Guest post by DILIP D’SOUZA
Starting today eighteen years ago, for much of December and January (and then March 12), Indian killed Indian on the streets of my city. Terror at its most elemental: I felt it then. I saw it then. Others told me about it then.
Some memories of those weeks, in no particular order but they all still make my hair stand on end.
- The man I met in a bed in JJ Hospital whose account of what happened to him reminded me acutely of Saadat Hasan Manto’s chilling and tiny story, “Mishtake“.
- The woman in a slum who showed us bullet marks inside her hut, then I lined up these bullet holes in her pots and on the wall and sighted along them: the bullet had come, unmistakably, from a window of a fourth floor flat of a nearby building, painted green.
- The father whose son was sliced to pieces in Dharavi one January night, and who spent weeks getting the runaround from nauseating bureacrats for his Government-announced compensation. (See this account I wrote in 1996.)
- The guy we met at JJ Hospital whose thigh had been nearly sliced through, sitting there dazed, unable to comprehend why this had happened to him.
- The building we visited from where someone had thrown bombs or something else onto a communal toilet in the slum below, destroying its roof. Till today I cannot begin to understand the person who would drop things, explosive things, on the heads of people taking a crap.
- The guy who said some men ran up to him as he was walking on a bridge, picked him up and, without a word, threw him onto the tracks below. Luckily he survived, but was also bewildered by what had happened to him.
- The taxi-driver, originally from Nasik, who was walking in a lane near CP Tank when “about 15 boys” stoned and then stabbed him.
- The small group of quietly weeping men and women who told me, “We are Marathi speakers. Still they attacked us!”
- The woman in a building adjacent to a slum who kept saying how she had suffered greatly from “throne-stowing”. We wanted to laugh, but she was completely distraught.
- On the ground floor of the same building, a flatowner had boarded up two of his windows permanently, terrified of attacks from slum residents.
- The scrawny young man who advanced threateningly on us when we were speaking to the owner of a small chai shop near Marine Lines station about the destruction of his shop. I will always regret not standing up to that young man instead of walking away. What can I say, we felt the terror too.
- The owner of a 40 year-old timber business. One night some people came to his yard in a white Ambassador, flung kerosene all over the wood and set it on fire. He estimated he suffered a loss of Rs 1 crore.
- The unconscious man with a head injury and a fractured jaw lying naked on a bed, tied to the bed, in JJ Hospital. His chart said he was “unconscious on arrival”, his “pupil reaction [was] sluggish” and he was “irritable”.
- The cable TV employee who was surrounded by about a dozen men in Kamathipura and assaulted with knives and choppers. Most other victims I met were Muslims attacked by Hindus or Hindus assaulted by Muslims — horrifying, but at least in line with the twisted logic of those weeks. But this man was, on the face of it, a senseless instance of the violence: a Hindu attacked by other Hindus. Why? Because he had a beard that made him — in his own words — “look like a Muslim”.
- The gang I saw on a low wall beside the tracks near Mahalakshmi station, their smiling teeth gleaming almost as much as the long knives many of the men held in their hands.
- The woman who came here from Tirupati 30 years earlier and who owned a scrap iron shop near Reay Road station. One day during the violence, some people came and looted her shop. The next day, more people came and beat her and told her she had better return to Tamil Nadu. She told me she was staying.
(Dilip D’Souza is author, most recently, of Roadrunner: An Indian Quest in America. He blogs at Death Ends Fun. He’s recounting the violence that Bombay saw in the aftermath of the Babri Demolition, from his old diary, bit by bit, on Twitter.)