In November, 2008, Ajmal Amir along with nine other men went on a shooting spree in Mumbai killing about 164-166 people and injuring 300-odd more people, paralysing one part of the city for four days. Between late 1992 and early 1993, Bal Thackeray and hundreds of his Shiv Sena cadres massacred thousands of Muslims and wounded and destroyed the livelihoods of several more thousands of people in Bombay, paralysing the city for over a fortnight. It will be one of the most resounding ironies of the history of this nation that in the same week this month, Maharashtra hanged Ajmal Amir and offered a state funeral to Bal Thackeray.
The irony will, of course, be lost on precisely those it should dawn on the most: the Indian nation-state and the Indian middle class in Mumbai and indeed across the nation. But both are too busy celebrating the murder of Ajmal Amir and singing paeans to the dead murderer of thousands of Muslims to notice.
That the Indian nation cannot admit the possibility that it might be wrong to take on the right to punish by death any person that “wages war against it” is to be expected. That is the logic of the nation and the nation is not known to have a mind. That the state – which includes the institution of law – corroborated this is shameful. That the Bombay Metropolitan Magistrate Court’s Bar Association took a collective decision refusing to defend any of the accused in the case (and never took any collective initiative to bring Bal Thackeray and the Shiv Sena to book) shows that rule of law really does not mean much in the country. That the decision to hang Ajmal Amir by the Congress-led UPA government comes close to an election is predictable.
But what is most shameful is the complicity of the middle class in the blood-baying (the orgasm over Ajmal Amir’s head) and the whitewashing (of the blood on Bal Thackeray’s hands). The internet, the haven for the middle class where, as Azad Essa puts it, “a new breed of bigots who hid[e] behind the safety of the screens only to crawl out of the online woodwork to spew vile, venomous vitriol” is doing precisely that. They are indeed, as he puts it “little widgets that cl[i]ng to regressive politics like parasites on red blood cells.”
What is being drowned out in this orgasmic frenzy is not only the possibility of irony dawning on this class (indeed it seems constitutionally incapable of irony) but the fact that this class is one of cannibalistic murderers. They are silent when tribals are displaced from their lands and killed by the corporate-government nexus (indeed they feed on those displacements and deaths), they are silent when Dalits are raped and murdered across the country (indeed they secretly celebrate those rapes and murders), they are silent even when fascist and rightwing parties conduct bloodbaths on their streets, shut their money-making down (and even sing their praises once they die) but they all are outraged by a man getting biryani in jail (on their tax money!) and not being publicly stoned and beaten to death for daring to kill some people.
They want him dead in the name of the nation, as the demonic other (belonging to another nation that they must hate), as divine retribution on behalf of the survivors and families of victims (whose opinions they do not even bother to ask) of the 2008 attacks but willfully blind themselves to the many more hundreds of their own nation’s people they kill on a daily basis and sometimes in extended bloodbaths like Bombay 1992-93 and Gujarat 2002.
Let alone irony, it is difficult to get this middle class to even see that the vicious cycle of killings and counter-killings comes precisely from this blind faith in the nation. It will continue unless we leave the empty, homogeneous time and space of the nation and enter the minds and hearts of those violated by it (and that is Ajmal Amir as much as ourselves) so that we stop them and ourselves from being the killing machines that they and we are.