My day at Tienanmen Square (In 2003)

Tianemen

Recently, during the Assembly elections, a childhood friend contested from my constituency. It was his first time as a candidate. For me, as a journalist, I have been covering elections since post 1990. He got a ticket from a party that I really dislike. But as a friend I had committed to help me in personal capacity. Often in the evenings we would analyze the possibilities and probabilities in the elections. As we neared to the day of voting and later results, we would discuss ideologies at length. Now his party strongly believes in regional identity. They have indulged in extreme violence too.

Frequently we would take stock of the situation and all of us exchange notes. As the election date drew near my friend R seemed confident that he could bank on the Maharashtrian vote. He did tell me that his party president had done lot more and gone beyond his capacity to help him win. Their rival party had put dummy candidate was what he was given to believe. I wasn’t confident. However, beyond all this was the strong ‘Hindutva’ ideology that he was up against. That is something he could not believe.

We had arguments and I realized this friend would not understand till he learnt his lesson. Point being even though the voters in our area are otherwise hard core ‘Marathi manoos’ otherwise, as another friend said, most of them are Brahmins. They are staunch followers of RSS- Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sanghatana. The RSS had ensured that otherwise cynical Brahmins came out in large numbers and voted for BJP. My friend could not fathom that these very Brahmins otherwise show allegiance to Marathi manoos politics, but how they could ditch it for a non-Marathi candidate. It is this ‘ideology’ that over rides all thoughts and actions. He initially had refused to believe, but as he saw the booth wise report he seemed disillusioned.

Mao40002(have deliberately put my pic outside Mao’s memorial, for pictographic evidence of this incident and visit). Now, this reminded of an eerie experience I had in 2003 when I went to China.  I remember I was mighty excited to be in the land of Mao. My first halt was Beijing and I am glad I got see and learn a lot. I got the best of guides. Now this was before the Beijing Olympics and China had just begun to open up. The  college students had begun speaking in English and that too only in Beijing. Most would double up as tour guides. But the fact was we were being followed, checked upon and that every guide told me. They asked me not to ask too many questions.

On the first day I climbed the Great Wall of China and had already begun preparing my 2 students guides about my visit to The Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square. I have always been accused of asking too many questions. Before it became my profession, I had learnt that if I didn’t open my mouth, I have lost an opportunity to learn anything new, moreover, often people misunderstood because you just let things pass. I told the boy I was excited to visit Mao’s tomb and most of all the Tienanmen Square. This seemed to have upset the boy. He said firstly he was not at all upto it to accompany me there and why was I so excited about Mao. I told him how the man has impacted the South Asian region till date, India has suffered and our struggle against the Maoist groups. I wasn’t admiring the ideology at all nor was I fascinated by it. I told him I felt bad about the Tienanmen Square firing and wanted to know more, except I feared no one will talk in China. Now this was the iffy part. The guide refused to tell me initially the reason he would not accompany to the square. He said he would take me to the Forbidden City, posed for photographs with me, was cheerful, but the minute we would have quiet discussion or any hint of the square, he would change the topic.

In 2003 too, China was not open. I was well warned in advance that I was to be careful. No political discussions and since I was a journalist, there would be people who would be listening to my conversations. The college kids were well aware of the Chinese mode of functioning. So we had an understanding when we would be well away from the driver, or any such people who we thought were keeping an eye or ear on us, we would speak of Bollywood, life in India and safe topics like Dr Kotnis, etc. Such sensitive issues, we would talk when away from crowds, at the historic places where only te 3 of us would be able to speak. So we decided to live up to the name of ‘Forbidden City’ and speak of why he was embittered and angry with his government, moreover Mao.

beijing18

Now for non-Chinese and rest of the world, the Tienanmen Square is etched in memory for the pro-democracy movement protests. These protests ended on 4 June 1989, with the declaration of martial law in Beijing by the government, wherein the army was ordered shooting in which hundred or possibly thousands of civilians were killed and the exact number of dead would never be known. Now what the guide told me was chilling. The reason he hates the ideology was among those dead was his dear friend’s brother. He was part of those lakhs of students out on Tienanmen Square. Many parents though supported were scared for their children’s lives. These were ordinary citizens who wanted democracy but had no courage to say so,  He came near the square while describing and asked me to closely observe the landscape and buildings. The day the shooting took place, the government officials were in continuous discussions with the army and students’ representatives. The minute the sanctioned armed action and the army began firing upon the innocent students, many parents stood at the windows of the government and Communist Party office and watched their children die. They did not shed a tear, the guide told me. He was in tears while he narrated to me. That is the commitment to the ideology. I remember sharing it with my friend in China and Mao sympathisers in India. Some rubbished it, some had nothing to say, yet some said these were rumours. I do believe that it is NO rumour.

