| Politics & Society |
Where has Jack gone and by the way, Did they kill Jill?
By Mukherjee P.
"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person is of a contrary opinion, mankind will be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
-John Stewart Mill in his book ‘On Liberty’
Apart from contested sovereignties, what would the word “exile” reveal to us?
Maybe an idea of loss
Maybe playing truth or dare
Maybe recalling name, place, animal, things, sensations, smell,
Memories don’t morph that easily into metaphors.
They make themselves available as a temporary tease in a world operating like a large capital market, and in some sense you are either a majority or a minority or maybe a fence-sitter trying to be both and failing regularly, or an ideological has-been in this supermarket of convenient dissent-free ideas. Hence, we are always in a perpetual state of exile and constantly adapting ourselves into newer defi nitions of lines of control. The free trade votaries seeking newer markets would like to believe that they have the right to create ghettos and call these collectives islands of diversity. There is a singular absence of any empathy, only a cold-blooded belief that we can indeed sacrifice the smaller numbers at the altar of majority notion of development.
Ask Vidarbha Jan Andolon Samiti’s chief, Kishore Tiwari, about 10 years of Bt cotton wreaking havoc in the region or ask Jeetan Marandi of Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolon in Ranchi who has been accused in a Naxal attack and against whom fresh charges were filed when he was about to be released on December 15, 2011. Ask Phillip Kujur, of the Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee about the deaths of Lalsingh Mundia, Gangaram Kalundia, Lalit Mehta, Niyamat Ansari, Pradeep Prasad and the recent death of Sister Valsa who was murdered on November 15, 2011. He will tell you about the new divide and rule. First: exile and then create another bunch of exile within exiles.
Ask Mumbai-based activists Ishwar Prasad Khandelwal, Bhausaheb Jambhulkar and Sameer Aman Khan why they want an independent probe into the August 9, 2011 killing of three farmers when the police (allegedly led by Pune Superintendent of Police(Rural), Sandeep Karnik) opened fi re on agitators in Maval, opposing land acquisition and water pipeline project on Pawana river, ask veteran A.K. Roy in his Dhanbad shack, about the killings of Anthony Murmu (killed in 1985) ,Nirmal Mahto(killed in 1986 in Jamshedpur), Devendra Majhi (killed in 1994) and his wry smile tells you, that he is a living an exile or shall I say, living exile.
Whether you talk to a veteran from Cooper’s Camp in Ranaghat or people from a clutch of camps post 2002 riots in Gujarat, exile is no more a metaphor... it is a constant reminder of a majoritydriven gameplan that creates a deep schism and you can’t wish away/wash away those wounds. Ask each of those 58,697 Kashmiri pandits what they left behind? Ask at least one member of a family of the 399 pandits killed in the state (according to the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti) since 1989... where did it all go wrong? It cannot just be a Jagmohan or a Syed Ali Shah Gilani... trust is no more an adhesive.
For a moment look at the exile train that chugs along in its contested cobblestone path. What happens in that path? Most definitely, an all-out attack on their idea of freedom. Standing in an urban sprawl, you might say, what is the big deal? The big deal is that exile also happens in your life, in ways more than one. These ways are not as acute as that of political exile but still play out in the form of failure in relationships, absence or hyper-presence of a sex life or demands of a job. Hunger is exile. Condemned to remain low income group is exile. Lack of tangible freedom in a so-called liberal set-up is exile. Yes, exile isn’t poetry’s final frontier, but definitely close to the final Shangri-La. It is a built-in reality. Reality Check.
The idea of exile and the metaphor of line of control are closely linked to the idea of absence. Let me reiterate that absence is neither the disappearance nor non-existence of presence. In our country, exile/absence could be a loss of a mother tongue, dialect, sub-dialect as the caravan of language moves on the tracks of a landscape where 900 mother tongues exist (according to People’s Linguistic Survey of India) as opposed to 1,652 as outlined in the 1961 census. Every fortnight there is a loss of language, every decade we lose about 100 mother tongues. What happens then? The uniqueness of the regional grouping gets threatened by this increasing idea of language-standardisation and half-measures. And when the tip of your tongue forgets to articulate the basic screams, howls, yelps and laughter in found phrases, the coloniser moves in stealthily. And you are pushed, shoved and then thrown into the trash can of exile.
