Monday, April 18, 2011

My name is Tarbej.

My name is Tarbej. It’s obvious that I’m a Muslim. My name says so. I was killed by police.

Come on, look beyond the stereotypes. Every Muslim killed by cops isn’t a terrorist or a gangster. Get over this. Well, this could be quite unbelievable for some of you, but it’s true. I was killed by cops, randomly.

Actually, not so randomly. I live in Naate near Jaitapur. Or should I say, I lived in Naate near Jaitapur. It was a normal life, as it is in every hamlet along the western coast of India.

Fishing, cannot be exactly called my passion, but I had started liking it with time. The way every professional starts liking his job with time. That was the only thing I was trained to do since childhood. And it was the only thing I could do. Catching fish, selling them, trying to get the best deal for the catch of the day, returning home, have a little quarrel with the family, eat, sleep used to be some salient features of my everyday life.

Till the day government of India, in association with government of France (a country about which I knew only through newspapers and geography textbook) and a big company (Big is the only adjective I can use for that company) decided to put up a Nuclear Power Plant in our locality.
They came and told us it was a good thing. Necessary for India’s progress. India’s progress, our progress. We had no problems with it. They started by taking our lands. Then they came up with a plan to clear our villages. They said it was necessary for the progress of our country. No, they didn’t promise us a daily bread through this plant. But they didn’t fail to mention that it could probably have a not-so-good effect on our occupation - fishing. But then, again, progress of the nation is a big deal. The plant would generate more energy to meet the growing electric demand of the country. Well, that sounded promising. Progress was what they were talking about. But we had a question to ask.

What about our future? Where would we go? What would we earn. How would we look after our families? Where would the fishermen go? And the farmers? And the little shopkeepers in our villages? And the saplings we planted? And the trees that our ancestors had left behind for us? Sorry! Those were too many questions to ask. But then, we did need answers to them too. So we raised our hand to ask them.

They said, you might get a crore in return of your lost home, land and livelihood. We still had questions. People with more questions joined us. They asked about radiations or something like that. Whatsoever it was, we were informed that it was dangerous. We didn’t want that shit too. We also realized that government of India was about to make billions, or perhaps trillions of Euros (that’s the currency of Europe, right?) out of this plant. And that the electricity wouldn’t come for free. So we didn’t take that crore for a compromise. We just stood there with more questions. Then more came. With not answers, but assurances. And then more poured in, with promises.

Finally, a few came with a determination. But none of them answered our questions. They just spoke on microphones, blared their voices through speakers our plainly shouted out aloud to us.
So we still held on. Standing firmly with questions on our minds and placards in our hands. And they brought in the cops.

They placed cops everywhere. They turned corners into barracks. Crossroads into chowkis and roads into march-tracks and told the world all was fine. Or ‘Aal izz well’ as they put it these days. And world believed it.

Some of us lost their calm, and were beaten to shit. Dragged into police vans and dumped into lock-ups. A price to pay for asking questions. By this time, some more had come in. Some to support us because they felt our questions truly needed answers. And some, because they thought our questions were beneficial to them in their chair war. In any case, we were a crowd now!
Then Japan happened. And we had new reasons to be afraid of. We couldn’t stand still. We moved. And a movement began.

Police were nice to us. They ran over one of us who had come back from Dubai to protect his belongings. They just ran over him. A police car, filled with policemen crushed his under its tyres. Crushing his bones and turning his chest into a soggy mass of ground flesh and bones. Traces of lungs to add to it. Of course he died. And we knew where all of this would lead us to. Probably that pulp. It would be the only traces left of us. To be pecked upon by crows and chewed by hungry dogs.

This time we asked the question more sternly. Police charged upon us with their lathis. We returned the favour with stones. They released tear gas, we tried to turn their barracks inside our houses into ashes. No! It wasn’t a war. It was just a reaction. An enraged one. Don’t tell us that we should’ve maintained our patience. You too would react the same way if someone was about to wipe out every trace of your existence.

Police thought we would kill them. So they came up with a magnificent idea of shooting rubber pellets at us. But we didn’t think it was worth stopping. It was our home after all. Then, they received orders to fire in the air to control the mob. They raised their guns to point at the sky. Or did they just pretend to do that? Because a bullet hit me.

It’s a different feeling I tell you. First you feel as if a stone has hit you. Then you see blood oozing out. And then you feel a blast of pain inside you. You know it’s in there. Stuck in some place inside your body. A little movement spreads waves of pain through your body. And you can’t move. You just lie still. Slowly, you start feeling numb. The voices around you seem to come out filtered from a tank of water. When I used to swim in the sea as a fisherman’s son, I used to hear my father’s words from the boat in the same way. Muffed and clear. I don’t know why we fought later. But we fought a lot. But he taught me to catch fish. Best catch. They don’t want me to catch fish. They want me to live. They want to generate electricity. They want progress. We don’t oppose progress. But, don’t destroy our lives for it. Rehabilitate us. But don’t treat us as if we were never there. What progress is this, whose price we have to pay with our subsistence?

What has hit me? Is it a radiation? Do radiations hurt so much? Who is coming? Police? More of them? My fellow villagers? Some activists? Politicians? Who is it? Who is coming to pick me up? Will they save me? Who will save me? Or will they let me die. Will they trade my corpse for trillions? Am I their best catch? Will they trade my dead self in the fish market? Will they pay that money to my family? Or will they take it and hide it in their inner pockets. What must be my family doing at home now? Is it lunch time? Will they be having their lunch? Fish again it must be. It’s a fisherman’s family after all. Am I smiling?

And then I couldn’t breathe. I felt choked in the throat. I thought I was pukish. So I tried puking. I puked blood. Pure blood. I felt it trickle down through my nose. I tried keeping my eyes open. But a darkness had begun to gather in.

The same darkness will gather in the lives of many villagers who will soon lose to the government. Or might end their life asking for answers.

My name is Tarbej. It’s obvious that I’m a Muslim. My name says so. I was killed by police.
Ironically, a political party which was always against my kin, has now declared me a hero. Who always looked at us as enemy’s brothers and wanted us to go to Pakistan, are now hoisting my death as a martyrdom that wouldn’t go unnoticed and unpaid for. Villagers have started burning down all Police establishments. And my family has refused to take custody of my ‘dead body’ till action is taken over the people who sent that bullet towards me. In a way, I have ended up being a hero. A meaningless hero.

See, I told you. Not every Muslim killed by cops is a terrorist or a gangster.

Note: Tarbej was shot dead by police for protesting against Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant on April 19th, 2011. May peace be upon his soul.


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