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Their murders rise on numbers

It is not often that the police have to protect an accused person and his property from the wrath of the public so that he can be tried by a court of law, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Jan 20, 2007 00:15 IST

It is not often that the police have to protect an accused person and his property from the wrath of the public so that he can be tried by a court of law. There is little doubt if Moninder Singh Pandher and his servant, Surender Kohli, would have been lynched by mobs of parents of children, alleged to have been sexually abused and murdered in his house in Chandigarh and Noida and set them on fire. The sheer gravity of crimes attributed to the two men sends a chill of horror in our spines. Is there any punishment that can fit crimes of this magnitude?

So far all we have seen are pictures of the two accused being taken from one place to another by the police. Moninder Singh’s face is expressionless. He lets himself be dragged or pushed around like a brainless zombie in a trance. His servant appears a shade more aware of what is going on. That is surprising since the master is a product of the well-known public school (Bishop Cotton of Shimla) and one of India’s most prestigious colleges, St. Stephens of Delhi, while the servant is illiterate. However, such actions have little to do with book learning breeding or status in society. The dividing line between sanity and madness is invisible, and crossing over from one side to the other is not noticable till it is too late. It appears to be a Dr- Jekyll-and-Mr-Hyde kind of case.

I sat through a sessions trial of the serial killer Raman Raghav, 26 years ago, in Bombay. He had murdered around a dozen men, women and children sleeping on pavements at night. He had no animus against them nor any motive for taking their lives. He was brought to court in handcuffs and shackle. When my photographer, Jitendra Arya, tried to take his picture he went berserk, jumping like a maniac. He was a big, powerfully built dark Tamilian. It took time for him to cool down. His trial was a tame-affair. He admitted to all the killings and sounded proud of what he had done. He told the Judge: “phansee lagao” (hang me). When the iron rod with which he had smashed the skulls of his victims was shown to him, he fondled it with affection as if it was his child. When the prosecuting lawyer shrank back, he said with a grin in his face: “daro nahin, tumko nahin marney ka” (don’t worry, I won’t kill you).

The Sessions Judge quite rightly sent Raman Raghav to be medically examined. The doctors verdict was that he was insane. Raman Raghav was sentenced to life imprisonment in a lunatic asylum. He died there.

What the court will decide about Moninder Singh and Kohli cannot, and should not, be a subject of speculation. Both appear to have been motivated by lust as forensic evidence has revealed. Beyond that we cannot say anything.

How Islamia is Jamia?

"Can you tell me why in 1947 some members of Muslim families opted for Jinnah, the Muslim League and Pakistan while others of the same family opted for Gandhi, Nehru, Azad, the Congress and India?” The question was put to me by Rakhshanda Jalil, Media Adviser of the Jamia Milliah Islamia University. I put the ball back to her court: “I should be asking you that question. You belong to a Muslim family which opted for India. But the majority of Muslims voted for Jinnah, his Muslim League and so they got the Pakistan they wanted.”

The way I see it is that English educated Muslims were divided in their attitudes towards their rulers and other Indians. Mouthpiece of the larger group was Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, founder of the Aligarh Muslim University, Dissidents had many leaders: The Ali brothers, Hamim Ajmal Khan, MA Ansari, Zakir Hussain (later President of the Republic), Shafiqur Rehman Kidwai and others. They set up a rival university, the Jamia Milliah Islamia in 1920.

At first it was in a private bungalow in Aligarh; in 1925, it was shifted to Delhi’s Karol Bagh. Finally it acquired 210 acres of land at Okhla where, besides schools, colleges and playgrounds, a whole township called Jamia Nagar with an elitist colony Zakir Bagh became the preferred residence of the educated middle class Muslims. Its residents include Salman Khurshid, ex-Minister and President of the UP Congress party and Syeda Hameed, Member of the Planning Commission.

I have a long association with Jamia. My Urdu teacher Maulvi Shafuddin Nayyar who used to wear a red Fez cap with black tassel gave up his job in Modern School, donned a Gandhi cap and joined Jamia at half the salary he was drawing. He wrote many books for children in Urdu. Years later, I befriended Professor M. Mujib (author of Indian Muslims) who was Vice-Chancellor and got to know NA Saiyadain (father of Syeda Hameed), Secretary Education, who built himself a house in Jamia Nagar.

Then Jamal Kidwai, my colleague and successor in London, became the Vice-Chancellor and set up a Media centre. Another couple I befriended were Prof. Rifaqat Ali (History) and his wife Masooma (retired professor of English from Miranda House) down to the present Vice-Chancellor Mushirul Hasan and his Press Adviser Rakhshanda Jalil. Between them they have produced a beautifully illustrated story of the Institution Partners in Freedom: Jamia Millia Islamia (Niyogi Books). It has some rare photographs including visits of Mahatma Gandhi, MA Jinnah and his sister Fatima, Pandit Nehru, Saudi Royals, Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and many other celebrities.

Today Jamia has around 11,000 students with Muslims forming a slender majority. It takes pride in being a child of the Freedom Movement and despite the Muslim designation is proud of its secular credentials.

Three desires

I have only three desires to lie: Firstly, to be as handsome and intelligent as my mother thinks I am. Secondly, to have as much money as my children think I have. And thirdly, to have as many girl-friends as my wife thinks I have.”

(Contributed by Rajeshwari Singh, New Delhi)