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See you at three thousand

By Dilip D'Souza
Last updated on: August 19, 2005 14:42 IST
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Some New York Times columnist whom I've long forgotten once wrote an essay about how he came to understand just how old he was. Perhaps he was 35 or 40 at the time, I don't know. He recounted an afternoon with his young daughter, who decided to count to their respective ages. Her own age, she finished in a trice: one-two-three-four-five-six. His, she took a long time over. One-two-three-four- ... thirty-one, thirty-two, on and on. By the end, he wrote, she was rocking with laughter. But he was left depressed. How long it took to count up to his age!

It's that exercise that I do every now and then in another context, and perhaps you can do it with me now. Not that I like depressing you. But maybe it'll make you angry like I am, and if you and many more like you are angry with me, maybe we'll see some action.

So: count along with me. Loud and clear, please, articulate each syllable, savour each little nuance of the words. Shall we? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen -- good, I like that voice, keep it up! Almost there! -- eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one. Stop.

That long.

How did it feel? Well, that many years is how long a lot of people have been waiting for justice from their country. Nearly 3,000 of my countrymen were slaughtered in Delhi in 1984, solely because they wore turbans. Because they were Sikh. Twenty-one years later, when orphaned sons have grown to the age of murdered fathers, when grieving young widows are turned to middle-aged resignation, a whole country still pussy-foots around as basic an idea as punishing the terrorists of that time.

A crime worse than Modi's

Think about it: is there anything more fundamental to the way a society lives, even perceives itself, than the need to punish those who tear at its fabric? Yet in the face of arguably the greatest such tear in our history -- a great gaping hole that 3,000 mangled bodies fell through -- we are at our most apathetic.

Prominent Delhi Congress leaders urged thugs on as they killed. Police stood by and did nothing to stop the massacres. An administration failed to protect its own citizens. A city went up in flesh-fired flames, a nation was shamed forever. India has had plenty of ghastly crimes, but this was arguably the worst of the lot.

Yet twenty-one years later, not one person has been punished for his crimes in 1984; every trial of an accused has been pursued less than half-heartedly and has ended in failure.

This is the thing about being Indian. Part of my Indian soul is made from the awful dough of these regular great acts of terror. Another part is made from our Indian inability to swiftly punish the guilty.

And with all that, with all the response this has got from our justice system, a visitor from Pluto might think nothing much happened. Or perhaps nobody actually killed anyone. Perhaps those 3,000 Indians all simply fell over and died, burning themselves and tearing off limbs on the way.

But of course, they didn't, lady from Pluto. They died horribly, at the hands of men like the ones you see around you.

But oh yes, we have inquiries, long-running and detailed official inquiries. The latest, by Justice Nanavati, is the ninth such. Yes, you can count again: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.

And there have also been several unofficial ones.

Nanavati's report is now public. But there's
no surprise in the least: like every previous inquiry, like every previous inquiry into other ghastly Indian crimes, it has brought us not one step closer to justice. It has resulted in no action taken to bring the guilty to punishment.

And it's hardly as if the wheels of justice don't move, or move but slowly. After all, Indira Gandhi's two Sikh killers were swiftly tried and punished. Why not the killers of the 3,000 Sikhs?

The truth is, for the victims of the horror in 1984, the wheels move not at all. Not one lurching, misbegotten revolution.

So yes, when I think of this 21-year-long charade, I sometimes am so angry and depressed, I am physically afraid to speak. Or type. I realise being as angry is no way to write effectively, but there you are. What else but anger?

The Congress has lost its moral compass

Because I hear this stuff about India on the move, and the international cachet of India escalating by the day, and American MBA students coming to Indian companies to intern, and waging war on terror, and how we deserve a seat on the Security Council (veto power included) -- and I think, how empty it all is. What a bunch of horse-pucky.

When we are a land -- let's be frank, why not? -- of no justice whatsoever, what pride can we take in those American interns? When we are complacent about that lack of justice, what image are we talking about? When we let the terrorists live untouched in our midst, even give them police protection, what war on terror are we fighting?

It's simple. If we refuse to those thousands of families the minimum we owe them -- justice, pure and simple -- there is this certainty to understand well: we will have more such days of depravity. Which has happened. Each time, we polish that lack of justice ever smoother. Thus Bombay in 1992-93. Gujarat in 2002. Like in 1984, thousands dead and nobody punished. People -- respectable, upstanding Indians -- actually unconcerned about great injustice, actually justifying these horrible crimes.

So I don't know. What will it take to get angry? Let's try some more counting. One, two, three, four, five ... see you at three thousand.

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Dilip D'Souza