The war on young people continues. In this post we will only consider it’s arithmetic. Not even its algebra, simply its arithmetic.
I am prompted to do this by a strange acoustic co-incidence. While standing as part of a cordon of faculty and friends protecting the students of JNU on the public meeting on the 13th of April from a handful of ABVP activists who liked invoking blood and bullets in their slogans, I head one that stayed with me, and made me revisit a question that often bothers me.
This was the slogan ‘Hanumanthappa hum sharminda hain, tere qatil zinda hain’. (‘Hanumanthappa we are ashamed, your murders are still alive’ ). Lance Naik Hanumanthappa, as we all know now, was a thirty two year old soldier of the Indian army who survived six days under an avalanche on the Siachen Glacier in Kashmir and then died of multiple organ failure in a Delhi military hospital. His young body must have had a tremendous and a passionate yearning for life. Sometimes I think of what a fine father or husband or lover or friend a man who loved life so must have been, could have continued to have been.
The Hanumanthappa slogan echoed and mirrored another slogan The ‘Afzal hum Sharminda Hain, tere qatil zinda hain’ slogan, which some voices had also raised on the 9th of February in JNU, or the ‘Rohith hum sharminda hain, tere qatil zinda hain’ slogan that I had heard a few days earlier in a meeting to commemorate Rohith Vermula’s death in Delhi university.
I have read Rohith Vemula’s last letter, as have many of us, and it shattered me to know that the young man who had written those words could not find it in himself to live any longer. I have also read a letter that fewer people have, and it was written by a not very old Kashmiri man to an older Kashmiri woman, by Afzal Guru to his advocate, Nandita Haksar, from Ward C, Jail No.1, Tihar Central Prison, Delhi in 2008. It is worth considering the words of this man who may or may not have been an informer for the Indian state, who may or may not have been the freedom fighter for Kashmir, but who certainly was a thoughtful person, and who certainly never raised a weapon to kill anyone, and who most certainly was trapped in circumstances way beyond his control and who certainly was someone I would have liked to have known, had he and I had the fortune of his continued life.
Here are his words. I want you to read them as carefully as you have read Rohith Vemula’s last letter.
“I am a citizen of this planet. I do not believe in chosen land, chosen race, concepts which are diabolical, devastating and disastrous in their consequences and results. There is only one way to come out of these policies of nationalism, that is, we must believe and practice the universal permanent values…Francis Fukuyama’s liberal democracy is not the ‘end of history’, rather the political philosophy towards the end of all human moral values. It is this neocolonialism we are prisoners of, but unaware of the prison walls in which we are caught. Our tastes, desires, and imagination are all imprisoned, this is where the greatest danger lies.
My ideas may seem more utopian and larger than life, but one should never escape from individual responsibility. Every person has a special vital role to play in this world. Everyone is accountable for their personal, individual deeds. No one can share the burden of other souls. It is our sincere deeds which will go with us. Everyone comes alone and goes alone.
We can develop ourselves only when we develop our concerned societies and humanity as a whole. Humanity will develop only on the basement and foundation of universal permanent values. Let the noble thoughts come from every side. In the end, I request you: don’t colorise or dress my words in any colour or dress, except a purely responsible human concern for humanity. I am in universe in such a way that I made myself the universe, I live in a space but I am spaceless.
With regards and respect,
Mohammad Afzal Guru,
High Security Ward, C Jail number 1, Tihar.”
(Afzal Guru was a little less than a year younger than me. He was killed three days before my forty sixth birthday. Some would say forty five is too old to be thought of as young, but still too young to die. In any case, in another universe, (or perhaps even in this one) we might have been friends, easily. We shared similar tastes in poetry, and I like to think that though we had never met, we had both lost faith in the ability of nation states, (existing or imagined) to improve on human life, but that neither he, nor I had lost a love for certain landscapes, certain people, certain memories, certain ways of speaking and remaining silent. We might just have met on the thin ground where fickle, inconsistent and insincere patriots, or even honest traitors sometimes meet, but where ardent nationalists can never reach. We must have had our differences, but I think they would have only made our conversations more, not less interesting, if they had had the opportunity to occur. Unlike many of the young people gathered to commemorate his ‘martyrdom’ on the 9th of January at JNU this year, I have never been able to see Afzal as a hero, nor have I wanted to know him as a martyr, I would much rather have known him as a friend. Heroes make terrible friends, and one simply cannot befriend a martyr, mainly because they are not alive to be anyone’s friends. )
Now, because I am committed to people staying alive, because I simply like talking to them and listening to them, arguing with them even, I am quite prepared to be ashamed about the impunity of murderers, whosoever they may be. I would have liked Afzal Guru and Rohith Vemula to have stayed alive so that I could argue with them relentlessly. I would have liked Hanumanthappa to have survived his ordeal under ice, or better still to have never had to experience it, and I do not know what letters he wrote to his wife or daughter, or what songs he dedicated to them on radio programmes, but I think we might have been able to share a drink and talk about snow and mountains.
But for a moment I was puzzled about why I, my friends around me on the evening of the 13thof February, or the left-wing students of JNU were being held responsible for an avalanche in Siachen in the same way as the Indian state’s executive and judicial machinery and the ABVP-MHRD nexus was being held responsible for the deaths of Afzal Guru and Rohith Vemula. Then I figured out that for self-proclaimed nationalists, unfettered by reason (faith in a map, like faith in God, does not necessarily require reason, feelings will do just fine) anything is possible.
