Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Civic rage

I'm seething with rage - the trembling-body, tears-threatening-to-spill-out kind of rage.

We moved to these flats that we currently live in a year back, uprooting ourselves from what was home and familiar to a new place where we're yet to make acquaintances, forget friends.

This morning, as I walked into the compound after my morning workout at 7, I saw a bunch of men mercilessly beating a young boy, who was surprisingly not wearing any pants. I enquired and nobody bothered to answer. So I walked ahead and saw a few women standing, silent spectators to the on-goings. What happened, I asked them. Two gutter covers (sort of like a manhole covering) - those non-descript dark grey metal rectangles that we drive/walk over without a second thought - had gone missing. It was the first time something has been stolen in our flats in 15 years, the lady said, stressing 15 years. This young kid was on duty as the security guard the previous night. And because of this, he was stripped, and beaten repeatedly.

I walked on to home and getting Nino ready for school, that young boy's face like a silent intrusion that crept in everytime I gave up my guard of routine. Eventually, routine gave way, and anger started to build up, at that particular bunch of men - most of whom are semi-retired, who sit on the benches in the compound gossiping, with whom Nino's Dad and I have individually had a few run-ins about those mundane issues that are the small print of living in a flat - lift etiquette, leaking water pipes, unaccounted for maintenance money, etc.

I walked back down purposefully from my 10th floor home - the security guards having stopped the lift till the flat's committee members apologized for the beating - and walked down to see one particularly rude man who'd been involved in the beating, bellowing. Next to him stood the police, hands on their hips, their expressions plainly stating that they'd seen this before, and couldn't wait to get it over and done with. The kid - now clothed - was crying, and was eventually manhandled into the waiting police jeep. 'Wait', I said. 'You do know that he was mercilessly beaten, right? That he was stripped and robbed of his dignity? That people here took the law into their own hands?' Everyone froze, and then, the cop nonchalantly stepped into the jeep and drove away. The same group of men who had participated in the beating stood around, watching me. 'Savages,' I said, breaking my resolve to use foul language. 'He was a kid'. A committee member came up to me and asked me to calm down. 'I'm a journalist,' I said. 'I'll have you hauled up for beating up that kid black and blue.' I asked them what police station the kid had been taken to - and I received silence as an answer. 'You're not the only ones who know how to beat up people,' I said, willing my words to shame them, willing them to try me.

It's the first time in my seven years as a journalist that I've used the press as a threat. And while it seemed like a great idea when we horsed around about wielding the power of the pen, it dint work in real life. There was no fear of me or my opinions - the bullies won in the end. I've no illusions about must have happened at the police station - the kid must have been beaten some more, the cops and the flat guys must have sat together and talked about how 'outsiders' are ruining Gujarat's 'safe state' image - most of the security guards in Ahmedabad are migrant workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, sometimes Rajasthan - and the actual perpetrators of the violence must have driven back home, feeling all ballsy about their adventure-for-the-day.

Was it that I thought the beating was undeserved considering the petty nature of the alleged crime? Maybe. I remember watching a friend beat up another teenager - this time a lift boy - because he had fondled his four-year-old daughter and kissed her on the lips. At that time I felt none of these feelings. How different am I then from the bunch I condemn?

What is it that prompts us to resort to physical violence? Are we merely frustrated individuals, passing the rage on, like some psychological variant of Darwin's chain of evolution? What satisfaction does whacking someone, repeatedly, give - there must be something to it, so many people seem to enjoy indulging in it these days. And are we, who watch, sometimes speak, but give it up after venting a few emotions, any different? A perpetrator is one who indulges physically in the act of terror, as also the one who has the power to stop it, but doesn't. And also the one who may not have the power to stop it, but refuses to speak up, attempt to stop the crime. What deserves to be addressed with violence - and what does not?

Fists have become a language everywhere in my once-secular city - from traffic snarls to sectarian issues. Are we angrier as a city/state/country? Half a dozen people have been greviously injured or murdered in the city in the last year, in arguments over parking-lots.

