This is Still A Country Worth Fighting For

There is no reason to give up hope.  This is a battle for India’s soul and we just cannot afford to lose it. This is a nation that produced true heroes like Mukul Sinha.  This is still a country worth fighting for!

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

did not know Mukul Sinha well.  I had met him only once at his quiet home in Ahmedabad suburbs in the summer of 2009 when I visited Gujarat.

My Editor then, who had been sick and tired of my preoccupation with Gujarat and Narendra Modi, had wanted me to break out of my armed chair reverie and visit the state to check out the “ground realities” for myself. “Ground realities in Gujarat have dramatically changed since 2002.  It is not what it used to be anymore.  People have moved on; this is why Modi continues to get reelected.  Go get a real feel of the story,” he advised me.

So there I was–chatting with Mukul Sinha, an IIT alumnus with a PhD in physics who had taken to law to take up the causes that were closer to his heart.  The activist lawyer had topped the list of the contacts that my good friend and senior colleague Mahesh Trivedi felt I mustn’t miss if I wanted to know and understand Modi’s Gujarat.

Mukul Sinha spoke in soft, undertones like an Ivy League professor which he would have perhaps become if he hadn’t chosen a different path – to serve and be with the people he loved – the voiceless and wretched of the earth.  He spoke with great conviction as he discussed his long battle for justice for the victims of 2002 riots.

He had an air of quiet sincerity and honesty about him that liked a blessed spirit touched and transformed everything and everyone around him.

But even as he talked of the many hurdles placed in the path to justice by the administration and targeting of everyone who chose to confront the crimes against humanity, there was never a hint of bitterness or frustration in his voice.

Indeed, there was hope and optimism – about finding justice some day and a better tomorrow ahead.  As the leader of the Jan Sangharsh Manch, a civil rights movement that he had founded to fight for Gujarat workers’ rights, he had been in the forefront of the struggle for justice for the 2002 Gujarat carnage.

He stood up for them at a time when few mustered the courage to confront those responsible for the shame. Rallying hundreds of families of victims under the Jan Sangharsh Manch flag, he filed a number of Public Interest Litigation petitions in Gujarat’s courts turning the spotlight on the worst state sanctioned pogrom in India’s history.

With the help of whistleblowers like senior Gujarat police officials like Rahul Sharma, Sreekumar and Sanjiv Bhat, he unearthed crucial, damning evidence related to the Godhra train tragedy and the terror that unfolded over the next few months.

It was Mukul’s hard work, combined with the persistent, courageous efforts and leadership of crusaders like Teesta Setalvad and groundbreaking reporting by Tehelka that eventually ground the wheels of justice into motion with the Supreme Court monitoring the whole issue.

Slamming the state government, the top court directly held “Gujarat’s Neros” (the court’s words) responsible for the 2002 shame.  It was water off the duck’s back though for a brazen, unashamed administration.

Hundreds of riot cases were subsequently shifted to courts in neighboring states and the law finally caught up with many of those responsible for 2002, including senior Gujarat ministers like Maya Kodnani and BJP-VHP leaders like Babu Bajrangi.

Mukul Sinha’s fight was far from over though as the real architects of the Gujarat 2002 not just remained free they had become even more powerful. He did not give up though, continuing his fight on several fronts including in media.

The Truth of Gujarat www.truthofgujarat.com blog that he had launched last year had been an instant hit with his US-based son Prateek joining the mission.  He fought till his last breath—literally.

Mukul had waged an equally tenacious battle against cancer over the past one year. Few knew about the monster he was quietly and valiantly battling in his personal life. He passed away this week with great dignity and with a smile on his lips.

Gujarat’s true hero couldn’t have perhaps chosen a more perfect time to go. Reports of his death arrived as beaming television anchors and delirious pollsters celebrated a massive victory for the BJP, marking a watershed in the nation’s history.

As many of us have feared all along, 2014 has indeed turned out to be the year of change – a change for the worse and perhaps the beginning of our end.  India will never be the same again.

The nation that inspired hope, euphoria and idealism around the world winning it lifelong admirers such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Yasser Arafat now raises anxiety and even fear. The world finds it hard to believe that the Mahatma’s followers may have chosen to go with those who brought him down.

It is perhaps just as well that Mukul isn’t around to see this day.  But did he fail? Did all those who have been battling alongside him all these years for justice, for the dignity and humane, libertarian spirit of this amazing country fail?

I wouldn’t think so.  That Mukul continued to battle till his last breath and never gave up hope is a testament to the nobility of his mission and justness of his cause. Above all, it is a tribute to the combative spirit of the silent majority of this nation. It’s people like Mukul — and their humanity — who make this nation great. And Mukul’s mission will live on as long as a semblance of reason and humanity is left in this country.

When the news of his death trickled in, coupled with the loud victory celebrations of pre-poll surveys on the ‘national’ television, it made one terribly sad.  I hadn’t felt the same way in a long time—not since my parents’ death some years ago.  ‘Where’s my country headed?’ I kept asking myself over and over again.

Mukul Sinha would not have wanted us to mourn or go into a huddle to lick our wounds.  He would not have wanted us to give up or give in. Ever.  Indeed, it becomes all the more important and vital for all those who believe in humanity and reason to fight back with all their strength and courage of conviction now.
Mukul Sinha would not have wanted us to mourn or go into a huddle to lick our wounds. He would not have wanted us to give up or give in. Indeed, it’s all the more important for all those who believe in humanity and reason to fight back with all their strength and courage

But Mukul would not have wanted us to mourn or go into a huddle to lick our wounds.  He would not have wanted us to give up or give in. Ever.  Indeed, it becomes all the more important and vital for all those who believe in humanity and reason to fight back with all their strength and courage of conviction now.

There is no reason to give up hope.  If this country has chosen this path — thanks to a number of factors, chief of them being the Congress’ inexcusable incompetence, corruption and disastrous leadership — it’s still home to a reasonable majority that does not subscribe to a jaundiced, saffron view of the world.

This is what should give us hope although it is almost a certainty that under Modi, the Hindutva clan will try to paint India saffron and alter the very secular and democratic character of the polity.

Testing times lie ahead and not just for the country’s religious minorities and disadvantaged communities. Given Modi’s stellar record in Gujarat, the Parivar’s long simmering agenda and the BJP’s unprecedented numbers, it promises to be anything but a smooth ride.  We will soon be living in interesting times, as the Chinese would put it.

But we cannot abandon hope. For when hope is lost, all is lost.  This is truly a battle for India’s soul and we just cannot afford to lose it.  This is all we have got. And this is still a country worth fighting for.  So what if the night is dark. This is no time to hide or fall back.  As Faiz would advise:

Kat’te Bhi Chalo, Badhte Bhi Chalo, Bazu Bhi Bahot Hain, Sar Bhi Bahot, Chalte Bhi Chalo Ke Ab Dere, Manzil Hi Pe Daale Jaayeinge.

March ahead, even with limbs severed: arms are many, heads many more,

Press on, move forward; we would stop only at point of destination

Urdu version was published in daily Inquilab, 17 May 2014, and English version  on Caravan Daily. Com

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