I made deliberate efforts that the noise and visuals from Kathua don’t reach my ears and eyes or at least I maintain a healthy distance from them.
Why? Because I am a coward.
I love my peace and this fragile peace is shattered by those attractive doe-eyes every time they peep at me from purple banners of a protest march or through the LCD screens of my existentiality. Those eyes don’t let me live in my cocoon of hope.
Yet, despite all efforts, I failed. I failed not because the noise-papers and the talk-TVs were all over the story, but because I have an eight-year-old at home – live and ticking, a little packet of dynamite with equally big and expressive eyes, with an equal quantum of life pouring out from each and every muscle of his tiny eight-year-old body. My own flesh and bones, a constant aide-mémoire of what life is for an eight-year-old. The fun, the frolics, the carelessness and the bounty of innocence and laughter, the limitless love for amma (who cares, whether biological or adopted) and the stainless security from abba (who cares, whether a nomad pauper or a respectably earning doctor), it’s all a part of the biological clock which governs their being.
It’s an interesting age. At eight you begin to realise what death is but never expect to meet it face to face. You understand the meaning of truth, but are too young to fathom the details of an honest lie. It’s the age when you play with friends and follow strangers into dens of hate, with equal zest and inquisitiveness; also the age when the tiny gypsies of wonderland rush in open daffodil fields to bring their ponies home, and an age when children of well-earning doctors run around within the security of gated colonies of suburban Delhi.
But despite the similarities of age and biology, of consciousness and life, these children are contrastingly different, as different as the earthlings and the aliens, as different as life and death. In a nation, where one-third of children do not make it beyond the age of five, she was lucky to have reached eight! Luck, it seems, has a crucial presence in the lives of most ‘wretched’ Indians. It’s probably luck which ejects them alive out of the hellholes of hunger, illiteracy, poverty and abandonment. You are lucky if you haven’t yet been lynched in public, you are lucky if you haven’t gone hungry to bed, you are lucky if you haven’t been raped many times over and had stones inserted into your private parts, you are lucky if you are a Dalit, Muslim, Christian, Adivasi or a poor woman of any caste and are still alive and happy in this land of Buddha and Gandhi. And the even luckier ones are blessed with opportunities of hope, of chances to play within the safety of suburban gated colonies of Delhi.
But being lucky is not a surety of survival in this ‘new India’. Not when the luck of the deprived crosses the path of majoritarianism, machismo and nationalism, all ominously mixed into a murderous concoction.
That fateful winter day, she ran out of luck, like a steam engine running out of fuel. The open daffodil fields where her horses grazed were infiltrated by hate. The Hindutva zealots who waited in the bushes to grab and snuff out her life in the presence of a helpless goddess, had all the luck with them. They were powerful, they were nationalist, they belonged to the top-most layer of India’s duplicitous caste soil – all the right ingredients to get away with murder and brutality. And added to this innate immunity, they were supported by a powerful political class, out there to avenge the alleged misdeeds of a forgotten past.
Nations, we are told are a cohort of people who share a common future. A common future? Laughable. How can the future of an eight-year-old born to a rover gypsy be the same as that of an eight-year-old born to a doctor living in the capital of the country? Have some sense in your nationalist heads. They are different! They are born to be different. The mills of customs and traditions have grinded long to produce this difference. Like chaff, the wretched of the earth have been spurned out of the Indian system. High caste, wealth and misuse of political power make the difference come out alive in all its hues.
We may mourn her, protest against the inhumaneness of those beasts who forced them on her, we may make fresh laws and plead for even harsher punishments, but she won’t forgive us as a nation. We kept betraying her as people of her land. She was never a part of us. She was happy with the harmony of her horses’ hooves. Our jackboots have crushed her with impunity and now the silence of her shroud will yell into our ears and her doe-eyes will scare us when we hold our little ones for a kiss or a loving hug.
Goodbye little princess, may you fly with the angels tonight! The gods and goddesses wait for you at the gates of heaven, their heads bowed in shame, their eyes red with anger, their hearts bursting with love for you.
Shah Alam Khan is at the department of orthopaedics, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. The views expressed in this article are personal.