Friday, February 29, 2008
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
The Doctor, The State, And A Sinister Case
The untenable imprisonment and victimisation of Dr Binayak Sen, a heroic humanitarian from Chhattisgarh, exposes Indian democracy as increasingly hollow, says SHOMA CHAUDHURY. Photographs by SHAILENDRA PANDEY
FAR AWAY from the glittering salons of Bombay and Delhi, away from its obsessions with booming malls and plummeting stocks, a good man waits in jail. He’s
|Doctor Love: Binayak talks urgently of famine and inclusive growth through iron bars|
been in for nine months. But it is unlikely that the story of Dr Binayak Sen would have caught your attention. He’s been written about in bits. Some channels have covered him. But even though he is a mesmeric character — intense, articulate, idealistic, a man of privilege who seeks nothing for himself — and his imprisonment is a scandal that should shame any civilised society, for the most part, news of him here has been overwhelmed by hotter media preoccupations. Lead India competitions. And polls on who should be awarded Indian of the Year. Shah Rukh, Manmohan, or Vijay Mallya? Men like Dr Binayak can wait their turn in jail.
The story of Binayak Sen is the story of the dangerously thin ice India’s democratic rights skim on. The story of every dangerous schism in India today: State versus people. Urban versus rural. Unbridled development versus human need. Blind law versus natural justice. It is the story of an India unraveling at the seams. The story of unjust things that happen — unreported — to thousands of innocent people, the story of unjust things waiting to happen to you and me, if we ever step off the rails of shining India to investigate what’s happening in the rest of the country. Most of all, it is the story of what can be done to ordinary individuals when the State dons the garb of being under siege.
But, first the facts of the story.
|Absences: Binayak's wife, Ilina, daughter, Prantik, and mother-in-law at home, in Raipur|
A paediatric doctor by profession — a gold medallist, in fact, from the prestigious Christian Medical College (CMC) in Vellore — Binayak Sen, 56, has worked for more than 30 years with the tribal poor in Chhattisgarh, battling malnutrition, tuberculosis, and the lethal falciparum malaria strain rampant in the area. As a young man — star pupil with the world at his feet — he had turned his back on the many rich career options before him to take a job at a rural medical centre in Hoshangabad run by Quakers, where he was greatly influenced by Marjorie Sykes, Gandhi’s biographer. Ideas of public health, sustainable development and a just society obsessed him. Walking the slums of Vellore as a graduate, he had understood very early that there is a crucial link between livelihood, living conditions and health. Bolstering this with a degree in social medicine from JNU, Delhi, he moved from Hoshangabad to Chhattisgarh in 1981, to work with Shankar Guha Niyogi, the legendary mine workers’ unionist. Here, famously, he helped set up the Shaheed Hospital at Dallirajhara, built from the workers’ own mo - ney. Later, he moved away to the Mission Hospital in Tilda, and then, in 1990, joined his wife, Ilina Sen in Raipur, to set up Rupantar, an NGO through which the couple have worked for the last 18 years in training village health workers and running mobile clinics in remote outposts.
Drive 150 kilometres away from Raipur into the unforgiving dustiness of the forest around Bagrumala and Sahelberia in district Dhamtari, where Binayak ran his Tuesday clinic, and the heroic dimension of his work overwhelms you. There is nothing that could have brought a retired colonel’s elite, accomplished son here but extraordinary compassion. Scratchy little hamlets, some no more than 25-houses strong. Peopled by Kamars and other tribals, the most neglected of the Indian human chain, destituted further by the Gangrail dam on the Mahanadi river. No schools. No drinking water. No electricity. No access to public health. And increasingly, no access to traditional forest resources. Here, stories of Binayak Sen proliferate. How he saved young Lagni lying bleeding after a miscarriage, how he rescued the villagers of Piprahi Bharhi jailed en masse for encroaching on the forest, how he helped Jaheli Bai and Dev Singh, how he helped create grain banks. “Do something. Save the doctor,” says an old man in Kamar basti. “We have no one to go to now.”
OVER THE YEARS, Binayak’s medical work had morphed into social advocacy — the two umbilically linked in a state like Chhattisgarh. As Dr Suranjan Bhattacharji, director, CMC Vellore, says, “Binayak walked the talk. He was an inspiration for generations of doctors. He stirred us. He reminded us that it takes many things — access, freedom, food security, shelter, equity and justice — to make a healthy society. He was the alternative model.” In 2004, CMC honoured Binayak with its prestigious Paul Harrison Award. In a moving citation, it said, “Dr Binayak Sen has carried his dedication to truth and service to the very frontline of the battle. He has broken the mould, redefined the possible role of the doctor in a broken and unjust society, holding the cause much more precious than personal safety. CMC is proud to be associated with Binayak Sen.”
Yet, barely three years later, on May 14, 2007, in a Kafkaesque twist, the State pressed a button and deleted Binayak Sen’s long and dedicated history as a humanist and doctor. The police arrested him as a dreaded Naxal leader and charged him with sedition, criminal conspiracy, making war against the nation, and knowingly using the proceeds of terrorism (sic). Imagine the bewilderment. “Just a namesake doctor” the prosecution asserted, and with that act of wilful cynicism, a life of soaring vision and service was extinguished. Reduced to the rubble of the Indian justice system.Since Binayak was arrested, three courts have denied him bail, most damagingly, the Supreme Court on December 10, 2007 — International Human Rights Day: an ironic detail. In this august court, Gopal Subramaniam, Additional Solicitor General of India and counsel for the Chhattisgarh government, argued that the Indian State was investigating terrorism in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra and Binayak Sen was not only a part of this network of terrorism, but a key figure in the web. Granting him bail would jeopardise the health of the nation. The evidence available to back this claim would make dishonest men blanch, and honest men weep.
