A retired provincial civil service type bhai,coming out of a famous hospital with ben,was hit by a youngster on a scooter coming from the wrong side of the road. The old gentleman,though bruised,was saying: listen,apologise to me and we forget. But the young fellow would not. I was passing by,and I said: You were breaking the qaida (law in Gujarati),so say sorry. “Kaka I wont.” Bhai,emboldened with support,said: “We will have to call the polis.” “Polis is ours,” said the offender. Bhai,ben and me walked away,retired hurt. So it goes on. Ahmedabad,very rightly voted one of India’s most attractive cities recently,is basically a very friendly city. But in India the new air for some,is that you can break the law and get away with it. A policeman is hit for enforcing traffic rules,a girl is teased,vigilante justice,sab chalega.
Violence can also be organised for political views,for conviction as it were — Naxalites,religious fundamentalists,regional separatists,caste prejudices and economic protesters. It is bad,and yet in some sense,understandable. The roots are known and strategies can be developed at least for the long term. For example,’the nailed fist and the velvet glove’,as they call it. Mindless violence is difficult to respond to. The only clue I got was that there is erosion of moral authority,and so anything goes. It’s a thought but not much to go on.
Violence with a purpose,while understandable,is also not to be excused. In a way,we have a history of dealing with it. Riots commissions are long,very boring documents and yet,at the end of it,very sobering too. The Justice Jagamohana Reddy report on the Ahmedabad riots of 1969 and many others largely repeat a similar story. Police records are false and most certainly incomplete. For some days,the authorities looked the other way,delaying the calling-in of the Army. Beginning with the Calcutta riots in 1946,you get the reported phenomenon of ministers and elected functionaries sitting in thanas and reportedly influencing law-enforcement functionaries. Justice takes time,and yet the culprits have been punished,at least in some cases. Civil society and media are more alert now,and it is not unlikely that if we keep trudging along and working with a steadfast purpose,progress will be there,slow but sure. The real question will then be to find the accelerators.
In 1948,I remember attending a meeting Nehru was addressing. A bomb was thrown and he was immediately in the crowd shouting “Janata shant ho jaayen.” The crowd settled down. Leadership has to literally reconstruct peace. A case study used for training by a former DSP describes how an armed battalion was kept outside the North Gate in JNU but was not used because faculty and the VC were there,acting as a wall,cajoling and pushing a crowd to act sensibly when they were enraged at an outsider teasing a young lady,and demanding vigilante justice. Last week,T K Oomen and me told a civil society group that,while the law will take its own course,the evidence on reconciliation in the political,social and civil society sense in Gujarat is clear. And that we must move ahead in reinforcing the strong plural aspect of our society. Lord forbid,if there is a riot again somewhere,will you be there,when the civil society protest starts?
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines