Sunday, 7 January 2007

Nithari and Us

The first para of this post is a letter I wrote to the Indian Express, which they carried in a completely rewritten form. I am expanding on my thoughts in this post.
There is another culprit - a collective one - in the Nithari massacre: the affluent residents of Noida in whose homes the parents of the missing children worked. Surely, these maids, drivers, security guards and other help must have mentioned to their employers that their child had disappeared, and that the police were refusing to lodge a complaint? Unless these people are so impersonal towards their servants that they don't speak to them at all, beyond giving instructions. I find that a bit hard to believe. The maids must have taken a day off to look for their missing child, do the rounds of the police station, among other things. They must have been asked why and they must have given the reason.
Did any one of the employers offer to help these people? Did any one of them offer to go to the police station and help get a complaint registered? Did any one of them pick up the phone to call `someone they know', which they would have done if someone from their peer group had been in trouble? It's another matter that the police are so callous that it may not have helped, but did they even try? Or did they also, like the policemen, dismiss the incident as children running away due to poverty? Or good looking girls having eloped?
Could it also be possible that these people weren't able to spend more time looking for their children because their employers would have upbraided them for not coming to work on time or taking too much leave or inconveniencing them in some other way? I suspect this could also be a reason.
Even as we all sit and criticise the police for not acting, we have to come to terms with this disturbing question - how active are we and others from our socio-economic set?
The drain in which the children's remains had been found hadn't been cleaned for years. And all these people living in these posh houses just kept quiet? Regular cleaning may have prevented the culprits from hiding their crime as easily as they did.
When people lit candles for Jessica Lal and Priyadarshini Matoo in Delhi and Meher Bhargava in Lucknow, everyone hailed it as the beginning of middle class activism. I had argued then, in an article in DNA (posted on this blog ( that activism has to go beyond lighting candles.
Activism needn't always be a group activity. It need not be about demonstrations or joining NGOs. It could manifest itself in quiet individual actions. Like not turning away when a girl is being teased on a bus. Like not letting a neighbour dump garbage in a public place. Like trying to help your servant get a complaint registered. Like ensuring municipal authorities clean drains regularly. Lighting candles or going in a procession is so easy. But it is nothing more than a diversion from the humdrum existence of our daily lives. We all need to do more. Maybe not collectively, but certainly at an individual level. Otherwise we have no right to complain.