Sometimes the true measure of people is revealed in the small, random remarks of those who know them. When the Supreme Court denied him bail, an old man told an activist at a rally for Binayak, “If the courts are not going to free our doctor, should we storm the jail?” Then he continued ruefully to himself, “But what’s the use? All the other prisoners would run away, but Dr Binayak would stay back.”
DESPITE THIS formidable reputation, nothing has succeeded in bailing out Binayak Sen. Not affidavits by doctors from AIIMS and CMC who, inspired by Binayak, left cash-rich urban jobs to start the rural Jan Swasth Sahyog medical centre in Ganyari. Not 2000 signatures of doctors across the world. Not Binayak’s years in the Medico Friends circle. Not his stints as a member of the government’s own advisory committee on public health, not his pioneering work in creating the Mitanin health workers programme. Not even the fact that he voluntarily ret urned from Kolkata, where he was visiting his mother, to Raipur to confront the police about what he thought was a “simple misunderstanding”. In a crushing irony, on 31 December 2007, seven months after he was arrested, the Indian Academy of Social Sciences conferred the R.R. Keithan Gold Medal on Binayak. Its citation said, “The Academy recognises the resonance between the work of Dr Binayak Sen in all its aspects with the values promoted by Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation.”
Reasonable, one supposes, to incarcerate such a man in jail. As Vishwa Ranjan, the Director General of Police, Chhattisgarh, says, “So what? One can be a humanist and idealist and still be a Maoist.” You could safely take his to be the wise voice of the State.
The most pressing question then, why was Binayak Sen arrested? What catalysed the catastrophic switch of identities that has overtaken his life? The surface details first.
PIECES IN A PARANOID JIGSAW
Going by available evidence, the three main actors in the police’s case against Dr Binayak Sen have very little in common, except ordinary human transactions. However, an atmosphere of dread has been built around them by booking them under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Chhattisgarh Special Security Act
With a track record of 30 years of social advocacy and medical service behind him, Binayak Sen stuck by his sense of duty and intervened to get legal and medical aid for Narayan Sanyal, an old Naxal ideologue in Raipur jail, even though he knew it was like entering the “lion’s mouth.” He was arrested for this on May 14, 2007. He is still in jail
Arrested in Andhra Pradesh in 2006, Narayan Sanyal was let off on bail. He was then arrested by the Chhattisgarh police on a murder charge. Sanyal’s brother asked Binayak to help him get attention for a painful condition in his hand. Though every visit was officially sanctioned, the police now allege Sen was acting as an illegal courier
Piyush Guha is a tendu patta businessman from Kolkata. Known to Sanyal’s elder brother, he was carrying Rs 49,000 as fees to be delivered to Binayak and handed to the lawyer. The police produced him on May 6, 2007 with 3 letters on him, allegedly from Sanyal. Guha says he was picked up on 1 May. The police claim him as their main evidence
Two years ago, in January 2006, Narayan Sanyal, 67, an elderly Maoist ideologue was arrested in Bhadrachalam, Andhra Pradesh. He was suffering from an extremely painful medical condition in his hand called Palmer’s Contracture. The jail officials at Warangal had sanctioned treatment when Sanyal was let out on bail. He was immediately arrested by the Chhattisgarh police on a murder charge in Dantewada and taken to Raipur jail. In May 2006, Sanyal’s elder brother, Radhamadhab, who lived in Kol - kata, wrote a letter to Binayak Sen, as the general secretary of PUCL (People’s Union for Civil Liberties), copied to other human rights organisations, asking for help in getting Sanyal a lawyer, as well as medical attention. As one of the most eminent human rights activists in the region, Binayak intervened. He got Bhishma Kinger, a lawyer who lived in the flat opposite his, to take up Sanyal’s case, and also began corresponding with jail officials to facilitate Sanyal’s surgery. Radhamadhab, old and himself ailing, came less and less from Kolkata, happy to have Binayak substitute in his affairs. Routine burdens of conscience, as any human rights activist will tell you.
On May 6, 2007, the Raipur police suddenly arrested Piyush Guha, a small Kolkata-based tendu patta businessman and an acquaintance of Radhamadhab, who was carrying Rs 49,000 to deliver to Binayak as fees for Kin ger. They also claim they found three unsigned letters on him addressed to a ‘Mr P’, a ‘Friend V’, and ‘Friend’, innocuously complaining about jail conditions, age, the onset of arthritis. These letters, which the police believe are from Sanyal, also contain amorphous advice to P, V, and Friend to expand work among the peasantry and urban centres, congratulations on a successful “Ninth Congress”, and sundry other things. The police claim that Guha confessed that these ludicrously explosive letters of uncertain origin had been given to him by Binayak, acting as an illegal courier from the jailed detainee. As soon as Guha was produced before a magistrate, however, he said he had actually been arrested on May 1, and illegally detained and tortured for five days before being forced to sign a blank statement. The police further claim — in what seems a preposterous leap of imagination — that the Rs 49,000 was “a proceed of terrorism,” despite the fact that, even nine months later, they have not been able to unearth any terrorist act whatsoever from which that money proceeded.
On this flimsy evidence, the police declared Binayak, who was in Kolkata, an absconding Naxal leader. The local media faithfully carried the story. Hearing of this and completely appalled, Binayak — certain of his own integrity, certain of his impeccable track record, and believing in the constitutional framework of the Indian State — returned to Bilaspur to sort out the misunderstanding, contrary to advice by well-wishers to stay away and take anticipatory bail. In Bilaspur, the police asked him to “just stop by” at Tarbahar police station for a statement. He did so, and was promptly arrested on May 14, 2007, under two of the most draconian laws in the country: the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Chhattisgarh Special Security Act: aggravated mirror images of the dreaded TADA and POTA.Under these outrageous laws, merely to think something can land you in jail. As Kinger says, “I knew the judges would deny bail. If you are booked under these laws, you are done for. They are designed to create prejudice and a particular mindset in the judges.”
