(An unfinished article written about 8-9 years back.)
It is now thirteen years since I moved to Delhi as one among the ten million. A question which haunted me in the early 1991, still continues to haunt me - who am ‘I’ and why ‘I’ should be identified by my name.
Born and brought up in Tamil Nadu in secular circumstances, I was unaware about the religious discrimination that prevailed in the north. Since our childhood we, in Tamil Nadu, were never taught to identify people by their religion or caste or status. Hindus will line up before the Masjid in the evenings of the Ramzan month to receive the ‘nonbu kanji’ (a special gruel prepared for those who break fast). Masjid is located in front of a public ground where Hindu celebrations during Pongal used to take place. We were not even aware about the term ‘communal harmony’. There was no need for such a term.
The first incident happened when I had to vacate the rented accommodation within a month of occupation, because the house-owner came to know that ‘I’am a ‘Mohammaden’ (as he referred to ‘Muslim’). The second incident was similar to the earlier one. After showing a two-room-set at Faiz Road, Karol Bagh, the house owner - a Doctor by profession - offered snacks and tea and we had a friendly chat. That gentleman was impressed by this ‘young south Indian’ and was glad to rent his house to a person who has some morals and values. But, here again came my ‘I’dentity. After finalising everything, he came to know that I was a ‘Muslim’ and he politely apologised for his inability, since it was their family decision not to rent their house to Muslims. Here ‘I’ was identified as a ‘Muslim’.
Immediately after Rajiv Gandhi assassination, I found all my letters reaching after a thorough censor. Those were not the days of private couriers and I had to depend mostly on post and Speed Post. Once I asked the postman why all my letters are opened. He explained that the intelligence department people are monitoring Tamils for possible LTTE links. OKAY, I thought to myself, after all it is necessary for national interest. Here ‘I’ was identified with an ethnic group.
Then came the Babri Masjid demolition, and after that increased the communal polarisation. I have been the same person wherever I was, wherever I am. But it became easier for some people to find motives in whatever I say and it continues to be so - just because I have a name identifying myself with a community. Sometimes I restrain myself from expressing my opinion though it was hard to do so. I can imagine the trauma felt by Geelani, the Delhi University Professor who was detained under POTA for two years on flimsy grounds.
All through the years I, as my fellow south Indians, face the comment ‘saala Madarasi’ on various occasions at various places of the capital. Five years ago I was to go the railway station to receive my daughter who was to arrive by the early morning train. Since buses will not be available in the morning, and I had no other important work, I decided to go to the station by night itself. I took with me an English novel so that I can read while waiting at the Station.
I left home by 11.30 p.m. and waited for an hour in vain for a bus at R.K. Puram. Then I thought I would walk upto Hyatt hotel where I could board a bus. It was 2 a.m. and by then and no bus was available. When I was waiting under the street light of the road, came two policemen on duty. They asked me in their ‘own language’. I explained them that I was waiting for a bus to reach the station and showed my visiting card. Pat came the reply “Saala Madarasi, whom do you want to fool? No bus comes this way for the station...”. The language of one policeman was too filthy to write. Those were not the days of cellphones, with which you can talk up to higher officials to complain about the behaviour. I retorted in the same way to him, “Mind your language! If you want, take me to the police station. I will talk to the SHO. I will see that you regret for the usage of ‘Saala Madarasi’.” The cops got panicked and vanished. This is one such incident where I could react against that phrase. But we face many such incidents in the markets, buses, trains, or the streets where we won’t be able to react.
After the September 11 twin-tower blasts and Gujarat happenings, the term ‘What-is-there-in-a-name’ has become meaningless. Tamil cine actor Kamala Hasan, who belongs to a Hindu family, was in US for his film shooting. He was detained by American police and was interrogated for hours before being released because there was ‘Kamal’ and ‘Hasan’ in his name. He later said that he had no regrets for that incident. He may not have regrets, but as a human being I am concerned about such incidents.
Luckily I came across some friends from all communities, and our friendship, which I respect, continues, and hope will last long. The number of such friends is large, but not too large as compared to the ‘society’ as a whole. This is the question which haunts me at all times.
The ‘we-they’ divide is increasing day by day, which is harmful for any society. Gone are the days of morals, ethics and respect for others. With new technological developments and the westernisation develops the ‘I’ and ‘you’ syndrome. Maybe now this divide has grown even in the south, but not to the extent as existing in the north. Politicians have failed to live up to their promises, bureaucrats have become puppets of the ruling class, media bothers only about their profits. Only the judiciary gives some hope.