I now no longer come from Gandhi's non-violent Gujarat, and instead hail from a state that, to use a friend's words, annihilated its own. I wrote on generalisations attached to a region sometime back - does this now mean that instead of Gujaratis being entrepreneurial but docile banias, our future generations will be referred to as a violent race whose rage boils over periodically? Historical monuments have disappeared overnight here - their cultural significance diminished in face of religious sentiment. We're the new Mahmud of Ghazni - a historical figure who children in the state have come to abhor after countless folktales about how he repeatedly plundered and butchered the state and its people. It's like the Crusades all over again - just that this time we're fighting for and against a bunch of self-perpetuated misconceptions instead of a single one.

I sit here, typing this, tears pooling on my chin, ashamed of myself. Of my inability to having taken up the cudgels for this kid. This is not what my parents, righteous government servants who seemed like a misfit in a world that worked on the power of money, raised me for. This is not what my son will look up to me for. This is not what you, my unseen friends, have to come to read me for.


OrangeJammies said...

You were brave enough to walk down, face the perpetrators and speak up to both them and the police. You are also smart enough to know that you did not have the power to stop the consequences. Perhaps you could still file a complaint as an eyewitness if a case is registered against the boy. Please don't be harsh on yourself. We try so hard to do the right thing, but it's getting increasingly harder in a mangled, morally warped world.
I feel for you. Your neighbors are clearly self-righteous upper and middle class moral policing types who find safety in homogenous numbers. Sadly, so many people share their living space with that sort of demographic.
About the issue of the liftman fondling the girl, that borders on pedophilia, so I wouldn't see it in the same light.
I won't tell you to calm down. I'm rarely that way myself. But I will tell you to be proud of yourself for having your humanity intact in an increasingly fractured society. Hugs.

preetischronicle said...

Hi NM, It was quite brave of you to have stood up for the boy. Some of country's systems seem to have collapsed and we hear so much about the judiciary too now, so many judges seem to have been bribed. Corruption, apathy and most importantly anger/frustation seems to be gripping our society.

I think you did a very right thing and it shows your strength, at the same time I feel even if you did pursue it (I dont know how), it would have been a wild goose chase, how many can we catch and correct. The system needs an overhaul.

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Anonymous said...

Nino's mom,
that was a very brave thing to do, IMO, and no, not equal to the liftman issue - that is paedophilia in my book, and deserves to be treated differently.


Nino's Mum said...

You know, as I read Preeti's comments and in a way agreed with them, I realised that we'd become cynical towards our police and judiciary.
Looks like she was right. The Police did not register a case against the kid - they asked both parties (the flat guys and the security guards) to pay up to wrap up the case - what they so aptly call mandavli in bambiya hindi - Rs500 from the security guards and Rs700 from the flat guys. Justice sold at a petty price. You know, Faiz wrote a beautiful line on this:
jaa-ba-jaa bikate hue kuchaao bazaar mein jism,
khakh mein lithade hue, khoon mein nehelaya hue...

OJ - thank you for the hugs. much needed. hugs back.

M - i know... that's what I felt too, which is why i wrote, 'what deserves to be treated with violence and what does not'. And while I don't feel brave - all of your words have helped assauge some of the guilt.

Brown Girls said...

You really are brave. So many times I have seethed with the frustration and anger you've described and not been able to do anything about it. I'm taking a leaf out of your book Nino's mum, and trying to wear it on my hat henceforth. That's an obscure metaphor but the fact that you walked up and spoke your mind gives me strength to act differently. Thanks for the post, and the nudge. Hugs.

(Sorry I disappeared. Life messed up on the job front and things were in a crisis. Waiting for your next post.)

Nino's Mum said...

Brown girls - Welcome back. Hope things sort out the way you want.

Swati said...

With age, I have become increasingly - afraid - of speaking out, of being myself perhaps in public. I feel, but don't act. It is like I am increasingly insulated by accumulated excretions of injustice and civic disregard. I don't know what I would I have done in your position, but I do know that I would have felt gladness mixed with helplessness, rage and grief - gladness because a bit of me wasn't dead...

mg said...

You did what you could. I really don't know why we're such a brutal and brutalising society these days.

Nino's Mum said...

swati - there is that fight everyday, the fight to keep a bit of yourself from going comfortably numb, or being, as you so beautifully said, being insulated. It becomes easier when you have a child - you fight to hang on to every human aspect of yours, just so that you earn your right to raise a human being.

mg - hugs back. A woman's work is never done in more ways than one.