Where the head is held high!

By Paramanand Soobarah

I doubt if youngsters of today know about Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of William Shakespeare. In my own days at Royal College Curepipe, way back in the forties, he was well known because of his poem The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’: few boys of my class are likely to forget its famous lines, starting with “Come live with me and be my Love”. Some boys who gave the impression of knowing all the secrets that young people should not know would gently whisper in your ear that it was Marlowe who wrote most of Shakespeare’s plays. Nothing of this has ever been substantiated, but Marlowe does remain a great playwright.

One of his plays was about the assassination of Protestants in France on St Barthelemy’s Day in 1572 that I referred to a recent letter to MT. Another play was about the fate of the English King Edward II, whose dissolute life led to his wife (Queen Isabella) to depose him and plot his murder. This was done in a most atrocious matter: he had been a homosexual; he was murdered by forcing a red-hot iron bar up his back passage.

The “softness” of Indians

Ever since reading this story and that of the St Barthelemy massacre, and others recounting the persecution of persons not conforming with state religions (particularly in Spain but also in England), as well as the atrocities dealt to the Aztecs of Mexico and the Incas of Peru by the Spaniards, I had come to the conclusion that Europeans were a specially cruel race, devoid of all humanity — nothing like us, soft Indians. I was too young to fully comprehend what was going on in India during the atrocities that accompanied Partition in 1947. It was the massacre of the Sikhs in 1984, urged on by well-known politicians of the ruling party, in retaliation for the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, that forced me to change my views about us Indians. Ten thousand innocent men, women and children were brutally hacked to pieces. That was the end of my illusions about the “softness” of Indians.

More recently, in 2002, about seventy Hindus including women and children returning from a pilgrimage to Ayodhya were burnt alive in a train in the town of Godhra in the State of Gujarat. Being on fire alive in a tightly closed space, and seeing your children in same condition and not being able to do anything about it, is a horrible way to die. In the retaliatory massacres that took place more than one thousand Muslims, including women and children, lost their lives. Indian justice has found some people in authority complicit in the retaliatory action and has handed down tough sentences; the judiciary is yet to act on the 1984 massacres. As the number of victims in that case was ten times higher, the justice will probably take ten times longer. Being as it may, farewell for ever to Indian softness. And the series is continuing in Assam. But far worse had yet to happen.

This last week, half a dozen drunken bandits, going on a rampage in a stolen bus, lured a young couple, who were standing on a bus-stop, into their bus, pretending that it was going their way. This was in Delhi, the capital of India. Once inside the bus, the female, a young 23-year old medical student, was molested; when her male companion intervened, he was badly beaten up with an iron bar. The girl also resisted; her resistance apparently “displeased” her attackers: after beating her and raping her, they thrust the iron bar inside her. It is impossible just to think of the terrible pain this must have caused. They rammed the bar again and again in the most brutal act of “sodomy” in human history piercing her intestine in several places. Then they threw the two almost lifeless victims out of the bus and disappeared in the darkness.

Justice and punishment

There is uproar in India seeking revenge, justice and punishment. Some seek life imprisonment, some castration, others the death penalty. Some placards seen on TV require that the criminals be treated in the same way that they treated the girl – with the iron bar up their backsides. Will it end the rape epidemic in India if that punishment were done to the criminals in the same manner in which it was meted out to His Majesty King Edward the Second, i.e. with the iron bar made red-hot prior to insertion? And what about Mauritius? I have stopped reading the national daily press because the front pages are always full of criminal events.

This is a case in progress. The police have been very prompt. All six accused have been arrested; one of them comes from my own beloved Bihar. The girl is in hospital, hanging between life and death, with practically all the intestines removed, and in danger of infection. If she survives she will need a total intestinal transplant.

The only way to think about these events is to stop all thought and go into meditation. God, will India ever awake into a heaven where “the head is held high”? Or will that for ever remain a poet’s vain dream?


Paramanand Soobarah

P.S. – Since the above was written (late Friday 21 Dec) much water has flowed past Delhi in the Yamuna. The Girl’s case is turning out to be so difficult that the Government has flown her out to Singapore for further treatment, including intestinal replacement. The protests in Delhi became absolutely huge and spread throughout the country. The protesters seem to demand a total change of attitude towards women, which so far has mainly been totally chauvinistic and absolutely condescending.

Convictions of rape and other forms of harassment do not seem to stop males from getting elected to Parliament. Recently some political leaders have even suggested that women who get harassed are themselves to blame because of the way they dress and of their behaviour in general. The protesters will have none of this; they demand respect for women as equal citizens and want the Police and the Judiciary to take women’s complaints seriously, which has not been the case so far – no, not by a long chalk. The Government has appointed a committee to look into the gangrape case and a few other matters but does not seem willing to move on to the broader issue of absence of real concern over the safety and dignity of women. It is highly doubtful that this lukewarm measure will satisfy the protesters. Watch this space.

* Published in print edition on 28 December 2012

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