To put it not-so-simply, exile always plays havoc with one aspect of our lives: memory. Memory that can be pictorial/coded/ noisescapes. Memory that can be historical. Cultural. Selective. Fascist. Left . Melancholia. Rightist overtness. Tactical silence. So absence is neither metaphysical nor a pedagogy but an idea of seeking.
Standing on the green line that divides the island of Cyprus, the peace lines in Northern Island, the Berm, a wall of sand that crosses the Western Sahara from north to south, the barbed wire fence around the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta in Morocco, the wall between Palestine and Israel and the grand theatre that plays out in Gaza, so brutally, so heartlessly; the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea, the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, the wails of Rohingyas floating mid-water between Burma and Bangladesh, memories of 20 years of the Bosnian blood trail… the presence of these nationalism-sponsored enclaves... shows that the business of exile is a serious business.
... persons or groups of persons, who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, violations of human rights or natural or humanmade disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognised State Border...
Excerpts from the UN Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
Closer home, let’s look at Gujarat. Let us look at the tale of internal displacement and internal exile that will only replicate itself in times to come.
10 years of moving on. 10 years of good roads and many memorandums-of-understanding seeking and creating vibrancy, smokescreens of development and tacit sanctions for nursing and manufacturing the idea of the other. And by the way, 10 years of seeking justice. Oh yes! 10 years of being told that “major” infrastructure is a panacea to some stray clamours of “minor” injustice.
Or “minor” injustice is apparently the only fate that the “minorities” deserve in an avowedly secular nation. Of course, 10 years of vibrant Karnavati also belong to a decade of celebrating the majority. In the 10 years, the city of polls has turned from 591 to 601. A decade of clear- cut division which created its own lines of control and its own folklore: “that” part is yours and “this” one is mine. Th e clever and brutal idea of creating words like “illegal”, “contraband,” “unknown” and a hyphenated set of two words called “potentially-dangerous.” And of course, the convenience of forgetting incidents of mass murder that took place in the tribal-dominated Panchmahal. These incidents include Pandharwada, Dailol and Kidiad.
Merely, 10 years of being sure what “sells” electorally. Of course, 10 years and a Mahatma Mandir (built almost like a living insult to the father of the nation in Gandhinagar). A decade of us being implicit, explicit and complicit in gulping down the tablet of development (borne out of enclaves of self-doubt; be it in the deeply divided Bapunagar, Modassa, Idar, parts of Viramgam, Himmatnagar, Chamanpura, Aman Chowk, Bombay Hotel, Kalupur, Tandalja (Baroda) and Ismail Nagar (Anand)).
What, then, would be memory for those in Gulberg Society in Gujarat?
The ones who were roasted and charred.
They would say. Remains of the residue
The residue of the closure
The closure of the future
Or that fatal continuity
Which is doomed, claustrophobic, dated, remembered,
rejected, exploited, ejected, elevated (a false sense of it) and
Just a room- where the windows and doors vanished... only after
you have entered
And then, for the rest of your life… you are counting, making timelines… I know of a lady with a lamp called Zakia Jafri, who sees this graffiti on her wall every night:
Gulberg Society. Meghaninagar, Ahmedabad: 29 bungalows-10 apartments-69 burnt to deaths.
Trials by the adversarial contest must in time go the way of the ancient trial by battle and blood: Former Chief Justice of the United States, Warren.E. Burger
...the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialistic elements of finance capital: Fascism as defined by the 13th Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International before the commencement of the Seventh Congress of Comintern in 1935 and formulated by Georgi Dimitrov, Secretary-General at that time.
On March 26, 27-year old Jamphel Yeshi became the 31st person in recent times (including Lama Sopa Rinpoche and 29- year old Tsewang Norbu from Nyasto monastery in Tawu) to set himself on fire. He did this in Jantar Mantar after carefully thinking about his action. I knew we had to write about absence. Absence in mythology or legend, absence in politics, absence in relationships and absence per se in our lives.
