Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Dead of VT

This is the text of an editorial in the EPW last year (dated 6 December 2008). It is available (with subscription) here. I am putting this up in remembrance, one year after the gruesome terrorist attacks on Mumbai. My heart still aches for my (then) fellow Mumbaikars, nearly 185 of whom succumbed to the attacks. I still grieve deeply for the 56 in particular, who were mowed down at the Chattrapati Sivaji Terminus, a location to which I travelled to, everyday for nearly a year of my stay in the city (my father travelled to this station for 11 of his 36 years of service and my brother did travel a year and more as well). The tragedy is therefore very personal. The EPW edit captures the emotions of a VT station-goer very aptly.

They came on the evening of 26 November to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, still better known as Victoria Terminus (VT), India’s busiest suburban and long distance railway station. They were from India’s working poor – labourers, hawkers and small-time traders – too poor to afford to travel by air or travelling to the hinterlands where there are no airports. They came with their elderly parents, with their children, including a three-month-old infant.

They seem to have been a truly cosmopolitan group – from Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. Hindus and Muslims, for sure. They were a microcosm of people from across India who came to pursue the dreams Bombay/Mumbai offered.

They gathered in the central concourse waiting for their trains to pull into the platforms. They must have been going to attend weddings, to visit families, to look up sick friends or relatives or just taking a break they may not have been able to afford.

Fifty-six of them, fathers, mothers, children, single men and women, were cut down in a few minutes, just before 10 PM by bullets from AK-47s carried by two deranged, seduced, evil and, perhaps also poor, young men who almost certainly came from across the seas, from neighbouring Pakistan.

The Walliullahs from Nawada in Bihar lost six of their family. Four members of taxi driver Zahur Ansari’s family were mowed down. Janardhan from Jharkhand lost two children to bullets. Shivshankar Gupta, a hawker, died. Ajaz Dalal’s uncle died… And there are the yet to be identified 10 people who succumbed to wounds in St George’s hospital – no phones on them, no identity cards, no one to claim the bodies. Perhaps they were migrant workers whose families may still be waiting for them in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh or interior Maharashtra.

Upendra Yadav, a computer engineer, representative of the young, educated and skilled Indian, was waiting for a train with his wife Sunita and infant daughter Sheetal. Yadav died, Sunita is badly wounded and a week later is still separated from her daughter, whom she cannot breastfeed. Three-month-old Sheetal escaped but the crime that the terrorists perpetrated is embedded in her thighs as sharpnel.
Bharat Naodiya, a hawker of utensils, lost his wife Poonam, while he lies badly injured in hospital. His son, Viraj, and daughter Anjali, are safe but shocked. It is the photograph of three-year-old Viraj, with a bruised forehead and blood (his mother’s?) spattered over the smiling faces on his vest and in the arms of a policeman that was flashed across the world last week. His face is in trauma and would have shocked and made fearful the millions who saw the vulnerability that bullets and deranged human beings can produce.

Twenty-two of the murderers’ victims were Muslims, in whose name the terrorists presumably went about their mission on the evening of 26 November. Twenty-two among 56, 0r 40%, an unrepresentative number since Muslims constitute only 13% of India’s population. But then Muslims number disproportionately among India’s poor.

It is said that in death everybody finally becomes equal. Not so in the India of extreme disparities. The media reported of the families of the poor waiting eight to 10 hours for morgues to release the bodies of the killed, while the waiting saw the bodies of those killed in the luxury hotels released in no time. Such things would not matter to the grieving families.

There were no discussions on TV about the 56 at VT who died. There were no airheads who were called into the TV studios and analysed all that was wrong and gave their ready-made solutions, who shed even a fake tear for the dead of VT.

There are no candles for the dead of VT. No gatherings calling for “change”, no ranting against “those politicians”, no calls for “war” at VT. The dead of VT have been forgotten.

Within hours the floors of the main concourse of the 121-year-old Indo-Sarcenic structure – once the symbol of British economic power in colonial India – were scrubbed clean of blood and flesh. And they have been walked over already by tens of millions of people going to work, returning home or waiting to catch the 2115 Down Siddheshwar Express for Solapur at 10:20 in the night, or the 2141 Down Rajendranagar Express for Patna at 11:25 PM or the 1093 Down Mahanagari Express for Varanasi at 10 minutes past midnight…

No comments: