“The protector is greater than the attacker”

New Delhi. India’s capital. Gokalpuri. A locality in its Northeastern suburbs. It is the last Monday of February 2020. Clocks’ vertically split hands illustrate the chasm and hatred between the Hindus and Muslims.

“Is it the last day of our lives?” a child asks his mother as the family huddles together at home. Biting her lower lip to stifle her sob, his mother hugs him tighter to her bosom. Sitting next to them, father puts his index finger to his lips. He is all but invisible to his wife and son in this windowless room. The urgency of his feeble, “shhh!” is starkly apparent in the eerie graveyard silence of Gokalpuri.

Shrill screams of Hindus’ “Jai Shri Ram” pierce the calmness all around.

Father quickly pushes aside the metallic façade hiding the door. He takes the six-year-old and swiftly but surreptitiously runs across the room into the kitchen on the other side of the house. He places the child in a shaft prepared earlier in the bricked chimney.

“Remember — don’t make a sound no matter what happens,” are his parting words to the son.

Father hurries back to his hiding place even faster, locks the kitchen door, and pulls the metallic facade after him.

Moments later, the same screaming mob enters the house armed with swords, axes, clubs, scythes, and iron rods and pipes.

“Oye, bust and burn everything in every house on this street!” the crew leader commanded. “Leave no one alive. These bastards thought they could kill a Hindu, can you believe it? I am advancing to the next houses in the street with others. All the houses on both sides of the street are full of these filthy pigs. Clean them all. Halal them. They like halal. Let’s make India great again under the leadership of Modiji. And yes…once again remember the video showing how Vinod Sharma was beaten and stoned and killed by them here in Gokalpuri.”

The crew-leader left, shouting, “Jai Shri Ram.”

“Where are all you motherfuckers?” one of the intruders bellowed.

“Oye, sister-fuckers!” another one yelled. “You circumcised bastards lift your asses in the air for the last time. Call Allah hu Akbar, hahaha, and check if he can dare save you from Ram bhakts (devotees). Or, is he hiding in Saudi Arabia like you are hiding here now?”

A rampage in the house follows. The rioters ransack the rooms and the kitchen after breaking open the locked doors.

“Looks like the bastards ran away,” someone shouts.

“Impossible,” claims another. “They can’t escape. Our police surrounding the area ensured that. They are all here.”

“I found this whelp in the kitchen chimney,” one gang member announces, triumphantly dangling the boy by his neck up like a trophy.

“Ask the bastard where others are,” another says.

“Listen, stop your crying! You will roast alive if you don’t tell us where they are.”

Then, suddenly, one of the men declares, “I have found the entrance to the treasure. Here it goes…here is the door…it is dark inside. Bring a lighter…”

Father — “We are coming out.”

Mother — “I plead before you…you can kill me, but please let my child go!”

“No, you bitch, don’t tell us what to do. We will do what we want.”

“We will first enjoy you — all of us. If you are good, we may keep you alive for a few days.”

Mother is forcibly dragged away by three of the invaders while others club the father and son with iron rods. The child dies. While a few are still savaging the father, a couple of others pour gasoline on him and his dead son and set them afire.

They are about to leave when the crew leader reappears.

“How many you got here?”

“All three.”

“I see only two.”

“To the bitch of the house, Ram bhakts are giving her the taste of the whole uncut original thing inside.”

“But the ration card I got from the government of India says there are eight pigs in this sty,” the leader said. “There are five more somewhere. Check the roof, ceilings…find them or ask the pony you are riding in there.”

*****

A few days earlier.

Pramil Jha is waiting to meet India’s most powerful man and minister after Prime Minister Modi. The minister’s fortified residence on Krishna Menon Marg is busy. The meeting is critical for Pramil — a former minister of the national capital region Delhi’s AAP party state government. The chief minister had removed him on charges of corruption. Even then, Pramil had an under-the-radar alliance with the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP party. Recently, he formally joined and then ran and lost as its candidate in the Delhi state election against his former party. Young and ambitious, he sorely misses the power and limelight and is smarting from his election humiliation a couple of weeks ago.

Minister — “Pramil, you are a young man with a lot of potential. I like you. However, I feel you lack courage and risk-taking. Maybe that’s why AAP didn’t value you. You lost the election too due to that. But here in BJP we like to help groom national leaders of tomorrow like you. I will help you. I have opportunities to help you overcome your shortcomings. Are you ready?”

Pramil — “Yes, sir, I am. It is my privilege and blessing to be in the BJP under your divine leadership. Many thanks to you. Please show me the path. I will stay indebted to you for eternity.”

