Lest we forget

 

mandir bhi le lo
masjid bhi le lo
magar tum hamaare
lahu se na khelo

khuda ko bhi le lo
ishwar ko bhi le lo
magar tum hamaare
lahu se na khelo

tum raam le lo
baabar bhi le lo
magar tum hamaare
lahu se na khelo

kaaba bhi le lo
kaashi bhi le lo
magar tum hamaare
lahu se na khelo

 

As Rakesh Sharma’s Final Solution comes to a close, the robust, rustic yet sad voice of Bhadraben Savai of Sabarmati Ashram is heard singing this resounding song. Twenty four hours after my third viewing of this film, the song refuses to stop echoing in my heart.

Accompanying the song is a long shot of an abandoned locality. The camera moves forward slowly, capturing the charred walls, the broken windows, the cracked floors. Nobody lives here. And the unbroken beams of sunlight and shade testify that this is a foresaken land. The lamentful song in the background tells us why it was foresaken, and by who.

Murder happened here. Rape happened here. Heaps of bodies were burnt alive here. Fetuses were cut into pieces. But not everyone died. Some survived. They are the foresakers of this land. The land happens to be a previously Muslim area in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

Elsewhere in Ahmedabad – literally “land of the blessed” – those who survived live in relief camps, a euphemism for crowds of men, women and children huddled under tattered tents. I wonder what will happen when the wind blows too strongly, or when the monsoon arrives. The camera focuses closely on their faces and I realise that what these people have been witness to overshadows any concerns about wind and rain.

Among them is a 6-year old boy called Ijaz. The filmmaker tries to strike a conversation with him. The boy speaks in a musical tone, with a shy smile on his face. He prefers to roll his eyes around rather than looking at the camera. Ijaz is a strange blend of playfulness and tragedy.

“I am in kindergarten. My name is Ijaz. After they burnt Chamanpura, I came here. They killed everyone there,” he says in his musical voice, still with a smile on his face.

“Did you see it?”

“Yes”

“What did you see?”

“They killed. They killed with swords. They killed my grandpa, they killed my aunt. And when my father went to save my grandpa, my father’s two fingers got chopped off (points to his own two fingers to illustrate). They cut everyone. They stripped the women before cutting them.”

“In front of you?”

“Yes. They stripped my aunt and cut her too. They did not strip the men.”

“Who did this?”

“The Hindu people”

Final Solution begins and ends with the filmmaker conversing with Ijaz. In between these two conversations, we have about 150 minutes of film. We meet Sangh Parivar activists, who believe that the killings were a much needed response to the Godhra attack, and that finally, the Muslims have been taught a lesson. We meet common people who sympathise with this view, who talk about their fears that Muslims keep weapons procured from Pakistan, that they are all terrorists, that they abduct their daughters, and that their population is multiplying manifold. We meet Chief Minister Modi, who famously declares that every action is followed by a reaction. We meet the BJP’s workers, dancing at Modi’s rallies to the cacophony of drums and Bollywood music, proudly declaring to the camera, “miyan ki ma chod” (fuck the Muslim’s mother).

And we also meet others like Ijaz. A beautiful woman in her 30s, unnamed, sits with her small child sleeping in front of her. She has a remarkable calm on her face, and speaks with a smile, perhaps her natural response to being in the camera’s gaze. She talks of how she and her neighbours were cornered by a mob of 200 or 300 people. The mob threw kerosene over them and set them to fire. “I threw this boy into a large garbage dump and ran to save my other child. But something hit me and I fell into the heap of people. Many people fell above me. They set us to fire. Those above me died. I survived, but with all these burns” (she points to her legs and her right arm). The smile gives way to tears as she tells us that two of her three children died in the fire. “Waseem and Naushad, they were 6 and 8 years old, they died right in front of me,” she says, wiping her tears with her scarf. “Even if we get justice, can we ever forget all that?” The older women next to her also weep silently. A community mourns.

We know that there has been little justice. The politics of blood continues. We have been told to move on. We have been told to look forward and not backward. We have been asked to ignore who killed Gandhi and why. Dreams of being a superpower are shown to us so that we forget it all. Can we? Some of us, it seems, can. When I first saw Final Solution in 2003, it was a harsh political awakening. Harsh, because I saw vividly that the line between being human and being a beast is a thin one. But it was also inspiring, for I knew that to stand against this beasthood in our shared culture – even if silently – was what life called me to do. I was not yet 20 years of age, but certain ideals were set in stone.

The film ends with another conversation between Ijaz and Rakesh Sharma. The smile, the coyness and mischief are still present on Ijaz’s face. The eyes still roll around and the musical accent continues to endear him to us.

“One two three four five seven eight nine ten. I know everything. I can make a small house (gestures with his hand), I can make a flower..”, says Ijaz.

