Millennium Post

Silence of the lambs

Didn’t really know there existed an ‘International Day In Support of Victims of Torture’. Well, did come to know of this when the day was observed here on 26 June. No, unfortunately it wasn’t observed in any of the police stations or those lockups and not even in the jails and prisons spread across the country. Ironically the venue was one of the air conditioned halls and the guests included the who’s who of this city. After all, the ‘day’ was being observed by the Delegation of the European Union to India (EU) in collaboration with the UN Information Centre for India and Bhutan. And to make matters worse, none of the torture victims formally invited to utter torture tales.

Probably to play it rather safe the organisers invited Union Minister of Law and Justice Salman Khurshid to deliver the keynote address.

The EU ambassador to India, Joao Cravinho, who’d chaired the session, should have realised the basic ground realities. That is, torture and abuse is rampant in our jails and prisons and in those so called detention and interrogation cells. I know as an envoy he cannot be expected to go hopping on a fact-finding mission. No, he needn’t have to go through of the torture of peeping into our hell holes. The only option before him is to read those volumes written by inmates who have survived their jail terms and have had the grit to write and describe the sheer hell they’d been through, whilst languishing in those hell holes.

And with this in the backdrop or foreground, the next time EU decides to observe this day in support of victims of torture, it should invite the actual victims, to deliver the keynote address and the rest of the speeches.


And as news comes in of fire in the Dastgeer Sahib shrine, situated in the very heart of the Srinagar city, it is sheer nostalgia that overtakes. I remember several years ago an auto driver Basheer had first driven me to this ziarat of the Iraqi sufi Dastgeer Sahib. And after visiting it, we had walked across to the adjoining one of Yousef Aza. The wooden architecture carried grandeur and left an impact.

And in the midst of tall official proclamations that the damaged and gutted structured will be well repaired and rebuilt, one hopes and wishes that the new structure will resemble the original. Why I’m emphasising on this factor is because of this backgrounder: when the ziarat of the patron saint of the Valley, Nand Rishi Sheikh Nooruddin Wali, at Charar-i-Sharief,was gutted in the mid-90s, the then establishment rebuilt it with concrete and little trace of the original wooden structure. Yes, the government had rebuilt it with no thought whatsoever to the very history of the structure. Concrete was used, instead of wood. The concrete structure did not resemble the original structure and this had deeply hurt and upset the average Kashmiri.

I still recall the shocked look on the face of a medical student, Basharat Ahmad, who’d kept standing looking at the shrine in disbelief. He was visiting the shrine after a longish gap of about ten years and had kept saying that he could not relate to the new structure. ‘This building is so different in style and design. And concrete! How can they do this! How will I come here now! It isn’t the same place any more. Everything has changed!’


Here, let me also write this, in the context of religious and historic structures getting gutted and rebuilt - during the reign of long dead Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, Srinagar’s Jama Masjid (also called Jami Masjid) was burnt, along with some of the Chinar trees growing in its compound. And according to historian GMD Sufi, when this news had reached Aurangzeb he’d got equally worried about the trees’ destruction.The emperor’s rationale ran along the strain: that the masjid could be rebuilt in a couple of years but new Chinar trees will take decades to come up.

In fact, several anecdotes centering around Aurangzeb’s reign go to show that he was not a fanatic as he's made out to be by certain right–wing quarters.


It's rather heartening to know that more speakers and authors and academics from the Northeast are giving talks and lectures, here in New Delhi, and through these talks they focus and relay those lesser known details of the very identity of their people.

The latest to speak is Father Abraham Lotha - Principal of Nagaland’s St Joseph’s College. His lecture talk at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library focuses on cultural renaissance and Naga identity. To quote the very crux: ‘Cultural renaissance and celebrations of a shared cultural tradition reflect a paradigm shift in the self-perception and self-representation of a community. Nagas are very proud of their political identity but on the other hand, following their conversion to modernity and Christianity, they imbibed a negative attitude towards their culture. Though Nagas are comprised of different communities or ‘tribes’, the recent cultural revival showcase the cohesive aspects of Naga identity and indicate an integrative concern for Naga ethnic identity. Current cultural renaissance and revival through events such as the Hornbill Festival, Road Shows, and elaborate celebrations of tribal festivals attempt to recreate an authentic past and at the same time create a Naga identity informed by today’s needs.’

Humra Quraishi is a columnist and author.
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