Open Letter: In Yogi’s Uttar Pradesh, Not All Deaths Are Equal
(This is an open letter to the multiple deceased in Uttar Pradesh, in light of the Bulandshahr incident)
To those killed in Uttar Pradesh,
Rest in peace and power. In your unfortunate passing, lies a precious peace that has long left this mortal plane. So, I am convinced you are in a better, quieter place.
At times, to seek the truth is to seek justice. In answers not sought frequently, lie both the elusive closure that we need, and the anger that we feel at your death. So, here are my inquiries and some possible answers for these dark times that, I hope, can give us all both closure and justice.
At the end of it all, is the light of justice that both you and I seek.
Is Death a Function of Who You Are?
Are all deaths equal? Is it the same finality for all, or is death a function of who you are? All corpses go through rigor mortis and putrefaction the same way, but do their stillnesses hold the same meaning to others? Should all deaths be mourned equally?
Uttar Pradesh has some answers.
At best, you might feature in the twelfth line of an annual media report.
If you are a nondescript Muslim boy with a criminal record, then congratulations – you don’t exist to the outside world. Not a single national media channel will cover your killing, with the exception of local reporters who will be summoned to film your killers doing the act. Do not try and challenge your custodial killing, for there is no social statute for that. One rare citizens’ group might just document your death leading to a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) notice – but that’s it. You want a dignified passing? Then please be as silent as the dead, without complaints.
If You are Privileged, Your Death Matters
If you are a nondescript Muslim boy with no criminal records, then you are slightly better off. The national media will cover your case and draw sympathy by highlighting that you had no criminal records (meaning you are qualified to not be extrajudicially killed), and the NHRC will take suo moto cognisance (imagine!) and slap notices on the state police.
For that, your killers deserve the highest honours. You had it coming the moment you were born in your family and later, decided to rear cattle.
If you are a well-off, upper-caste Hindu tech executive, then your extrajudicial death certainly matters. In fact, it matters so much that the press will go wild and the union home minister will ring up the state’s chief minister, who will then summon your grieving family to his court palace for a few token words of condolence. Your death is outrageous and unacceptable. But, not unacceptable enough for state of affairs to change.
Some Deaths Aren’t Grave Enough For Justice To Be Sought
If you are a cop, then your death could be a game-changer, for it is a rare death. One that is not just unacceptable, but also revolting. Be assured, it will drive the national media into a tizzy and correspondents will flock to your town, interview your family, and launch their own investigations to unearth the truth. It will also spur editorial pieces like this, which will shed light on why a cop’s death is particularly problematic.
If you are a cow, then I envy you. Your choice is clear: die like a queen, or live a miserable life in the sheds and plastic-littered roads. In life, you are no one, but in death, you are the gold standard for “administrative priority”, that too for both the chief minister and the state police. What else do you even want?
So, clearly, death is a grossly unequal affair in this part of the world. There is no level playing field in dying by the bullet, particularly if you die in what one serving IPS officer calls “the badlands of Western UP.”
I do not wish to make your journey through the meadows any more difficult. In fact, I want to make it easier by telling you the truth.
Your death was a function of much bigger forces that you could’ve never controlled. I hope you find peace in that. I also sincerely hope that in the world beyond, you find the justice that was never to be in this.
(Angshuman Choudhury is a senior researcher at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi. He tweets at @angshuman_ch. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)