These pains leap. From one pin code to another. From one line of control to different lines of control. February 2012: 17year old African-American Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Twenty-eight year old, half-white, Zimmerman is yet to be charged. His defence: Martin looked suspicious. Suspicious how? Like Leonard Peltier. Like Mumia Abu Jamal. Like Sean Beli. Like Bradley Manning post-Wikipedia leaks. Like Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo, who was shot 41 times by four police officers. Like Bhikhari Paswan, who disappeared from Telinipara. Like 42-year old Tamirul Haque from north Dinajpur, who would die in custody (July 2010). Like the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) in the US, which allows that anyone can be arrested forever. There’s HR 347 in the US that gives a decade-long sentence for protesting in any destination near someone with secret service authorisation/ clearance/protection. Like Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT) where you can tie a detainee with a dog leash, make him do a series of dog tricks, forceful insomnia, deprivation of sanitation, abdominal, facial and upper body slaps, poking testicles with metal rods, sustained electric shocks, insults to your faith and desecrating your holy text through a series of means including urinating on it. Like allowing female bodyguards to watch you take shower, so that your nakedness is exposed.
Exile has so many myriad forms. The scary bit is that we are no more satisfied with those formal forms, so we need to manufacture and invent new ones. So what if notions of dignity and self-respect are under attack? What sells in a surveillance state is the constant upgradation of Big Brother methods and spinning an industry around it. You stoke, heat, barbecue, roast, whip up and manufacture this unhealthy dose of fear. And then you stealthily upgrade it to such refined levels of intervention that fear breaks out on your skin as rashes and you use another form of fear as vaccine. And as fear meets fear, you create a new brand of exile. Brand new exiles. Brand new map. Brand new LoCs.
We are pretending to be in this world of ideological antagonism and complexities. But aren’t we overtly simplistic too? Simplistic to the point of being brutal and banal at the same time. We revel in creating notions of exile, be they personal, political and even aim our arrows against art as that is the softest target to create more exile and muffle more voices. And the notion of exile in art is both personal and universal at the same time. Why else, would Israel declare Nobel laureate Gunther Grass “persona non grata.” Reason: He wrote a poem that Israel has enough military arsenal to annihilate Iran. What then would be memory in such times of globalised ambiguities and the marketing juggernaut that sells impermanence?
Such is the winter of discontent. Such is the spring of hope. Such is the re-assertion of lost time. Found footsteps. Found hope (even in little doses). That is what makes Jai Prakash Dabral take up law at the age of 55, so that he can take the Garhwal timber mafia to the court, make Bant Singh celebrate life through music despite chopped hands and a maimed leg, make 48-year old Ghulam Mohammed Mir-a Kashmiri farmer in Saagam village of Anantnag’s Kokernag area discover a musical lantern.
What is this lantern? To start with torches in the night are banned. If you are not carrying a lantern, then you maybe thrashed by the army. Mir, knew the necessity of a lantern. However, the point of catharsis came out of a personal experience. Generally, Mir slept in his room naked. Each time, the army barged into his room in the night (a common practice in Kashmir), he got a thrashing for being naked. So, he combined the mass need for a lantern and his need to sleep naked by making a singing lantern with a radio in it and a motion sensor with 15-feet range which would alert him of any footsteps and he could quickly put on some clothes. He has turned this into a business and sells his lantern for about Rs 2,900, with a full range of features.
Mir typifies a kind of hope needed to tide over such times when mental and physical separations are being created by an organised liberal mafia. The aspirations of the “other” is termed as dangerous and a threat to civil society (when was a society civil in any which way?).
Grab that sense of exile. Sit in the L of the LoC and have a candlelit dinner with death. Just to reassure yourself that you are still living. Or at least that you are living in a façade called being alive. When your throat is permanently parched, you need water not Coke. Thanda matlab thanda pani… but then that is a jingle in another world which should be possible but would it happen? A world where we don’t exile. Where the dangerous, the other, the misunderstood, the unprotected, the sucked, the left -over are the new order. There would be no “mainstream” and all streams would be main. As a result, there would be no notions of exile.
No lines. No control.
Marx smiles (unofficially). Now, I am convinced. It is possible.