In these times it is an accomplishment to return home contented and with a sense of fulfilling detachment and hope. Hope, that all is not lost yet, hope in the power of the people, hope in the struggles of the people. I am glad today, that hope got reaffirmed, reasserted.
I was apprehensive before the protest, I had barely managed to squeeze time off from official work and had rushed to the site where we decided to meet before the protest. Apprehension, not about getting arrested, but about how things will take shape. Moreover, our printer in Byculla who was supposed to print the English leaflets about the incident had refused at the last moment to print those on the pretext of ‘controversial content’.
I announced to myself, “ I am not getting arrested without protesting today” ( reference, the Yakub Memon protest against death penalty ) We tried to strategize so that we should not get immediately arrested and are able to accomplish what we came for, but could not come up with a clear strategy that could ensure that we avoided such a scenario. Things still looked grim as a plain clothed squint eyed policeman hovered around us, and even managed to make it to our circle, so much so that I almost mistook him to be one of us, the protesters.
Anyway, after co-ordinating a bit from our end about the movement of the family and one amongst us, Feroze guiding them to the site of protest, which was also the site of murder , we managed to make it to the site at precisely the same time as the community members, and to my surprise and wonderment, all women. It is a shame that I call myself a feminist and get surprised when a group comes forward to protest, led by women, all ages, school going girls, college going girls, middle aged women, teenage women, older women. From the burqa, I could only see their eyes, eyes that reeked of having suffered and risen strong after that, eyes recovering from the trauma and eyes getting hold of a sense of the truth, the present.
I dont know this for sure, but my speculation is that the police did not expect this either! The police ( obviously present in large numbers ) badly wanted to (wo)manhandle us, but in the presence of so many women, dared not touch any of us. We announced in the beginning that it was going to be a peaceful protest and that there was no need to fear since we were only demanding something very basic, we were demanding justice, a fair investigation, an impartial one, and the answers to some obvious and inevitable question. After two minutes of silence, one by one, we spoke, about fairness in justice, about communal harmony, about the changing landscape of this country called India. The speeches were fiery, including that of Shafia’s, late Yakub Shaikh’s daughter, who demanded justice for her father.
Meanwhile, the police came up with another strategy, of negotiation. The police called us and asked us to come and have discussions in the Toyota showroom’s premise. With all our pride and self righteousness, we refused, in clear sharp words. It was then decided that about 6 of us including the victim’s family will visit the police station and discuss whatever they want to discuss there and present our demands, while the rest of us would continue the protest outside the Toyota showroom. As they left, we kept shouting, “ Toyota management murdabad “. An interesting development before the protest took place, was that we had been notified that the whole area where we had decided to peacefully assemble and show our resistance had been declared as ‘high security area’ ( inviting criminal offence for peacefully gathering too ), and as we assembled there, we could see that shutters of the showroom had been pulled down with heavily armed policemen and women guarding the gates ! We could feel how scared they were since the lights inside were on.
Most astonishing and a heart warming reminder was the participation of the ‘community’ ( whichever way we like to define it, spatially or in terms of identity) in the resistance, which reaffirmed the belief in the power of the people and what we, as human beings are capable of achieving when we act as a vigilant collective. This feeling took another kind of high when about thirty school going girls from Mumbra, who had just returned from their schools joined us. This gave a powerful boost to the enthusiasm of those present and the sloganeering became louder.
Parallelly, negotiations/meditations were going on in the police station, and an important fact revealed today for the first time since the murder was that, apart from the mutton-gosht prank, another ‘joke’ that Yakub was made the recipient of, was that of repeatedly calling him and comparing him with Yakub Memon, who was hanged in the name of justice for the 1993 Bombay blasts. This was a disturbing revelation, and one that was meant to discomfort any individual in their right frame of mind.
However, there was another development. So far, the deceased Yakub’s wife Shehnaz Beghum has been in trauma and was not told the details of his death. In fact, the press conference that was organised by CPDR, BBA and JKM was the first time she heard the entire sequence of events. She would understandably be extremely upset on all such occasions we met. But today, Shehnaz objectively questioned both the police and the people from Toyota management who came to the police station. In fact her questions were so sharp that one of the Toyota employees amongst the three present, fled away in between. She questioned them that how could they be the mere witnesses when such a gruesome act was taking place and that what did Yakub do to deserve such a death ?
As the delegation that met the police and Toyota management came back and announced that police has accepted that police’s and management’s version of the ‘prank theory’ can not be a logical one and that they would re initiate the investigation, there was a quiet sense of relief amongst all of us. The relief was also accompanied with questions and thoughts of the future, as to the next steps to this process. But there was solace in the fact that the police was compelled to reopen the investigation after about a month of Yakub’s death.
Needless to say, we are living in depressed times. We are depressed as a generation, we are restless, we have nightmares, we are certainly not at peace. I can not remember a time in recent past where I slept like a baby.
However, today I seem to be finding the cure of my depression, my neurosis..It is action and more action, direct action, believing in the power of collective action and facilitating that power for it to become a kernel. I dont give a damn whether we are marxists, maoists, trotskyists, leninist, stalinist, gandhian, ambedkarite because all these are just labels. All I know is that in such times and on these issues, that affect all of us, we can come together, Yes we are capable of that, we have done it today, we can do it tomorrow, and we must do it tomorrow, before it is too late.
Sushmita is a researcher, writer and artist. She is the executive committee member of Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights( CPDR)