Minister — “You know successive Congress party governments have trampled Hindus and Hinduism and pampered Muslims and Islam. We owe it to the country, our religion, and Bhagwan Ram to restore Hindu pride. That can only happen if we teach these protesting polygamists’ community a lesson. Teach them how to listen and learn and comply — and not to gather, shout, and cry. It is a golden opportunity for you. I am busy. Trump’s visit begins tomorrow.”

Pramil — “My only hesitation, sir, is violence during Trump’s visit and the Delhi government.”

Minister — “You think Trump hates the violence that strengthens him? Don’t worry about him. Did you ever hear him say, ‘I love everybody?’ He knows the difference between pigs and persons. His position on Muslims, Blacks, Hispanics, and immigrants is loud and clear. We share the same opinion on majoritarianism, racial superiority, and one-person governments. Without saying so, let us give him a gift he will cherish the remainder of his life. Also, remember, Delhi’s police are under me and not under the Delhi state government. You will get all the support and cooperation you need. You have men and money, right? Let me know if you need anything.”

As Pramil gets up to leave, the minister calls a Delhi Police DCP (Deputy Commissioner Police) and tells him about his guest. “Please help him with anything he wants, escort him everywhere. He is my man on an important mission.”

After leaving the meeting, Pramil drives past a town hall. Inside, Mohinder Singh is sharing his decades-earlier, blood-curdling experience of communal violence with an audience.

Mohinder Singh — “We all, my parents, siblings, and I escaped brutal death because of an angel. It was the last day of October of 1984. A Wednesday. As a high schooler, I was only happy when the school closed an hour after it opened. Without taking the trouble to find out why, I left joyously. Not even in my dreams had I thought about what lay ahead. On the way home — we lived in Trilokpuri then — I learned of PM Indira Gandhi’s assassination. It sounded like a scene from a big movie to me. I didn’t know much about anything then. It was my father who told my siblings and me that the killers were PM Gandhi’s two Sikh bodyguards. None of us could comprehend the gravity of the implications it entailed. My mother, too.”

Mohinder Singh continued after drinking a little water.

“‘How do you know? Who told you?’” she asked my father.

“‘Madan Lal Upadhyaya,’” my father replied.

“That was it. Without a second thought, she gave my father a tongue-lashing.”

“‘The one in the next street you sit and drink with? That’s why you are ready to trust that alcoholic. The animal drinks a bottle of whiskey every evening. He may not have even recovered from yesterday’s binge. The idiot has such a huge house but, instead of a family, lives alone in it with books. He is a hooligan with not one but many guns in his house, his neighbors have told me. He is a bad influence on the whole society. Why do ladies visit his house — when he has no lady in the house? All characterless bitches. There is a rumor that they also drink whiskey along with him. Why don’t they just go straight to hell. I will see how you dare go to his house next time.’”

Audience — “What did Madan Lal do for work?”

Mohinder Singh — “Why? Do you, too, want to get in the same profession? (There is laughter in the hall.) As you know, Trilokpuri then and even now, along with other areas in its vicinity, belong to hardworking daily wage earners. A lot of us in this caste-ridden society were born into lower or lowest castes. Madan Lal was an egalitarian, a comrade who wrote socialist novels, newspaper columns, and plays. But we didn’t know all this that day, that morning. So, in a couple of hours, it was confirmed that what he had told my father was correct. Beant Singh and Satwant Singh were the Sikh bodyguards who had killed Gandhi. Before we could even digest this dimension of the evolving news, we saw a lorry full of strangers trying to park at the mouth of our neighborhood.

Before we could even understand what was happening, two jeeps screeched to a halt outside our house. Madan Lal, his brother, and a nephew armed with guns came into our home. He quickly said something to my parents, and off we went in those cars.”

Audience — “What happened to that lorry of strangers who came there? What had they come for? Did you ever find out?

Mohinder Singh — “Yes, I did. With the connivance of Delhi Police, they immediately began blocking the passages going in and out of our street and the next one. Sikhs lived in most of the homes on both streets. The strangers were well prepared to execute the instructions given to them. They carried big drums and huge, tall water drainage pipes to plug the streets. They hoisted spotters atop them. More lorries of such strangers joined the first. These marauders were armed with bricks, shovels, shower pipes, iron rods, clubs, cleavers, cricket bats, wickets, and other weapons. They had voter lists with them to identify Sikh homes and the names and number of family members in each one of them.