Accordingly, I started to try and understand how the event of death, regardless of where and how and why it occurs produced its own deadly arithmetic. And so, gradually, the outlines of an equation emerged. And I realized that the ABVP unconscious may well have been pointing to a truth, without even being aware that it was. Could it be, could it just be, that the ‘qatil’ of Afzal, Rohith and Hanumanthappa was one entity. And so, not the left-wing student body of JNU, (as the ABVP activists seemed to be implying at first) but some other entity was actually responsible for putting soldiers in the way of an avalanche in Siachen. I needed to think this puzzle through more thoroughly, so I held my thought.
Now, If you mourned Rohith Vemula, and if you were angry at the way that the state machinery and its operational clients were complicit in the situation that resulted in Rohith Vemula’s death, through a correspondence course in learning to distinguish between nationalism and anti-nationalism conducted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development then you must consider why you would choose to mourn, or not to mourn the death of a young woman called Shaista Hamid, another student, 22 years old of Lelhar Village, Pulwama District, Kashmir, who was shot dead yesterday.
Like Rohith Vemula, she was a student in a Hyderabad university. No, not in Hyderabad Central University like Rohith Vemula, but at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University., where she had just sat her for exams in M.A. In Urdu by correspondence.
She was at her home in Lelhar village, Pulwama district, Kashmir, after her exams, awaiting her results. She was killed when Indian forces opened fire at the village in which she lived. By sitting on the verandah of her home, she had happened to come in the way of a joint army and police operation in her village .
Some might ask, what was she doing in that village? After all, she was just born there, and raised there, and was just sitting in the verandah of her home. What business did she have to be born and raised in a village where the defenders of the nation have to do their work? Others might ask, what were the Indian soldiers doing in the village in which she was born? Why were they within gunshot distance of the verandah of her home? Why do they have to be there at all? They certainly did not seem to be defending, or protecting, Shaista Hamid ? So what does an army do when it is not protecting or defending a population ? How does it use its guns ?
Still others might ask, what about a 32 year old man, Lance Naik Hanumanthappa Kodappa, trapped 19,000 feet above sea level under an avalanche high up on a glacier in Siachen where no sane person would want to live. What about the nine other men, his comrades, Sepoy P.N. Mahesha, Sepoy Mushtaq Ahmed, Sepoy G. Ganeshan, Nursing Assistant S.V. Suryavanshi, Lance Naik B. Sudheesh, Subedar T.T. Nagesha, Sepoy N.Rama Moorthy, Havildar M. Elumalai and Havildar S. Kumar, who died on the glacier itself. Why did they have to die ? Some one else might ask – “Why did 130 soldiers of the Pakistan army have to die under an avalanche in Siachen in April 2012”. Who or what were these men, all these men, defending, or protecting, in a place where no one lives, or wants to live?
India has lost nearly 900 soldiers in Siachen, most of them without a single shot being fired. Pakistan may well have lost just as many.
Why do we live in a world where soldiers are sent by governments to die of frostbite and avalanches in places where no one would want to live. Some have called the decades old conflict between the two nation states of India and Pakistan on the disputed territory of Jammu & Kashmir something like a fight between two bald men over a comb.
In the arithmetic of lives and lines, how many lives are equal to how many inches on a disputed line on an unfinished map? How many hairs do how many bald men need to lose before they can bring themselves to look at the mirror ? When will we learn to count the hairs on the heads of bald men ? What if it were found that it was men with naked heads were the ones who were responsible for the loss of all these young lives – Afzal, Rohith, Hanumanthappa, Shaista, Danish and who knows how many more? Would any of these deaths have occurred if some men, hairless or hirsute, were not constantly weighing maps against lives, lands against people? Why do soldiers either find themselves confronting people and then killing them because they were in the way, or dying in places where no one lives ?
Different questions, different answers.
While you consider these questions, you might also consider the choice of mourning or not mourning for a 19 year old boy called Danish Farooq Mir, son of Farooq Ahmad Mir of Ranitpora village, District Pulwama who happened to be in the way of the same ‘encounter’, or should we say ‘engagement’ as the one that took away Shaista Hamid yesterday. Danish was studying electrical engineering at the Islamic University of Science and Technology in Awantipura. Once again, he was in the way.
A death is a death, and the death of a young person, a Rohith Vemula, a Shaista Hamid or a Hanumanthappa Koppad, or an Afzal Guru, is a life wasted. And murderers, are well, just murderers. Hum sharminda hain. We are ashamed, and sometimes hum sharminda nahin hain. Sometimes, we are shameless.
As for the murderers, or the accomplices of the murderers, some of them wear uniforms, some of them don’t. Some of them don’t think too much about the toll that high altitude nationalism takes on life. A lot of these murderers and the men who do their work are NOT ‘anti-nationals’.
There is a price in lives, especially young lives, that is paid in the business of keeping the idea of the nation-state alive, everywhere in the world. Nowadays, as per the exchange rate between young lives and the aging idea of the nation-state, young lives seem to be selling at a discounted price vis-a-vis the cost of making sure that the nation-state remains a going concern. I nurse a hope that in the market called the nation, the price of human life, of young human life, like the prices of onions, lentils, milk and bread, will also rise one day. Someday, I hope it will be considered too high a price to pay for the nation. I hope that day comes soon.