Yesterday a part of me died. It was after reading a news. It was not that some more innocent Indians were killed in cold blood in a senseless way in a riot. I am used to it by now having grown up with seeing mindless violence around me. But yesterday was different. It was how someone was murdered and how his body disposed off. His name was Ankit Sharma. He was twenty six years old. He was on duty. He represented my police and my country, the reasons why he was killed. And he was a Hindu, the reason why he was stabbed four hundred times. This crime is a different sort of crime according to victimology. It is a crime with a message, not a random one but one for the whole country. We can miss it at our own peril.
As a psychologist who has worked with criminal justice system for over two decades, I am used to dead bodies. I have seen mutilated bodies, bodies of children, people burnt and sat by their bedside to listen to their dying declaration. As a child, I saw my first riot in 1970, in Bihar and saw dead bodies strewn on the streets. I had then asked questions and my father told me about evil. In 1984, I saw a Sikh man being chased and burnt by a mob. I had felt helpless not able to do anything. In 2002 I talked to many victims in Sabarmati express whose two bogeys were put on fire. They disturbed me but didn’t make me numb. I had built a wall around me. That wall, I realized, is no more since yesterday after reading about Ankit Sharma.
Each murder is tragic. But the murder of Ankit Sharma symbolizes a threat to everything that Indian civilization stands for.
There were four hundred stab wounds on his body. In my career, the worst heinous murder I had come across of killing by knife, the murderer, a meat seller had driven the knife in the body of his victim 13 times and then stopped because he felt tired. How many people it would have taken to drive the knives in the body of Ankit Sharma 400 times? And what would be that amount of hatred with which they would do so? How much time, how much collective evil it would take on the part of a crowd to do so? Was it only because he was a law enforcement officer and nothing more?
The way the body of the victim was disposed off shows the feelings the perpetrators had towards the victim and his identity. A body mutilated and thrown away in a drain shows intense feelings of contempt for the victim and hatred towards him, an ideology that sees the victim far removed from a human being. Where does it then come from and is it not part of a macabre feeling that exists and is running as a collective in the thinking of the people?
The story of Lala Lajpat Rai comes to my mind. I read his story many times as a child and often visualized him facing the British. Protesting Simon Commission, he received multiple injuries on his head killing him. Crying in pain but his head held high, he had declared, “Each blow on my head will become the death knell of the British Empire.” Can each stab wound on Ankit Sharma’s body awaken the sleeping conscience of the nation today? I pray it does. Otherwise, next time it will be one of us and no one left after that.
Ankit Sharma’s death shows how dangerous it can be for an officer to do his duty fearlessly in certain areas, to belong to the faith of the majority of the country and last but not the least do it around people opposed to the very idea of India.
Lynching has sometimes given birth to new identities. From the ashes, has risen a new determination against injustice. Sometimes it is an idea. The Blacks decided to unite after the lynching by Ku Klux Klan. The chanting of ‘Kill the Jew’ led Theodore Herzl more than a century ago to understand that Jews have no one to call their own.direct action day
Today, the conscience of the nation is on trial. The murder of Ankit Sharma has raked our conscience and will continue to do so till we understand two things. One why he was killed and second how he was killed. During the Direct Action day, partition, the countless riots, this is the story that has been repeated. The killers wanted to send only one message and that was we will not accept ‘the other’ as an equal. When ‘the other’ tries to change his identity that has remained the same for thousand years, the perpetrator opposes him.
The other lesson from victimology about this ghastly crime is that it is a crime with no moral dimension for the perpetrators. The political climate in Delhi is not going to be the same ever again after this election. As a result, the perpetrators of Ankit Sharma have found overwhelming emotional satisfaction in manipulating, dominating, controlling and exerting life and death. This is a message which should not get lost to anyone, that it is here to stay. It will repeat itself now and replicate itself till we find a closure.
There have been too many people, more internationally than nationally, who have felt powerless and out of control with the coming to power of Modi and the far reaching changes he is bringing in the Indian society. The riots in Delhi and the symbolic killings of the last few days is a desire to get that back that power they have lost.
Today, as a citizen of India I pray and ask that the killing of Ankit Sharma be a fatal blow to the narrative of ‘secularism’ thrust upon us, to the fanaticism that has taken over in the last few days and one that made some of us as lesser than equals in our country.