I held this secret for a long time, after I shared it with my college friend who lives in Shanghai. He asked me to keep this secret, however much later I shared it with my Indian Mao sympathizer friends here, when the police and ATS had begun arresting the Maoist group members. This was not appreciated by the followers. It has two aspects I believe. While I do understand their fear of allowing such stories to pass around, one obvious is the negative. What I find intriguing is the staunch belief in ideology. How did such stories not come out in the foreign press then? In China mainland, people don’t talk for obvious reasons, they FEAR. But it is known. So did the media not penetrate enough in the 90s? Did the foreign media not enough reach, at that time? I do believe it that was the scenario. My friend moved from Thailand to China many years after this incident and till 2000 the environment was still not as open. He did not rubbish it though neither did he confirm it. That is how it has always been China about such sensitive matters.

But when Indians over-react to Mao and Naxal, they should not forget, any indoctrination, Maoism, RSS too is part of that ideology. So while we condemn one, I am immensely shocked that the other in modern Indian times is finding more followers.

(All pictures have been taken by me. The 1 of mine, the boy guide took).

Serving a death sentence

There has been talk post Kasab’s verdict. Smsz galore, sarcastic comments, snide remarks & then if that is not sufficient, for some like me who do believe death doesn’t erase the ideology or erase the violence. I am asked how can I be a nationalist, how can I support a terrorist is the personal attack I face.
I was at the court, not inside but covering from outside. I saw how reporters brought in their personal tones, remarks in their coverage. I I am aware my personal view is of the minority opinion. Even this view i don’t ever bring in my reporting. But most in their emotional bid that revenge should be taken on Pakistan people think others’ view is lopsided. I don’t believe in death penalty. I also don’t believe death can solve problems.

There has been talk post Kasab’s verdict. Smsz galore, sarcastic comments, snide remarks & then if that is not sufficient, for some like me who do believe death doesn’t erase the ideology or erase the violence. I am asked how can I be a nationalist, how can I support a terrorist is the personal attack I face.
I was at the court, not inside but covering from outside. I saw how reporters brought in their personal tones, remarks in their coverage. I I am aware my personal view is of the minority opinion. Even this view i don’t ever bring in my reporting. But most in their emotional bid that revenge should be taken on Pakistan people think others’ view is lopsided. I don’t believe in death penalty. I also don’t believe death can solve problems.

don’t much understand what is true as regards Indo-Pakistan politics. On one hand we suck up to them. On the other we snub them & scream rhetoric. But we somehow seem pale in our response when we need to. I don’t know how it should be I am NO expert on it. But yes one thing i know a peaceful neighbour country is beneficial to India as much it is to Pakistan itself.

I am immensely shocked with the 26/11 2008 attacks. I lost on a mentor & few friends. The way they were killed is one part of the immense grief & shock. The more aggravating part is how the very police who should have rushed help and they had the time to rescue the shot officers –Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte, Salaskar -were thrown on the street & were made to stay to there for over half an hour. Sad, this shouldn’t be the end that I’d ever wish even for my enemy. That is why even i felt, if the police had that once chance, they should’ve shot Kasab then and there. That didn’t happen.

Now he is in our custody. The custody & hearing has been written about, spoken at length, debated, no sorry being debated all the while. I have no energy or inclination to even comment on it. What i do know is Kasab is desperate & hence he resorts to all sorts of behaviour.

On my scholarship course for conflict management, i came across a Pakistani MA who was then attending a peace course. He did everything under the sun to try & get an opportunity to stay on in Bangkok, far away from the ravaged country –Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. He & I had our differences, our talks & even debates. The 1 thing he slipped casually while talking was that MA was once a LeT operative. I was taken aback immediately. I kept it in my mind.

I worked for a newspaper then which hadn’t cared for my scholarship, especially in the middle of global recession i took it up-Mid career scholarship-the newspaper HR & editors didn’t even support me. I went without a salary for 4 months. So why the hell should i give this superb story to that newspaper? Yet i did only because my journalistic instinct told me this is a ‘dhasu’ story Neeta.

