Wednesday, 1 October, 2008

How many more Rajans?

“The world of stories is going away. In every piece of knowledge there is the echo of truth. The hunters are continuing the hunt. The victims are begging for life with pressed hands. I don’t know whether I will be strong enough to describe the torture that my son underwent at the Kakkayam camp. Like the torture at Hitler’s concentration camps, what went on at Kakkayam was an experiment, undemocratic and heartless, to find out whether the intellectual honesty and sense of justice of a generation could be destroyed by the power of an iron fist. How much Mr. Jayaram Padikkal succeeded in this experiment is something for history to evaluate.”
- Prof. Eachara Warrier, Memories of a Father

The importance of literature in keeping alive the crimes of the past for present generations to remember and to watch out for, so that they don’t fall in the same trap cannot be more underscored than by the fact that the tradition of storytelling has almost died out. Today the oral tradition that once kept alive our ancient epics, folk tales, ballads, songs, etc is a casualty of modernity. My father did some anti-emergency work and i believe even hid at the AKG Centre, but this was something I overheard (him telling this over the phone to a friend). In an earlier age, children had the privilege of growing up hearing the exploits of their parents, but not anymore.

Works of literature have today kept fresh in our memories the brutalities in France, England, Russia, etc which brought about revolutions and social reform. It has memorialized wars and genocide and attended to human suffering in a way that laws and media were helpless in stopping in the first place or alleviating in hindsight or keeping fresh in public memory . I have read articles on the emergency period, some defending it like Khushwant Singh and most criticizing it like Kuldip Nayyar. I have read the best novel in English on the Emergency, The Fine Balance but nothing struck so deep a chord in me and caused so much pain and empathy for human suffering as Memories of a Father by Prof.Eachara Warrier.
Prof. Warrier writes in the book, “The most inhuman aspect of the Emergency was that the two major human rights, the right to life and the right to know, were totally denied. The tragedy of my son was typical of this denial of rights.”

The book, I am referring to is related to the Emergency, a case called the Rajan Case. Rajan, was an REC Calicut, final year student, who was arrested by the police on March 1, 1976 and was never seen again. His father, Prof. Eachara Warrier, a freedom fighter and communist movement sympathizer began an unending struggle to find the truth about his son. He penned this autobiographical account of his struggle to find his son, to arouse public consciousness to the evils of emergency and how the injustices of then haven’t died out but are ever present in Indian society, justice and legal system. What sets this book apart from most other accounts of the Emergency is the deeply personal journey on a path crowded with thorns, which a father undertakes for justice to his son, and the resolve that fills him in the process. A resolve to ensure that no son, father, mother, wife or husband will have to suffer the same fate, that Prof.Warrier was strong enough to fight against.

The Rajan case was fought out in courts and even lead to K.Karunakaran, the most powerful Kerala politician of the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s having to resign his Chief Ministership in 1978. But the legal system failed Eachara Warrier in that they let off all the accused by just imposing a fine on them, without imprisoning them and putting Prof. Warrier through the torture of fighting cases at all levels and questioning his character, motivations and his honesty. The media in some instances, like the Malayala Manorama newspaper and others wrecked Prof. Warrier’s efforts by publishing reports that tarnished Rajan and Prof. Warrier’s reputation.

I believe this book opened the people of Kerala to the trauma Prof. Warrier had to undergo on account of the Rajan case. The book was made into an award winning movie, Piravi, which won the Golden Camera at Cannes in 1987. Prof.Warrier along with Justice Krishna Iyer came to be considered by Malayalis as a champion of human rights and civil liberties. Today, Prof. Warrier is no more. His legacy will remain the fight he put up for his son, Rajan as a result of which the police force and the executive in Kerala thought twice before resorting to extra-judicial methods of interrogation and arrest. What survives though, for us of this generation, from that tired old man, is a memorable work of non-fiction which needs to be read and passed on to every fellow Indian we see on the street.

To sum up the relevance of Prof. Warrier’s crusade, I use this extract from his book, “The Emergency was lifted over 25 years ago. The general public has forgotten those days almost completely. This is dangerous. The dark powers of the Emergency are still there. Like venomous snakes they are hiding in their holes. Given a chance, they will raise their heads again, so people need to be constantly alert. This life trained me to go down deep into the whirlpools of human existence. I saw cruelty, and the helplessness of losing everything. I saw the high peaks of love, too. As if after a short dream, Rajan’s disappearance awoke me from the natural indolence of a Hindi teacher. It was an odyssey from then on, begging for the alms of human awareness and compassion."

P.S - Yet another writeup for course work. Was done in a hurry. But I thought it deserved a place here.