:

Q) But see, Modi was made Modi by the riots right?

A) Yes, before that who knew him? Who was Modi? He came from Delhi, before that Himachal. He was in charge of the unimportant states, neither Haryana nor Himachal.

Q) This was like trump card, no?

A) That’s what…. if this had not happened, he would not have been known internationally. That gave such a push, although negative, at least he became known.

Q) So, are you like his man?

A) I mean yes, considering I was there with him during the 2002 riots so it’s OK. [Ayyub, Rana, Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up, 2016, ISBN: 978-1-943438-88-4, p. 146.]

However, there is no evidence that at any point of time Mr. Modi gave any illegal order to any state official. In this regard, Mr. K. Chakravarty, who was the Director General of Police (DGP), Gujarat, during the 2002 riots says:

Q) Did he give the order not on act?

A) They didn’t give any illegal orders to me. He won’t sign his death warrant.

Q) Order can be given invisibly?

A) It will be on a one-on-one basis, not in front of 20 people out of which 5 may be against you. [Ayyub, Rana, Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up, 2016, ISBN: 978-1-943438-88-4, p. 158.]

What Mr. Chakravarty says is very much in line with what Mr. Narayan said (quoted earlier) regarding the way order might be handed down without compromising plausible deniability. However, in absence of positive evidence, it is unsafe and irresponsible to say that Mr. Modi issued any illegal orders, but that absolves him only of personal legal liability, which brings us to the much talked about  (mostly by Mr. Modi himself) ‘Clean Chit’.

THE CLEAN CHIT

When so many people die under one’s watch, one is likely to feel regretful no matter how much and how sincerely one tried to save lives. Not Mr. Modi. He has no regrets.

“India’s Supreme Court is considered a good court today in the world. The Supreme Court created a Special Investigation Team and topmost, very bright officers who oversee the SIT. That report came. In that report, I was given a thoroughly clean chit, a thoroughly clean chit.” [No guilty feeling about Gujarat riots, says Modi].

Mr. Modi condescendingly says that the Supreme Court of India “is considered a good court in the world” like the Supreme Court was Sania Mirza on the rise and needed Mr. Modi’s gracious approval of its achievements. The “thoroughly clean chit”, as I have pointed out earlier, is simply regarding his direct personal involvement in any wrongdoing at the hands of the state functionaries during the riot. So, it absolves him of only personal legal responsibility, which was never really the central issue because hardly anybody believed that Mr. Modi had personally hurt someone or had issued direct orders to any state functionary to cause harm to anyone. However, the “thoroughly clean chit” is not quite as clean as Mr. Modi would want us to believe, for it does not fail to take note of more than a few “questionable” acts and omissions. Some of such stinging observations in the 600-page long report as reported by Tehelka [Here’s the smoking gun. So how come the SIT is looking the other way?] are:

  1. “In spite of the fact that ghastly and violent attacks had taken place on Muslims at Gulberg Society and elsewhere, the reaction of the government was not the type that would have been expected by anyone. The chief minister had tried to water down the seriousness of the situation at Gulberg Society, Naroda Patiya and other places by saying that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” (p. 69)
  2. “The Gujarat government has reportedly destroyed the police wireless communication of the period pertaining to the riots… No records, documentations or minutes of the crucial law and order meetings held by the government during the riots had been kept.” (p. 13).
  3. “It appears that the political affiliation of the advocates did weigh with the government for the appointment of public prosecutors.” (Page 77).
  4. “As many as 32 allegations were probed into during this preliminary inquiry. These related to several acts of omission and commission by the state government and its functionaries, including the chief minister. A few of these alone were in fact substantiated… the substantiated allegations did not throw up material that would justify further action under the law.” (Concluding remarks by SIT Chairman, R.K. Raghavan).
  5. “His (Modi) implied justification of the killings of innocent members of the minority community read together with an absence of a strong condemnation of the violence that followed Godhra suggest a partisan stance at a critical juncture when the state had been badly disturbed by communal violence.” (p. 153).
  6. “…discriminatory attitude by not visiting the riot-affected areas in Ahmedabad where a large number of Muslims were killed, though he went to Godhra on the same day, travelling almost 300 km on a single day (p. 67)… Modi did not cite any specific reasons why he did not visit the affected areas in Ahmedabad city as promptly as he did in the case of the Godhra train carnage.” (Page 8 of chairman’s comments).

Interestingly, in his statement dated March 27-28, 2010 before the Gujarat SIT that investigated the 2002 riots, Mr. Modi said:

Q.20. What were the discussions held in the said meeting of 27.02.2002 night? Please give an exact account of the views and suggestions given by each participant?

