Neither the judiciary, nor the police and the politicians, showed any urgency in halting the riots that have gripped Delhi since Sunday
To paraphrase Late Justice PK Goswami, India these days is the land of the bewildered and the oppressed; those bewildered at the complete absence of any institutional refuge for the oppressed, and those oppressed and bewildered by the impunity enjoyed by the oppressors.
Let’s begin with the judiciary. Consider the fact that at a time when three former chief ministers of Jammu & Kashmir have been detained for some wrong that the government says they have not caused yet, but will/could cause if they remain free; at a time that schoolkids in Karnataka have been repeatedly questioned over a play which has been termed to be seditious and which has led to the arrest of the mother of a pupil and a teacher; at a time when activists Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, P Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Mahesh Raut, Sudha Bharadwaj and Shoma Sen have been in prison for about a year, the Delhi High Court has deemed it fit to delay for almost two months even the registration of FIRs against BJP leaders who have been accused of hate speech that has been followed by large-scale violence.
Consider the fact that the Supreme Court, which was so moved by the death of an infant at the protests in Delhi, did not deem fit to take any suo motu notice of large-scale violence in Delhi for days. The matter was finally brought before the Delhi High Court – where justice seemed to be in progress for a day with the court emphasizing on the scale and gravity of the crisis as well as the urgency for prosecuting those accused of hate speech. Another day, another bench, and the matter lost urgency. A natural extension of the zeal demonstrated in suo motu notices could have nipped hate speech and all its violent consequences on day one, but it was not to be.
Moving on to politics. In the heat of the violence when multiple videos of police supporting the violence were doing the rounds, the chief minister of Delhi, any minister from the government, or for that matter any leader of the Opposition did not find it fit to reach the heart of the violence with their supporters. I couldn’t help but imagine what if Arvind Kejriwal had simply driven with his security to the conflict area? What if Rahul Gandhi had gone there? What if leaders and former ministers such as Chidambaram had?
The violence would have stopped. The media would have followed the leaders with a frenzy. The police would have cleared the area of all those engaging in violence. What if they would have sat outside the Delhi High Court or moved the court at midnight, like it has been done several times before?
Let us say I am being naïve. Maybe the police would have stopped all these people and detained them. At least then, those who have suffered would not have felt that they are political orphans. That there is some part of politics which will work for them at the time of crisis. That people who come to them and ask for their trust and their votes really care for them.
But none of this happened. For a good part of the day when the violence was widespread, there wasn’t even a tweet from many opposition leaders. This writer has devoted reams to criticizing the government. Today, I can’t help but ask, what about the opposition?
Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel waded firsthand to protect citizens in the heat of violence not because they had some divine immunity or feared no consequences. It was because they believed that protecting and standing up for those whose faith you seek, who you claim to represent, was at the essence of politics.
Past few days, I find myself confused about what the star politicians of opposition parties believe. What is it that matters to them? What degree of violence and atrocities will it take for them to even be seen offline in a time of crisis?
The one institution which has redeemed itself in this dark hour is the media and not thanks to owners or star anchors or editors but reporters who unlike luminaries across institutions went to the sites of violence, documented what was happening not just at personal risk but also often after being beaten up and/or threatened by the rioters. Without them, we would never have known the scale and nature of what happened and is happening.
There was also plenty of hope. Hope in the form of ordinary citizens such as a certain Premkant Baghel who risked his life to save his Muslim neighbours. He is now battling for his life. Hope in the form of countless citizens who have come forward with large amounts of money to help rehabilitate the victims. Hope in the form of Gulshan Kumar, an ordinary bus marshal who according to one journalist protected 15-20 Muslims using presence of mind and courage.
One part of the bewilderment India causes is also because in the darkest of time it stubbornly holds out hope. Even at the edge of this precipice we find ourselves at, it is difficult to not believe that there is still hope. Bewildering, isn’t it?