Sunday, June 28, 2015

Lest we forget Emergency, remember a father’s lament

Lest we forget Emergency, remember a father's lament 


In the annals of Indian political lit erature, I do not know of any book more moving than Memories of a Father, the lament written by T V Eachara Warrier, a retired Hindi professor in Kerala whose son, Rajan, was arrested from college on March 1, 1976, and never seen again.That the slim volume should lie neglected today is a loss to the world of letters. That the story it tells throbs with urgency and relevance nearly four decades after it was written speaks to a more frightening deficit: the continuing ability of politicians and men in uniform to get away with abduction and murder.

Rajan `disappeared' during the Emergency , when the courts refused to entertain writs of habeas corpus as the Supreme Court decided even the right to life could be suspended if the state so decided. Warrier raced to get to the bottom of his son's disappearance. His friends witnessed the arrest but from there the trail ran cold. Police officers denied any knowledge of his whereabouts, as did K Karunakaran, home minister of Kerala at the time. They all lied.

The Emergency was lifted on March 21, 1977 and Warrier immediately moved the Kerala High Court. It emerged that Rajan had been held by the police at an illegal detention centre.There, he was brutally tortured and eventually killed. His body was never found. Years later, the driver entrusted with the task of getting rid of the evidence told Matrubhoomi that Rajan's battered, lifeless body was fed to pigs at the government-owned Meat Products of India factory in Koothattukulam.

Warrier died of a broken heart in 2006 without ever discovering this final, horrific detail of what the police had done to his son. It is impossible to read the closing passages of his book, translated beautifully by Neelan, without tears welling up in one's eyes: "I shall stop. The rain is still lashing out. I remember my son when this heavy rain drums my rooftop, as if someone is opening the locked gate and knocking at the front door . It is not right to write that a living soul has no communication with the soul of the dead.

"I hear his songs from a cassette on this rainy night.I am trying to retrieve a lost wave with this tape recorder . The good earth is getting filled with songs till now unheard by me, this crude man. My son is standing outside, drenched in rain.

"I still have no answer to the question of whether or not I feel vengeance. But I leave a question to the world: why are you making my innocent child stand in the rain even after his death?
"I don't close the door . Let the rain lash inside and drench me. Let at least my invisible son know that his father never shut the door ."

When I re-read these passages again last week, I was reminded of the words another parent of another disappeared boy told me 15 years ago. Raja Bano's son, Zahoor Dalal, had been abducted by sol diers near their home in Anantnag on March 24, 2000, killed in a staged encounter and buried along with four other innocent Kashmiri men in a desolate place called Pathribal. "Why did they pick up an innocent man and murder him?" she asked me. "If there is a government, if there is justice, the people who did this must be punished." We ran her story on the front page of the Times of India on August 21, 2000. The case against his killers was eventually handed over to the CBI, which indicted several army officers for murder. But Raja Bano never got the justice she deserved and which she so desperately wanted. The courts took more than a decade to decide where the trial should take place. The Supreme Court eventually told the Army to either try its men or let civilian courts do the job. The Army chose the former and quickly concluded last January that no case had been made out against them.

We have happily deluded ourselves into believing the Emergency was an aberrant episode in the life of the nation, ignoring the impunity that continues to mark the exercise of state power in India. Just like Rajan's murderers went on to glorious careers in the police, the killers of Dalal will no doubt prosper. Before our very eyes, the CBI is helping the policemen and politicians accused of killing Kauser-bi, her husband Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram Prajapati to get away by not appealing their astonishing discharge.Old man Warrier never shut his door on his son.For the sake of justice, we must make sure we keep ours forever open.


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