THE SHOE FLEW, ever so gently, right in front of India’s Home Minister’s nose, landing with a thud to his right.
A simple act of daring, a journalist crossing the blurred professional line, if it ever existed, between being a human being with a heart and a hardcore journalist doing his job, caught the Indian establishment by the scruff of its neck and forced it to stare it in the face, the gross injustice it has meted out.
On that fateful afternoon of April 7, 2009, Jarnail Singh hurled his shoe at the face of injustice in utter frustration. A quarter-century wait for justice, living among the victims, watching them crying for decades does strange things to a sensitive mind.
Jarnail Singh’s shoe missed India’s Home Minister P Chidambaram, but it hit its real target – the deaf, dumb, blind brahamanical establishment of India whose conscience had so hardened that men like Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar could be Lok Sabha candidates of a political party that was seriously planning to rule?
Congress giving tickets to these men was a slap on the face of every man and woman with a conscience, but the world only noticed the shoe Jarnail Singh threw.
What are you supposed to do when a community keeps fighting for justice for decades after more than 3,000 members were killed in genocidal targetted brutal barbaric attacks on the roads of national capital of India, most being burnt to death using cycle tyres lit aflame?
What are you supposed to do when inquiry commissions set up by the government of India keep finding the same men guilty over and over again but they keep dodging justice? And what do you do when the party that sheltered them for years makes them once again candidates for the country’s Parliament?
Sometimes, a person with a heart and fire in his belly concludes that these people are “jutti de yaar”.
And that deserve much worse than a shoe.
Well, they got it then. Jarnail Singh will be forgiven a thousand times over by every right thinking person who may have had a momentary qualm about a journalist breaching protocol, not using his pen but rather hurling a shoe to make an extra-ordinary statement about extra-ordinarily apathetic state.
Oh yes, some people did find it a very bad thing to do.
To those who found ugliness in Jarnail Singh’s action, our humble submission is this: the hordes that the likes of Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar led when they tracked, chased, beat, maim, kill, burn hundreds of Sikhs alive in a pace of three days in Delhi were not very disciplined, and did not come like good guests, asking for a cup of tea in the Sikh community’s drawing room, and permission to rape the daughters and kill the young ones.
The problem with this country’s political establishment, its media included, was that it found the acts of Tytler and Jarnail Singh equally reprehensible. “Woh bhee bura tha, yeh bhee bura kiya Jarnail Singh ne,” we heard in those days of 2009 when the community was marking 25th anniversary of a massacre most gory and Indian elite was discussing Jarnail Singh’s act on a scale of shamelessness to objectivity.
Clearly, such balancing acts, such prevarication, such innocent devotion to the higher principles of journalism, such commitment to clinical objectivity, balance and detachment as vaunted virtues of the profession was a luxury for those whose sister or mother had not been raped, whose son or brother had not been made to run for his dear life and then burnt alive as the family members watched. Or perhaps it was possible for those to do so who never considered the victims as their sisters or mothers, their sons or brothers.
It is surprising to see who all deserved a shoe each, thrown slightly more forcefully than Jarnail Singh did.
The inhumanity of the Sajjan Kumars and the Jagdish Tytlers had been matched by every one of those who could sit back and wallow in India’s growth rates, thought countries became great by carrying out nuclear tests or striking nuclear deals and that deep wounds of a community can be assuaged by making a Sikh Prime Minister apologize to the Sikhs.
God, how many shoes do we need for all of them? The brave Jarnail Singh threw one.
He is no more. He played his part, used his recognition to underline causes he believed in, remained committed to the community’s cause, aligned with powers he thought would do a shade more of justice than the ones he detested, and got his hands dirty in the rough and tumble of politics.
He will be remembered for many other things, but he will be primarily remembered by a grateful community, and the brave sons and daughters of India angry with the system, for his one courageous act: a shoe he threw at brutal power.
He should have had more time. Because he had another shoe, and there are many who deserved to be hit by a Jarnail Singh.
The shoe missed Chidambaram but it did hit Congress hard; some said it ended up hitting Tytler who failed to save his nomination, then found the focus of the activists back on him again, and went behind bars.
That shoe was also thrown in the face of the rabidly nationalist Indian media that forgets about the genocide of the Sikhs till it is that time of the year again when Sikhs ran on Delhi’s roads, sans turbans, some desperately borrowing scissors from neighbours to cut their hair.
Till he threw that shoe, Jarnail Singh was a senior journalist, not known for any aggressive streak, a father of two, a happily married man who touched his mother’s feet every day before going to office. He was not even rabidly anti-Congress, and was quick to underline that his method may have been wrong but the issue was not.
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The issue, Jarnail Singh, was most certainly not only “not wrong” but rather completely, absolutely the most crying one to be taken up. Jarnail Singh had taken up the issue. No one was listening. He was angry, deep inside. Then came along Chidambaram on that ominous afternoon, expressing happiness that the CBI had exonerated “my colleagues.”
And rage boiled over. The shoe came off. Jarnail Singh let it fly. And the issue was back in focus. The shoe had hit because he had rage.
Rage is the missing element from journalism today. Rage is what we need the most against continuing unrelenting injustice.
The problem with injustice is that it does not exist in a vacuum. Injustice happens in a society, not in isolation. Its aftermath is a real measure of a society. Does it pull together its act to mitigate injustice, or does it increase its capacity to see, absorb and be at peace with even more of it?
Jarnail Singh’s shoe was aimed at every one of those who went on Indian TV channels within minutes of the incident to say that “Sikh community mein barra ros hai, bahut anghish hai”. “It is an eye opener for Congress about how frustrated the Sikh community is at lack of justice,” the BJP spokesperson was saying. The best and the brilliant of India’s journos and TV anchors took due note of “Sikhs’ anger.”
Thank you very much. Just make a note. That shoe was meant for you, too. Each one of you.
Why has this anguish remained limited to the Sikh community? Is it only the responsibility of a bunch of poor widows eking out a living at the edge of subsistence to sit down cross legged on the roads every October 31 and beat their chests to demand that justice must be served?
“Punjabi bhaichara bahut gusse mein hai.” The inanity makes it to airwaves everytime you bring the issue of genocidal killings of Sikhs into any debate, without realising that it was an insult to Madrasi bhaichara, Gujarati bhaichara, Telugu bhaichara, Oriyya bhaichara, every bloody bhaichara that thought killing people of any religion on the streets riles only one bhaichara. Is that why we do not have enough rage against what has been happening to Muslims in India ever since the advent of Narendra Modi to national prominence?
Then, we deserve that other shoe. That other shoe was meant for every Maya Kodnani, every Babu Bajrangi, every killer politician no matter how high up the ladder. That shoe was meant for those who forget what the communal Hindutva juggernaut is doing to hundreds of thousands of Muslims. That shoe was meant for those who poison our young.
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Jarnail Singh hurled that show at the face of injustice.
Jarnail Singh had a pair. He threw one, he is still holding on to the other. Close your eyes and visualize Jarnail Singh, white turbaned, olive green shirt, flowing beard, not great with aiming shoes, having practised only once, and with another shoe in hand, and so many who deserve to be hit hard. Look within yourself. Are you also the one who he may aim at? Be careful. He has had some practice, and he may hit harder this time.
We mourn him, and we celebrate his rage.
May he launch himself into a thousand fights in the netherworld that can do with some rage.
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