“What will you become when you grow up?”

“A soldier. Then I’ll burn those people.””

“Which people?”

“The Hindu people.”

“Why?

“Because they did the same, that’s why.”

“But they did something bad, no? Why will you do such a bad thing?”

“I will definitely kill them.”

“Why?”

“I will kill them. Even if someone tells me not to, I will.”

“Are all Hindu people bad?”

“(nods in agreement) They use abusive words”

“Which abusive words?”

“I don’t speak abusive words”

“I am a Hindu too. Do you think I am bad?”

“No”

“So when you become a soldier, will you spare me?”

“I will”

“You will spare me?”

“I don’t burn all people. I will only kill the Hindus”

“But I am a Hindu too”

“No, you are not a Hindu”

“Do I not seem to be a Hindu?”

(Ijaz nods sideways in a ‘no’ gesture)

“Then what do I seem to be?”

“A Muslim”

The film ends.

Final Solution is a testament to the brutalisation of the human being. It is a testament of the deformation of the soul, meant to live in dignity and compassion, but living only in hatred. To evoke it more than 10 years later is not to take pleasure in the pain. It is to remember the brutality we are capable of, so that we are alarmed enough to not repeat it. It is also to remember that pain never belongs to one person. Pain is what binds us. A child whose mother was killed in front of him, or a mother whose children were killed in front of her – to see them moves us to tears precisely because they and I are the same, deep down, deep inside, despite all our differences. And that which is ‘the same’ is who we are in our essence – human beings. Lest we forget.

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~ by tdcatss on June 6, 2014.

6 Responses to “Lest we forget”

  1. What a conincidence it is. I wrote about the same documentary at my blog a few days ago and chose the same 2 scene to illustrate (Izaj’s). And I came here and read yours. It’s like we have identical thought processes.

  2. Thanks. I read your blog post. For technical reasons I am unable to comment on that, so I will write my thoughts here.

    Modi is one person. For many of us, the evil is not and can never be only one person but a thought that manifests itself in the entire Sangh Parivar, now for almost 100 years. Anyone who has seen Final Solution will find it difficult to deny that the RSS, the Bajrang Dal, the VHP, and other such organisations executed the riots. The BJP is only their most public face and their political wing, and thus, understandably sanitised for public consumption. This in itself is enough for me to not support the BJP.

    About Modi’s culpability – one needs to look at the Tehelka sting where Babubhai Bajrangi admits that Modi told him “do what you want for three days, then I will shut everything down”; also, the testimonies of Sanjeev Bhatt and R.B. Sreekumar, police officers who saw Modi tell his functionaries to “let the Hindus vent their anger” and refuse to send protection to riot affected areas; also, one needs to listen to Zakia Jafri and her companions who testify that Ms. Jafri’s husband called Modi for help when a mob stood outside their building, but Modi not only refused to help, but expressed surprise that Mr. Jafri was still alive. And more in the Concerned Citizen’s report on the riots.

    I am not a lawyer so I don’t know how much of this evidence is legally incriminating. I don’t think the courts can convict every human being who has committed a crime. Judicial procedure sets certain demands on the nature of evidence that is admissible, and therefore, it is very much possible to not be convicted despite having committed a crime. The courts have not done enough for 1984 or for 1992, but we know who were the guilty then.

    For me, all these pieces of evidence, plus many more speeches of Modi and his colleagues are evidence enough that he let the riots happen, rather than controlling them.

  3. Hey there,

    I totally agree with you. As I have already mentioned in my post, the decisions of courts in India– in the same case– are sometimes so contradictory to one-another that we can not take them as absolutely fair ones.

    And the sting operations that you have mentioned here; I was not aware of them before. Nevertheless, I will watch them now.

    But as far as I have followed the media trials, no body could bring him on his back foot confidently or proven for sure– his direct involvement in the riots (I am talking about hard core evidence which are valid in courts).

    I also feel that he might have saved many lives and would have acted more strongly against the riots but it is not a guilt as such in the view of Indian judiciary as it seems.

    However, I went on looking for similar incidences against minorities in Pak and Bangladesh– about which I am preparing to my next post– and I found that our minorities are luckier (relatively if not absolutely).

    I don’t have much logic to justify but I would like to give Modi a chance, may be for a so called “prayashchit”.

    About your technical difficulty in commenting on my post– I have chosen the wrong theme which does not have the comment option at the right place. Will change it soon.

    Thanks.

  4. I agree that minorities in India are better off than minorities in quite a few places, such as Pakistan, for example. But of course, that doesn’t really count for much according to me! Morality is not relative, as far as I go.

  5. Some more ‘evidence’ about the riots:

    http://www.sabrang.com/tribunal/

    http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main35.asp?filename=Ne031107gujrat_sec.asp

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