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Jul 14, 2022

'Despite the Darkness, There Remain Pegs of Hope': An Open Letter to Zakia Jafri

'For a common Indian like me, you are the embodiment of courage and strength. You give me hope because your pursuance of justice, despite the odds, has been exemplary.'
Zakia Jafri. Photos: File.
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Dear Zakia aapa,

On June 26, 2022, the highest court in the land gave that judgement which, if anything, stripped you (and us) of hope. I am sorry for that. As a co-citizen of this land, it gives me great pain to write this letter to you. But I had to – I had no choice.

This letter is not meant only as an apology, but to make sure that I can sleep peacefully at night – the same night which, I am sure, has kept you awake many a times through its brutal power of darkness. To be hopeless is one thing, to be hopelessly lost in darkness, is another.

But I write to reiterate that despite the careless judgment; despite the darkness; and despite the power of the night, there are still some pegs to hang on to. Let us call them ‘pegs of hope’. 

The events of February 28, 2002 are etched in our memory with a clarity that is hard to describe. I am sure your memories of those fateful days are even worse.

I always thought that memories are like insects; they enter and leave the crevices in our heads at the oddest of times, in the most unexpected of situations. Some are like big stag beetles, ready to bite a chunk out of our flesh of hope, joy and love. I am sorry, Zakia aapa, that you had to harbour these insects, like many of us. How earnestly I wish we could collectively crush these deadly black beetles, but alas.

For a common Indian like me, you are the embodiment of courage and strength. You give me hope because your pursuance of justice, despite the odds, has been exemplary. You, like those women who survived the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom, have displayed to us the most extraordinary fight against the most powerful men of the land. This is no small achievement, Zakia aapa. It is like looking directly into the sun. 

Also read: Supreme Court Judgment in Zakia Jafri Case Missed Both the Woods and the Trees

Ours is a country where people worship those in power and if those in power are brutally cruel, they are adulated even more. Strange. You, standing up against them, is an assault on their edifice of unchallenged power. Very clearly, the networks of monstrous power they head have been rattled by your pursuance of the case. That, in itself, is a massive victory.

To rattle an evil establishment, one needs nerves of steel and a heart brimming with hope. You have shown us the way forward with this combination of courage and hope. I am sure that the generations to come will remember your persistence as the most iconic display of human endeavour, to achieve justice, particularly against perpetrators who had validation from so many quarters of society.

I know you must be so bitter at the denial of justice to Ehsan saheb. We all are. I can also understand the frustration of being failed by the ‘system’, not once, but an umpteen number of times, starting from the day when that murderous mob attacked your home in Gulberg Society. I cannot even imagine what it feels like to be the victim of a fatal physical assault for a day, and then to be the victim of a perpetual mental assault every day, for the rest of your life.

Also read: Godhra, Where the Fall of India’s Democracy Began

The loss of a loved one is incalculable. The loss is even more horrible and devastating if there is no closure. Despite its absolute meaning, the word ‘closure’ is a seamless word when it comes to death by murder. There is no closure for an untimely, cruel death and unfortunately, you know this better than I do.

They say that law will take its own course; yes, it does for some. Yes, closure is the privilege of a few. With every murder, with every rape and with every act of injustice, we look towards the judiciary with conjecture and hope, and each time, we whine in despair. There is an endless list of tombstones in India’s judicial graveyard. But Zakia aapa, we aren’t even allowed to mourn the death of this process of justice as it amounts to contempt. Like a cult, the law guards both the victim and the perpetrator with paramount sanctity.

But as I said in the beginning, there are pegs of hope to cling on to, Zakia aapa. I feel emboldened by the tiny acts of resistance which take place around us every day. The denial of justice to you and to others is resisted by the people on the street.

Yes, they are few. Yes, they are inconspicuous. Yes, they are not able to change the ‘system’, but nevertheless, they are there.

They are like what Arundhati Roy described in her book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: “Like a chuckle in the universe.” Believe me, their chuckle makes the murderers and the connivers nervous. And what if they aren’t meaningful in any other way than making the emperor nervous? Isn’t that a huge victory? For me it is. 

We may not bring back Ehsan saheb and all those who were murdered that day in Gulberg Society, but we can still stand like you did. We can still be part of that solidarity network of love and hope which banks on the future; a future where justice will be paramount and nothing, no one, how so ever powerful, could manipulate it at will. That future, Zakia aapa, may not be visible in the haze of today, but believe me, it will dawn. 

Till that happens, I’ll continue to think about you; about your pain, your loss, and about all those who are waiting at the doorstep of justice with their throats achy; with laments of loss. I am sorry, once more, Zakia aapa. You are not alone in this. 

At the cost of sounding cruel, I can only say, remain hopeful Zakia aapa. In such moments, I remember a couplet by Faiz:

Jaza saza sab yahin pe hogi, Yahin azaab-o-swaab hoga,

Yahin se uthega shor-e-mahshar, Yhain pe roz-e-hisab hoga.

(It is here that the punishment and reward will be bestowed,

It is here that hell and paradise shall happen,

It is from here that the voice of the revolution shall rise

And it is here only that the day of judgment shall dawn.)

Shah Alam Khan is a professor of orthopaedics at AIIMS, New Delhi. Views are personal.



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