Guest post by SHAHINA K K
[This is the fuller version of an article published today in the Hindustan Times. This longer version is crossposted from the e-discussion group, Greenyouth. The specific article referred to – ‘Bombs Defused in Newsrooms’ was crossposted in Kafila ]
Since 14th September 2008, writing has become a laborious exercise for me. It was all of a sudden that words turned heavy, staring at my own convictions, political thinking and journalistic vigor. It was on a gloomy Sunday (the day after the bloody Saturday on which the life of twenty odd people had been taken away by some body called Indian Mujahideen)that things turned upside down. It’s difficult to describe my terrible sense of shock when it came to my notice that a part of the email sent by perpetrators of the Delhi blasts laying claim to the deadly bombs on the day, had been written by me! It was lifted verbatim from a piece of mine (‘Bombs defused in News rooms’) which appeared in the media watchdog portal, The Hoot. Newspapers had given extensive quotes wondering at the ‘journalistic character’ and ‘impeccable English’ of those who prepared the mail. Even when everybody calls it plagiarism I was not spared because my name carries the identity of a community which is put in the dock for all that happens dreadfully around us. I wrote about what the media does, how it deals with the unending episodes of terror strikes juxtaposing with the violence by Hindu extremists and how flagrantly they fail in the ‘balancing’ act!
A published material is neither mine nor yours. Plagiarism in cyber space is not a rare phenomenon. There are limited options to check it. I am not very serious about plagiarism be cause I am skeptical about how far we are the masters of our own words. I personally believe that what I wrote is not only mine. It was reproduced by other websites and several bloggers .It is exciting to watch the cyber movement challenging the dogmatization of knowledge. I don’t subscribe to the concept of copyright too. But I never thought of being caught up in a deep sense of anguish, terror and shock by some one else picking up my words for the manifestation of a heinous crime. It came to my notice that Sunday evening, while I was perusing Times of India looking for stories missed in the morning. One story on the terror e-mail had extensively quoted the lifted portion from my article analyzing how the extremist forces make a common cause with other victims of ‘Sangh terror’ — Christians and Dalits. ‘The idea of a broad coalition of all minorities and Dalits in a broad anti-Hindutva coalition is not new, but its use amid clear signs of unease within Muslims about the radicalisation of sections within it is immensely interesting.” says The Times of India.
The Times‘ story prompted me to go online in search of the full text of the terror mail and shockingly I found more than a paragraph of my article had been copied and pasted. It’s beyond words how I survived those moments of scare, insecurity and a deep sense of guilt. We were all ‘alone’ at home, in that entire residential area, nobody knows us. We all are living in this metro not knowing what kind of a life is there at the next door. I was in a state of numbness incapable of picking up the phone and calling somebody. My partner Rajeev did the same with a shivering heart. Our friends initially responded as if it is nothing but rather a minor crime of plagiarism that we need not worry about further. In fact as they explained later, they had been trying to shrug off the acerbic realization that what we call terrorism is some where very near our doorstep.
However their arrival at my place was followed by a call from Sevanti Ninan, the columnist who edits The Hoot. Even though it was not unexpected, I had felt a tremor while being informed of the enquiry by the Maharashtra Anti Terror Squad about me. They contacted Sevanti and she told me that it was impossible to hold back whatever information they wanted about me. I too never wanted her to keep me in hiding. Why should I be? The life I lived was not a private affair at all. I had been constantly there in the public space with my stories, television appearances and interventions in social discourses. It was very much tangible when I was in Kerala, but living in a metro stricken with terror, it was altogether a different ball game. Here even my name matters. The heaviness of a Muslim name could make life miserable in Delhi. No matter whether you follow religion, religion will definitely follow you.
After a night of tossing and turning, one of our journalist friends took it on himself to unfold the tangle in which I had been caught up. Along with him I contacted the Defence Minister, met the MoS for External affairs and Home affairs. They, except the MoS for Home affairs, know me in person as I had been active in Malayalam language journalism for over a decade. They might be well aware that religious extremism will be the last thing I could be booked on! Our attempt was not to avoid an enquiry, but to ensure that I would not be targeted because of my name.
Even after a couple of weeks passed, I think I am not out of woods. I have been waiting for the boot steps at my door any time. My friends say the investigators might have been monitoring my cyber activities and telephone calls. It is hard to live knowing that you are under surveillance. For the last two weeks we had been in touch with several of the authorities to clarify my position on the whole episode. One of the top officials we met during the course of this, a gentleman who amazed us with his extremely polite manner, asked, So, you’re a Muslim?” I wanted to respond with a big NO, and to shout from the roof top that I am agnostic, kept away from the clutches of religion even from my teens. But I couldn’t. I gave him no answer. I was skeptical about the political correctness of such an answer through out my life. Am I doing wrong by turning my back on the millions of innocent people who follow religion, bearing the brunt of what ever have been done in the name of religion? My partner who is, by birth a Hindu had been cajoled to claim the same in front of that officer, in order to prove our secular credentials in a city where we are nothing more than names. It was for the first time, religion intruded into our life together. We had not hesitated even fraction of a second to leave the column for religion blank in the birth registration form when our son, Anpu, was born.
I was caught up again in another round of bewilderment, shock and grief next day when I went to meet Brinda Karat MP at AKG Bhavan with one of our journalist friends. While waiting in the reception, a heartbreaking cry fell upon my ears. Four or five women appeared at the door shouting and crying loudly. The whole scene rang no bell for me, but I saw Brinda rushing out, hugging those women and listening to them. Somebody told me that they are the remaining desperate souls from a family of which 9 people had been killed in the blast. Those women were lamenting their plight in which they had been forced to bribe even for a decent burial for their beloved ones. I was scared. I wish they would not see me! I was again blanketed by a terrible sense of distress. My vision was blurred off in tears; I couldn’t speak a word, my voice strangled in my throat. In such moments of emotional turbulence the rationale of political thinking may not help.
Many of my friends who shared the sleepless nights with me thought of writing about the entire trauma of an identity and its subjectivity, but they were skeptical about the ramifications of such an act in my life. One of my friends sharing the deep anguish, posted in his blog, a single liner- Shiver, down the spine. No comments have been posted yet, because the readers of his blog are left with no other clue. Now I think it is high time to speak up. I don’t want to grow a censor within me.