Ans. in the meeting, I shared information about my visit to Godhra. The officers present briefed me about the precautionary measures taken by them. I issued instructions to them to take all possible steps to maintain Law & Order and peace. I also asked ACS (Home) to make inquiry in the local Army headquarter about the availability of Army personnel. I asked them to seek assistance for additional force from neighboring states. I instructed the officials of Home Department and police to make necessary bandobast to avoid untoward incident. It may be added here that by that time I had been informed about the Gujarat bandh call given by the VHP on 28-2-2002.

RaghavanHowever, Tehelka reports that the report of the SIT appointed by the Supreme Court says that in an inexplicable move, the police administration did not impose curfew in Naroda until 12 pm and Meghani Nagar (Ahmedabad city) until 2 pm on February 28, 2002. By then, the situation had severely deteriorated at both places. [Here’s the smoking gun. So how come the SIT is looking the other way?]. As stated earlier, considering the hisotry of communal violence in Gujarat, the curfew should have been clamped on February 27, 2002 itself immediately after the Godhra incident, which occurred in the morning. How hard was it to see the potential of the incident to spark communal violence? But the efficient Modi government failed to swing into action quickly enough, and the report takes clear and careful note of it.

Quite clearly, so far as the ‘clean chit’ by the SIT is concerned, it is confined to the direct personal involvement of Mr. Modi in any wrongdoing during the riots. However, the SIT report does not quite say that Mr. Modi acted in a non-partisan fashion, as he should have, as the Chief Minister of Gujarat.

DEMONIZATION OF MODI?

Ms. Tavleen Singh’s charge that there was some kind of demonization of Modi done by the Indian media after the 2002 riots and her attempt to play down the Gujarat massacre of 2002 could only be because either she has not looked at the hard facts or she is in deliberate denial, and that is precisely where the mistake of the ‘political pundits’ — among whom she places herself — lies. The media had nothing against Mr. Modi back in 2002 and the picture of Mr. Modi that the media portrayed was exactly the picture that had emerged from the facts of the situation. State complicity in both the 1984 pogrom and the 2002 riots has not been completely ruled out, regardless of the thoroughness or the cleanness of any ‘clean chit’.

Modi 1.jpgMs. Singh notes in her article, “The problem also is that most political pundits continue to believe their own myth-making.” Precisely. That there was some kind of deliberate demonization of Mr. Modi is one such myth that political pundits like Ms. Singh desperately want to believe, and want to make others believe. The fact is that Mr. Modi was never demonized, but he has certainly been angelized and deified in the recent times. Pankaj Mishra was stating the dark but undeniable truth with chilling precision when he wrote way back in 2012:

“Like Modi, the strongmen who supervise these bloody purges of economically depressed and unproductive people are often elected by landslide majorities, and tend to be audacious free-marketeers rather than hopeless socialists. The start of the crony-capitalist regimes of Thaksin in Thailand and Putin in Chechnya coincided with vicious assaults on ethnic minorities. Ten years later, the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom too seems to have been a necessary blood rite – anointing not just Vibrant Gujarat but also the New India.” [The Gujarat massacre: New India’s blood rite, March 14, 2012]

Indians might choose, for better or worse, to forgive and forget, but the truth, by its very nature, allows no opting out.

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Porn Ban: Supreme Court Observation? Not Really.

Porn ban“The instant action is basically in obedience to the observation of the Supreme Court where the court asked the department to take action on the list of alleged porn sites provided by the petitioner,” telecom minister Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad is reported to have said.

“Obedience to the Supreme Court observation”? And what were those “observations” exactly?

“The issue is definitely serious and some steps need to be taken. The Centre is expected to take a stand…let us see what stand the Centre will take,” observed the Supreme Court.

The “issue” the Supreme Court referred to was child pornography; and not pornography per se. And the “stand” referred to the stand before the Supreme Court on the next date of hearing and not the stand of going around banning the pornographic websites left, right and center.

Regarding internet pornography in general, the same learned judge of the same Supreme Court observed the same day during the same proceedings thus: “Such interim orders cannot be passed by this court. Somebody may come to the court and say look I am above 18 and how can you stop me from watching it within the four walls of my room. It is a violation of Article 21.” What happened to that “observation” of the apex court?

How is the government reading what was not said into what was expressly observed when the two are the exact opposite of each other? If a ban on pornography violated Article 21, as clearly observed by the Supreme Court in denying the interim order prayed for, how can Center take a “stand” by doing exactly what the Supreme Court said could not be done without violating Article 21? So, what was Center’s “stand”? To go ahead and violate the mandate of Article 21?

So, who are you kidding, Mr. Prasad? Right from the start of this ban, the government has been singing this song of apex court “observation” against pornography on the Internet when there was no observation to that effect.

