23 April 2024 03:18 AM



Junaid and 1947: 'Observe Again and Again and Again' and What Do We See?


NEW DELHI: We will never know what kind of pyjamas Junaid had bought. There is no evidence of the kind of shoes he might have purchased ---depending on on his very limited budget. His mother had given her boys Rs 1500 for Eid shopping in Sadar Bazaar, Delhi.

A routine shopping trip became an assignment with Death. And there we have one of the quaint factors of Indian history.

There has always been something depressing about Indian history. For a sensitive and imaginative person possibly the most depressing year in modern times could have been 1947. One million, possibly two million dead.

C.P.Snow the famous British writer visting the Soviet Union immediately after the Stalin Era discovered that for most Russians the period of the Second World War--- a time when 26 million Soviets were killed--was a time of most happiness. This does seem rather strange. But if we juxtapose the indecent and evil violence of the Stalin Era with the comparatively “clean” violence of the war when the Soviet Union was fighting for its very life, we can begin to understand the situation.

As per this yardstick communal violence can only be categorised as the dirtiest and most evil kind of violence.and if we go beyond the midnight celebrations and mass excitement in 1947 we will see it for what it was – a catastrophe for Humanity. Probably Gandhi fully understood the tragedy of Independence, and decided to leave for Calcutta. He refused to have anything to do with the 15 August 1947 celebrations. No wonder Rabindranath Tagore hailed him a Mahatma. The atrocities at that time were described as premedieval. British officers maintained it was worse than the battle of Somme in World War One.

There seems to be something very wrong about the basics of our society and civilization. Violence, fear and death seem to be inbuilt traits of our psyche and society. Mutilating the genitalia of a young innocent girl (not a simple ordinary rape but rape accompanied by extreme torture), or killing a young boy for a train seat seems to be the new yardstick.

Maybe the standard or yardstick was always there, only the fear (fear is the main component of our dna) and constraints of consequences have disappeared.

It is becoming more and more clear that it is only fear of retribution that maintains India as a stable functioning society. Remove that element of fear and India becomes one with Somalia or Colombia or El Salvador or any of the other chequered countries.

The process is always binary in its function. Either there is gross obseqiousness, crawling like in the 1975 Emergency or blatant exercise of power ,wealth and force---- beating up toll attendants, , hitting airline staff with chappals, women being subject to long periods of rape, circulation of nude mms videos made to cow down or blackmail vulnerable people.

The dozens of cases of ragging coming from all over India –at times inching towards bestiality -by young boys and girls –a blatant exercise of power- are also another story in the same compendium.

If like the Russian scientist Pavlov we “ observe again and again and again” we shall see a society and civilization on the verge of dysfunctionality and chaos. In all such cases the perpetrators have made sure that the consequences of their deeds shall not come to make life difficult for them. And often such acts are well planned and organised to leave nothing to chance –no traceable clues –because the fundamental idea is not to get caught.

In India the basic factor of all crime is to separate the act from the consequence to achieve a high degree of deniability (something immortalised by president Ronald Reagan and which has become the bedrock of the modern world).

The principle of raison d’etat or reasons of state is something that is continually overshadowing the course of our democracy snd society.” Raison d’etat” which I think can be easily translated as reasons of power and authority is what drives the course of history in the Indian subcontinent and in Indian society and civilization .It is the basic molecule of our country, our history, our culture and our civilization possibly for the last 1000 years.

The factor of power subsumes everything, the reason why poor Junaid could not complete that train journey and go home with his purchases was this basic current of Indian history and Indian psychology, the dynamics of power and self advancement ---the ability to win over people and institutions of power that matter.

The basic idea was that you matter only if you have power or authority. If you are bereft of all power you have to depend on your Kismet because the state, the Constitution and society or civilization will have nothing to do with you. Unless the state, the Constitution, the law and the society safeguard the very ordinary person it cannot be called a civilized society, be it India or the subcontinent ( traits are common to all three countries making up the edifice of the British Raj).

Rarely does Nature or Providence build human beings with a vision or a mind encompassing all human existence. Leaders like Akbar and Gandhi do not come easily. Rulers or Administrators have to deal with human nature in the raw and unless they are exceptionally lucky or skilful they cannot easily win in the struggle to cope with the human emotions of the masses.

As such a certain degree of observance of the sanctity of the law is a must. Where the laws of a state fail to motivate the general public to observe this sanctity it can only be defined as a semi civilizedor uncivilized state and in India it is common knowledge that the same law has 8 or 9 different applications or interpretations.

Far more than the terrible act being perpetrated on poor helpless people as has been the case for so many decades in free India, is the attempt to wash away or dilute its horrific impact (also an age old phenomenon) which implies that the law can be regarded as a very malleable and easily mouldable instrument –like putty.

The intellectuals or educated and sophisticated folk indulging in this are dynamiting the very core of Indian civlization and should really go in for some introspection. By linking the states objectives to one personal or factional political agenda and committing murder or any other crime is a sure way to perdition which can engulf everybody-- those involved and those not involved.

Far deeper lessons need to be learned from the story of why Junaid could not return home after a day out. It seems even after 70 years we have to go a long way before we can call ourseves a civilized nation or civilized society.

Getting the British to leave was the easiest part of the whole story.

(Lakhinder Singh is retired Chief Commissioner of the Customs and Central Excise, Government of India. He is a very keen student of History)

(Cover Photograph: 1947,Punjab)