“For the next two days, violent death made the two streets its dancing floor. The naked dance it did on it was of the ugliest and cruelest kind. From Madan Lal Ji’s house rooftop, I could not see or hear everything, but some of the things I saw, and the cries of pain and torture that filled the air, still disturb me.

“I saw those demons take breaks to eat, drink, rest, and regroup during their bloodthirsty mission. It only stopped after Indira Gandhi was cremated on November 2 or maybe because there were no more Sikhs left to rape and slaughter.

“Both the streets were strewn with limbs and bodies and hair brutally hacked off. You could not walk through them placing your whole foot on the ground for fear of stepping on a hand, arm, foot, leg, and other human remains. You could only tippy-toe your way through. The streets were awash with blood. There were black coagulated mounds over which flies buzzed lazily. The open drains on both sides of the streets lay stained from how much blood had flowed through them. The butchers had slaughtered entire families and left them piled high in their own homes.

“I remember reading Rahul Bedi’s story in the Indian Express about how a whimper led a few journalists to a barely conscious young Sikh, hiding under a heap of bodies, his slashed stomach wrapped crudely all-around with a turban. All he wanted was water, parched after over 36 hours of concealing himself under the mound of corpses as he bled steadily. He died soon after in hospital, the newspaper said.

“Also, Rahul said, some doors down, a two-year-old girl, not understanding the meaning of the bodies, toddled over to them, holding out her arms asking to be taken home. Unfortunately, she was home, but one littered with the bloated corpses of her parents and siblings killed two nights earlier.”

A momentary pause followed until someone from the audience wanted to know why the police never came there.

Mohinder Singh — “Police arrived in Trilokpuri 24 hours later when the Indian Express revealed the horrific massacre. Sadly, there were no Sikhs left to protect. If Madan Lal Upadhyay, a Hindu, had not saved us, sheltered us, risked his life, my entire family would have been among the piles of bodies. My son Inderjit lives now in that house with his wife.”

Audience — “Where do you live, Mohinder Singh?”

Mohinder Singh — “I live in Gokalpuri. I am the president of a two hundred shop owners’ welfare association. It is slightly far from Trilokpuri but close to Brahmpuri, Mustafabad, and Kardampur.”

Audience — “Is your area Sikh dominated?”

Mohinder Singh — “No, we are the only Sikh family in Gokalpuri. It is overwhelmingly Hindu, with several Muslim shops and families living there. Even so, they have been choosing me the president of the welfare association every year for so many years. Madan Lalji inspired me to believe in Guru’s teaching that commands, ‘Consider the entire humanity as one family.’”

*****

Mohinder Singh is working in his electronics shop, Sunny Tech Mart, nestled below his home, unaware of the massacre happening in a house in his Gokalpuri neighborhood. He suddenly hears the sounds of bedlam. An army of young men, reminiscent of strangers in lorries thirty-six years ago, is marching in his direction. He immediately shutters his shop and runs into the alley behind that houses seven Muslim families and a mosque.

With the help of his wife, a couple of Hindu neighbors, and his son, Inderjit, who is working with him in the shop, they evacuate all of the Muslim homes. They hide the occupants — some in his house and others in the two Hindus family homes.

However, that doesn’t satisfy Mohinder Singh because he fears they will be discovered and protecting them then will not be possible. He quickly thinks of a plan and tells his son, wife, and others.

“We don’t have much time because a rioter will discover them,” Mohinder Singh tells the rescuers. “We’ll use Inderjit’s motorcycle and my scooter to transport them to the nearest safe Muslim-dominated area, Kardampuri. We will take children, teenagers, and ladies first. We’ll use turbans to make them look Sikh. Because older Muslims shave their mustaches but keep beards, even if we use turbans on them, someone might recognize them. We will take them last. Let’s start right now.”

Everybody swings into action. Turbans are brought and put on Muslim boys with short beard hair. Mohinder and Inderjit, on a motorcycle and a scooter, start to rush them to the chosen destination exploiting their knowledge of the area and its safer routes.

The police are nowhere in sight. Phone calls for help are either unanswered or given the excuse that, “We are busy in the security of the visiting American president,” or “Navigating those small and narrow lanes in the area is cumbersome and takes too much time.”

Sometime later, the police finally arrive. They stay for a brief period to disperse the mob that is trying to knock down the mosque gate in order to damage the shrine and reach the Muslims hiding inside. Mohinder Singh and the group quickly react to move them to Kardampuri.

The father and son that evening saved the lives of more than sixty Muslims because, as Mohinder Singh told everyone, “When I was a little kid, my grandmother always said that the protector is greater than the attacker.”

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