New Reports referred:

Child pornography stays banned but govt unblocks other sites. :Hindustan Times (August 5, 2015)

Can’t stop an adult from watching porn in his room, says SC. :The Hindu (July 9, 2015)

NISHANT: A Tale of Violent Re-ordering

nishantThose with means and influence tend to be adamant and oppressive apart from being almost completely indifferent to the miseries of the less-privileged. Feudal India with its notorious landlords was a society in which power and money were concentrated in those few hands that did not hesitate in brutally squeezing the poor and the weak with or without reason. The excesses were tolerated solely because individuals and even state institutions were powerless against the mighty zamindars . But then, one didn’t necessarily have to be dirt-poor to suffer at their hands. To invite violence and oppression from their side one only had to have something that they wanted, and that ‘thing’ could be someone’s wife to whom one of them took fancy, which is precisely what happens in Nishant . However, the oppressor, drunk on his might, might fail to note when and where the threshold was breached, in which case the backlash might sometimes be a little too strong to stand. Huge fires, many a time, begin with an innocuous spark. Nishant or ‘end of night’ is the story of one such spark and its blowing into an unforgiving, violent uprising.

Directed by Shyam Benegal and cinematographed by today’s much admired film director, Govind Nihalani, Nishant — released in 1975 — was the first movie featuring Naseeruddin Shah, who went on to become India’s finest actors, in a widely lauded performance alongside the equally impressive Girish Karnad, Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi and Amrish Puri. This was Smita Patil’s second movie after her debut in Benegal’s Charandas Chor , which was also released in early 1975.

The film is set in the times around Indian independence when India was taking its unsure baby-steps in the post-war world of sovereign nations. The feudal system was still well-entrenched and nobody believed that anything in terms of social structure was going to change anytime soon. A schoolteacher, in such a setting, might not be the weakest soul to shatter or the ideal human rock to test one’s raw strength against, but, with a pretty wife at home, he might be among the unluckiest. So, when Vishwam (Naseeruddin Shah), the youngest and the most gentle brother of the powerful zamindar , sets his eyes on the school teacher’s wife, his brothers make a gift of her and present it to him. Being married already, of course, doesn’t come in the way of his accepting the affectionate ‘gift’ by his caring brothers.

Despite being the brother of a landlord who wields unlimited raw power and crushing control over the lives of the people of the village, Vishwam, unlike his brothers, is not overbearing or drunk on power. He is an ordinary man in an extraordinary family. And for the most part he is quite happy with his wife and whatever else he has. He never comes across as ambitious on any front whatsoever. The only thing he does that falls in the league of the everyday misdeeds committed by his kind is covet another man’s wife. He never really asks his brothers to do anything to get the woman in his arms; neither does he look inclined to try anything adventurous on that front. But when begotten for him, Vishwam does not hesitate in taking the schoolteacher’s wife, Sushila, as his mistress. However, he is still not the kind of animalistic rapist that his brothers are perfectly capable of being at any hour of any day. On the contrary, he displays a certain amount of care and emotions for Sushila, which gives the impression that he either genuinely loves her or feels something for her that very closely resembles romantic sentiments. Benegal spends a good amount of run time on building Vishwam’s character as a good guy trying hard to fit into the accepted mould of bad, and Benegal makes it very probable that in part Vishwam accepts Sushila as his mistress just to prove that he was also just as bad as his brothers.

The helpless schoolteacher is left with his insufferable agony, barren rage and a deep sense of injustice apart from his motherless little child much in need of the mother. He runs to everyone from the villagers to the police seeking assistance against the powerful landlord, but nobody is willing to risk inviting the displeasure of the zamindar . Even the police looks the other way for the same reason. They try being helpful by gently advising him to reconcile to the fact that his wife was never coming back to him, for she now belonged to the zamindar family. Her grand elevation from being the wife of a schoolteacher to the mistress-hood of the landlord’s youngest brother is somehow tolerable, if not perfectly alright, with the villagers. They quickly get into the what-happened-happened mode of consolation that people generally reserve for untimely deaths, and the typical ‘wish-of-god’ part stands conveniently modified to ‘wish-of-the- zamindar ‘.

The zamindar family ignores, to their own detriment, that the discontent born of injustice does not die an easy death, and a helpless acceptance is not the same thing as approval or endorsement. It remains in public memory like a deep, burning scar, and no matter how weak, timid and poor the people be, the sense of injustice is a hugely uniting force. The bonds of hatred are sometimes stronger than ties of blood. So, while the injustice is not overtly resisted despite passionate appeals from the schoolteacher, the outrage remains simmering under the surface, which eventually boils over and produces a violent backlash.

