Telegraph Calcutta

The dead tell tales

Violence is concealed by a lie, and the lie maintained by violence

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Somewhere in his copious meditations on the nature of Soviet Russia, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had made a remark whose truth has far outlasted the life of his oppressor regime. Paraphrased, the sense Solzhenitsyn conveyed was that violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence. Violence, inspired mass violence in particular, is easier enacted than erased. Very often, it lives on in the decibels of denial.

There lie layers and layers of subterfuge in the recurrent trapeze bouts of blame the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party play over 1984 and 2002. For every reference to the horror of 1984, the Congress brings up 2002, and for every reference to the unspeakable crimes of 2002, the BJP raises 1984. And so it plays on and on in a nauseous loop, the excess of allegation and the absence of admission. Perhaps, in a cynical fashion that we have unfortunately been inured to, it serves the interests of political parties to spar on, unmindful of the requirements of regret or redress or both. What that also serves, frighteningly, is the purpose of history’s chilling lesson to the future: mass murder can be ordered again and will bring few consequences other than arguments over it. Often profitable arguments.

Here lies another layer of the subterfuge. It involves us all, the lies we tell of ourselves to ourselves. Who kills? And maims and rapes and arsons about? We do. At the exhort of an H.K.L. Bhagat or a Sajjan Kumar or a Jagdish Tytler; a Maya Kodnani or a Babu Bajrangi, or some debased stoker of evil from the Sanatan Sanstha, or any or many of the lynch clubs that have sprung up across our geography? We hang the blame on them – and blame does lie on the vanguard that screams violence – but it is we, people among us, who enact that script.

For a talkative society, we tell very little of the essence of ourselves. We babble in the subconscious hope it will drown our truths. We’ve erected opaque mental monuments to Buddha and Gandhi to blind our eager resort to bloodletting. When the glare catches us red-handed, we wipe our sins on others and melt into our vast convenience of numbers.

What continues to cloy and will not go away is the memory nearly three decades old from a village called Logain near Bhagalpur in Bihar. It was the winter of 1989, the shivered evidence of crimes we collectively wreak and bear no responsibility for. It was eventually left to the vultures to rip the cover. The bodies, 116 of them, had lain there decomposing for six weeks. In that period, the village had grown wiser to the fineries of tilling – dead men made good compost. A lush winter crop of mustard had sprung on the bed of corpses they had laid. But the village was also to grow wiser to a thing or two about old idioms: dead men do tell tales, it is seldom they don’t. The stench had risen high off the field and the vultures had begun to swoop low. The killing had been consummated weeks ago, an entire settlement of Muslims on the edge of Logain. Their common guilt the villagers had consigned to a common grave.

The carnage was an open secret in the village but to the world beyond it was just a secret. Until the vultures arrived, followed by that rare thing called a policeman with a conscience. He had the crop shaved and the field dug up. The skulls flew into the sky as the spades got to work…

Some among us were there and told the story. Logain became, like many of our stories, the child of memory’s whore – an unwanted, forgotten consequence of collective shame. We are a nation eddying with bastard deeds.

Nellie. Moradabad. Bhiwandi. Hashimpura. Maliana. Meerut. Kanpur. Bhagalpur. Sopore. Baroda. Aligarh. Mumbai. Chittisinghpura. Ahmedabad. Delhi. We lay blood-litter on the streets and retreat into our homes. Nobody owns up. We decamp from facts and populate our horrors with clich̩d characters of fiction Рa violent mob, a murderous horde, a crowd screaming, slashing, burning, a mass that suddenly descended and vanished.

Who? Where from? Us. Here from. Every single time. It is we who pillage, rape and murder. Under wrongful excitement and exhortation. Under criminal instruction and protection, yes, but it is we who do it. We are the apparatchik of serial and periodic political madness, we are the midwives of the abortion of the senses. Then we wash our hands and line up for secular prabhat pheris, our opaque monuments to Buddha and Gandhi urgently recalled to veil memory and guilt.

The Babel Tower of inquiries and commissions, reports and recommendations that we have piled for ourselves is a route of escape. A talkative society talking endlessly. Or an argumentative society, as we are told on formidable authority, arguing on. About who and how. About cause and consequence. About crime and the absence of punishment. Never once do we dare look ourselves in the mirror. Never do we stop pointing fingers at others. Outraged, shrieking justice, baying retribution, if legal. Hush.

Where were you at the time? And what were you doing? You were electing Narendra Modi under whose watch sectarian violence proceeded unbridled. You were voting Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler back to respectable titles and hallowed portals. You were turning up in thousands to pirouette to the twisted bigotry of Pravin Togadia. You were letting Thackeray hone your hatreds.

We need to ask a few questions of each other. We need to ask questions of the households that were spared the mayhem of Trilokpuri. Ask the shopkeepers of Mandvi Ni Pole. Ask around in the bylanes of Hashimpura. Ask those who live across the charred remains of Gulberg. Ask the villagers of Logain, it’s been 28 winters since that resplendent mustard crop that contained a gene of murdered blood.

We cannot pretend being a civil society when we claim, every now and again, rights over uncivil liberties. We cannot invoke laws that we ourselves violate. We cannot look up to a Constitution that we trample underfoot.

There are a myriad contemporary Indian stories we have forgotten. They are all true stories. They have dates and datelines. They have pegs and dead people hanging by them. And there are, among us, the many hands that hung them there that have since been washed in collective and convenient forgetting.

The truth about mass murder in this country we haven’t learnt to tell. Even less to confront. Which is why someday, when that diabolical sloganeer appears again with a manic prescription and a surcharged bloodcry, we will again turn upon each other and consume. We live in times that implore us to beware of far too many dangers lurking about. Or above. Among them, let’s face it, we should count ourselves as well. That’ll be a beginning that awaits any people that wish to call themselves civilized.

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