One of the prosecution’s weightiest accusations against Binayak is that he met Sanyal – a known Naxal ideologue — in jail 33 times. Set aside for a moment the many valid reasons why he might have done so: Sanyal’s medical condition, the surgery, the intricacies of his case. Suppose even for a moment that Binayak was indeed a passive Naxal sympathiser, the moot point here is that each of those meetings were legally sanctioned and conducted under supervision. Is that fair reason to steal a man’s freedom? The prosecution claims Binayak masqueraded as Sanyal’s relative, but his wife, Ilina invoked the RTI Act and extracted all the letters Binayak had written to the jail authorities seeking permission to meet Sanyal: all of them were on official PUCL letterheads, duly signed by Binayak as its general secretary.
SINCE BINAYAK was arrested, the police has continually gone fishing and, post facto, pulled out the most absurd evidence against him, building the case up desperately, bubble by bubble, on the most laughable of things: a confessional love letter between supposed Maoists in which Binayak’s name appears as a possible source of moral advice; a scrap of paper in Gondi allegedly recovered from an encounter site, which no one can decipher but in which the words PUCL and the Chhattisgarh Special Security Act features; a letter by Naxal leader Madan Barkade to Binayak complaining about jail conditions which he published among the human rights community. Innocuous, explainable things. Nothing there to the common eye that suggests Binayak is a grave threat to national security who must be denied bail pending trial.
What then explains the State’s inordinate zeal to put away Binayak? What explains its intractable need to erase his gentle, morally unim-peachable, identity and erect a dread criminal in its place? Why is it literally manufacturing evidence against the good doctor? For instance, DGP Vishwa Ranjan claims Piyush Guha is their main evidence against Binayak. Yet, in a seemingly desperate attempt to make Guha look more incriminating than he does, weeks after he was arrested, the police suddenly took him to Purulia on June 4, 2007, and made him an accused in an old bomb blast case in Thana Bundwan — a case in which his name was not even mentioned in the original FIR, filed a full year and a half earlier in October 2005! Why this inordinate zeal to paint Binayak black?
TO UNDERSTAND the full horror of Binayak Sen’s case — to get a grip on its significance for the sanity of this country at large — one needs to take a close look at
|In Faith: Binayak's mother-in-law and daughter seek contact as he waits in the police van|
the state of Chhattisgarh. The story of Binayak is just the most high-profile example of hundreds of unnamed individuals like him, caught in the cross-hair of a State at war with its own people. Like theirs, his story is the story of suspended reason, suspended logic and suspended freedom that is the inevitable outcome of a State that paralyses itself with the scare of “national security.” In many ways, Chhattisgarh is now seen as the epicenter of a Maoist insurgency that cuts across 13 states. In Chhattisgarh, by the government’s own admission, most of Bastar and Dantewada are out of its jurisdiction. This is undoubtedly a difficult situation. Each year, hundreds of policemen, hapless tribals, and symbols of the state — bridges, jails, telegraph poles — are blown up by extremists. By Home Ministry estimates, there were 311 casualties in Chhattisgarh in 2007; 571 nationwide. Sympathisers will tell you Maoists have local support — how much of this is voluntary, how much coercion, one can never accurately tell: the only way you can report on the Maoists is if they take you into the jungles to their camps. What you get then is obviously selective information. Typically though, all the regions under Maoist influence are regions where the government has been culpably remiss. Either schools, primary health care, roads, electricity, livelihood — all the benign functions of State — are completely missing. Or, the government is on a rampage of development and industrialisation, which is at odds with local aspirations and needs.
With predictable myopia, the Indian State has been meeting grievance with violence, illness with extermination. Not cure. Draconian laws. CRPF battalions. IRP battalions. Increased militarisation. Thousands of crores for upgrading police. Special funds for Naxal-affected States. An invitation to competitive violence: that has been the government’s response to grassroots militancy. In Chhattisgarh, this manifested itself particularly harmfully in 2005 as the government-sponsored counter-revolution: the now infamous Salwa Judum, which pitted villager against villager and triggered a bloody civil war. 644 villages have been forcibly evacuated by the government, their residents forced into sub-human camps. Smoke out the support, is the State’s war cry. Civil rights activists tell you, the State’s real quarry is not even the Maoists, but the iron-rich soil, ready to be handed to private corporations, Nandigramstyle. There are rumours that the makeshift camps are now going to be turned into official revenue villages, which will force tribals to abdicate all the original evacuated land to the government. All of that is speculation still; but the excesses of the Salwa Judum are real.
|Magi's gift: Binayak's rudimentary Tuesday clinic at Bagrumala|
It is against this backdrop that Binayak Sen caught the self-serving eye of the State. Narayan Sanyal is perhaps the least controversial case he had espoused. Santoshpur fake encounter. Gollapalli fake encounter. Narayan Kherwa false encounter. Raipur false surrender. Ram Kumar Dhruv’s custodial death. Ambikapur. Lakrakona. Bandethana. Koilibera. Each of these hieroglyphs has a searing back story: some excess of State that Binayak and other human rights activists investigated and criticised. Most damningly, in December 2005, Binayak led a 15-member team from different organisations and published a scathing report on the Salwa Judum. It was the first of many reports that would expose and embarrass the government.