Although Nishant is primarily a story of a schoolteacher’s struggle against the tyranny of a powerful landlord, it is also a tale of class divide and a comment on the nature of all revolutions. Longstanding discontent has always been the most effective fuel for an uprising. Benegal does not shy away from recognizing the unforgiving nature of such backlash. This is not a fire of justice, for it exercises no discretion. It does not right the wrongs, but cleans the slate for a fresh start. So, all that is good about the bad is also wiped out, which is why when the villagers set out to kill, they do not spare the wife of the schoolteacher either. She is part of the household that invited the ire. She must suffer the onslaught just as much as any other belonging to the same household.

At personal level, the schoolteacher is thrown in the situation where his wife has been abducted and he is helpless. He can do nothing except come to terms with his humiliating circumstances and accept brutal injustice as a way of the world, as an undeniable, inescapable reality. His wife’s position is even more difficult because she has to adjust not only with the absence of her husband and the child but also with her new surroundings, which are innately oppressive on account of having been forced upon her. Ironically, she finds solace in the wife of the person whose mistress she ends up becoming. Eventually, hopelessness sets in to make her accept her fate, and she becomes an unwilling part of the zamindar family. In giving up and giving in she is very unlike her husband, who never really gives up on the fight and never accepts the feudal oppression he faces as his unavoidable fate. In presenting this contrast Benegal brings to us these two ways in which people respond to the tragedies they face at the hands of other human beings.

Benegal’s Nishant carries a message that needs no re-affirmation and yet it needs to be re-affirmed over and over again simply because we tend to overlook the obvious for short-term gains. Perception of injustice is the greatest and the most viable threat to established order, and much of the large scale unrest anywhere is caused by the sense of oppression. The principle of Rule of Law is fundamentally aimed at preventing arbitrariness so as to prevent discontent from taking roots.

The movie ends with the lynching of Sushila and Vishwam by the mob after they try to run away and hide, but are spotted. Sushila thinks of her son in the last moments of her life. The final scene shows the son of Sushila and the schoolteacher waiting in a classroom with other students for his schoolteacher father to step in and begin teaching. Clean slate. New beginning.

Originally published as part of my Movie Review column LEGAL SCANNER (Classics) in LAWYERS UPDATE [February, 2015 Issue; Vol. XXI, Part 2].

Highway: Stale Dish Overheated

One can’t simply mix Stockholm Syndrome, Child Abuse and the idea of love-on-the-go in different proportions, throw in some rustic dialogues, and tout it as path-breaking cinema. It is a ‘different’ movie only to the most naïve of the audience; for the rest it’s a cocktail of The World Is Not Enough, Monsoon Wedding and Jab We Met.

Veera Tripathi (Alia Bhatt) wants to bask in the freshness of freedom, craves freedom from the shackles of expected political correctness and from the compulsion to be appropriate at all times. This purportedly free-spirited, rebel girl is the daughter of a wealthy man of considerable political influence. She is about to get married, and calls her husband-to-be over late at night, steals out of her house and asks him to take her for a long drive, which he refuses to do initially but concedes to ‘touching the highway’ and coming back after realizing that the girl wouldn’t back down. They stop for fuel. And despite being told not to, by a concerned would-be hubby, she steps out of the car to breathe in the air of freedom. Unfortunately, there is a robbery in progress and the robbers, on their way out, take the girl hostage and drive away in the couple’s BMW. The lead robber, Mahavir Bhati (Randeep Hooda), later realizes that the girl they had taken hostage is the daughter of a man of great means and political influence. They realize almost immediately that it was a shark on the other end of their fishing rod and there was no way they could drag it aboard their little canoe. They realize that holding the girl for ransom was not a viable scheme, given who the father of the girl was. But, Mahavir, in reckless disregard of conventional wisdom and the advice of his seniors in crime, decides to go ahead with the plan anyway.

To misdirect law enforcement agencies, Mahavir sends one of his associates to Bengal to make a few calls to the girl’s parents and later they also send a picture of the girl holding a recent Bengali language newspaper to indicate that she was alive and in Bengal. All this while Mahavir continues with the girl in a truck through Punjab and into Himachal Pradesh. After her first attempt to flee fails, she is no longer a hostile hostage but a willing companion, who even helps her kidnappers give the police a slip.

Mahavir is a coarse man and does not treat his hostage with any genuine gentleness though he is not particularly cruel, overbearing or rough to her either. And he does save her from falling prey to the lust of a lecherous associate of his, who is hit and reprimanded by Mahavir for his act, which results in his leaving Mahavir and later helping the law enforcement agencies in locating Mahavir. With generous assistance from the Director the hostage is made to realize that the kidnapper is not much of an enemy. Consequently and predictably, she opens up and reveals her painful past replete with repeated sexual abuse as a child at the hands of her uncle condoned by her own mother. The kidnapper warms up to her, and his protective instincts come into play like they have been waiting patiently for decades to gush out at the right moment. Equation changes fast enough. And she is no longer a ‘deal’; she is a delicate flower in need of protection. And the flower self-confessedly likes the road more than any garden in the world, which gives the Director the opportunity to once again take us to the dry and twisty as well as the snow-lined roads of Jab We Met . He could have easily used some footage from Jab We Met itself and saved some shoot expenses.

The coarse, uncouth villain has a good side. In fact, he has no bad side at all. He is the victim of his circumstances, like the rest of us. The heroine, having grown up in a heavily protected environment, gets out to see the big, bad world, where nobody really cares. She finds the goodness in the bad, and falls in love with it. The bad she finds is a lot better than the best in her well-cushioned world of seat belts and airbags. Not that there is no real bad in the world, and she comes across that too, and is for that reason convinced that the man she now loves is better than most—if not the best—in both the worlds.

She finally finds a home for herself and also her man – the kidnapper – far from the ruthless world. And just when everything looks rosy and settled, a bullet presents itself on the scene and ends the kidnapper-villain-turned-hero. She is shocked and shaken, rejects the world, walks away to make her own world in the memory of her man at the same far away place. The credits roll.

The movie lacks novelty miserably. It treads a much beaten track, and what’s worse is that Imtiaz Ali has massively overdone all critical scenes and Alia Bhatt has failed to carry any of those scenes with any amount of conviction and ends up over-emoting every single time.

The first time she admits to Mahavir about being a victim of child abuse at the hands of her uncle, she goes over-dramatic to the extent that it loses much of its impact for anybody who has seen ‘Monsoon Wedding‘. The overly sudden warming up of Mahavir towards her after her admission of abuse looks out of sync with the angry, hardened character Mahavir is made out to be.

Her confronting her uncle and her mother over the abuse she suffered as a child in front of the entire family reminds one of Shefali Chhaya’s brilliant performance in a similar scene in Monsoon Wedding ; only Alia is not quarter as good as Shefali. And then the hysterical screams at the end aimed at displaying the suppressed rage in the girl is actually hilarious for the insufferable failure of the actor. Alia has tried too hard to act and the effort shows.

Perhaps Imtiaz Ali intended the hysterical screams of the heroine to convey her rebellious agony. Unfortunately, Alia fails miserably and ends up looking like a pampered kid throwing a tantrum. Besides, the cinematic device of using screams to display agony is a little loud and unless both the Director and Actor are very skillful and the scene really demands it, the output is bound to emerge jarringly loud. In this case, it is hopelessly flawed, too. Monsoon Wedding shows precisely the same thing in a much restrained fashion and leaves a lasting impact.

The sequence where Mahavir dies is similarly overdone. A much shorter version of the entire drama could create a much greater impact; if only the Director knew how to tell a story. The drama of Veera’s holding a dying Mahavir and trying to defend, lioness-like, her companion against a posse of armed policemen is melodramatic. Imtiaz Ali could simply show a sudden shot, an immediate death— like Bhiku Matre’s death in ‘Satya‘ — and a shell-shocked heroine, who undergoes a nervous breakdown and slips into silence. Nothing novel about that either, but it’s still a lot, lot better than the badly overdone melodrama that Imtiaz serves up.

Furthermore, why Mahavir had to be fatally shot anyway? The hostage and the lone, visibly unarmed kidnapper are around 20 feet apart with a clear, grassy field between them. In view of no immediate danger to the hostage, more than adequate opportunity to isolate the hostage, and surround, disable and capture the kidnapper, no trained task force in the world would shoot to kill. But Imtiaz Ali wants him dead for his own purposes and doesn’t mind shoving it down the throat of the audiences with a broomstick, which he does often enough to take away any cinematic merit that the movie could have otherwise had.

Originally published as part of my Legal Movie Review column LEGAL SCANNER in LAWYERS UPDATE [April, 2014 Issue; Vol. XX, Part 4]

CBI or CBCC?

When the CBI top man, Ranjit Sinha, revealed – not much of revelation though no matter how desperately we hoped it wasn’t true – that the CBI had to ‘consult’ the government on certain issues, I began wondering if I really understood what CBI really was and what it was supposed to do. What did he think he was doing showing an investigation report to the government in a case in which the government officials were the chicken on the roast? If it was an investigation agency, it didn’t make sense for it to ‘consult’, much less take instructions, from those whose role it was investigating in a certain criminal wrongdoing one way or the other.

What did Ranjit Sinha seek to achieve by making a statement as completely out of line as that, I wondered, although it was not hard to understand his reasons to actually ‘consult’ the Law-Minister-no-more, Ashwani Kumar and allow changes to the final report at the behest of his political bosses, which invited the wrath of the Apex Court when the matter came to light.