I got talking to MA 1 evening. I persuaded him to give me his full story. The reason i am telling it now, is because i now can understand Kasab’s life. The ease with which the perpetuators of terror lure jobless youth in Pakistan, giving attractive sops of physical training & then fascinating their imagination with rocket launchers & eventually brain washing them. I can imagine how these reckless youth are willing to unleash terror on others. In case they cross over they are dead, if they join advanced jihadi training & don’t cross border, then too they are dead. That is Kasab a dead man alive.

On road to terror, mother’s love stopped him

Strap: A Kashmiri travels from a terror camp to university after seeing the light of reason in time

MA Shafqat, like many young men caught in his circumstances, acquired training in insurgency from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to cross over the border from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). But as the day of reckoning came closer, Shafqat’s soul was tormented by the gentle feelings he got whenever he thought about his mother. He fled the terror camp.

Today, Shafqat, who believes Kashmir should be free, attends a peace course in Bangkok from where he plans to reach out to the world with his ‘Azad Kashmir’ cause.

“My mission is still the same: to see a united, peaceful Kashmir. However, I feel that the means to achieve it must change. I strongly believe that my dream cannot be realised through violence. We have to take recourse to peaceful means,” Shafqat, a fellow at the Rotary Peace and Conflict Studies Centre, Chulalongkorn University, says, explaining the profound change he has undergone in his political outlook and personal life.

He says it is easy for him to put himself in the shoes of Ajmal Amir, aka Kasab, the lone terrorist to be caught in 26/11, an event that for Shafqat brought back memories of his days in the ISI’s terror nursery. “You must understand that had Ajmal refused to do what he did, he would not have remained alive. I backed out after the first round of training. Had I crossed over into Kashmir, my fate would have been sealed.”

Shafqat’s journey into the terror camp started from his college — Khan Mohammad Khan College in Plandari, PoK — where he was active in the students’ movement, the main agenda of which was Kashmiri liberation. Insurgency training was a step away. “The camps had been originally set up by the United States to fight the Russians in Afghanistan by proxy. When the Russians pulled out, the ISI took over the camps from the Americans,” he says. “During the day we were given discourses and other training. At night we learnt how to handle arms and rocket launchers. It was hush-hush. People in the vicinity didn’t even have a whiff about our activities.”

The key moment in Shafqat’s transformation came when he realised that he had to ultimately cross the border. “My mother would have died of shock,” he says. “I could feel her pain. After being through the first phase, I knew if I became a terrorist my family would be ruined. It was my mother’s love that stopped me.”

After the change of course, he decided to see the world and spend time in the pursuit of knowledge. He read voraciously and met new people. All this opened his mind to fresh possibilities of pursuing his dream. “Through my peace studies, I have realised there are many ways to reach out to people… I am trying to find answers to questions like why isn’t China — Asia’s superpower — taking a stand on Kashmir? Why do we need to be slaves of either Pakistan or India?” Shafqat asks rhetorically, then pauses and ponders. There is a glint of optimism in his eyes, the sort of thing that differentiates radicals, but not when they are far gone in the alley of terror.

Kasab & his fellows were given some specific details. They got lost, they went to some other places & fired aimlessly out of frustration. Nariman House was on their list, but were the others, NOBODY knows for sure. They were DITCHED by his bosses, the assassins who masterminded the whole thing. Those real criminals live in their haven – Pakistan. They are being protected, while Kasab is doomed to die.

But he shouldn’t be killed, i don’t think killing will solve our basic problem –terror. The whole ideology & perpetuation of this crime has to be totally wiped out & for that those who abet this crime, allow it to fester, or spread & more so who turn blind eye to it need to be taught a severe lesson. Kasab has to be kept alive. I don’t care, my taxes are being wasted on digging roads, filling pot holes, on flying the skunk of politicians helping them to lead a luxurious life at my cost, then feeding 1 poor Pakistani is NO drain on my economy or tax. He needs to be kept alive to make him realise his mistake.

Everyday his living should be a curse for him. Every minute a reminder to what he has done. Yes, he shouldn’t get instant death for the terror he unleashed on all. But i also know he has a mother too, he has a family back home too who will be reminded everyday that they lost a SON to a misled ideology. That they were used, abused by the people in their homeland for their misplaced mission –to destroy human beings. The Kasab family should be an example for more poor families across the globe & Kasab an example for such misled souls that life is doomed.