AN OPEN LETTER TO AMITABH BACHCHAN
Main hoon unkey saath, rakhte jo seedhi apni reedh... (I am with those who keep their spine straight) FROM MADHUSHALA BY HARIVANSH RAI BACHCHAN
I remember the day in 1982, when the news of your serious injury on the sets of Coolie broke. It said you may not survive. The country was shocked. Millions cried. Special prayers for your good health and long life were offered in temples, mosques, churches and gurdwaras. I joined the prayers for your health and long life.
The writings of your father, the late Shri Harivansh Rai Bachchan, had a great influence on me. From early childhood, I have read his poetry and prose that combined Kabir, Keats, Tagore, Omar Khayyam and Shakespeare into artful construction of ideas with deep reflections. Kya bhooloon kya yaad karoon made me stand up and speak the truth — without fear, or favour — however difficult or awkward it may be. Inspired by his writings and fully subscribed to his views, admiration and love for you was natural.
Natural is also my shock and dismay at your acceptance of the offer from Narendra Modi of Gujarat to be his brand ambassador.
I want to think that you don’t know much about Modi. And so, I must tell you what Modi is and what he has done in Gujarat, which has invited global condemnation, international sanctions and even calls for his arrest.
On February 28, Zakiya Jafri will relive the agony of witnessing the brutal massacre of her husband, former Congress MP Ahsan Jafri, and scores of other women and children in her house. On that fateful day, as the crowd chanting Jai Shri Ram started gathering around her society in Ahmedabad, waving swords, trishuls and torches, and frightened people from the neighborhood started pouring into her house seeking protection, Ahsan saheb asked her to go upstairs to the bedroom and stay there until called. From upstairs, Zakiya Jafri could not see what was going on downstairs in her house, but from the unruly crowd outside shouting ‘jalao (burn)’, ‘kaato (cut)’, ‘maaro (kill)’, the cries of women and children from inside, and heat from the walls of her bedroom, she could guess what was taking place and was fearful of what was to come. The immoral dance of brutality, cries, fires, and more cries, continued for three hours. Three hours later, police arrived. As the survivors were taken down and out of the house, which was still smouldering, Zakiya saw, for the first time, several corpses burning inside her house. Mutilated body parts burning outside her house. Little bodies of children floating in her water tank, who having been set afire may have jumped into the tank. She saw one blue rubber slipper — the one Jafri saheb always wore in his office — lying outside. It was soaked with blood. The other one was missing.
Eight years have passed. Zakiya’s memory of that day does not fade — the day when the world she had built, brick by brick, with a lifetime of hard work, full of aspirations, dreams and love was ruthlessly and deliberately destroyed before her own eyes. The most important person of her life, to whom she had completely dedicated her life, loved, adored and revered, and like any traditional Indian woman, could not imagine life without — had been brutally killed. She was shattered. Her deep shiny eyes, full of sparkle and love, went lifeless.
There were 2,000 similar stories that month in Gujarat.
‘YOU CAN STAND IN YOUR FATHER’S SHOES AND SET AN EXAMPLE BY TURNING DOWN MODI’S OFFER’
Modi, as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, presided over and orchestrated that massacre of innocent Muslims in his state, which is widely regarded as a genocide. Modi’s culpability and crime has been well established. Although, to date, he has succeeded in circumventing the legal system, the law is slowly closing in on him. Modi and 61 others, which include Cabinet colleagues, policemen and civil servants, are under criminal investigation by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) specifically constituted by the Supreme Court of India for their role in the mass murder and criminal conspiracy.
You may ask why Modi did this. We are told that the burning by a few Muslims of the Sabarmati Express coach carrying kar sevaks was the reason. But many believe that was just an excuse. Investigations led by the Centre concluded that the fire in the coach was accidental. However, regardless of the truth, can there be any justification for killing innocents en masse? In the minds that are touched by Harivansh Rai Bachchan, killing innocents is never right.
The Gujarat massacre of 2002 was not an act of war in which “collateral damage” of innocent lives occurred. Instead, it was a well-planned operation to systematically target, kill and destroy members of a particular community — the Muslims of Gujarat.
The subsequent speeches of Modi, spewing venom and hatred against Muslims, are on public record. Although Modi would like us to believe he is a Hindu, neither his ideology nor his actions fit our values or Hindu philosophy. Instead, his profile matches that of an extremist and a religious bigot. Noted social scientist Ashis Nandy, who had interviewed Modi long before he became the Chief Minister of Gujarat, had concluded that Modi was a textbook case of a fascist.
You have very effectively played the roles of JCP Dev Pratap Singh and Subhash Nagre — two diametrically opposite characters — one filled with humanity and the other totally devoid of it — for the silver screen. But bringing that change of characters in your real life would be a tragic mistake. A transformation from Dev to Sarkar, if and when complete, would change Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s legacy — from that of a Mahatma to Modi.
Historically, religions have killed more people than all other unnatural causes combined. In his epic poem Madhushala, Harivansh Rai Bachchan asks us to rise above the narrow definition of religions. However much fascists and fanatics dress sectarianism as patriotism, we know your father would never have approved the spilling of innocent blood.
At a time when in their pursuit of profit most business tycoons, including Ratan Tata, are disregarding Modi’s crimes against humanity, if not feigning ignorance about them, in your father’s footsteps you can choose to stand by declining Modi’s offer to be his brand ambassador. You can set an example and a Harivanshrai legacy — a legacy that he and the generations after us can be proud of.
Dale E Turner says: “We are born with our eyes closed and our mouths open and we spend our whole lives trying to reverse that mistake of nature.” Your father opened our eyes. Yours too. Zakiya Jafri and I pray they never close.
(The writer is the son-in-law of late MP Ahsan Jafri who was killed in mob violence in Ahmedabad)