The fact of the parrot’s parroting its master’s voice and words, and doing the master’s bidding was not exactly a secret, but was still veiled, howsoever thinly. But Mr. Sinha’s statement was more like throwing caution and shame to the wind and admitting rather meekly that CBI was not ‘independent’ in any significant way, but was a government agency, which also implied that it’s being the top ‘investigating agency’ was a sham because if one goes by the letter and the spirit of the law, an investigation officer at any level is independent of departmental hierarchy with respect to the investigation he or she is handling. Nobody has the right to direct the investigation in progress. However, it is only when there is a reasonable threat to the independence or fairness of the investigation, a judicial check – and no other – is warranted. At no point during the investigation is an investigation officer bound to consult any of his superiors in the department or the government. And here was the director of India’s premier investigation agency talking about the necessity of consulting the government.

So, the sacking of Mr. Ashwani Kumar for the reasons too well known to be mentioned did not come as a surprise to me. But it took a bit – just a bit – of thought to guess the possible reasons for Mr. Ranjit Sinha’s making a statement that made no sense at all. Perhaps – and this is only a guess – he found it to be an opportune moment to bring the helplessness of the CBI to the notice of the top court so that it could arrange for the agency’s actual independence. It is not easy to be a little animal with its tail either wagging vigorously or firmly tucked between its legs.

If the independence of the CBI cannot be ensured, let’s change it from ‘CBI’ to ‘CBCC’ – Central Bureau of Consultation and Coordination.

The Final Argument

As a 14-year-old it was beyond me as to why my father wanted my presence when Kailash — a drunkard rickshaw-puller employed for small chores at the hotel owned and run by my father for better part of his life — requested my father to talk his daughter into abandoning her abusive husband for good. Even today I can only speculate, for I never asked and he never told his reasons. But, if he wanted to educate me in the strange ways of the world, well, he did succeed I suppose. 

Her husband lived in a nearby village and kept her with him only so long as her money lasted, after which he would beat her up and throw her out. And she would return back to her native town, start working in the houses as a maid, save money and go back to her husband with the savings. He would readily take her in, eat, drink and make merry till the savings lasted, after which she would again find herself on the street. The cycle continued for long. She had the option of leaving her husband and re-marrying without much fuss, for her husband wouldn’t have bothered. But that was one thing that never crossed her mind, nor did she even as much as entertain the suggestion. 

Her father, Kailash, couldn’t bear to see his daughter suffer that miserably. And so he approached my father to talk some worldly sense into his daughter. My father was his last hope. And I was to witness the undoing of the hope. 

In the early hours of the morning while the hotel waited for its first guests my father sat there hearing intently with a grim, plain face as Kailash retold the whole story while his daughter and I heard on. She was sitting on the floor, cross-legged while I stood with my arms crossed against my chest trying to look as serious as I could manage. Puzzled and startled, I heard the bizarre story for the first time, and I am sure my face must have displayed some funny colours, for my father cast a glance towards me and the hint of a smile appeared on his face momentarily though his light grey eyes remained still betraying no emotion at all.

Kailash had told the story in different words many times over to my father, but — as I would gradually come to know in due course — it was standard practice with my father to make the complaining party place the facts afresh so that the other side could agree or disagree to the presented facts. And if the complaining party changed the facts even minutely or watered down the tone for some reason, he drew certain adverse conclusions. “Those who can’t speak for themselves can’t speak for anyone, and must not be trusted to defend anything and anyone,” he once told me in his typically even tone. 

After Kailash was done with retelling the story as passionately and as angrily as he ever did, my father looked at the girl and asked if it was all true. She nodded slowly. 

I had thought she would say something to the effect that it was not all that bad, and her husband was not quite so evil. None of it. It was how it was. No defenses. No explanation. 

“So, why do you continue with him when he hurts you so much all the time and every way? He does not even provide you with the basics,” my father pointed out without taking his eyes off her as he spoke each word dispassionately. He seemed to note the way each of his word was received and reacted to. The girl nodded sincerely all through, listening. But did not say anything. 

He let a moment pass in silence. And then waited some more. Was it so difficult to understand really? It was elementary to my teenage, public-school mind. But there was a real world outside, which defied reason with dizzying regularity. 

The pause stretched undisturbed. For what seemed quite a long while he did not speak. Neither did she. And then he decided to be more specific and a bit more pointed. “Why don’t you leave him?” 

