Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Curfew in the City
This novel is a sensitive and touching study of a people in a crumbling inner city locality when curfew is suddenly clamped on them.
ARTICLE: ‘Karphu ... Karphu ... Ya Khuda’
“Karphu ... Karphu ... Ya Khuda” was the stifled and muffled cry of anguish of Saiphunnis. She and her neighbour, Sayeeda, had dragged themselves out to get medicine for the latter’s ailing daughter, when the curfew was announced. Everything was in turmoil. The localities from Bahadurganj, G.T. Road, Katju Road, Mirza Ghalib Road, Maulana Shaukat Ali Marg, Johnsonganj, Khuldabad, Muthiganj, etc were all deserted. These areas were contemptuously referred to as ‘Pakistan’. The city was Allahabad. The year was 1980. The senior superintendent of police was Vibhuti Narain Rai.
Narain Rai decided to write, in Hindi, a short novel, Shahar mein karfiyu on the Allahabad riot, based on his observations of what happened during the days and nights of the curfew. It took him seven years to complete it. It came out in 1987. Within one year, several Indian Urdu journals published it in Urdu translation. And C.M. Naim, of the University of Chicago, in collaboration with the author, translated it into English, Curfew in the city, Roli Books, New Delhi, 1998).
The spark was ignited when some urchins threw “a hand bomb at the wall of a temple”; but, in fact, “what exploded on the temple wall was more like a firecracker than a bomb”. But the Hindus concluded that the perpetrators could only be Muslims. They started attacking every Muslim that came their way.
When asked about the riot by the residents of a neighbourhood, a character, Devi Lal says, “Array ... there are nothing but corpses in the city. I myself saw two trucks go by filled with corpses ... the police were taking them away to throw them in the Jamuna. Musallas ... are running all over the place ... flashing their knives and daggers. Poor Hindus ... they have no one to protect them.”
“So, lala the Muslims are roaming everywhere with knives despite the police?”
“Roaming? They’re knifing everyone. Helpless Hindus are dropping like flies.”
Bursting with excitement, Devi Lal started consorting with the policemen, who had come to enforce curfew in his area. Ultimately, they all sat down with piping hot tea for everyone; and, in no time, started a chorus: “Hindu-pulis bhai-bhai”. The police was determined to teach the “Pakistanis” a lesson.
Sayeeda’s daughter died during the days of curfew; and the family went through indescribable indignities to obtain a pass, issued for three persons only, for the burial. Then, there was a “nameless, religionless, and casteless” girl, who was entrapped by three goons... “a curfew can deprive any girl of her life’s tenderest experience. It can knock her down ... and drag her through experiences that could turn the rest of her life into an inescapable labyrinth of nightmares.”
The “respectables”, who formed the Peace Committee, had congregated at the Kotwali. They had their own programmes and motives. Lala Radhey Lal was expecting to make some profit from rise in grain prices. The riot was a threat to Pandit Dixit, a member of the legislative assembly. At the time of the last elections, a riot went in his favour. Now his rival, Ram Jaiswal, a staunch Hinduvadi could reap benefits in the already announced elections. And all the Hindus would go to the hinduvadi Jaiswal, leaving Dixit, high and dry.
It was Comrade Surajbhan, who gave vent to his anger against everyone, especially journalists: “You always find some Pakistani hand behind every riot. There hasn’t been a riot since Independence, in which more Muslims had not been killed, but each time you publish the news as if there’s been a massacre of Hindus. When Muslims complain of high-handedness ... you call them traitors ... The local office of the Muslim League is right next to that mosque. It had the party flag flying ... A little trick photography moved the flag to the mosque itself — ‘Pakistan flag flies over a mosque’ — Your friends lost nothing when they called it a Pakistan flag. It didn’t hurt them one bit that their words increased tension in the city.”
Notwithstanding the Peace Committee, the police conducted house searches in the ‘Pakistani’ neighbourhood. The authorities “firmly believed that the residents of the ‘Pakistan’ area started every riot, and were bringing guns and bombs from Pakistan.”!
When the story ends, the curfew continues, the houses are being searched, and Sayeeda’s daughter has not been buried.
Rai writes about the reaction of “the fascistic proponents of Hindutva”, when the book was published. “They felt that this novel had placed the Hindus as guilty parties before the bar. Shri Ashok Singhal, head of the VHP, made the demand that the book should be banned.” In March 1991, a journalist in Allahabad announced his plans to make a film. C.M. Naim, the translator, writes in his Foreword: “It was this announcement that brought forth a ‘fatwa’ from Shri Ashok Singhal ... he threatened to burn down any cinema house that would dare show the proposed film.”
Immediately after writing the novel, Rai went on a fellowship, for a year, to the National Police Academy (Hyderabad Deccan) to conduct research on “The perception of police neutrality during communal strife”. Rai observes, in ‘Afterword,” that the majority community ignores facts, and appears obsessed with two perceptions — that the riots are started by the Muslims and that those who die in the riots are mostly Hindus.
As pointed out by Rai, in the riots, after Independence, Muslims account for more than seventy per cent of the fatalities. During and after the Babri Mosque, the percentage has been above ninety. Likewise, seventy-five per cent of the property that was looted or destroyed belonged to Muslims. Another conclusion of Rai is that the police, like the majority community, thinks that the Muslims are responsible for the riots, and therefore, acts under the premise that the riots can be brought under control only by taking strong measures against the Muslims.
As Rai writes, “The most amazing fact ... is that in almost every riot, the Muslims also formed the majority of the people taken into custody by the police.”
About the question — who starts the riot — Rai’s opinion is that for a Hindu civil servant, educationist, journalist, jurist or policeman, it is only too easy to believe it is the Muslims who start the riot. Rai observes that before a riot is started, an air of tension is first created — months before — a web of false accusations, rumours, etc is woven; the tension is built up, and is taken to a flash point.
In a Hindu religious procession, Rai says some participants themselves throw stones at the procession. At that heightened tension, that is the first stone. It is, as it were, the first inflammatory slogan. The built up tension starts the riot. It is meticulously planned.
Posted by padma at 8:59 AM