Sarcasm in the moment of death? For that you need to be evil. The first human reaction to death, even a normal one, is silence. Death reminds us of our own mortality, the impermanence of our existence. When a death isn’t normal, when it is an accident, a suicide or murder, it shocks us. At least, it should. A life cut short unnaturally creates a void in us. A sense of unfulfillment. And our gaze turns inwards. We tend to become reflective. Words do not come easily. On most of the occasions when they do, they sound false, even obscene. Therefore, we console the grieving not through words but by touching them. It is not easy to make sense of death, in whichever form it strikes.
The death of Gajendra Singh at Jantar Mantar, when an AAP rally was in progress, stunned all of us. Was it a suicide? Or an accident? Was it a missed step in a drama Gajendra was trying to perform at the rally venue that led to his death? Was he trying to draw the attention of AAP leaders and the rally towards his plight? Was he merely enacting a Peepli Live at Jantar Mantar? We don’t know. The details that have emerged lead us to think that all he wanted to do was to create a spectacle, which would force the crowd or leaders or police to converge under the tree on which he sat and plead with him to climb down. He wanted to be helped to be able to return home, from where he was forced out.
Gajendra was sadly mistaken. The AAP leaders did notice his attempts to draw their attention, but it was construed by them as a conspiracy to distract the masses and, more importantly, the media. In fact, one of them said he should come down as they had seen enough of such antics. He was thought to be diverting mass attention from the rally.
Beneath the tree were angry teachers, shouting slogans against the government. The AAP leaders were upset with this protest. They thought it was unfair on the part of the contract-teachers to disturb the rally. They suffer from a strange sense of entitlement, a pre-eminent right they possess over protests for they are the “party of protest”. They get offended when an individual or a group tries to protest before them. They ignore them or brush them aside. It looks like a joke to them.
“Latak gaya?” was the first, spontaneous reaction from the stage to the news of Gajendra’s death. It is not easy to convey the moral casualness of this phrase. I have been trying to translate it into English but couldn’t find the words to communicate the indifference, casualness, coldness and even cruelty that ooze from it. The body was taken down, but the rally continued. Was Gajendra a minor disturbance the rally did not care about?
And then, the spokespersons of the ruling party of Delhi let out filth with stunning ferocity. They were so aggressive in the leader’s defence that one felt ashamed. Where does such belligerence come from? Why did they not look touched, let alone shaken by Gajendra’s death? Were they upset with this “act of dying” that had stolen their show?
The inability of our political parties and leaders to grieve tells us about a critical absence in their humanity. People for them are an idea, or an ideological abstraction. That is why when somebody who is not one of you dies, you do not feel moved. That is why political parties can think of processions and sit-ins at Jantar Mantar but not camp in Trilokpuri and be with the people. Or Parliament can continue with business even when a massacre was on in Gujarat. Even the communist parties thought their party conferences were more important than rushing to Gujarat to help bring sanity back to society.
The indifference of the police in this we can explain, if not condone. But how do you account for the behaviour of the teachers, standing beneath the tree on which Gajendra sat, who continued with their protest even after his death? How could they persist with their demands in the face of this “accident”?
There is something deeply, disturbingly wrong with our public life. Until the death of Gajendra hit us, we knew farmers as mere numbers who helped strengthen the case of oppositional politics. What we realise now is that this politics of protest and opposition has not been able to convince farmers that they need to live for their battle to succeed. It is as if farmers’ issues and politics have got detached from the farmer as a human being, a living being who wants to live. The politics of struggle has failed to create a shared humanity for farmers who have been failed by the system.
In theatre, we play the game of “trust”. An actor lets herself fall. She is confident that her fellow actors will not let her crash to the ground. In this game, if she falls, it is their failure. Our democratic politics in general and the politics of struggle in particular have failed this “trust” game. That is why all words of grief, shock and anger sound false. Without grief, there is, of course, no humanity. Without silence, there is no speech.
The writer teaches Hindi at Delhi University.