“…२० मिनट के लिए ही दूकान खुली रहेगी! जो लेना है जल्दी ले लो और फिर पुरे दिन दरवाज़ा बंद रखना!” (The shop will be open for just 20 minutes. Take everything you need and keep your doors closed for the entire day)
Supriya* heard from the police officer as she stood in the already long line. For a moment she thought she was travelling in a bus which had stopped for a pee and ‘nashta’ (snack) break. She was rudely brought back from the Mandav waterfalls she visited by bus, by the hushed voices, each word laced with fear for dear life. Wait, you’ve felt that too? It’s okay, acche din…aayenge…agli baar!
“भाई साहब आप भौंरासा आ रहे हो?”, “हाँ बस निकलेंगे अभी कुछ समय में!” “यहाँ दंगे हो गए है!”
“कोई मरा?” (Sir, will you be coming to Bhaurasa today? Yes we will leave in some time. Riots happened here. Is anybody dead?)
Yes. The first question that my colleague asked on hearing news about riots in one of our field areas was whether anybody died. The normalcy with which he asked the question shocked me. I don’t blame him. When a person grows up with something, it becomes a way of life. Or as our grandparents would say, “Yeh aisa hi hai”, for every “Par aisa kyu?”
We left office early that day. Probably because we all were too shaken up with the news to actually work. Or probably because we feared a backlash in Dewas too. That’s the thing about technology right! An immediate relief knowing one’s relatives and friends are safe comes with a cost of tension spreading to surrounding places.
I came to office the next day to read the news of 4 people being injured. Having expected much worse, I sighed, with relief. I was in the middle of taking a deep breath, collecting my thoughts, telling myself the worst is over, when my colleague walked in, having a phone conversation with one of our field staff, Mona*.
“कल रात वापस दंगे हो गए!” “कौनसे साइड के लोग ज्यादा मरे?” (There were riots again last night. Which community is hurt more?)
How does that even matter?, I wanted to scream. Like every other Indian, Hindu-Muslim communal tension is something I grew up with. With each news of riots and ever increasing number of deaths, of course followed by agitated posts on Facebook and discussions, a part of me becomes numb. Probably, this time it was real close or I’m just selfish…I was shaken. I couldn’t talk to anybody. I didn’t want to worry my colleagues, or worse make them feel it’s their responsibility to look after me. (Although, I type this article in my coworker’s in-laws house in her village, just because I casually mentioned I’m not going home this Diwali.) I obviously couldn’t tell my parents, for the reason that they are my parents. I could have spoken to my coordinators/ mentors, co-fellows or friends. Somehow at that moment, I didn’t want just words, which is the best I would have got. Instead, as a part of my silent protest, I spent the evening with one of my Muslim colleagues, a staunch Islamic follower, having a great time.
If I move the curtain of the window seeing the riot, we’d see more than a hundred people injured, a journalist doing his job having his hands cut and shops being burnt. We’d notice a few people, being arrested at 2 am, their only crime being followers of a certain religion in a ‘secular’ country. Look harder, and we’d see some people having fled, out of fear as their family would narrate, out of guilt as their faces give away. Cleaning the glass, we would see lost thousand rupees of 30 odd women, because their stitching centers could not be opened. And a hundred other families struggling to feed themselves, wondering what are they being penalized for.
Gaze long enough and we would realize all this would have been avoided if certain people of power would have so desired (or not desired). I don’t wish to repeat all that follows such an ‘incident’. For one, it seems to have become more of just a reflex. More than anything, it is this habituation that keeps feeding this fire. The only thing that is ever achieved by such riots and communal tensions are section 144 being applicable and loss…of life, property and hope in humanity.
Here’s wishing we can celebrate festivals without having to celebrate death!(Wait, isn’t that what Diwali is exactly about?!)
*Names have been changed, lest we have another riot.