I grew up in Dhanbad – the coal city. The city known for coal mafia, now made famous by Gangs of Wasseypur. It was not uncommon to hear of random murders, and we took it in our stride. There was a time when someone was murdered right in front of our school, and sometimes closer home. There would be shock and bandhs. But in all those years, we never felt the need to be scared about personal harm. And we did not hear anyone laughing at or justifying such murders.
We went to school in buses driven by Rambharose or Rajinder, and Rampati the khalasi (conductor) helped us board and de-board. They scolded us, laughed with us, and also shared ´iiskireem´ with us. They also scolded (and slapped) any boys from other schools who dared act smart in a bid to impress us girls. One time, when our school bus broke down mid-way, Rampati ji walked us home and ensured we were safe. In school, we had Neelakant Bhaiya and Nandlal Bhaiya manning the gates, and Reddy Bhaiya the gardener. They were strict with us, ensuring complete discipline and alignment with school rules. We knew we could trust them with our lives. In Miranda House, my friend Divya, the hostel magazine editor, had to stay late at the printer´s to complete the editing and printing. She was personally dropped to the hostel by the owner of the printing press, who considered it his responsibility to make sure she was safe.
When I read about all the incidents today, I wonder where those days and those people have gone. Who are these bus conductors who walk into school toilets to assault little boys and girls, and not succeeding, slice their necks with knives they have been carrying in their pockets? Who are these men stalking women at night, raping them with impunity, and dumping them on roads for dead? Who are these people abusing a dead woman, calling her names, justifying the murder, brazenly threatening women with rape and murder in a bid to silence them? Throughout school and college, we were taught the art of debate and discussion. Who are these people who failed those lessons, and can only retaliate with vitriol, unable to come up with any logic whatsoever? Where do these people come from?
I realize, these people are a result of our society. Culture is not cool anymore. Tradition does not trend. Humanity is not hot. As millions run amok in search of a bigger bank balance, the society seems to have lost its moral compass. As the size of our homes gain significance, our conscience has shrunk. The brands we flaunt on our body carry more equity than the thoughts we nurture in our minds. As long as it does not hurt us, we are blasé about others´ indiscretions or suffering. In a bid to reach higher, we have broken free of our roots. We have grown baser and more disconnected. Fear, frustration, hatred, anger have replaced trust, camaraderie and respect. Human relations have buckled under negative emotions. As individuals assert their rights, societal duties are aggressively and consistently forgotten. We are fighting over caste, religion, gender, ideology, and are ready to kill over our differences. We are willing to indulge ourselves at the cost of gross injustice to others.
On the night the Babri Masjid was demolished, we had our annual school function in the Penman auditorium of ISM (now IIT). Almost tem in the night, we were being driven back home by another bus driver – Khan Uncle. I don’t remember any tense moments in that bus full of girls, or in the minds of our parents due to his religion or gender. Nothing to worry or fear, except a senior of mine trying to scare me with stories of the mortuary close to my house. I coolly informed her that my window opened to the mortuary (true story). ¨Aren´t you scared¨, she asked. ¨Why would you be afraid of dead people¨, I asked – with bravado. Why indeed, I think now. When those alive are turning out to be more dangerous than any dead body could ever be.