Last week as the veteran film star Dilip Kumar was hospitalized, I took out my notes on him and his wife, Saira Banu. I had met the couple just once and that too rather briefly in the lobby of a five star hotel in New Delhi. But soon after that meet, I had interviewed Saira Bano for a national daily. This was in the summer of 1999, in the backdrop of the major controversy erupting, with Dilip Kumar receiving the Nishaan-e- Imtiaz award from the Pakistan government. Pressure was mounting on him to return the award, with Saira Bano reacting, “Tell me, are we living in a democracy or is some sort of dictatorship going on!”
During the course of that interview, when I had told her about several critics saying that Rabindranath Tagore had returned the title the British had bestowed on him, and in keeping with that, Dilip Kumar could also return the award, she’d retorted, “Rabindranath Tagore returned it on his own, on a certain occasion. He wasn’t labelled anti-national, nor was he bullied and threatened. Tell me, do we now go looking for all those trophies, awards and citations that our cricketers received when they had played in Pakistan? Should we ask them to give back all those awards they’d received earlier? I’m told that even L K Advani sahib had got some citation from Pakistan…all this talk of returning awards seems petty.”
She had sounded hurt and upset by the deterioration taking place all around, “It gets very painful to see what’s been happening! How much are we going to be bullied! I must say it has left me very hurt, very grieved, as though my dream has been broken, as though there’s been a crack in the glass…I feel very upset. One hopes that communalism and the rise of fascism gets controlled and common sense prevails, so that we can all co-exist in peace.”
Others like Saira Banu could also hear the alarm bells!
Perhaps, one of the first to have sensed that things were not going okay was Khushwant Singh. He would repeatedly say that fascism has spread out its fangs among us! He would stress on communal strife hitting in the country, reaching dangerous levels, “No, nobody could have ever imagined that fascist forces would rise and spread out in our country, as the condition is today. Fascism well and truly crossed our threshold and dug its heels in our courtyard. We let the fanatics get away with every step they took without raising a howl of protest. They burnt books they did not like, they beat up journalists who wrote against them, they openly butchered people for believing in a different God…The carnage in Gujarat, the Mahatma’s home state, in early 2002 and the subsequent landslide victory for Narendra Modi spelt disaster for our country. The fascist agenda of Hindu fanatics is unlike anything India has experienced in its modern history.”
Khushwant was realistic and would comment along the strain, “No, I ‘m not optimistic but one should fight, one should make every single effort to save the country and openly challenge and take on these men who are destroying the country. We have to battle with them at any cost. If we love our country we have to save it from the communal forces. And though the liberal class is shrinking I do hope that the present generation totally rejects the communal and fascist polices …and realizes that these are tough times for India.”
Another writer, Mulk Raj Anand, would go to the extent of saying, “What’s getting wrong with us Indians! We are becoming third class. At times I sit and wonder, are we the same people who built the Ajanta and Ellora caves! Today we have become so very destructive and there’s so much violence spread out! What’s getting wrong with us!”
In fact, together with the rising violence and destruction, another trend is fast picking up. In several incidents of anarchy and rioting, the victims are paraded as culprits! We all saw and experienced the apparent glimpses of this trend when during the North East Delhi riots, several victims were named as the culprits. This list also carried the name of a saviour doctor of the area, Dr MA Anwer of the Al- Hind Hospital, who had saved the lives of the dying and injured yet his name was there in the police charge sheet! In fact, recent studies conducted in the area, by activists and academics, go to show that till date the hounding of the alive victims is going on!
It is quite relevant to mention here that it was perhaps for the first time that outrage was expressed loud and clear by several activists when blasts shook Malegaon on September 8, 2006, and not a single name of any of the Right-Wing political outfits came up. Instead, names of several Muslims came up as suspects or culprits! This too despite certain significant facts: Malegaon blasts took off on September 8, 2006, on the day of Shab-e-Raat, that too near a masjid, killing around 40 people, most of them Muslims. Yet the role of the Hindutva outfits, including that of the Bajrang Dal was not initially probed. Why were the Bajrang Dal members not held responsible for the Malegaon blasts, even when strong indicators stood out? Were the Bajrang Dal members being protected by the likes of LK Advani? In this context, another significant fact can’t be overlooked– when Pastor Graham Staines and his two young sons were killed, the then Home Minister, LK Advani, had stated that Bajrang Dal members couldn’t be the killers. He said this, even when there was evidence against them. After investigations were done, it was more than writ large that the main accused in the killing of Staines and his two sons, was none other than Bajrang Dal’s Dara Singh!
Today, of course, the situation is even worse as writers, commentators and journalists who write about these ground realities are getting targeted by the State machinery. There has to be an immediate halt to this, otherwise how would any journalist function and report and put forth facts!
These are definitely dark times. One is feeling suffocated. Helplessness and hopelessness is tightening its hold. At least, in those earlier years one could question and query, without apprehensions of the aftermath unleashed by the State machinery.
Leaving you with these lines by Sahir Ludhianvi:
Here we go, stoking fire through song-laden lips
The fear of the world can never staunch the flow of our word
In all, we have just one view, our own
Why should we see the world through someone else’s eyes
It is true we did not turn the world into a garden
But at least we lessened some thorns from the paths we travelled.
Views are personal