OSTENSIBLY, my acute winter wheeze has little to do with Pakistan&’s 1971 military operation in Dhaka, but I do believe that both problems originated in north Indian barbarism. In fact, now that I am safely ensconced in a British-built hill station in Kerala, where I can breathe magically for a few days and which is happily located thousands of miles away from the noxious fumes of Delhi in the north, I can more clearly see the role of the north-south divide in our unquiet destiny.
The last major Mughal emperor was doing fine with his brute power in Delhi (with fraying administrative skills hollowed by unusual religious zeal) till he ventured into southern India, where he was laid low.
Today&’s Afghan problem may have become a world event, but its foundations lie in the northern India of 489 years ago. The unequal contest in the First Battle of Panipat, off Delhi, was staged between Mughal adventurer Babar, read the Northern Alliance, and Ibrahim Lodhi, read Pakhtun forces. Babar&’s introduction of cannons on an army of caparisoned Indian elephants may have fetched him the throne of Delhi, but Kandahar and Kabul still continue to challenge his legacy.
The Partition of India, which is also remembered as the day of independence of our nations from colonial rule was sown and harvested in the north. Manto, like the mandatory MBBS doctor found in any of the red-light districts of north India, could describe the stench, not heal its effect, not till today.
The assault on Kashmir started with the Mughals, or earlier. The abuse was extended, initially for loose change, between the British, the Sikhs and the Dogras. Now the northern elite ruling both sides of the border and armed with weaponry, which they pretend was not bought with money stolen from the hospitals and schools of their children, torment Kashmiris with a strange, unrequited love.
They both claim to like their quarries, often with legal citations, and have jointly turned a land of amazing beauty (and unusually equitable land reforms) into a Himalayan apocalypse. The north Indian beast has stretched its tentacles into Balochistan in the west and Manipur in the east, destroying, pillaging with slogans of virile nationhood.
While caste has been used as a weapon to subjugate a majority of Indians for centuries, two relatively modern components can be discerned in barbarism as practised in the north today. There is the military power of course. But an equally diabolical assault is led by home-grown carpetbaggers, sometimes in collusion with foreign expertise honed in enormous experience. They have stolen water from the poor and are preparing to plunder their land, militarily, with state-of-the-art gunships and drones.
Do we care that just three words could end what passes for Maoist insurgency in Chhattisgarh? End the business (bania)-contractor-politician nexus. That&’s all that the tribespeople have been petitioning the Indian state for. But they face, instead, the full force of north Indian barbarians. True some parts of the south have joined Delhi&’s ghoulish hunt, but everyone knows who sets the agenda and why.
I have blamed Partition as an aspect of northern barbarism, an inability to live with fellow human beings. But we must not exclude those northerners too from our cross hairs who opposed Partition. Maulana Maudoodi didn’t lift a finger for Pakistan but usurped the levers of society, not unlike Hindutva supporters who are subverting India&’s secular promise. They have assumed the right to speak on behalf of those that were wittingly or otherwise shepherded to be ranged against their friends, relatives, neighbours.
Maulana Masud Azhar offers a sample of this classical northern sickness, blood-curdling in its demeanour, hampered by poor social skills, betraying an acute inability to appreciate good humour and good human beings, particularly if they happen to be women. The Hindu activist who targets ‘jeans-clad girls’ for socialising at nightclubs is a close cousin of Masud Azhar. Some would say they are conjoined twins who will both die if one does.
While Masud Azhar&’s pathological social atavism may have worsened my wheeze, the blame really lies with Delhi&’s obsession with private cars. It is a north Indian malaise, something to do with status. If you are civilised enough to leave a gap between your car and the one ahead of you at a traffic light, a north Indian driver will muscle his way into the little civilised space you kept.
On my way to breathe the clean air of Kerala, I spent a few hours in Pavithran&’s taxi. The cabbie is an international grade chess master who has also led his state in football and tennis. He has a son who is doing brilliantly in his studies, and hoping to join the Indian Test team as a wicket-keeper batsman. A daughter is feverishly engaged with higher studies in chemistry, while the wife is a beautician. Pavithran has experimented with systems of belief. He has snatched a passing shot in a movie with his big hero Mamoothy and was booted out of another. As a Hindu he has indulged in the occult practices of the Anand Marg. When he became a vegetarian though his wife threw him out.It was late and we stopped at a wayside restaurant and asked for fish, which was not on offer. So we shared a plate of Kerala&’s traditional beef fry with Malabari parathas. I recalled that Hakim Rushed Ahmad Sadiq had forbade me from consuming beef, or any red meat, as treatment for my wheeze. I intend to stick to his regime. But on this southern sojourn, I couldn’t let down my generous and kind, part-time Anand Margi friend. Could I? As we picked off the last calm non-controversial non-consequential morsel we thought of Mohammed Akhlaque, a north Indian victim of north Indian barbarism.
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The writer is Dawn&’s correspondent in Delhi.