While you were alive you were anonymous
like million other downtrodden Indians
you were anonymous to the extent
that nobody gave two hoots
whether you had two square meals
whether you had a good pair of winter boots
whether you had a pair of warm gloves
whether you went to school
how you lived
if your hut was warm in the Kashmiri winter
Now that you are India’s daughter
naturally I am reminded of a proverb
Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan
tell me Asifa Bano, did you triumph in your brutal death
These are some lines from one of the poems of a book ‘Asifa Banos Smile’ that is the outcome of Chandigarh based poet Manu Kant’s anger and pain after at the rape and murder of the Kathua gang rape victim and the developments that followed.
While social media has been flooded with write ups and poems after the episode, Manu Kant’s book is different as it throws up too many questions in the face of the Indian society, government and the times that the country is witnessing. It is a hard-hitting collection from this poet who is influenced by Leftist philosophy.
The book is particularly scathing on the politics of religion that has become the norm of the day. In one of his poems he has gone to the extent of declaring Kathua, Unnao, Surat and Lalunggaon (Places where four brutal rapes were reported during the same period of time) as the new ‘Char Dhams’ for those who are using rape as an instrument of political war. He had penned these 38 poems over just a few days of pain that he experienced. His anger can be gauged in one of the smaller poems that reads:
“New norms have been instituted
for party membership as of January 17
one of the question asked to the new entrant is:
How many girls have you raped and killed?
In yet another poem he has tried to draw parallels between the smile of the Kathua victim and that of the iconic Mona Lisa.
I wish some artist
as great as Leonarda Da Vinci
but a proletarian artist
would paint Asifa Bano
a poor girl of a nomadic tribe
so much unlike Lisa del Giocondo (the model for Mona Lisa)
who was a noblewoman.”
In another poem Manu Kant throws a question to his readers whether they would want Saadat Hasan Manto or Maxim Gorky to tell the tale of the Kathua victim.
When asked what he has to say on the Hindutva elements trying to communalize a heinous crime like rape Manu Kant said, It is to rend apart the social fabric of the country on communal grounds to reap political dividends. This to me is the prime motive. Second of course, this communalisation of rape especially of the little Kathua victim brings into sharp relief the ethical and moral values of right wing Hindus, nay, all Hindus who believe in and endorse inhuman caste system.
He believes the Kathua gang rape could have been the ‘Duke Ferdinand moment’ for India. But this could not happen and there was no uprising even in comparison to the Nirbhaya rape case some years back. Why is that so?
He says the main reason is the absence of a strong Left movement in India under which a sustained agitation is possible. Rising rapes etc are only a symptom of the disease. The disease is the morbid feudal-capitalist system that we have in India. First of all, a sustained movement has to be against this system itself. The middle class can’t lead a sustained agitation because it is not a revolutionary class. It is not united. They have to do jobs, look after their kids, enjoy life, go shopping in malls, etc. Generally it is not impacted directly on a massive scale by the violence happening in society. Hence, their attention span is not more than 24 hours.
He further said, Candle light marches are not the solution. If India happens to have and it is almost there going by the number of rapes and lynchings on a daily basis, a Chile like or Argentina like situation, then would we all go on candle light marches on a daily basis? It won’t be practical and importantly, it won’t yield results. The need of the hour is a patient and sustained work among the masses (read: the working class plus the poor peasantry and the urban poor) in order to educate them about the inhuman socio-political system.
The continuing rapes put a big question mark over the government claims on women empowerment. Manu Kant sees the phenomenon through the prism of contradiction of the prevailing feudal-capitalist system.
In his book of poems on the Kathua rape victim he also points to the link between Kashmir and the rest of India. One of the poems says:
In time a legend will be born
the travelers from India
returning home from their summer vacations in Kashmir
will tell their relatives & friends
the in the Kashmir valley
nestled in the Himalayas
when you shout the name of your beloved
the whole Kashmir valley resounds
with the name of Asifa Bano.”
The poet also has a strong message for the Indian liberals when he writes :
Everybody has chosen the colour of their flag
the Sanghis have their saffron
the Muslims their green
the Communists red
After Asifa Bano’s rape
it is incumbent on you
to choose the colour of your flag
the battle lines will be delineated accordingly.”
Referring to the support that came for the accused in the Kathua rape case in the form of protests that were reportedly attended by some Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, social activist Gauhar Raza has hit out strongly at the system in the foreword to the book.
He has written, What gave them this confidence? Four year track record of top political leaders who have committed crimes in broad daylight suddenly getting bails and acquittal, reported murder of judges and the highest court refusing to even institute an enquiry, shameless withdrawal of cases against those who participated in carnages in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh (UP), murders of witnesses in the biggest scam of admission in medical colleges, silencing the voices of dissent by killing rationalists and media persons, encounters which have become order of the day in UP, the long list of events have given the confidence to the criminals that if you belong to the RSS you will be protected.
Raza has further written, Sold out media, eager to oblige their masters, and bhakts will concoct stories to protect criminals by accusing everyone as anti-Hindu except those who are loyal to the RSS.
About the book, he has quoted Bertolt Brecht’s famous lines ‘Will there be singing in the dark times, yes there will be singing about dark times’ and then underlined that Manu Kant has fulfilled his responsibility by singing about the dark times.
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