It’s this back story that made Binayak so unpalatable to the government. Consciously or subconsciously, it wanted to make a lesson of him. Perhaps even that is to accord more coherence to the State than it deserves. The real story of Binayak is the myopia of an unintelligent, scare-mongering State. Having declared Maoists as the “gravest threat to national security”, the Indian government has got itself into a George Bush like-twist. It sees weapons of mass destruction where there are none. Men like Binayak Sen start to look like Osama Bin Laden. Such are the perception tricks the “national security” prism can play on you.
In a mellow moment, DGP Vishwa Ranjan will admit there has been a miscarriage of justice. “Left to myself, I would have kept Binayak under surveillance, not arrested him,” he says. A big admission. In the same breath though, he will tell you conspiratorially that they have a mountain of evidence gathering against him. Evidence they can neither show you, nor yet present in court. Binayak Sen however can moulder in jail, while they construct their paranoid jigsaw.
ON FEBRUARY 2, 2008, a windy, brisk morning in Raipur, Binayak Sen is produced in the sessions court, nine months after his arrest, for the framing of charges. A surreal mood descends. The jostling cops contrast badly with the dignified calm of the frail handsome man who climbs down from the police van. A cold, firm handshake, a clear, refined voice, “Thank you for being here.” Then everyone is in the court room. Judge Saluja mumbles out the charges, distinctly uncomfortable. He can drop some of the inflated accusations, but he doesn’t. Binayak, listening in the witness box, denies all the charges, then asks for some time with his wife and lawyers. The judge concedes.
There is a palpable fear in the air. Several doctors who’ve come in solidarity are afraid to talk. There have been a series of arrests across Raipur the previous day: two women making an arms drop, a travel agency owner, a journalist. Everyone’s feeling hunted. It’s difficult to tell truth from lie. The framed from the genuine.
Binayak Sen, however, seems curiously aloof from all of this. As the police hustle him into the van, he presses his face against the iron bars and says urgently, “You must understand, there is a Malthusian process of exclusion going on in the country. You cannot create two categories of human beings. Everybody must wake up to this, otherwise soon it will be too late.” The concerns of the humanist are apparent even through the imprisoning bar. “If they arrest people like me, human rights workers will have no locus standi. I have never condoned Maoist violence. It is an invalid and unsustainable movement. Along with the Salwa Judum, it has created a dangerous split in the tribal community. But the grievances are real. There is an on-going famine in the region. The body mass is below 18.5. Forty percent of the country lives with malnutrition. In Scheduled Castes and Tribes, this goes up to 50 and 60 percent respectively. We have to strive for more inclusive growth. You cannot create two categories of people…”
Hardly conversation designed to dismantle the Indian nation. Ask him why he lent his services to Narayan Sanyal, a self-confessed Naxal, and Binayak’s answer captures the essential sanctity of civil rights across the world. “I knew I was entering the lion’s mouth,” he says quietly, “but if you start stepping back, where do you stop? You cannot discriminate. Everybody has the right to legal aid and medical care. That is written in the Constitution. That is the basis of individual, human rights.”
One of DGP Vishwa Ranjan’s grouses is, “Why does he criticise the Salwa Judum more than the Maoists?” Binayak’s answer would be that the Indian State has a greater responsibility to abide by the Constitution and due process of law than Maoists who’ve abdicated from the State. But that’s a moral nicety official India obviously finds difficult to grasp.
Ask Ilina Sen where she finds the strength to fight this battle, and she says, “I realise this goes beyond Binayak and my family. We are part of a much larger fight. We are struggling for the right to dissent peacefully. Our commitment to that gives me strength.” Again, a moral nicety official India would find difficult to grasp. Take Medha Patkar: 20 years of peaceful resistance. No result. Take Sharmila Irom: 7 years of heroic fasting. No result. Take Binayak Sen…
Binayak Sen will soon be on trial. To continue his imprisonment during this period is to foreclose the space for peaceful protest in India. It is to nurture weapons of mass destruction. It is to invite violent conversations. It is to further rent a tattered Gandhian dream.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Friday, February 08, 2008
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Assassination of Gandhi and the early signs of crisis of Muslim nationalism in East Bengal : Professor Ahmed Kalam, Dept. of History, Dhaka Univ
Friday, February 1, 2008
Assassination of Gandhi and the early signs of crisis of Muslim nationalism in East Bengal - 1
Professor Ahmed Kalam, Dept. of History, Dhaka University
IT IS still a daunting task for historians of Pakistani nationalism to explain why the Muslim League declined so quickly, in less than seven years after partition, in East Pakistan polity. Not only the party that legitimately claimed the credit of winning a homeland for the Muslims in East Bengal disappeared from the political stage, the nation itself fell apart in less than two and a half decades. To many Pakistani nationalist historians the imagining of Muslim nationalism was unproblematic and uni-dimensional, especially in East Bengal, the region inhabited by a Muslim majority, economically exploited and socially oppressed by the upper caste Hindus whose political platform was the Indian National Congress led by Gandhi.
A separatist politics, encouraged by the British, adopted and pursued by the Muslim elite of Bengal and Northern India, matured in the process of voicing constitutional guarantee for the Muslim minority. The political cohesiveness and solidarity among different social classes of Muslims were formed by Jinnah’s strategic manoeuvres within the quasi-liberal space of colonial politics. The response by Gandhi, Nehru and Patel to Jinnah’s political moves landed them in the cul-de-sac of no return without accepting the two-nation theory leading to the creation of two nation-states. Exactly that happened. India and the provinces of the Punjab and Bengal had to be partitioned. This story is well-known to the students of South Asian history.
The other outcome of the two-nation theory, i.e. the emergence of Bangladesh, has a storyline also. The difficulty with that story is its failure to locate the inaugural moment of the change in the way the community was imagined. In the genre of nationalist history the movement for the recognition of Bengali as the state language is considered to be the birth moment of the second coming of nationalism among the people of East Bengal. The incident of police firing on the students and masses on February 21, 1952, celebrated as Language Martyrs’ Day since then, is the most important landmark in the historiography of Bengali nationalism.
The assassination of Gandhi, by itself historical in a different historiography of the failure of the Indian nation to come to its own, is also a milestone in the Bengali nationalist historiography. The incident by evoking widespread mourning among members of both the nations succeeds in laying the foundation stone of a bridge between the two bitterly contesting nationalisms in South Asia. Gandhi’s death not only complicated Muslim nationalists’ assessment of him but also exposed the internal conflict of Muslim nationalism in East Bengal.
On January 30, 1948, while he was walking slowly from Birla house in Delhi, to attend a prayer, Gandhi, 78 years 3 months 28 days old on that day, was killed by an assassin in New Delhi. Gandhi spent 144 days in Birla House before being shot by Nathuram Godse, Bombay’s Marathi editor of the Hindu Rastra and a Hindu radical with links to Rastriya Sevaka Sangha, who held Gandhi responsible for weakening India by insisting upon a payment to Pakistan (Rs 55 crore, approx. 40m pounds).
Gandhi’s death was a tragic event of a huge magnitude which shocked the world to attention. Sheean wrote in his eyewitness account, ‘Just an old man in a loin cloth in distant India; yet when he died humanity wept.’ That evening after Gandhi was murdered the entire population of India was heartbroken by this dastardly act. Nehru in his radio speech on January 30 told the world that, ‘The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere. I do not know what to tell you and how to say it...We will not run to him for advice or seek solace from him.’
Any evaluation of Gandhi is not so easy, if not impossible. Gandhi’s long political life, his struggle against racism and imperialism, his thoughts on Indian social reconstruction, his rejection of modern technology, his efforts at nation-building in modern India by reemploying traditional Hindu religion, his stand for the Muslims after partition, last but not the least, his political compromises with imperialism, do not allow analysts of his non-violent politics to arrive at any final decision about his political ideology. Radical politics often mentioned him as a reactionary and many on the Left believed it. On the other hand, his political followers accepted him as ‘Mahatma,’ the title which was given on January 21, 1915 by Nautamlal Bhagavanji Mehta at the Kamribai School in Jetpur, Gujrat. To many Harijans and poor peasants Gandhi was God’s incarnation on earth. He was the Hindu god, Rama, in the Kali Yuga – an age full of sins. Indeed, the difficulty of comprehending Gandhi becomes apparent by a statement of his closest political disciple Jawaharlal Nehru, the most outstanding of the founding fathers of modern India, who once wrote that he did not give much importance to Gandhi’s writings on Swaraj but found it difficult to explain Gandhi’s acceptability among millions of Indian peasants. Indian historians are continuously trying to find out how that happened. The subaltern historian Shahid Amin unravelled to a large extent the complexity of understanding Gandhi in his article ‘Gandhi as Mahatma’ in the third volume of Subaltern Studies. Those who are familiar with the nationalist struggle against the British are also aware of Gandhi’s deep influence and importance in Indian politics. Although it is true that he could not prevent the outcome of communal politics for which he is often blamed by historians like Ayesha Jalal who holds him responsible for not sharing power with the Muslims and thus hastening the partition of India. When the British left, India was divided into two sovereign nation-states – one with a Hindu majority and the other with the Muslim.
It cannot be said that Gandhi’s political ideology was always very acceptable to the Indian Muslims, but the latter, especially the activists and the leaders among them, did not have the same opinion about Gandhi. The divergence of opinion regarding Gandhi among Muslim politicians became much sharper after his assassination.
Pakistan came into being on August 14, 1947. Bengal was divided and East Bengal, morphed into East Pakistan and the Muslim League took control of the newly created nation-state. While they were carrying out the task of nation-building, the Muslim League activists were bubbling with zeal. But all of them were not unanimous about their project and it came out clearly on that fateful day of January 30, 1948.
The way Muslim leaders registered their reactions contained the seeds of decline of Muslim nationalism in East Bengal. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the undisputed leader of the Muslims, in his condolence message at Gandhi’s death, published on January 31 in the Dawn published from Karachi, said, ‘Whatever our political differences, he was one of the greatest men produced by the Hindu community and a leader who commanded their universal confidence and respect.’ On the basis of this statement, Abul Mansur Ahmad, the then editor of weekly Ittehad published from Calcutta, in his memoir quoted Jinnah as having said on Gandhi’s death, ‘India has lost a great Hindu.’ Acknowledging that ‘There can be no controversy in the face of death,’ Jinnah did not concede an inch, even after Gandhi’s death, from asserting that Gandhi was the leader of the Hindus, the political position Jinnah held all his life. Jinnah failed to reconcile politically even with an assassinated Gandhi. Though the immediate reason for Gandhi’s death was his effort to save Pakistan from financial ruin by exerting moral pressure, through a fast unto death, on the Indian government to deliver to Pakistan the withheld amount of Rs 55 crore on account of the division of assets shortly after partition.
Liaquat Ali Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, in his statement said, ‘He was a great figure of our times and was trying unceasingly to bring back sanity to the people and to establish communal harmony... His recent efforts for communal harmony will be remembered with gratitude.’ Khwaja Nazimuddin, the premier of East Bengal, said, ‘The greatest tragedy is that when Mahatma Gandhi was most needed he has been taken away from us.’ Both of them realised the importance of Gandhi’s mission after independence and unhesitatingly acknowledged his greatness with the risk of differing with their leader. On the other hand, the last Muslim prime minister of undivided Bengal, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardi, then living in Kolkata carrying out Gandhi’s mission of establishing communal harmony, made an emotionally charged statement, ‘Weep India weep, if you have tears, shed them now.’
[In the second instalment of a three-part series, Professor Ahmed Kamal analyses how, in their reactions to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, some Muslim nationalists in East Bengal started to question the long-held basis of their anti-Gandhi public stand]
New Age, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Saturday, February 2, 2008
Assassination of Gandhi and the early signs of crisis of Muslim nationalism in East Bengal - 2
Professor Ahmed Kalam, Dept. of History, Dhaka University
THE leaders of the official Muslim League in East Bengal were no different in raising Gandhi, in their condolence messages, on a pedestal overlooking the complex and at times incomprehensible nature of latter’s politics. AK Fazlul Huq, the most important among them, ousted by Jinnah in the Bengal Muslim League politics and now satisfied with the job of an attorney general in the provincial High Court, made a reference before the chief justice and other judges. He said ‘the historians of the future would place Gandhi amongst the greatest of the great men of the world.’ On the other hand Nurul Amin, the senior-most member of the East Bengal cabinet, raised a question in his statement, ‘Who could dream that this apostle of peace and true protector of rights of minorities would be the first victim of “independence”?’ Excepting Jinnah all of them highlighted the role of Gandhi in establishing communal harmony between the two communities of the Hindus and the Muslims after partition. All of them, great leaders with large political following in East Bengal, believed that in those turbulent time of barbaric communal strife Gandhi was the only saviour of the Muslims. However, they did not look back to re-examine the politics they had pursued and the outcome of which was the partition of India, so, all these hyperboles, one could argue, did not look like they went beyond being diplomatic niceties.
Now I will try to develop my argument by quoting the reactions of young Muslim nationalists of East Bengal. First, I am going to cite the reaction on Gandhi’s death by young Tajuddin Ahmed, who as a Muslim nationalist took active part in the Pakistan movement since 1943 and little over two decades later after partition became the first prime minister of the exile government of Bangladesh in 1971. One does not know if Tajuddin had ever met Gandhi who stayed in Noakhali, an East Bengal district, from November 7 to March 2 in 1947. Walking barefoot Gandhi covered 116 miles, visiting 47 villages ‘cursed by blood and bitterness,’ during the communal carnage there which followed the Great Calcutta Killing of August 1946. Politicians of various stature, newspaper correspondents, Gandhi’s disciples and Congress volunteers, Muslim League supporters rushed to Noakhali. But none of the young Muslim nationalists, including Tajuddin, whom we mention in this essay, visited Gandhi in Noakhali. But there was an instant and extensive reaction that we read in Tajuddin’s diary written hours after he received the news of Gandhi’s assassination. Grief overwhelmed him and abundantly flowed in the pages of his diary.
Expression of grief has no necessary correspondence with language. Silence, crying, hurting oneself, even hitting others are the known modes of expression of grief among the people.
Expression of grief often is loud and episodic remembrance, interrupted by outbursts of cries, of all the lost moments of happiness and unfulfilled desires involving the deceased. The reason and subject of grief often determine the mode of expression of mourning. But when grief is expressed through writing, the subject and object of grief merge in a text that opens up multiple possibilities of interpretations. Thus a written text expressing grief is always both private and public with the potentiality of entering into the domain of historical discourse. Through mourning Tajuddin was not only connecting with his political past, he, in fact, questioned the long-held basis of his anti-Gandhi public stand. Tajuddin’s grief thus opens up the possibility of reversing or re-establishing his relationship with a martyred Gandhi in a fresh review of politics. To do this, the only mode he adopts which is sustainable is to express his grief in writing. Thus inscribed in the pages of his diary, his grief transcends the boundary of the private and enters into the domain of the public where politics determines the language of his grief, especially so, when it is all about Gandhi.
Tajuddin’s diary entry on Gandhi’s death, which was about three and half pages, was much longer than his entry of any other day including even August 15, the day of independence from the British. From this the intensity of pain that Gandhi’s death inflicted on him becomes clear. He titled his diary page on January 30 as ‘Sad day (Friday) Sad news.’ His first reaction after hearing the news was, ‘I was puzzled for about 3 minutes I remained in nervousness – at the first utterance of news a peculiar harsh cry-like voice came out...’ To make sense of the impact of Gandhi’s death, Tajuddin mentioned that he took his father’s and brother’s death very normally, but he became very much heartbroken with Gandhi’s death. He further wrote that ‘for the first time I got shock from human death which I always take for very usual thing to happen. To me death is a common and natural thing. I never mourn anybody’s death.’ When his father died in 1947, only a few days short of a year before Gandhi’s death, Tajuddin was in Calcutta and had his ‘normal’ dinner after receiving his father’s death news. The following night he went on to have a ‘sound sleep’ at his village home ‘in the very place where [his father] breathed his last.’ But he could not sleep after receiving the news of Gandhi’s death. He mentioned his calmness after his father’s death and wrote that he ate four paratas and one bowl of meat only fifteen minutes after receiving his father’s death news. ‘But the case is different with me at the death of Gandhiji. I wanted to shake off the melancholy in me as weakness. I took my night meal at 12 pm...But I could not sleep well against my will. While I was awake I was [absorbed] in Gandhiji, when slumber caught me due to numbness it took me to Gandhiji.’ Tajuddin uses the examples of personal loss to measure the intensity of his mourning in the absence of any other measure. In his diary he mentions Gandhi as a ‘great sage.’
He recorded a detailed description of Gandhi’s last journey: ‘At 11:45am (IST) Mahatma’s body was taken out from Birla Bhaban in procession. The cortege was carried by military personnel because the funeral was declared a “state funeral.” At 4:20pm the bier reached Rajghat on Jamuna. At 4:30pm the body was placed on the pyre with head at the north. Devadas Gandhi placed over his body a pile of sandal wood. Ramdas Gandhi lit the pyre at 4:55pm. At 5:00pm Mahatma’s remains became ashes. Pandit Ramdhan Sharma read mantras...’ Tajuddin’s attention to details of the last rites is not only striking but is a testimony to his emotional involvement with Gandhi. He further recorded, ‘Pyre was provided with 15 maunds of Sandal wood, 4 maunds of ghee [clarified butter], 2 maunds of incense, 1 maund [of] coconut and 15 seers [of] camphor.’
His emotional state comes out strikingly when he writes about himself. This Tajuddin who even used cosmetics on Muharram Day (a day of mourning for the Muslims) because he ‘did not believe in that sort of expression of grief,’ but after Gandhi’s death his only luxury which was to comb his hair, which he did not do properly for two days and he ‘did not take bath for 48 hours.’ These he did ‘from [an] inner urge and out of forgetfulness.’ All these suggest that he was deeply grief-stricken, but why? He himself explained.
Though he opposed Gandhi for political reasons, Gandhi’s great personality diminished his opposition and produced a sense of guilt in Tajuddin. Affected by excessive guilt, he wrote that with the death of Gandhi the ‘sun declined and the beacon light of humanity declined too.’ He compared Gandhi with the Pole Star and took resolution to follow the ‘foot prints’ of this great man and sought for his ‘guidance.’ Tajuddin could not withhold his reaction like Jinnah by saying only that he was ‘the greatest Hindu’. Indeed, Tajuddin expressed his overwhelming grief through the pages of his diary.
Was Tajuddin the only person who reacted like this? Another Muslim nationalist, Kamruddin Ahmad wrote, ‘that night (30 January) I dreamt of Gandhiji – in his Asram (hermitage), he was smiling showing his toothless gum and said “future history will decide whether I am a hypocrite or not. I will certainly not stop going to Noakhali persuaded by you. When I decided to go there, at that time there was no riot in Bihar.” We were dissatisfied and came out disgusted. But after waking up I realised that I did not apologise to him while he was alive. I will suffer and my conscience will bite me rest of my life.’ This he wrote in his vernacular autobiography more than two decades and a half later.
Kamruddin Ahmad’s immediate reaction had been recorded by Tajuddin in his diary, ‘Kamruddin sb [shaheb] came down at 8:30pm – he was very much upset,’ wrote Tajuddin on the same day. While showing respect to Gandhi in his book Amar Dhekha Rajnitir Panchash Bachhar, Abul Mansur Ahmad, the Muslim nationalist from Mymensingh, also criticised Jinnah’s narrow-mindedness. He wrote that ‘before that day I myself could not realise how much I loved Mahatma.’ Badruddin Umar, then a young Muslim nationalist, was still in Calcutta at the time of Gandhi’s death, and recorded his feelings in his recent autobiography. He documented how Gandhi’s death generated fears and sadness amongst the minority Muslims of West Bengal. Soon after, Umar’s family left India to live in East Bengal.
[In the final instalment of the three-part series, Professor Ahmed Kamal analyses how, in reaction to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, many Muslim nationalist leaders in East Bengal engaged in a ‘fresh review of politics’ and ‘crossed the threshold of religious communalism by inaugurating a politics which would go beyond this narrow communal boundaries and would usher in a politics that would promise to serve both the Hindus and Muslims’ of the land]
New Age, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Assassination of Gandhi and the early signs of crisis of Muslim nationalism in East Bengal - 3
Professor Ahmed Kalam, Dept. of History, Dhaka University
THESE reactions were not only confined to the elite politicians and activists but also the people of Dhaka deeply mourned Gandhi’s death. On February 2 the Dawn reported, ‘Dacca mourned Mahatma Gandhi’s death by observing a complete hartal. Business was totally suspended, all Hindu and Muslim shops, bazaars, commercial houses, banks and educational institutions, offices and courts remaining closed. Pakistan flags were flown half mast on Government buildings and other institutions. There was no vehicular traffic and even Rickshaws and hackney carriages were not plying... In the afternoon, a mile long procession of the Hindus and the Muslims with a life size portrait of Gandhi silently paraded the six mile long route from Victoria Park to the Coronation Park, where a meeting was held and verses from the Bible, Qur’an and Gita were recited. The gathering of about 25,000 people observed two minutes silence for the peace of Mahatma Gandhi’s soul’. Indeed, while condoling on the death of Gandhi, the government of East Bengal announced through loudspeakers that the offices and courts including the University of Dacca would remain closed on Saturday (31 January). Tajuddin wrote the ‘whole city observed Hartal (general strike) – an unprecedented scene for Dacca city... Condolence procession went out... met in a condolence meeting ...silent prayer and no speech.’ Tajuddin did not fail to record the emotions of the people who were running around to get hold of newspapers. He wrote: ‘People were rushing for [news] paper in such a way as was not seen even in the third class booking office of the cinema halls of Dacca – man upon man, struggling the one, suffocating the other and trampling yet another was rushing forward to get at least a scrap of paper where in lay the news of [Gandhi’s death]...within 1 hour no paper was available.’
But why were there such outbursts of passion and why at this intensity? Though it is unbelievable that by January 1948 Muslims of East Bengal, even a large section of Muslim League activists, started loosing faith in the leadership of the Muslim League, a valuable document of this loss of faith survived. It was Purba Pakistaner Durbhaga Janashadharon (The Unfortunate People of East Pakistan) published by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Naimuddin Ahmed in the same month Gandhi died. This three-anna booklet for Muslim League activists of East Pakistan was the first record of disappointment and frustration about the Muslim League government of East Bengal. The excitement of achieving Pakistan started getting diminished among the activists of the Muslim League Workers’ Camp, the emerging dissident group in the Muslim League, to which Tajuddin, Kamruddin and other young nationalists belonged. Abul Mansur Ahmad shared the resentment of the workers’ camp while still living in Calcutta.