Kya karoon babu ji. Ab pyar to usi se hai na,” she said very politely and a bit hesitantly, but very clearly and unambiguously. That took me by surprise. I couldn’t believe that I was hearing it said that simply in the real life. It was straight out of any number of Bollywood movies, but was delivered with such astounding ease and such perfect conviction that it took quite a long while to sink in. I looked at my father immediately expecting a surprised look, and met a steady gaze. He had simply nodded in understanding. Not a word. He got up and moved away with a smile. And the smile carried no enigma. It was the easy, pleased smile of understanding, which baffled me even further. 

I and Kailash exchanged glances of incomprehension and puzzlement. We were on the same plane of confusion while my father and the girl existed on an altogether different planet of understanding. And I wanted to migrate. So, I walked towards my father. “Papa…?” He looked at me and his smile deepened while he said — and I can hear it as clearly in my ears even now — “Prem hamesha antim tarq hota hai.” (“Love is always the final argument.”) He was a man of few words, but at times he was a man of ‘very few’ words. It was such an occasion. He went away and got busy in the regular business of running his hotel leaving me perplexed. No further elaboration was on the way from his side, I knew. I was on my own with it.

Originally written and published as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE [April 2013 Issue; Vol. XIX, Part 4].

Eve-teasing and the Law: The ‘Cute’ Cancer

Statement 1: “Main aapko bike pe ghumaunga. Hum badi aish karenge…Ice cream bhi khilaunga.” (“I’ll take you around on bike. We’ll have lots of fun. Will also get ice cream for you.”) – A 4-year-old boy to a distant female relative of 24 (twenty four).

Statement 2: “Didi, aap bahut sundar ho. Main bada hokar aapse hi shaadi karoonga.” (“Sister, you are very pretty. When I grow up, I’ll only marry you.”) — A 5-year-old boy to a 22-year-old cousin sister.

Statement 3: “Jab main badi ho jaungi na to **** Bhaiya ki ‘girlfriend banungi.” (“When I grow up, I’ll be **** Bhaiya’s girlfriend) – A 10-year-old girl to her female friend of the same age referring to a male neighbour of 25 (twenty five). 

A barely 5-year-old boy living in the Kingsway Camp region of North Delhi found it entertaining to aim his laser pointer at the passerby girls on the street and also at the girls that lived in a paying guest accommodation across the street. The anatomical choices he made for his laser pointer embarrassed and infuriated many. A few girls took it up with the mother of the child, and the lady found the complaints frivolous, for her little, innocent boy could do no wrong like the British Crown. Her idea of a ‘solution’ was that if her baby prince was too much trouble, the passersby could take different streets, and the tenants could look for other accommodations. Such deplorable defense of a child’s inappropriate is not exactly unusual. Things like “he is just a kid”, or “he doesn’t really know what he is doing”, “no, he is really very innocent” are regularly said in defense of the child even if the defense is not as brazen in the case reported above. The indefensible not only cannot be defended, but also must not be defended. In fact, it’s a moral obligation of the parents to ‘not defend’ such conduct of their children. 

Let’s now consider the ‘cutie statements’ cited above to know exactly how ‘cute’ and innocent they really are though people are likely to smile, laugh, giggle and guffaw at all three alike. ‘Statement 2’ and ‘Statement 3’ fall in, more or less, the same category. Both the statements are aspirational with the idea of a relationship at the center. The child in ‘Statement 2’ wants to have a pretty wife, finds his cousin beautiful, and expresses his desire to marry her when he is eligible to do so. Generally, children understand marriage as something that has the effect of keeping two people together forever. So, they want to marry to keep the person with them for all times.

‘Statement 3’ is much like ‘Statement 2’ except for the predominance of ‘romance’ in the former, which is why the little girl aspires to be a ‘girlfriend’ and not a ‘wife’. She has found someone she would want to be ‘her special someone’. Given her age and the exposure that comes with a metropolitan background and lifestyle, the girl associates youthful ‘romance’ with being a ‘girlfriend’. And since she seeks ‘romance’ in a relationship, she aspires to be a girlfriend. In this case too, ‘relationship’ is central. Quite obviously, both of the kids do not fully understand the implications of ‘bhaiya‘ (brother) and ‘didi‘ (elder sister) because of their limited understanding of complex societal norms and their intricate interplay. 

However, ‘Statement 1’ has nothing in common with the other two statements. The child wants to take the girl on some kind of a date. But make no mistake; it’s not a romantic, candlelight dinner that he has on his mind. He would take the girl around on a motorbike though his little legs might present some difficulty there. The ice-cream is also on the menu as an additional perk. And they would have lots of ‘fun’. The expression ‘aish karenge‘, in this context, takes a particularly squalid colour because of its unmistakable sexual undertones, and would sound quite repulsive coming from a 4-year-old. The first indicator of a rotting society is the general acceptability of filthy speech. 

