Guru Dutt (born Vasanth Kumar Shivshankar Padukone in 1925) is an icon of Hindi cinema (but he started his working life as a telephone operator at a Lever Brothers factory in Calcutta!). His Pyaasa (‘Thirsty’) and Kagaz Kay Phool (‘Paper Flowers’) have been included in the “All-Time 100 Best Movies” by TIME.
Independent India was only ten years old when Pyaasa came as a picture of ideological anguish. The glow of freedom had gotten edged out by cynicism over rising social divisions, inequalities of wealth, feudal assertions, and political schisms with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s government. Guru Dutt marshalled the genius of Sahir Ludhianvi (lyrics), SD Burman (music) and Mohammad Rafi (vocals) to create this epic poem of revolt:
A few years later, the tormented creator of this lyrical wail that shocked the nation’s conscience, was found dead, laid waste by a fatal cocktail of alcohol and sleeping pills. Guru Dutt was then at the intellectually tender age of 39 years.
It wasn’t clear if it was a suicide (which he had attempted thrice before) or an accidental death. It didn’t matter. He had left behind a timeless challenge to India’s convulsed democracy.
Sixty Years Later...
Two horrible rapes have again devastated India’s conscience. If Guru Dutt were alive today, I am sure he would have pulled up these stanzas to the top of his tortured song:
Guddi, eight years old, had ocean blue eyes. She lived with her nomad mama (maternal uncle) who was also her adoptive father. Her family belonged to the 60,000-strong Bakerwal tribe, a patriotic people who had twice alerted Indian forces against marauding enemies from Pakistan, in 1947 and just before the Kargil War in 1999.
Guddi loved her livestock horde of sheep, goat, cattle, and horses. She also loved to eat apples. On that fateful day of the tenth of January 2018, she had taken her ponies for grazing at the meadows of Rasana village in Jammu.
The poor child had no clue that she was about to be kidnapped. Why? Because a former revenue official and his family felt threatened by her nomadic community, who were allegedly beginning to buy/encroach on local land and food produce. Also because her religion was Muslim, and that was a good enough reason for communal Hindus to hate them.
Guddi was sedated with bhang and taken to the local temple, Devsthan. She was given clonazepam, a potent medicine to control seizures and anxiety. And repeatedly raped. Right inside the holy temple of Lord Ram. By “Hindu” goons (what a shame for all Hindus like me). Six days later, after the animals were done/satiated, they killed her. But not before the local policeman said he wanted to rape her one more time. After which, he choked her with her dupatta and smashed her face on a heavy stone.
Meanwhile, a Thousand Miles Away, in the Dustbowl of Unnao…
Gudiya was a sprightly 17-year-old who was in awe, along with everybody else in village Makhi, of the Thakur (upper-caste strongman) she called bhaiyya (elder brother). He was the four-time local legislator who had bounced across every political party, from the Congress to the BSP to the SP, and was now in the ruling BJP; his wife and brother had won elections to powerful local offices. His grip on Makhi was complete. He lived across the road from Gudiya’s house, and would often come over to have anda fry (fried egg) cooked by her grandmother. Obviously he was rich and powerful.
One day in June 2017, bhaiyya called Gudiya over to help her find a job. Instead, he raped her. He asked her to keep quiet, or he would kill her father. She kept mum. Four days later, his goons kidnapped and gangraped her.
Ten days later, the police picked her up from a village in Auraiya. She was taken to a magistrate to record her statement, but was told not to name bhaiyya. After another ten days, she fled to the safety of her uncle’s house in Delhi. Remorse and anger overwhelmed her. She wrote about her trauma to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, President Ramnath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Nothing happened.
Helpless and frustrated, she went to Lucknow and tried to immolate herself in front of Yogi Adityanath’s residence. Unknown to her, a tragedy had befallen back in her village in Makhi. Her father was brutally thrashed by Thakur’s brother. But instead of arresting the perpetrators, the police detained her injured father on charges of “waving around a pistol”.
Four days later, he died because of “shock due to septicemia, peritonitis, ascending colon perforation”. There were “14 injuries of blunt objects on different parts of his body, including shoulder, thigh, chest and stomach”.
As Public Outrage Peaks, it Slowly Ebbs Into a Recess …
Guddi’s rape and murder is rapidly communalised. A pro-Muslim administration is allegedly framing God-fearing (they raped her in a temple room, right?) Hindu boys. No lawyer will be allowed to prosecute them. These gypsy thieves deserved what they got. Processions. Agitations. Hindu Ekta Manch (Hindu Unity Forum). Local ministers descend on the town, nakedly partisan. Guddi’s trauma is drowned in the Republic’s cacophony.
Across the Gangetic plains, Gudiya grieves the loss of her father, but Thakur roams free. His sneer on television screens infuriates middle class India, but Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is unmoved. Gudiya’s shrieks through a cloth-covered face fall on deaf political ears. The victim gets ever more victimised.
But then, the prime minister has to leave for a foreign trip. Other political leaders have to campaign in Karnataka. Young India has to cheer for their favorite IPL cricket clubs. I have to write another column for next week. And Guru Dutt died 55 years ago.
Jinhe naaz hai Hind par woh kahaan hain? Those guardians of India’s pride, where are they?
(English Translation of Lyrics’ Credit: Nasir’s Eclectic Blog)