It will only be partially true if one argues that the reassessment of Gandhi became possible by the politically conscious section of the Muslim League because of their disillusionment with the League leadership which was tied especially to the Nawab family of Dhaka, the Azad editor Akram Khan and the business house of the Ispahanis – all suspected of serving the interest of the central government, neglecting that of East Bengal. In addition, the frustrations were exacerbated by the Punjabi and non-Bengali civil servants administering East Bengal. In fact, what was added to their grievance was the sense of collective insecurity of the Indian Muslims and the fear from the much too powerful neighbour pursuing the policy of Akhand Bharat after the British left India. In this context Gandhi was perceived to be the only shelter for the Muslims, especially in that riot-torn, hostile India where communal violence threatened the pursuance of any secular politics – the Congress’ declared objective of nation-building. This became very clear to those who participated in politics during the Raj claiming the rights of Indian Muslims. After the partition of India, Gandhi arranged to return Pakistan’s share of fifty-five crore rupees.
Recognising Gandhi’s greatness, Abul Mansur Ahmad wrote ‘Gandhi saved lives of Muslims of Delhi and its outskirts by hunger strike only fifteen days before his death’ for which he was killed by Nathuram Godse who held him responsible for protecting and safeguarding the Muslim interests. The Azad, the only vernacular daily till then published from Dacca, in its editorial recognised the fact that his fast unto death in his frail health to save Muslim lives from the Hindu communalist attacks successfully turned the tide of communal tension in Delhi and made the Hindus, Sikhs and the Muslims embrace each other in harmony. Thus, Gandhi posed a huge question mark through his death to the nationalist Muslims of East Bengal. This extraordinarily tragic incident made the latter look small before Gandhi’s greatness; they were all absorbed in guilt feelings.
Tajuddin wrote self-critically, ‘In the past the same I spoke against this Great Soul for political achievement.’ He confessed that he believed, as other Muslim nationalists did, that the only way to make the Muslim League powerful was by making the Congress weaker; and to undermine the Congress the easiest way was to undermine Mahatma who was the soul of that organisation. In his reactions, Tajuddin thus exposed the inability of somebody trained in colonial liberal politics to make sense of Gandhi’s politics which derived its legitimacy from a particular reading of Hinduism – his experiment with truth, his politics of Ahimsa and finally his idea of Swaraj. Understandably, this reading was culturally and historically inaccessible to Tajuddin and others of his kind. Reviewing the past from the changed context of January 1948, they could realise Gandhi’s greatness considering the future safety of the Indian Muslims and the security of the Muslim homeland.
In less than a year of achieving a state for the Muslims, young nationalists like Tajuddin considered Gandhi as a ‘hitherto unfelt beloved friend.’ The perception of Gandhi’s political role by Muslim nationalists changed after India was partitioned on communal basis. Previously, in their struggle for a separate homeland, the Muslim nationalists perceived Gandhi as an obstacle to their political goal whereas the very homeland, when achieved, found in Gandhi the only friend who could not only save the land but also the Muslims abandoned to the mercy of the Hindu nationalists in independent India. At the core of his guilt-triggered grief in the pages of his diary, Tajuddin still remained a Muslim nationalist, but Gandhi’s martyrdom raised the question of the minority rights much more vigorously in both nation-states, at least for the rights of one minority group young Muslim nationalists struggled before the partition.
Tajuddin’s concern for the vulnerable members of his community in India, following Gandhi’s ‘foot prints’ and ‘guidance’, would, in future, enable him to look beyond the boundary of the same community and redefine it to include the others, the Hindus in East Bengal. In this, he would be guided by the magnanimity of a martyred Gandhi. But this would entail a redefining of the political community in East Pakistan: a shift from Muslims to a broader Bengali identity imagined in course of time by the linguistic resources of the community. First spark of this identity was visible on March 21, 1948, less than two months after Gandhi’s death, when the young Muslim nationalists of East Bengal shouted a loud ‘no’ to Jinnah’s emphatic declaration for Urdu as the future state language of Pakistan. The demand for Bengali as one of the state languages led the young Muslim nationalists to gradually embrace cultural nationalism. Thus the Tajuddins and Kamruddins of East Bengal crossed the threshold of religious communalism by inaugurating a politics which would go beyond this narrow communal boundaries and would usher in a politics that would promise to serve both the Hindus and Muslims of East Bengal – the beginning of ‘secular politics’ under the umbrella of the Awami League, the party that would years later lead to create a nation-state based on a constitution proclaiming secularism as one of its four fundamental principles. Thus Gandhi’s death that triggered a tension among the rank and file of the Muslim nationalists of East Bengal took more than two decades to resolve by imagining a different identity for the latter and realising it by giving a violent birth to a secular Bangladesh – a new nation-state.
- ► 2012 (36)
- ► 2011 (215)
- ► 2010 (236)
- ► 2009 (150)
- The Hindu : Employment guarantee: beyond propagan...
- Tehelka:: Free. Fair. Fearless - Dr. Vinayak Sen
- Mint ePaper- compulsory Generic drug licensing
- Spotlight | Once religious, Karat had wanted to be...
- Iron-ore production set to rise faster than global...
- Assassination of Gandhi and the early signs of cri...
- The dark side of micro-credit | openDemocracy
- ▼ February (7)
- ► 2007 (107)