Give me dignity, or give me death
By no measure, do I wish to risk comparison with the revolutionary Virginian, Patrick Henry, but truthfully, my angst is no less now than his, when he rose to speak against Britain’s tyranny at the Virginia Convention in 1775.
This great country is ours. We are sons of the soil. I think we can have no greater virtue than patriotism. But let this be said: Dignity or else death, emancipation or else revolution, fair deal or disintegration. And if this is ‘victim mentality’, then so be it. Victimisation cannot beget anything better.
Our names still spell suspicion, our existence worth no more than contempt. We continue to be condemned to second-class citizenship with a sort of bias that is kicked by the boots of the State machinery. The high echelons may avow equality but the left hand knows not what the right hand does.
A young boy in remote Assam, returning from the passport office, tells stories of ignominy. His name sounds incredibly “alien” to the officers. He is asked about his forefathers and where they came from. I ask where did the “Ahoms” come from? Burma and beyond.
Minority institutions, such as St. Stephens in Delhi and Bishop Cotton in Bangalore, are to be fancied as elite, whereas such status for our institutions is to be denied.
Salim’s family, unlike everyone else’s, never got the Rs 5-lakh compensation for being killed in an explosion at the Sufi shrine Ajmer Sharif. After all, he was the ‘terrorist’ who died killing others. Salim was lowered in his Hyderabad grave with the badge of a terrorist. Yet, conclusive leads have now led us somewhere else. Why prejudge us every single time?
When our religious institutions are attacked, we are intuitively blamed, without free or fair exercise of due processes of law and logic.
Bias against us has become a “hidden Apartheid”. It lies latent. When necessary conditions are met, it breaks out.
In Delhi’s Batla House shootout, two alleged terrorists were killed by police. They may well have been terrorists. Probably they are. However, the National Human Rights Commission cut some dangerous corners when it was called to probe the ‘encounter’.
It is not about the NHRC’s findings but the processes that were followed to reach the conclusion, which erode its credibility. The rights body chose not to do the basic things expected of a rights watchdog.
In a dispute, every party has to be heard. Wasn’t this settled by Socrates himself? In respect of the Batla House incident, one may well go on to agree with the police (that the police fired in self-defence and those killed fired on the police first). But the panel should have heard the complainants whose complaint was the basis for the probe in the first place.
Why was Pakistani terrorist Kasab given a fair trail? Because we do not wish to be a banana republic that relies on kangaroo courts.
As our stature grows internationally, so must our commitment to uphold the rights of each of our citizens.
The NHRC did not cross-examine anybody. It did not even examine the site of the incident. The NHRC is probably the only rights watchdog that comprises several retired police personnel, when rights violation by law-enforcing agencies should remain one of its chief pursuits. This is clear conflict of interest. Is this justice?
Our democracy lies bruised if it does not include the due process of law and fair trials. Is this what our founding fathers fought and died for? How long will they round up the usual suspects? Isn’t our sense of security illusory? Let’s have a rights-respecting police force.
The great redeeming feature of this nation is that right-minded people from the majority community who stand up for the rights of the minorities abound. But I am constrained to say, such people are in the minority.
I have no way of judging our place, other than by the attitudes we face, the countenance we command and the smugness we stomach. Our place is not where our founding fathers wanted us to be, but where we stand on the streets today and in the simmering neighbourhoods of our cities. If our present is fettered, can our future be free?
Yet, this is no call to arms, nor an occasion to retreat but a call to action. Let’s deepen, not weaken, our stake in the system.
Let each one of us get an education and occupy positions that higher education can get.
I despise the Muslim who cannot think beyond his nose and religion. I oppose the blind Muslim, just as I oppose the blinkered nationalism that goes by the name of Hindutva.
However, it would be escapist nonsense to think that education alone can change things. For us, democratic politics remains the lever of justice. We need to wield control over, support and strengthen political parties that are disposed to ensure justice for us. We need to transform ourselves from mere political pawns to powerful political leaders.
We need to pursue science and wealth relentlessly. A wealthy Muslim is resilient to prejudice. Income is a function of education and skills.
When we achieve that, let not our prosperity blind us to the requirements of justice, lest we should treat others badly.
Let’s not be self-seeking or easily angered. “If anyone says ‘I love God’ and does not love his brother, he is a lair.” (John 4:20-21).
Let each one of us fight for our rights in a way we have best known from our apostle of peace. Let’s be obstinate when we demand justice, respect and dignity. Let’s be uncompromisingly stubborn with righteousness. That is closer to Gandhi’s way, than any other.
We are not the enemy. Brothers, live free or die. To quote the French, vivre libres ou mourir.