SEEMA MUSTAFA | 6 OCTOBER, 2020
Today the Biggest Casualty is Compassion
Decades have not changed life for the Dalits
Compassion seems to have become the biggest casualty in India. Even more so than law, reflecting a societal disorder where leaders drive their politics with anger, hate and bigotry. Rapists feel protected, murderers safe, with the promoters and propagandists of hate assured of their spot in the sun. The uglier you sound the more revered you are, the filthier your act the more macho you become, with even the social media reflecting and condoning the language of hate.
In Kathua a young child was raped and killed, and processions taken out in support of her killers. In Hathras a Dalit girl has been brutally raped and murdered, and already the administration is in full mode to cover up the heinous crime. The police on the scene came not to protect the family but to ensure that the rape by upper caste thugs with links to the corridors of power was hushed up. And the family was denied the basic right to cremate their daughter, with the police setting her body on fire in the dead of night. The evil grin on a policeman’s face recorded by a persevering reporter says it all.
The police were in full deployment along with UP’s famous Rapid Action Force to subjugate the villagers into silence. And to stop politicians from reaching the village. Local leaders like Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav did not even try as the word compassion has stopped ringing bells in their homes, and it was left to Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi to set out for the village to offer solace to the family. They were pushed and assaulted by the UP police, who seem to have forgotten that political power is only temporary, and prevented from moving forward. They did not give up and reached the terrified family a day later, to hug and embrace them and offer them words of comfort.
This in itself is a major gesture - of compassion that should drive politics. Of solidarity and unity, that are lost words in this sea of hate that seems to have taken over our beings. And with it our ability to dry the tears, to offer words of comfort, to just be there to tell the people facing what no human being should ever have to endure - we care. This is what Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka did, with courage and determination that has silenced even the trolls on the social media. At least momentarily.
It is interesting how Compassion has become the driving force of the Nehru-Gandhi siblings political trajectory. Their ability, and insistence, to connect with the poorest of the poor. Their sincerity goes far beyond photo-ops, and was so visible during this Hathras visit where the poor men and the weeping women held on to them for sheer life. The only leaders who had cared to visit them, who had countered Adityanath’s police, and who had understood the importance of being with the grieving family.
Without appearing to, the two are bringing Compassion back into politics. A strong ingredient without which politics becomes hard, selfish and self aggrandising. As one sees in even the regional parties that speak of secularism but do not translate it into humanity. After independence. former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in her better days, and VP Singh are the only two heads of government one has seen actively giving substance to Compassion. Of never hesitating to visit the suffering and toiling homes of India’s masses, of lending a shoulder, of wiping a tear. Others barely moved out of their homes, had little to do with the poor, and did not share or feel the agony of those at the receiving end of an unjust system.
Present day leaders know little what the word means, and allow the politics of hate to determine their every action. There is a strange coldness, a terrifying emptiness that allows them to arrest the innocent, condone murder and rape, and save the perpetuators of heinous crimes even as the victims and their families are made to walk on fire for just basic survival. That they know are wrong comes from the denials, with even Adityanath reportedly deploying a PR firm to insist there was no rape. The denial coming from power is expected to be believed, as otherwise the use of might can silence those who continue to bring truth to power.
This time around, however, the denials mean little as the protests have started, and even the normally apolitical political leaders have been compelled by the groundswell to stand up ---even if on trembling legs---for the victim and her family. The Dalit family has shown exemplary courage, and spoken out for their girl regardless of the police surrounding their home and village, and of the kind of pressure they must have been brought to bear.
Dalits' lives do not matter, with more and more persons and groups and communities being added to the list of the oppressed and victimised. Over 30 years I had gone to cover a rape in remote Balia, where access to the village (a tiny island really) was only by a broken down boat ferried by an old, wise villager. As new in the profession I was not prepared for this throw back to primitive times, where the Dalits lived on the outskirts of the village, were terrified to speak and all through my stay I was followed by upper caste men ---who grew more threatening by the minute---to ensure that the downtrodden community was not able to speak. There too the brother with the benefit of a job in the mofussil town had spoken of his sisters rape to a news agency stringer, who had sent out a short report, that appeared as a two line filler in Delhi newspapers.
In the Hathras case too it is the young brother of the victim who first showed the courage to speak out and narrate the events to a reporter. But little has changed in these decades. The Dalits continue to live on the outskirts, are seen as fodder by the upper castes whose fields they continue to till, are raped and beaten and murdered at will, the political and administrative system protects them and is weighed against the victim, and the Dalits are not allowed to speak out of turn. Or speak at all. The terror spilling out of the photographs and videos was the same I saw on the faces of the Balia Dalit family, a helplessness and resignation that has been their lot for centuries.
At that time, infused with hope, we had thought that the world would change. And the downtrodden would be brought at par with the others. Illusions that disappeared with time, with now other communities and peoples being brought down to similar levels. Women, like the Dalits, continue at the receiving end of patriarchy where the fight for rights is unending and yet no substantial change has come in gender equations. Top positions in professions remain fixed for the menfolk, and women continue to struggle against stereotyping and ridicule and abuse in both the professional and domestic space.
The Hathras rape has sent shockwaves down the spine of India. And activated at least the Congress leadership. As well as sections of the media. A video on the social media of a young woman ABP reporter was heartwarming as she took on the entire police force stopping her from going into the village to speak with the family, kept up a stead commentary of media rights, established she was non violent by speaking of Gandhi jayanti and offering leaves from a shrub on the barren land to the cops, even as she kept speaking to her cameraman lest he lose heart. The one young girl challenged the might of the police, who were completely taken aback as she sat down on the ground when all failed, insisting she would not move until they allowed her in.
The contrast between this young working journalist ---and most of them today have that passion and courage-- and the editors and owners of these channels who come together to block news could not have been more striking. And a testimony to the fact that journalists are still this huge task force who want to report the truth, but are prevented from doing so by the unholy political-corporate nexus. And of course their paid and protected anchors who dominate the airwaves.
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