They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Shaktiman, the mare whose leg was amputated after an assault by political  activists, is a symbol of our broken republic – a permanent and searing reminder of the dark forces that now threaten to consume us and our possible futures.

The police horse, Shaktiman, lies injured after BJP activists protesting the Uttarakhand government in Dehradun beat it with bamboo sticks. Credit: PTI

The police horse, Shaktiman, lies injured after BJP activists protesting the Uttarakhand government in Dehradun beat it with bamboo sticks and pulled it to the ground. Credit: PTI

Orwell’s great satire, Animal Farm, was inspired by the sight of a small boy mercilessly beating a great cart-horse. He was struck by the thought that if only the horse were to become conscious of its strength, that puny carter wouldn’t last too long: “…if only animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them.”

It was a powerful insight, and flowered unforgettably in that hopeful moment in the 1940s when Orwell was moved by the prospect of the anti-fascist struggle becoming a popular democratic movement. The desired revolution would happen, as it were, painlessly – almost by osmosis. It was a magic moment, and Orwell has written memorably about its briefly glimpsed revolutionary possibilities. The fable was completed in somewhat changed circumstances – and the original vision of a people roused to a realisation of their invincible strength was transformed into one that told, again unforgettably, of the betrayal of those hopes and those possibilities, and of the restoration of the old, unjust order, albeit in a new guise. The pigs rule now – and in some versions, they wear black coats, and pretend to be lawyers.

I was reminded of this sequence by the shocking, heartbreaking footage of the BJP MLA, Ganesh Joshi, mercilessly wielding his lathi at a beautiful white horse as his party activists surged around. The great mare which we now know as Shaktiman, infinitely more graceful than the louts who set upon her, looks oddly placid, somewhat baffled by this violence – but still, distant and god-like – until she is, finally, felled by one last vicious assault.

The horse collapses – and the louts move on to their next victims. But before we turn to the meanings of this emblematic moment, let us step back a little to that other moment, when Kanhaiya Kumar was brought to the Patiala House courts in the custody of the police, if not quite under police guard. Because of course, the one thing that the police of B.S. “minor scuffle” Bassi failed to do was to guard their ward from the shocking violence which was meted out to him by so-called lawyers. They even boasted about it later – on tape, apparently – although it is unclear what there is to boast about in beating up a young, defenceless person who might even be naive enough to believe that the police were there to protect him. One of these black-coated blackguards, an activist with the BJP even offered this explanation for his shameful (and oddly, shameless) conduct: upon seeing Kanhaiya Kumar, meri desh-bhakti ubhar aayee (my nationalism burst forth).

So now we know. If there are any out there who are under any illusions as to the kind of people that we are dealing with – the kind of people who are coming out of the woodwork, emboldened by the installation of a regime that provides them with a practical, if not formal, immunity against legal deterrence –  there is now no room for doubt. We are dealing with serious psychopaths here. It makes not a jot of difference that this psychopathology enjoys a kind of collective respectability as being part of the Sangh parivar, or that its foot-soldiers wrap themselves in the national flag as they execute their dangerous designs – whether it is targeting respected professors in Karnataka, or baby-faced students in police custody or a humble blacksmith settling down to dinner in Dadri.

I am not so naive as to believe that these – or such – instances exhaust the range of violence that is on offer as part of our daily diet. There is Malda, and the chopped-up Hindu activists of Kerala, and … and … and of course, the big ones, 1984 and 2002. And don’t leave out the Kashmiri pandits, cruelly exiled from their homeland. But let me add, by the way, that from where I live, these instances of violence do not cancel each other out, as they seem to do in some weird way to the communal-minded. They add up. But even so, there is a crucial difference between violence that is perceived as violence, as something shameful, something that must be hidden, and even disavowed – and violence that is perceived as something sanctified, almost a form of patriotic duty, an affirmation of some perverted “nationalism”.

I suppose it says something about me – and I’m not even sure what it says! – but it is the sight of that broken horse that finally brings home to me the sheer grotesqueness of the cruel and violent ideology that is in the process of taking over our country. Ideology is misleading here – since it suggests some link with ideas – but what we are dealing with is a psychopathic mentality, a collective criminality which doesn’t become less criminal because it is widely shared. So, Shaktiman.

Shaktiman recuperates after one of his legs is amputated. Credit: Special Arrangement

Shaktiman recuperates after one of her legs is amputated. Credit: Special Arrangement

In the old days, there was no way of repairing a horse’s broken leg, and it was common practice – and even considered kind – to kill the horse. We seem to have made some small advance in veterinary science, since that beautiful great white horse is going to be allowed to live – but with an amputated leg. I propose that we adopt Shaktiman as a symbol of our broken republic – a permanent and searing reminder of the dark forces that now threaten to consume us and our possible futures.

Alok Rai is a writer and former professor of literature who taught at Delhi University and Allahabad University

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  • sanjay

    Though I am not a supporter of BJP led government, I as a free citizen of India also can not support the writing of the distinguished author Mr. Roy. His comments are totally one sided and point towards his ideological inclination. I would request all intellectuals to come forward and work with the government of the day rather than always keep criticizing the Govt. Hope, good sense will prevail & people will work for the betterment of the country rather than fighting for their political gains.

