While driving back from Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, yesterday this song just started playing. ‘Ae watan mere watan aabad rahe tu,’ and I sobbed like a child. The horror, the destruction, the stories, the hate, of the past week, just filled my heart with hopelessness and shame. How evil are all of us?
Being hypersensitive is a bane, cooped up in bed today, with high fever. My body and mind revolting against what I saw or was going to see again. I went to the riot affected areas, idealistically hoping to engage is some confidence building. Got off at Aggarwal Sweets and found a boy clad in saffron. ‘Aap ko kyaa lagta he, Sir, yeh Hindustan sabh ke liye he ke nahin?’ Ti which he replied, ‘ Mujhe nahin pata kiss ke liye he,’ parked his cart on the side and went to tell on me, to a group of men. Two of them approached me. Before they could ask my name, I just started telling him about my photography project, ‘meri gaadee dekho’, I flashed my id, from a distance, with the magic words on it, but didn’t show it to them. ‘You don’t know them. They hurt our women that’s why we attacked them. They burnt all our cars. You will be cut into pieces if you go there’ they said, while showing me some pictures of women in saris, who had been mutilated.
To be honest, I was terrified. I was by myself as usual and this horrified me. I excused myself and told them I will go and verify. But one of them decided to take me around. He rode his scooter next to my car, which has all these wonderful stickers and stopped infront of each and every burnt vehicle claiming the Muslims had done it. When we reached the outside the main gate, where the Sikkim police battalion was, I asked him for an interview. Repeatedly, I had asked him, before that why the police didn’t help the Hindus who were being troubled by the Muslims? He kept lying and dodging and I kept giving him the benefit of doubt because I knew my view, could be biased in this case. A Muslim man halted and identified his vehicle, saying he had been stopped by the mob. After a while, he was shooed away by this man. He asked me to turn back from a particular spot, claiming it wasn’t safe for me.
I’ve heard this in Kashmir, many times. So off I went and there it was, a saffron flag and the Indian flag, flying high on top of a burnt vehicle. I went towards the area, where he claimed, people would chop me into pieces and parked my car. ‘Mene suna he, Hindu aurto ko mar rahe aap, yahaan par’ I asked the crowd that had gathered around my vehicle. They were aghast at the accusation and took me to at least forty homes in that locality. I knocked on their door and asked, ‘ is everyone safe?’ ‘Has anyone tried to harm you?’ No they said , one after the other.
Went to Chandbagh and heard, stories after stories of destruction and hate. Shops and shrines had been burnt down. Someone with an angry Hunamanji poster on his scooter was following me, I recorded him and split.
Returned to the locality again and saw, a forensic team working infront of Tahir Hussain’s house, to investigate the murder of Ankit Sharma. Totally polarised, people looked at each other, suspiciously. There seemed to be no ray of hope here. Even I couldn’t find a silver lining. While walking, I lectured a group of men. ‘ Not every place can be turned into Shaheen Bagh. It requires, patience and lots of hard work to ensure it doesn’t turn violent. You should have known better.’ ‘Ma’am they were burning our homes, we had to pelt stones to save ourselves.’ ‘You didn’t have to resort to this!’, I said as stormed away.
These are terrible times. Everyone is suspicious of each other and having a confusing name like mine, doesn’t help. But somehow I manage to meet people. Day before yesterday, I tried to look for a T-shirt online that would ascertain my parents Sikhi. I wanted to go out for relief distribution and not being able to speak more than a few sentences of punjabi, doesn’t help. ‘How should I navigate these spaces, without offending anyone?’, I thought to myself. I looked for a T-shirt with a khanda, never did manage to order it because the mind revolted against resorting to this, for now. But did manage to find the most hateful piece of retailing. A brand called Swadesia on Amazon, is selling T-shirt’s with these slogans- ‘Mandir Wahin Banayenge.’ ‘Main bhi Chowkidar’ ‘Bohat Hua samaan tumhari aisi ki taisi’. Hanumanji jaise cute se bhagwaan ko kyaa banadiya inhone? The God’s of all the religions must be wondering what humans are upto. Spoiling their names.
Spoiling their name, reminds me of my friend who comes from an illustrious background. Over many decades, I have heard her spew venom, repeatedly towards a particular minority. But her actions over the past week have shocked me more than, when I was asked to go to Pakistan, by her sister. It’s disheartening what this evil man (Mr Modi) has done. He’s turned everyone into monsters, all of us. I’ll have to work really hard to not mistrust all Hindus. Hinduism is a great religion but at the moment I am not a fan of it’s followers or of any religion’s! But I have to work on my prejudice and meet people and tell stories off Hindu men and women, who are kind and courageous, helping to restore this city.