Hunger, lack of empathy kill more than Covid-19

There can’t be a bigger tragedy than heaping all inhuman tactics on migrant workers in their own country. Sadly, the shameful, devastating and disgusting acts are taking place not in 1947, but in 2020!

These ongoing shots of our hungry and thirsty mazdoors fleeing, dying, beaten up and thrashed and humiliated by cops, gets more than hitting. In these recent weeks we have converted our precious workers to such pathetic conditions! Their forms have been rendered weak and bruised by the utter and utter callousness meted out to them.

Tell me, was the lockdown planned keeping in mind that two-thirds of our country’s population finds it very difficult to survive even during the unlocked state! Our farmers, tillers and millers, labourers, daily wagers, small time traders and shop keepers remain alive only and only on the basis on their daily earnings and if that’s snatched they cannot go on for long. No sir, they cannot be kept alive on those stale speeches, nor on those ‘breaking news’ bulletins that relief packages reaching them! When and where!

Our people are dying not because of the coronavirus but because of no food, no water, no empathy, no proper planning for their survival — that is, survival of all those who are destined to be still breathing the polluted poisoned air!

Correct me if I’m wrong but the fact is: We are becoming far too thick-skinned to be reacting to our mazdoors’ plight…Yes, we, the middle class are becoming not just thick-skinned but just too selfish! Even today, I have heard upper middle class people say that they are getting all the stuff they need so where’s the problem! The problem is in this wretched, third-class, thick-skinned thinking! They haven’t ever been exposed to hunger and the dying, either in real life or on the big or small screens. Even the feature films made in recent years barely focus on the plight of the mazdoor and the farmers and the migrant workers! Why?

In fact, several years back , a former bureaucrat , Parvez Dewan , had researched on what our Bollywood films and television serials, were portraying vis-a- vis communities and the different sections of our society. And his findings brought to the fore real shockers as the visual media’s portrayals were so far away from the ground realities and the dark truths. Space constraints will come in way if I were to write about the lopsided cum slanted portrayals of the different communities but if one were to focus on the village life and villagers they are more than often shown, in the visual media, as though all’s going fine and okay in villages and rural belts and the villagers are happily dancing around rivers and rivulets and waterfalls!

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Mind you, with this untimely death of our migrant workers, the very roots of heritage and civilization could also stand shaken. After all, rural India is the real India, which has been a witness to the various stages of history and culture and the genuine Indian-ness. Perhaps, it would be relevant to mention that our leading artist MF Husain understood our rural people’s grounded wisdom and the basic culture of the land ingrained in them right from birth … in fact, during an interview with me, MF Husain had told that he was planning to make a film on the “subtle comedy culture of India” and the target audience for his this film would be the urban rich and the upper middle class residing in the big cities and metropolitans. Nah, not the rural folk. His rationale being — “I’m planning to make a subtle comedy which will be a part of our culture… I would say with great confidence that eighty per cent (80 percent) of the people in rural India do know and can appreciate the different aspects to our culture , because its part of their everyday life and living and it comes naturally to them… Its the elite living in big cities who are ignorant.”

I recall rather too vividly that when I had told Husain sahib that since our rural people sit battling the very daily survival so how can they even think of cultural strains to just about anything, he had not just his cool but then tried explaining that our rural people are far ahead in terms of the culture ethos of the land because it all comes naturally to them. They are close to the ground realities of the land. Its inborn in them. They don’t have to go and get admitted in schools and formal training centres to learn the arts and crafts and the classical moves to the traditional arts. Simply because its in them, in their psyche, in their very being!

What I’m trying to put across is the fact that with the untimely death and decay of our migrant workers and the mazdoors and all the other majboors of the day, we are also trampling upon and killing our vast traditional culture … Death of human forms and with that the connected deaths of so many other forms!

Mind you, all these inhuman tactics heaped on our mazdoors in their own country, by their own sarkar that is, the sarkar of the day! There couldn’t a bigger tragedy. Shameful and devastating and disgusting! All this taking place not in 1947, but in 2020!

In fact, it’s about time we cry halt to those sarkari moves to implement the CAA- NRC- NPR. If this government of the day cannot look after its own citizens, then how on earth its dreaming of getting in some more! The existing rightful citizens of this country are perishing, rather are made to perish, so what will be the fate of those getting wooed back? They too will perish, in this no- food and no -water and no —employment and no- transportation scenario!

Also, its time that we, the surviving citizens of this country, go beyond the mundane and reach out to our mazdoors, directly and immediately. Before more mazdoors go through many more disasters, its time we reach out to them and to their widows and orphans … Have you wondered who will look after the orphaned children — Krishna, Chandni, Vipin … ? Our dead mazdoors’ children left all alone or at the mercy of their poor relatives.

Till date one hasn’t heard any of the Child Rights forums or the concerned ministries and commissions come out with any schemes for the orphans of our mazdoors. And to say that the government run orphanages would be an ‘okay’ place for these orphaned children, shouldn’t be acceptable. These orphans need reliable middle class homes where they can be looked after with adequate comfort and cushioning.

 I repeat its about time, we, the still alive citizens of the country, reach out to our mazdoors and their families. And definitely to those orphans whose mazdoor parents died in road accidents in these recent days, Giving food packets could sustain them for a day or two. What happens to them in future …with the summer heat peaking, many more will turn frailer and weaker and malnourished!

In fact, this brings me to write that way back in 2002, I had met a group of medical doctors in Srinagar who had set up an orphanage for children whose parents were killed in the Valley …It was a well maintained ‘home’ for several children and, mind you, it was manned entirely by these doctors…Who told me that they did not want to depend on any of the hollow governmental promises!

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And in the midst of these ongoing Coronavirus tragedies, the communal virus continues…spread around by the Right –Wing politicians and the goon brigades they nurture and control. Yes, till date there seems no end to the hounding of the Tableeghi Jamaat men. The treatment meted out to them raises many questions. After all, even those Tableeghi men who have completed their quarantine period are still not released from the quarantine centres and they are also not provided enough to eat during the Ramzan Sahri/predawn food before the fast , and Iftar/breaking of the fast…. It gets rather obvious that they are getting treated in that vicious communal way!

Now comes in another shocking news. News reports state that in these recent weeks many Muslim families were converted, from Islam to Hinduism, in two particular villages in Haryana’s Jind and Hisar districts .And also in a particular village on the Delhi-Haryana border , close to Haryana’s Sonepat district.

What’s going on in this country in 2020! Shouldn’t there be a full- fledged apolitical investigation into these conversions? Shouldn’t any of the Commissions set up an enquiry?

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Certain all the majboors and the mazdoors of the day would be trying to gather the strength to utter these two lines of Ahmed Rahi, –

“Our lives were spent in despair; hope had begun to stir in our hearts

We thought our destiny would change, but alas, we were deceived.”

Today, I sit very sad and forlorn, reciting this verse of Sahir Ludhianvi (tucked in the pages of ‘Anthems of Resistance’ (India Ink/Roli Books) by Ali Husain Mir and Raza Mir.)

“If there is a reason for my angry songs, it is this

That when I see the hungry farmers

The poor, the oppressed, the destitute, the helpless

My heart cannot participate in assemblies of pleasure

Even if I wish, I cannot write dreamy songs of love.”

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And as we sit in this informally semi- imprisoned lock down state, the least we can do is to think of all those who sit all too formally imprisoned in the prisons of the country. Not to overlook the fact that almost 75 percent of the country’s imprisoned population comprises the under-trials who are yet to be proven guilty, so technically innocent yet imprisoned they are!

In these Corona-ridden times, open prisons should come up as swiftly as possible. Also, the under- trials be dealt with as compassionately as legally possible.

 In fact, whilst on prisons and imprisonment, years back, during the course of an interview, I had asked the then President of India, Giani Zail Singh, how did he cope when he was imprisoned during the country’s Independence struggle.

