This is not a plug for my year-old book, `Hindu Hriday Samrat: How the Shiv Sena changed Mumbai forever’. However, just two days before Yakub Memon’s hanging a literary agent mentioned to me how chilling he had found the chapter where I compared the stories of a Shiv Sainik who had participated in the 1992-93 Bombay riots and a young Muslim who had been caught in those riots and lost practically everything.
Then, on the day of Yakub’s hanging, my former editor called to ask me to find him a blast victim and a riot victim for a similar comparison of their stories for a popular television show. It was very easy to talk to survivors of the blasts who are only too willing to tell their tale – embittered or magnanimous in their suffering, they are not shackled by any concerns in recounting their stories.
But when I called Mansoor Ali Khan, the man mentioned in my book, I had to take a reality check. I had had to search long and hard while I was writing my book to find a riot victim who did not fit the typical mould of a ghettoised Muslim with a story that might be similar to that of many others of his or her kind. I was quite excited to discover Mansoor – he was not living in a ghetto at the time of the riots, he was studying at a prestigious south Bombay college, wanted to become a pilot in the Indian Air Force and was the captain of his club’s cricket team where all other members were Hindu.
The riots changed his life overnight – his family was lucky enough to escape with their lives in the nick of time. He went from being a fellow Indian to his cricket team to being just a Muslim and had to leave everything behind including his old life to find shelter in a Muslim ghetto. I was apprehensive about approaching him, wondering if he would agree to go on record but he had no qualms in inviting me to his home — he had moved from a mixed locality to an exclusively Muslim housing colony but everyone in his family, including his mother, were willing to tell me their story, hoping someone would hear their tale and offer them compensation that was long due and thus far not forthcoming.
So when I called him that evening, I thought he would be 0nly too willing to go on television and let the world know. But I was very wrong. Now he did not want to draw attention to himself. “When you came to my house and we spoke for hours together, India was a different country. There was hope and there was confidence – in the government and the people. We thought that sooner or later someone will cut through the red tape and hear us out. Now it is different. The country has changed. There is no one who will hear our voices. They will instead single us out and hound us to go to Pakistan.’’
“Oh, but they hound me too,” I protested.
“There is a difference,” he said. “And I don’t think I need to explain that to you, sister.”
Then he sent me a message in apology for turning down my request. I found it heart rending – main sirf ek baat kehna chahta hoon ke ALLAH (capitals his) jise log BHAGWAAN bhi kehte hain woh hamesha HAQ yaane SACH ke saath hota hai. Usko kisi daleel ya saboot ki zarurat nahin woh sab jaanta hai. God bless u, sister — ek baat aur, Hamare Hindustan ko kisi ki buri nazar lag gayi hai.
I was speechless and teary eyed for hours afterward.
It was the same story as I made call after call to locate riot victims for my former editor who might be willing to talk. At last I succeeded but even this survivor agreed to do the interview after a few caveats.
The experience has only confirmed my belief in the travesty of justice offered to riot victims, not by the courts but by successive governments and investigative agencies. I remember the officer in charge of investigating the Bombay riots was himself an accused and even then as a young reporter I knew the investigation would go no further. It is only the Srikrishna Commission which came as a safety valve for the affected victims to vent their feelings of injustice against the state and it was a great relief that Justice Srikrishna could nail the guilt of the perpetrator of the riots – Bal Thackeray. I have recounted the story of the journalist who mounted an unknowing sting on Thackeray during the riots at his home in Matoshree and brought to us how Thackeray provoked his Shiv Sainiks to burn Bombay and kill Muslims in large numbers from the safety of his home, and then later tried to shift the blame on then union defence minister Sharad Pawar. Had it not been for Yuvraj Mohite’s affidavit before the Srikrishna Commission, the truth would never have been known – and it is just as well that Mohite loved to tell the tale. For the Sena left no stone unturned to ferret him out from his hiding and kill him to prevent him from turning up in court.