    • Anjan Basu

      I wish ‘the government of the day’ made it possible for all those outside the ruling establishment to work with it, or, at any rate, to work at all. Where is that space today for any meaningful work, when everything is reduced to an absurd choice between ‘being with us’ and ‘being with the nation’s enemies’ ( or rather, ‘being the nation’s enemies’ )? Prof Rai’s article is a cry of anguish in this reductionist wilderness, very nearly the cry of an inmate about to set foot inside Dachau, or Buchenwald, or – if you will – Auschwitz for the first time, as the great gate is closing behind him, for ever. This is a potent moment in history that Prof Rai has so powefully captured here. My sincere request to everyone who disgrees with him on this is simply this: please don’t just dismiss him as again ‘one of those who hate the BJP and all that it stands for’; think about what he has to say, and look within yourself to see if you find even a tiny grain of truth in the image of the violent conformist zealot that exercises his mind so powerfully, as it does my mind and that of many others that I know. — And, for god’s sake, he is Prof Alok Rai, not some vague Roy one can conveniently be ignorant about. Any discussion anywhere demands at the very least that we respect the person we are joining issue with, and misspelling his name is never going to be a great beginning of a useful discussion.
      Anjan Basu, Bangalore
      [email protected]

    • delta1980

      You are entirely entitled to your views but its quite laughable that you claim to not be a supporter of the government. A neutral person would acknowledge the mistakes made by the ruling party in all the episodes which have diminished its sheen and think about the reasons – both pros and cons of the argument for and against its actions. Your views are entirely one sided and not that of a neutral.

  • Gratgy

    Whats with the media? Anyone or anything involving the BJP becomes a symbol of India. First a dalit who protested the hanging of a terrorist and then gave up his life for reasons known only to himself . Then a bunch of youngsters who were calling for the destruction of India. Now a Horse?

    • DariyaSophia

      So you don’t mind beating up defenseless horse, or mercilessly hacking someone to pieces for the wrongful assumption that they ate cow meat.

      Kuch toh akal rakho bhae.

      • Gratgy

        Lol! When did I say I am for beating a defenseless horse. You don’t mind the ritual sacrifice of millions of four legged animals including horses by slowly and painfully bleeding them to death and you are talking about one horse. Hypocrite!

  • Common Man

    Excellent article written by Alok Rai. It is such pleasure to read extremely well-written articles in The Wire. God Bless !!!

  • Author has forgotten the almost sychronized attempts by some sections of journalists in cahoots with govt to spread lies via doctored videos and false statements..

    In another incident, arnab Goswami and timesnow has been found to be concocting stories in the Harleen Kaur (delhi eve teasing case) and has been asked to pay 50,000 as fine and to broadcast an apology on 22nd march at 9 PM prime time.
    Darkness is coming.

  • On top of all this we have the Home (alone) minister citing and retweeting Tweets from a Fake Hafiz saeeed account on twitter which was suspiciously deleted after it was unmasked.The same account has been used in the past for vilifying AAP and proclaiming support for it via ‘hafiz saeed’.Who was behind that ac ? Why did the govt not investigate it and catch the culprits behind the attempt to create and fan strife in INdia ? while yesterday 2 students were arrested for putting a pic of Mohan Bhagwat in long pants on Facebook.
    This has gone on for far too long.People will teach bjp a lesson it will never forget.

  • R Joseph

    The way this magnificent animal was mercilessly beaten, I thought the horse too had become anti-national.

    • Gratgy

      Lol Its cute when I see Non vegetarians talking about animal cruelty.. Have you ever been to a slaughterhouse? Hypocrites!

  • Sanjeev Chatterjee

    Mr. Alok Rai, please don’t politicize this unfortunate incident. If you are condemning this, then you have to condemn eating non-vegetarian food. And also don’t relate JNU and Akhlaq with this. Your so called secular friends are proud to eat beef. As a professor, I think you should know that beef, mutton and chicken etc are prepared after killing animals.

  • Vinay Tandon

    Of course we don’t expect this Ganesh Joshi fellow to have read this article, leave alone be able to give any coherent response to it. What is it that is pushing these BJP types (ministers and the elected) to increasing paranoid violence; administrative, verbal and physical? It makes me ponder over something i read recently, “War is a form nostalgia takes when men are hard pressed to say something good about their country.”

  • SuchindranathAiyer

    A cavalry’s uses are three. 1) speed and mobility to get to a vantage point. 2) to intimidate with presence 3) to demolish resistance though the momentum of a charge. It is pretty obvious that horses cannot be used by Police unless they are prepared to charge and endanger the lives and limbs of protesters and mobs. A static (bogged down) cavalry has always been broken and destroyed by infantry. One classic example, as Brussels and Belgium are in the news, is where Marshal Ney orders a heavy cavalry charge over rain soaked mud up a slope, which broke the horses momentum, against infantry which the Marquis of Wellesley quickly formed into squares on the escarpment of Mont St. Jean. This led to the massacre of the French Cavalry, man and horse, losing the Battle of Waterloo and the War for Napoleon, Emperor of Europe. Marshal Ney often reminds me of the Brilliant Indian Generals and Neta-Babus who constructed the Kargil debacle for India.

    It is now for PETA and the selectively social engineering Supreme Court to ban the use of horses in Police work.

  • DariyaSophia

    Stop, seriously. Your comment is making me laugh so hard my stomach aches. Your leaps in logic, grammar and issue are worth a case study in rhetoric! Please, please do go on.

    • Imagine Dragons

      Don’t be Grammar Nazi and counter on logic, can you do that ??

      By the way what kind of Atheist you are who don’t oppose Ritual killings, You know Asif Mohiuddin, go to his profile and check how he bashes Kurbani!!