While in the other two statements the children treat themselves as children and talk of their future as grown ups, in ‘Statement 1’ the kid brazenly positions himself as a ‘male’ trying to persuade a ‘female’ to go out with him on a ‘fun date’. A ride on the bike and ice-cream are used as incentives – tools of persuasion. There is no relationship of any kind in sight here. There is no ‘romance’. It’s just ‘fun’. Why? Well, because women are meant to have ‘fun’ with, objects to be ‘enjoyed’, things to be ‘used’, toys to be ‘played’ around with. The kid does not see himself as a kid and despite his pint size he would take her around on a motorcycle, for he is the consummate ‘user’ by virtue of being a male. 

The apparently innocuous statement carries, in the miniature form, the complete male-centered power structure that breeds and sustains men who look at girls and women as sexual objects to be played with, and bitterly resent if their favourite toy talks back or asserts its independence in any manner including by spurning unwanted, sexual advances. Eve-teasing – which is just a soft word for sexual harassment of different degrees – acid attacks, rapes and gang rapes are resentful, bitter assertions of male dominance aimed at suppressing the newfound female independence. That she, who suffered silently all these centuries, suddenly musters the courage to say ‘no’ is not what the traditional ‘users’ of this ‘fun object’ are ready to tolerate. 

When catcalls and obscene street remarks are objected to, the harassers turn into physical molesters, and many a time rapists and gang rapists as well. When an eve-teaser’s ‘love proposal’ is rejected, the jilted lover becomes an acid-thrower. Bottomline: ‘No’ is not allowed. 

Serious offenses against women like acid attacks and many a time even gang rapes start with eve-teasing, rather ‘sexual harassment’, as it should be properly called. As pointed out earlier, it is when the woman takes a stand against the harassment that she is subjected to inhuman treatment in retaliation. On the issue of ‘eve-teasing’ (sexual harassment, that is) the law, the government and the courts are getting tougher by the day. Is that a solution? Yes, it is, to an extent because the thorns that hurt must be taken out. But the problem is the tree. So, the solution is in the roots. 

‘Statement 1’ was made by the 4-year-old at an informal gathering of two families related by marriage in the domestic, drawing-room setting. It is easy to imagine the peels of feminine laughter with all the aunties, bhabhis, buas, didis and maasis joining in to celebrate the ‘cuteness’ of their little smarty. No harder it is to imagine a smiling, proud father sitting or standing nearby, and muttering inaudibly to himself, “That’s my boy!”

The 24-year-old girl to whom this statement was made texted it to me. It left me majorly irritated and my first, deliberately restrained response was: “Well, not exactly a nice boy.” (verbatim). “I felt instantly disgusted,” she said. She also admitted, rather regretfully, to having smiled for the sake of politeness. Wallowing in the resounding approval of all, the little boy must be very pleased with himself and with the course he is on. 

The girl felt that the little boy could not be scolded because it is his parents and his upbringing that must be held accountable. That’s another major mistake. We do not draw psychological maps of a criminal to find what made him the criminal and go after those who contributed to the formation of his criminal psyche. We punish the criminal for the offense, plain and simple. Take care of the symptoms or the secondary disease or infection, then deal with the principal malady and then get to the prevention. That’s how doctors work. That’s how the law and legal systems works. And that’s how legal scholars, jurists and social scientists look at such issues and apply themselves to it to find a solution. But in this case, the least one can do, to begin with, is not encourage such ‘cuteness’ by looking ‘amused’ by it. 

The law has to and does take care of the harassers with the law enforcement agencies already gearing up to do more to prevent sexual harassment in public places. Some of the states – like Uttar Pradesh – have come up with measures such as the helplines one could use to report instances of harassment without having to confront the offender, and without having her own identity disclosed. Recently, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, announced that the eve-teasers would not get driving licenses, passports and other government facilities, and that a database of eve-teasers for this purpose will be maintained. These two states have taken those measures in the past two months. So, the Indian state is stirring up, which is primarily because the problem has assumed alarming proportions. 

Sterner laws, harsher punishments and swifter action against the offenders might sound like god-sent panacea, but the remedy comes with certain serious side effects. Like in case of the anti-dowry laws, an over-zealous approach to effective enforcement might make the remedy prone to gross misuse. Since the best way to prevent retaliation against the victim is to keep her identity secret, the measure opens itself to misuse in many ways. Its core strength is also its foundational weakness. But that risk has to be taken simply because when the society fails keep its unruly elements in check, the state is compelled to intervene. 

So, the other bottomline is: Either you teach your ‘cutie’ 4-year-old his lessons the mommy way at home today, or the police will teach him the ways of the world tomorrow by the roadside the big-daddy way.

Originally written for and published as Cover Story in LAWYERS UPDATE [December 2012 Issue; Vol. XVIII, Part 12]