Last week, nearly every newspaper carried the photograph of a burqa-clad mother rushing home with her son through the turbulent lanes of Zakir Nagar. She looked small next to her gangly son, who was taller by a head. With his school tie awry and his shirt half hanging out of his school trousers, the boy could be anyone’s teenage son — yours or mine.
He looked self-conscious and embarrassed as any teenager would be, entering an alley full of gun-toting policemen and being escorted home firmly by a worried mother. When I saw the two, I couldn’t help but start crying. All around them, TV anchors and studio chat show participants were hissing dire warnings about militant youngsters in Muslim-dominant areas of Delhi, where “God knows how many more young terrorists could be hiding in tiny flats”.
Another hapless mother of a young man held captive by the police had appeared on the TV just the other day. She had pleaded her son’s innocence, saying that at least he should be allowed to stand trial. If after that, the courts found him guilty of anti-national activities, she wouldn’t mind him being sentenced to death. Then she had broken down, and hastily lowered her veil over her brimming eyes.
Mothers, I thought to myself, will never learn. Even after centuries of experience, they will go on pleading for justice, sanity and mercy for their young, even in the most insane times. They continue to believe that if they escort their sons home from school and serve them a nice hot meal, they can protect them from the beast that lies in wait outside. They think by repeatedly appealing to people’s consciences, they can get mobs to back off and make the law of the land prevail.
All they can think of, as they fly through disturbed areas looking for their children, is that peace should return somehow, that their children should have the chance to grow into adults, get married and have families. And all they have had by way of weapons is love and hope.
The fathers, in contrast, have lost hope. They sit huddled over tables in street corners, in tea shops, looking into space or growling at their women and shushing them, as men do when they feel powerless. They are simultaneously fascinated and scared by this phenomenon of home-grown terrorism and the trail of blood that stretches from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. But, being men, they are ashamed to cry, or plead. They can only get violently angry and seek revenge.
At this hour, if one says that there is a certain similarity in the bewildered tear-stained faces of mothers with veiled faces and those of the dead police inspector’s mother, wife and daughter, there are many who will roar in disagreement. Every- one from the media to political parties is busy building embankments and dams to control and divert the natural flow of justice to suit their thinking.
Police logic enters the television or newspaper debates faster than one can drain it. Even the educated can be heard saying that the needs of national security have made it imperative that we accept phone tapping, body searches, and agree to bring back Pota. If you don’t agree you must go home straight after work and go to bed early to escape the 11 o’clock bulletins and quick re-caps.
Concerned relatives call from abroad to ask how we in India are coping, and what we think of the Pakistanis “being hoisted by their own Talibani petard”. As though one can label the dead and the terrified as Hindustanis or Pakistanis.
Obviously, those living in Nato countries feel differently about things. The year 2008, ruled by that great teacher with a dour face and grey hair, Saturn, has taught me a harsh but precious lesson: I am now more aware of the fragility of human relationships and of what being a minority youth can mean even in a society that considers itself secular and tolerant.
My parents used to tell us that no one believed till 1946 that India could be split up. But the wild beast roared a year later and Partition followed. There are still many dormant faultlines along which nations like ours stand. And during periods of political transition and economic upheavals, if we allow ourselves to be swept away by generalisations and the ‘revenge motive’, the manipulators will create opportunities for the wild beast to rise once again.