His Name Was Khan
AND HE WAS A 70 YEAR OLD BEGGAR WHO LIVED IN INDIA’S GUANTANAMO BAY, BEGGED AT A WRONG PLACE AND DID NOT KILL IN DANTEWARA, WRITES NAEEM AKHTAR
Only last week the top most general of one of the world’s finest armies dismissed suggestions to roll back a two decade old law that gives his troops and others in uniform immunity against murder, destruction, injury, seizure and confinement apart from any other violation of human dignity and right. And his troops lost no time in demonstrating, once again, why they need such protection under the AFSPA. The guinea pig this time was a 70 year old beggar who sought alms at the wrong place.
Given Habibullah Khan’s abject poverty and the family tragedy that drove him to begging in the remotest corner of Handwara and the post mortem report of having been shot at close range, he must have begged for life in a last ditch effort to reach back home with his miserable collection of coins. He must have pleaded for mercy as much for his own wretched life as for being able to beg for some more time to provide succour for the orphans of his slain son. To his pleas of mercy the men who shot Habibullah would most certainly have behaved differently in different circumstances.
India has often been described as a country of glorious contradictions and it is. In the internalised discourse of Kashmiris the country is only marginally different than a demon. Generally there is cynicism, mistrust, suspicion and even hatred for Hindustan evident in any all Kashmiri conversation. But India actually is different from the usual Kashmiri perspective of the emerging global giant. The problem is that the valley is not exposed to the positive aspects of world’s largest democracy. That is why the Army’s sadhbhavna programme takes all our moulvis and young children across the country’s cities and shrines. And now the police is reported to have followed suit with groups of stone pelters (newest addition to the official classification of Kashmiri Muslims as terrorists, agitational terrorists, militants, PTMs, LTMs, OWGs, etc) being sent on yatra to different parts of country. Obviously, they would be enjoying the miracles of a huge country, free in real sense, on way to revolutionary growth in all aspects of life. They would be savouring every bit of it as citizens of free world watch things in a museum; enjoyable but not allowed to carry home. Indian democracy, the hustle and bustle of its markets, the air and fragrance of freedom, the new icons of affluence should be striking a young lad from Diver Anderbugh, Habib Khan’s village like Taj Mahal or red Fort: grand, imposing, breathtaking but not able to shelter someone.
The romance and robustness of Indian institutions strikes one even through the media. Look at the current debate on Maoism. Dantewara massacre did not merely bring home the terrible realties of the large swathes of poverty in this country it suddenly brought to life the frequently repeated warning of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: red terror is the gravest internal threat to the country. The upping of their campaign by the Naxals also caused open and divisive debate within the monolithic congress party. The likes of Gautam Naulakha and Arundhati Roy are no more Narendra Modi’s five star agitationists, alone in their rights for the tights of tribals. Digvijay Singh suddenly recalls that he too was a victim of his friend and colleague P Chidambaram’s intellectual arrogance (a timely reminder for our quiet dialoguers) and shared the disadvantages of the tribals he ruled for ten long years. And Mani Shanker Aiyar couldn’t agree more than what he quantified himself, hundred thousand percent.
Armed forces, at the highest level of command joined debates, a rare happening in our system, to weigh publicly the pros and cons of military action in the Maoist areas which are out of bounds for police, paramilitary and civil administration. Air Force chief articulated the very spirit of India when he categorically refused use of air arm “against our own people. The debate was heart warming as much as it was indicative of the country’s resilience and ability do things by consensus. Home minister’s strategy obviously will have to wait for another occasion.
Or consider the women’s reservation Bill. Sonia Gandhi put her entire prestige behind the proposed law that has acquired the status of a political legacy from her late husband Rajiv. Fourteen years on and despite its passage by the upper house, a rare consensus between major forces in the parliament, the project seems unsure in its present form. Reason: objections by three Yadavs who don’t command even ten percent of the parliamentary strength. Their thirty odd MPs could never hope to prevent its passage in the Lok Sabha. But they introduced a countrywide debate because of an issue they raised. Steamrolling the Bill seems difficult for the Congress now without incurring considerable electoral loss in future. The strength of debate and democracy is beyond numbers.
That the Indian nation has a huge flexibility and sense of accommodation goes without saying. Look at the wide range of refugee ethnicities hosted by this country: Afghans, Tibetans, Bangladeshis, Tamils or the ancient Parsees. It has room for every one and resources to share. Even the Muslims who continue to be suspected as a community by the Indian state, intelligence agencies and political parties are at comparable peace with the people. They got enough space to have Zakir Nayak’s Peace TV or icons in the persons of Bollywood Khans. A Sania Mirza could pop up only in India to become a heartthrob in her Sasuraal, Pakistan, even before she landed there. Entrepreneurs like Azeem Premji could realize their potential of creating wealth only here and not in an Arab country. The glorious contradiction of M F Hussein having to emigrate under the threat of fundamentalists could again happen only in India where such an artist, the numero uno among Muslims,
could have grown.
Indian cinema has done a wonderful job in highlighting the disadvantages of being a Muslim in post 9/11. ‘My name is Khan’ is only the latest and the most popular and celebrated film among the lot. No wonder it found resonance among the community and beyond at home and abroad.
Why is such a country bent on keeping Kashmir as its Guantanamo even though there always existed a possibility of reconciliation and coexistence on a more decent level? Only to experience the orgasm of an upcoming superpower or to keep alive a ghost which can be stoned to death any time the national interest demands a sacrifice? National interest that fears SMS service in the forenoon and is comfortable with in the afternoon.
Compare the women’s Bill with our Inter District recruitment Bill, passed even without a discussion and the impression will be inescapable in the Masjid hammams, shops, weddings, funerals and drawing rooms that we may be part of this country but not of its achievements: certainly not of its institutions. Contrast the anti Maoist operations with the war on Kashmiris. The dumbness of the intelligentsia on Kashmir gives way to words only in exasperation, that too occasionally, when an Arundhati Roy seeks Azadi for India from Kashmir or a Veer Saghvi yells ‘to hell with them’. That is why even Kashmiri Muslims, their students and traders, professionals and executives can breathe more freely only outside their home prison in the vastness of India.
Habibullah Khan should be the actual hero of Shahrukh Khan starrer. The beggar had no issues with the Prime Ministers or presidents of India or the USA. His requirement was a two time meal for his orphaned grandchildren. His God was the local soldier who is immune to prosecution under the very constitution that made India great. This Khan did not need a larger than life Shahrukh to plead for his life. He needed a Digvijaya Singh or a Mani Shanker Aiyar to speak up for him.
Habibullah Khan might well have escaped death if he was not begging at wrong place, Raniwara in Handwara and instead had committed murder at the heart of India: Dantewara.
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Lastupdate on : Wed, 21 Apr 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 21 Apr 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 22 Apr 2010 00:00:00 IST
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