Two Dylan songs struck a chord in me when I was a young and someone remained with me all through they years well into my old age. That was way back in the early sixties.
The Nithari tragedy brought them back as it seemed as if they had been written yesterday:
How many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
Come senators, congressmen, please head the call
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he that has stalled
The battle outside ragging will soon
shake your windows rattle your hall
For the times, they are a changing
and yet 44 years have passed and everything seems unchanged, seems there have not been sufficient deaths and the halls have not been rattled loud enough.
Yesterday a debate on television addressed the Nithari serial killings and related issues. A retired cop, an eminent lawyer and two political opponents engaged in a perfectly orchestrated blame game. Among the topics discussed was the issue of different rules for different people based on which side of the fence they happen to belong to.
Why debate on it when a mere glance at the audience proved that point beyond doubt. A group of people from Nithari had been invited and sat on one side, away from the rest the invisible and impregnable divide sticking out like a sore thumb.
Oh yes they debated and all agreed upon the fact that the poor had a raw deal, that cops humiliate and snubbed them, that things were not right and had to be changed. And with the necessary drama options were lobbed: change laws, amend acts, remake the world..
In the meantime more children will disappear, be abused and killed. More poor will have their rights trampled and life will go on without change. The poor will go back to their world as they have to carry surviving and the rich will find something else to debate upon.
The culprit in the NOIDA or the Ghaziabad tragedies is not the paedophile or the individual sick mind. Such people have existed since time immemorial and will always do. Come to think of it the chemicals of a brain can go wrong once in a while. Of course they need to be punished and put away.
The problem is far deeper and the responsibility lies within each one of us and not in finding something or someone to blame: be it the party in power or age old social ills. The true culprit is civil society who did not react at the appropriate moment. The true culprit is each one of us who feels that such things cannot happen to us and do not concern us. We all know how we walk away from a accident site for fear of getting involved with the police, how easily we dip in our pockets to break that tiny law that is irksome, how we throw names left, right and centre to slip out of the system in place, how we never find the time to help another, how get rid off the disturbing beggar by throwing a few coins but never dare look into his eyes, in a word how we each and every day reinforce the barriers between them and us.
We revel living in our world not realising how fragile it is. Our so called sense of safety depends on the simple fact that those on the other side have not found their voice but the day is not far when a tiny incident will unleash a force we will not be able to contain.
Every moment brings us closer to that day. In our rush to acquire material goals we are eroding the very foundation of our lives. The debate on whether there are different rules is not an intellectual one, it has to strike a chord in our very spirit and make us change our attitudes and ways. The responsibility for the NOIDA killings lies in each and every one of us and true healing will only begin when we have the moral courage to accept that.
The times they are changing and answer is blowing in the wind.
Remember the ghaziabad girls? Some of us may have forgotten them as so many other horror stories have come our way and they have become yesterday’s news.
Yet somewhere in the dead of winter they await justice.
Their case came for hearing at the Supreme Court yesterday. One searched furiously for some news and was aghast to find out from a fleeting item on the news channel ticker that the case had been adjourned as the NHRC failed to file their report.
Something was terribly wrong. Only a month ago the plight of these girls was splashed all over the media. Today they seem forgotten and what is worse is that one cannot even get to them as they are protected by numerous government bodies and incommunicado.
The NOIDA murders are today’s news, wonder what it will be tomorrow.
And yet somehow to me their plight seems more poignant as they are alive. Their abuse was not a momentary flare of the dark side of a Dr Jekyll but the cool calculated planned action of their supposed protector. Even the mentally challenged were not spared.
The attitude of the so called organisations made to protect children is exposed here. Why did the NHRC not file their report? How much investigation, interrogation, cross-examination do they have to do conduct to ascertain what is evident to each one of us who read the story and saw the images?
It has also been reported that the National Commission for Women knew about the missing children of NOIDA six months ago. Wonder how many innocent lives could have been spared had they acted in time.
The ghaziabad girls are waiting for justice and it is time we did something to help them unless human rights differ according to one’s social origin.
A chilling thought….
How many more children will have to be abused, mutilated and killed, how many more mothers will have to live with questions than can never be answered before we become responsible as a civil society and say enough!
We are supposed to have a law and order mechanism but what we forget is that these work only for those who have money, power or at least a vote. The parents of the dead children of Nithari did not have any of these. Migrants from other states, they came in search of work with a hope that maybe they will be able to give their children a better life. Instead they sent them straight to a horrific death.
Imagine the plight of a parent whose child has disappeared. Imagine his sense of utter defeat as he knocks at the portals of a police station and is sent away over and over again with contempt. Imagine his despair when he is told that the children of the likes of him do not exist for the so called system. Imagine the days and nights spent in waiting for a miracle that never comes. And finally imagine that closure comes with a set of clothes, a heap of bones and the realisation of the horror that one cannot begin to imagine.
Then try to envisage what that parent feels when in the dead of night and numbed with excruciating pain he realises that just a stones’ throw away another child also disappeared and within moments everyone was on their toes: policemen, politicians, admin bigwigs et al and within days the child was back home.
