SM Hale -
BARKHA Dutt, the renowned television journalist’s “This Unquiet Land: Stories from India’s Fault Lines” is a firsthand account of “the real India”. Ms. Dutt’s bold and incisive exposé of India’s fault lines is identified from her quarter century career in television journalism.
Journalists have a front row view of history; their description maybe coloured by their biases, the impact of the unfolding events or influence of the celebrities they have rubbed shoulders with. Hailing from a privileged class, Barkha Dutt is cognizant of the advantage she had, but instead of being impressed by the glitterati, glamour or impact of The Gandhis, Yadavs, Narendra Modi, the Obamas, the Clintons, Nawaz Sharif, Kejriwal and a host of other political bigwigs, mentioned in her book, she focuses on the “nobodies of India, the people who are on the outside looking in on the political tamasha (drama) in the country, with religion and caste distinctions forming the backdrop.
This Unquiet Land reveals the ugly face of India, where women are denied their rights, lower class is trampled by “superior” Brahmins and Hindutva prevails over power politics and rampant corruption stunt’s growth despite tall claims by its politicians.
Quoting personal examples from how she was castigated by her own colleagues apparently on the payroll of the Establishment and Government functionaries for revealing ugly facts while covering the 1999 Kargil War.
Ms. Dutt minces no words when she lifts the shroud from the naked fact of the use of unconstitutional violence by India’s Deep State. Critically describing her own maiden experience of covering the Gujarat Riots, she concludes that Hindutva was operating on an alienating agenda. To prove her point, she reasons that the triumph of the political wing of the extremist centre of power Sangh Parivar‘s radical political face the BJP emanates from the 1992 December demolition of the Babri Mosque. The heinous act of a frenzied mob razing to ground a historical Muslim place of worship led to the rise of the fringe elements and Hindu Mob who would not stop at anything.
The writer censures the Indian strategy to counter the Naxalite Movement by its alienated population through coercive measures like the formation of Salwa Judum—private militia of locals, which proved counterproductive (page 107).
While dwelling on women’s issues, the denial of equal opportunities for women, she touches a raw nerve when she divulges that even the educated and well off women are victim of harassment and abuse. She ironically chastises the Indian Judicial system, quoting an incident on page 7 of her book where, steeped in illusions of grandeur of the upper class and bias against women, no relief was provided to a low caste rape victim. When the woman went to court against her culprits the judge acquitted the accused on the basis, “An upper caste man would not rape someone of a caste he considered untouchable”. So, there is no respite for Indian women even in the legal system of so-called democratic and secular state.
The author discloses that the caste system of Indian society is so deep rooted and intact that even economic status and education do not significantly change the plight of lower castes.
While dwelling upon women issues in her hard hitting book, Ms. Dutt reveals that women trafficking is rampant in India. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, there were nearly 5,000 reported victims of sexual trafficking in India in 2013 alone (page 21). Female infanticide is a common practice. According to 2006 UN report everyday 7,000 baby girls were aborted or killed right after birth in India (page 4). Apart from other crimes against women, acid throwing, honour killings and dowry deaths are also very common in India.
Upholding the principles of objective journalism, the author is not afraid to expose the links between the rise of Hindu terrorism, quoting incidents such as Samjhauta Express Blasts 2007 and Malegaon blasts 2008, where RSS Swami Aseemanand and Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Purohit were involved (page 97).
Her ire is not directed against the BJP alone as she finds the Indian Congress to have colluded with state police to unleash the 1984 riots (page 115). Miss Dutt opines that the two pogroms of 1984 (anti Sikh) and 2002 (anti Muslim) although orchestrated by different political parties were similar. Both were methodical in their madness while masquerading as spontaneous expression of violence (page 117). In the chapter “A Society in Flux”, the writer elucidates that seven out of ten households in India remain rural and live on less than Rs. 200 a day (page 271). India is home to more poor people than anywhere else in the world. One third of the world’s poorest 1.2 billion people live in India where 1.4 million children die before their fifth birthday (page 290).
The epilogue concludes with a shocking incident from September 2015, which points to emerging fault lines that can create fissures in the fabric of secular India, historically famed for its tolerance. This refers to Dadri, (Uttar Pradesh) where a Muslim man was brutally battered to death and his son’s skull was cracked open, by a lynch mob, on the mere suspicion that they had stored beef in their home, egged on by announcements from the local temple.
India’s pretensions to favouring freedom of speech receives a serious blow because Ms. Dutt’s book has been trolled, ridiculed and criticized by Hindu extremists and RAW agents in the garb of opinion builders.