But no government took action against Thackeray. The Srikrishna Commission was dismissed by Chief Minister Manohar Joshi when the Shiv Sena came to power in 1995 but was reinstated by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee during his thirteen day tenure in the hope that that would reduce the BJP’s untouchability, even as it was in search of allies to make up its numbers in parliament. Justice Srikrishna submitted the report to the Joshi government in 1998 and while it was not expected that that government would act against its own supremo, even the Congress and the NCP which came to power a year later did not think it worth taking action against the perpetrators of the riots.
Nine hundred people were killed in the riots (less than 300 in the blasts which were a retaliatian for the riots). Thousands of FIRs were launched yet only one man was ever punished – former Shiv Sena MP Madhukar Sarpotdar who got a year in jail for possessing arms and ammunitions in a notified area during the riots. For the same crime Sanjay Dutt has gone to jail for five years – where is the notion of justice for all and injustice to none enshrined in our Constitution?
I do not blame the Courts for any of this, the judges have done their jobs to the best of their capacity, But in this country now you are a terrorist if you are Muslim and a patriot if you are a Hindu committing the same acts of killing innocents and bombing mosques and shrines and trains and buses.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is way off the mark when he complains that the UPA coined the term `Hindu terrorist’ and destroyed the reputation of the country. In fact, I believe the emergence of saffron terrorism, though not to be condoned was a great safety valve which came out of the blue to the rescue of the minorities who were otherwise all dismissed as terrorists, negating LK Advani’s earlier very arrogant statement – all Muslims may not be terrorists but why are all terrorists Muslims?
That no longer holds valid but now it is high time that the scale of justice are tilted to the balanced position once again from the heavy tilt in favour of rioters and home-grown terrorists from the majority community. A terrorist is a terrorist, a victim is a victim, his or her religion does not matter. What’s sauce for the goose should also be sauce for the gander. Otherwise people like Mansoor will suffer silently until the faultlines explode and all of us be imperilled by the lava of that volcano just waiting to burst sooner rather than later. We will all be scorched.
Some years ago, I was startled to receive a call from singer Abhijit’s publicist. In the days before the advent of social media he had been returning home after a dinner party at a posh south Bombay hotel when he came across a young girl being harassed/molested by a group of young men at a signal crossing at Churchgate. He stopped his car and took them on. Threatening to call the cops, he whisked the girl away from the danger zone and made sure she reached her destination safely.
Now he had been a Good Samaritan an Read more
….one might well ask. Does not a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Not when it comes to the Thackerays, however. They should actually spell their name as be T-h-a-k-r-e but then they will lose the unique colonial flavour to their name if they switched to the native spelling.
“You used to be such a good girl! What’s happened to you in the last month or so?” Bal Thackeray once asked me sometime in the mid-1990s. Read more
When Maharashtra’s Home Minister R R Patil first mooted the transfer of Bombay’s police commissioner Arup Patnaik a day after some Muslim groups ran riot at the Azad Maidan on August 11, 2012, I am told, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan told him, “If Patnaik goes, so do you”. Read more
During his first term as chief minister of Maharashtra, I had once quizzed Vilasrao Deshmukh about the general feeling of critics that his was a lack-lustre government that was really incapable of doing anything significant for the people. Read more
Years ago, Yusuf Muchala, even then a noted lawyer practising at the Bombay High Court, had told me something that has stuck in my mind forever. Read more
The February civic elections in Bombay are the only elections since my coming of age that I have missed out on getting my forefinger painted with black ink. I had to head out of town for the wedding of my niece and, while I knew which event was more important to me and mine, I still had a twinge of regret at not being able to participate in that election. Read more
Poor RR Patil. Apart from the fact that he has not been having a good week, what with the July 13 serial blasts in Bombay and chief minister Prithviraj Chavan pointing out that decisions regarding law and order are delayed, he is under attack from even his own party men. Read more
Some years ago, a friend from the UK needed to go to Dadar, the heart of the Maharashtrian locality of Bombay, for a meeting. I put her in a taxi and asked the cabbie to take her wherever she wanted and also bring her back home. Read more