And as always he came up with the most uncomplicated of answers, “Never left walking …not even in that imprisoned state. Walked even in the prison cell if the authorities did not let me out of the cell …Walking kept me alive!”

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On this Eid

I know in this mounting gloom and absolutely tragic scenario there wouldn’t be any Eid celebrations…Perhaps, apt to say that Eid will be observed and not celebrated. In this context it gets relevant for me to detail one of my meetings with Khwaja Hasan Sani Nizami. He was one of the direct descendants of Sufi Sheikh Nizamuddin Aulia, and resided very close to the New Delhi situated Nizamuddin Dargah.

Several years back, on an Eid–ul–Adha evening, when I’d reached the Nizamuddin Dargah to meet him to convey my Eid greetings, I had to walk a short distance before entering his home. A well spruced- up tidy place with a courtyard. I was ushered inwards, towards a covered verandah where on the takht he sat reclining. Didn’t look well but was receiving visitors… few visitors were seated there. Soon a young man came with a tray full of kachoris, qeema with onion slices sprawled by its side, and a bowl full of siwain. The food spread gave me an excuse to ask him about qurbani…how many goats were sacrificed in his home that Eid morning?

“None.” said Nizami sahib .And his answer took me by surprise. As all along one had heard that sacrifice/qurbani was a must. Of course, for those who could afford it and surely this family could.

Perhaps, seeing me look somewhat bewildered, he continued, “For the last 74 years I haven’t had any qurbani done. Because in keeping with the Sufi practice before the day ends we distribute all money so that when we retire for the night we ‘re penniless ….we live day to day and with just the minimum. And whatever donations are given to the Dargah, they are distributed that very day, nothing remains for tomorrow. Who’s seen tomorrow! Tell me who’s seen tomorrow or the day after! This is what our forefathers have been practising all along. But, yes, our relatives whose wives’ have jewellery do not fit into this category. But I haven’t married, and so there’s no wife and no jewellery!”

What if there’s an emergency…er, a no- money situation?

“Its happened once, during the Partition upheaval. We had no money for even the daily food so had to borrow to survive, but,then, no matter what happens we continue to live on a day to
day basis, like Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia did …at times he had not a penny to him but continued. After all, sufis and darveshes are not made of the average fabric …Its only the present that matters .I must tell you that the day after the Babri Masjid demolition, a senior diplomat from one of the Western countries was going around here in this area for what he called his ‘own survey of the situation’ and he asked me, ‘Would you be able to see tomorrow’s sun?’’ To that I’d retorted and told him that I’d left things to God and was confident of not just viewing the rising the coming morning’s sun but of having morning tea with him!”

And that evening as my conversation with Nizami sahib went on and more visitors joined in, more snacks and sweetmeats were placed on the table, but Nizami sahib did not touch a thing. He didn’t seem inclined to have anything beyond tea. At this point one of the visitors asked him whether it was viral fever that he was recovering from.

His this answer made each one of us look taken aback. “No, no viral fever…no fever at all….Actually one of my nephews, Salman, died just two days back … he died in Pakistan and I couldn’t even travel for his burial. I have been feeling very upset after we got the news. He was young, lives behind his children and a widow …he’d grown up in this very house, scribbled on these walls here…all those memories are coming back.”

Why he didn’t tell us this? Why serve us all this fare?

“Why should my sorrow be a burden for you! Sorrow is anyway a very personal experience.” He then went on to tell us more along the strain,

“Years back when my mother had been ailing and we had a guest who though was not staying with us but meals were taken for him by my father. Even the day my mother passed away, my father took the evening meal and as this guest inquired about her health my father replied, ‘She is now resting.’ It’s only after that gentleman had finished eating, that my father broke the news of my mother’s demise; adding that she’s resting in her grave! His rationale was why burden or distress the other with your sorrow….After all, sorrow is yours alone.”

Alas, Nizami sahib passed away few years back .Leaving back, his wisdom dripping words of great solace.