Welcome again to the great divide of India, one that is even more poignant in a land where democracy is supposed to protect each and every one. Have we forgotten the preamble of our constitution where we promised to secure to all citizens among other things justice, social, economic and political.
When did invisible barriers appear along the way and segregated people and marginalised some. When did our constitution get hijacked by hidden agendas and why did we just sit and watch it happen. Was it because the likes of us knew that we would remain on the right side of the fence.
Once again one’s head hangs in shame. The past months has been filled with such moments: the orphanage in ghaziabad, the little fingers for a handful of spinach, and now countless children mutilated and killed, their organs traded so that someone with money could live making some rich on the way.
2006 was the year of people power but before that power also falls prey to the great divide it, we need to act if we are to redeem the right to be worthy of ourselves. Or let me put it another way, one that maybe is better understood in our pathetic times, it is time to act now if we are to protect and secure our own future, as the day is not far when the cumulative pain and anger of those we have shunned away will rise and I know that on that day all the gods in heaven will be on their side.
The Jessica Lal verdict is out. It took a long time coming. Wonder why as she was shot in a place filed with Delhi’s own page 3.
For seven years we were almost mute witnesses to a mockery of justice where the entire system connived to save the killer who was a is said in today’s parlance well connected. Muscle and money power went to town and after six years or so those who had brutally ended a young life were set free for want of evidence!
Jessica was not a known person but she suddenly became the girl next door and somehow a city felt threatened. That is when civil society woke up from a long slumber to show its might. And it dis. Notwithstanding political connections or arm twisting of any kind, the existing machinery set out to redress a wrong and it did. Even the last ditch effort of a high profile lawyer who took the now jaded route of turning the victim into an accused failed miserably. The killer was found guilty. Jessica can now rest in peace.
This case has restored one’s faith in the judicial system but it has done more than that. It has shown that civil society is a force to reckon with. True that J’s case was a high profile one, that she had a spirited sister who refused to give up and give in. But this whole fight will come to naught if we as a society do not realise that our role goes beyond high profile cases. We today have the proof that we have the power to change things, to redress torts and thus to make a difference but with it comes to responsibility of reaching out to those who are invisible, and remain voiceless.
There are many unknown Jessicas who have been abused or killed. There are numerous families who hope for justice but do not know how to get it. There are many killers at large who are protected by the system. They need civil society to take on their cases and see that justice is done.
Let the Jessica Lal verdict be a verdict of hope, a verdict that makes us believe that things can change, one that rids us of our inertia and drives us to act. Then maybe the little Ghaziabad girls too will get justice they so deserve!
What makes news in our land? I wonder. or let me rephrase the question: what makes lasting news.. The reason I ask this is because for the past week I have been trying in vain to get an update on the plight of the Ghaziabad girls and their abuser!
Just two tiny weeks back every form of media was full of news about their rescue, their ordeal, their plight.. today I met with deafening silence.
A support group was set up by Kaveeta, and messages of support came from the world over. The same people want to know what has happened since, as by now the remand of the abuser is over. But the little voiceless girls are not news anymore and emails remain unanswered, Google searches throw up old news and as an ordinary citizen i do not know where to go.
In the recent past much has been said about the power of civil society to fight for causes, but then i am beginning to think that it has to be a cause célèbre, otherwise you just die trying. Now only if something out of the ordinary transpires will be hear about it.
But the one thing all those who wish the girls well want is to ensure that nothing out of sync ever touches their life again. They have suffered enough and need to be allowed to live the life of children their age.
Too many questions remain unanswered, but now that the drama is over, who will raise them. The battle is far from over. For many month I use to spend sleepless moments thinking of their plight within the walls of their prison and praying for their rescue. And what made it bearable was that I knew something was happening and that even if there were delays, hope lay somewhere at the end of a long road. Release came but the anticipated peace of mind did not ensue.
As days went by and news became scarce , a sense of foreboding filled me for many reasons. One did not know where the girls were and as winter set in one wondered whether they were warm, safe and secure. When they lived in the orphanage one had access and could see them and know what was happening. But today one is once again frightened for them as one knows that they are in the care of an administration that seemed to work for their abuser.
Once again there is a battle that has to be fought, though this one will be harder because the adversary is complex and powerful, but one has take it on and show that the power of civil society is a force to contend with even if the cause is not a cause célèbre.
I just got some pictures from katy who has been a regular visitor to the ghaziabad ashram for the past 4 months. Somehow she never gave up, even when others did..
I spent a long time looking a them and was moved to see how quickly and easily children forget the ugly things and seek the beautiful ones. Of all the children I saw in pictures, it is this young handicapped girl who touched me most, as it seemed she had evolved her own way of dealing with things by withdrawing into a chilling immobility. She sat in one place, her arms hugging her body, oblivious of what went around her.
So imagine my surprise when I saw her smile in the picture. Even she had dropped her defences for that tiny moment when someone cared to show her love and compassion. Children are amazing beings, particularly the handicapped ones. They carry no hate but are willing to forgive you and trust you.
Wonder whether we are worthy of that trust!