("I asked for water; not caste")
A mosaic in the backyard of Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. Is this the same Gujarat?
[Sanjiv and Shweta Bhatt are caring hosts to their guests. The large and yet simple Bhatt residence oozes warmth from all corners. This home, that has nurtured this brave family to do what is right before might, leads me to understand them a little better. Over a cup of appropriately-spiced masala chai, I relax in their leafy terrace. Shweta Bhatt narrates to me her feelings and thoughts about the Gujarat that was once safe, her brave husband, and the sea of humanity that keeps her family afloat in these rough times. On the other hand, the suspended IPS officer who is in no hurry to get back to his office, always has a fixed answer with a smile: “Life is good.” The answer and the smile: neither of them are false. Here are Shweta's words, as she urges me to “tell the world the truth about Narendra Modi...”]
I have always been a housewife; I am a housewife still, and am happy to be one. Sanjiv and I both love our families a lot, and our family has always stood by us. We had a love marriage. We were preparing for the UPSC exams, but I did not go for the interview because we were in a steady relationship by then – why waste a seat when I wouldn't be in the Services? When Sanjiv had filled his form, he wrote “IPS”, “IPS”, “IPS” for the three options of choice of the Service. He was always in love with the force; he was in love with the uniform. So when he saw what had transpired in 2002, he was shocked. But more than anything else, he felt sorry for the force. The way the policemen had barged into our house showed us how they stripped away dignity and discipline from the uniform.
There is something special about the police uniform, or any other uniform for that manner. A man who wears even the driver's uniform transforms his behaviour. The uniform commands some respect. Similarly, any police officer would stand up to greet the lady-wife, even if she is the wife of one's junior officer.
But none of that respect for the uniform or the senior officer or for the lady-wife was to be seen, when 35 policemen barged into our house, without any prior intimation or without any search warrant. We realised that this was dictated and threatened to them, on the lines of “Go and abuse your senior officer.”
Sanjiv would discuss everything with me, so I knew what needed to be spoken or asked at the right time. When he decided to speak aloud, we knew that there would be repercussions. But we never dreamt that the police force could stoop to such low levels. When they came to my house, they began to dig through every item. Few of them would apologise for what they were doing, stating that they were under compulsion to conduct such a behaviour. I said nothing to them, because I knew that this was Modi's ways of harassing us, to break our morale. I never resisted what they were doing either. I told filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, “I thought it was only in Hindi films that cops barge into people's homes and throw up clothes and everything around in their search operations. But we saw this happening with our own eyes, in our own home, by the same police force that Sanjiv loves.” मुझे अब तो इस फोर्स पर घिन आती है (I look down at the Force with disdain now).
The IPS Officers' Association was lying defunct for several years, but then I heard that they had a meeting after many years, when Sanjiv was arrested. Some of Sanjiv's peers would call me up on my landline phone and ask me in whispers, “Can we do anything for you Shweta?” I would reply to them, “At least begin to talk a bit louder so that I can hear you clearly!” This is the level of fear among the officers.
Only one who lives in Gujarat can correctly define the word 'subversion'. Men from the IB (Intelligence Bureau) had begun to jot the phone numbers and car numbers of every visitor discreetly. I finally asked one of those constables to stop behaving like a thief in copying the car number plate. Now, they just thoroughly question the visitor.
We learnt that Special Public Prosecutor SV Raju was being paid Rs 1.5 crore to 'manage' the court proceedings, and on Fridays, he was being paid some more so that the remand would drag onto the next week. But it was heartening to see the media come to the courts daily, to watch the proceedings. When he was finally granted bail, everyone cheered aloud 'Singham'! This sudden fame and hero worship has been overwhelming, yet assuring us about what Sanjiv had done.
I am sure many more policemen would have much to talk about to, but not all have the courage to do so. They are bound by other restrictions. But then again, we have been fortunate to have found the support and strength from so many different directions. So far it has been believed that anyone who speaks against Modi is the enemy. But something changed this year. On Dusshera day, at several places across Gujarat, Modi was portrayed as the Raavan and Sanjiv was portrayed as Singham!
The protection that the Home Ministry is offering us is so weak – just three men, and only one of them with a gun. We do fear for our lives. One of the constables comes with us wherever we go. But now Sanjiv has to travel to Jamnagar for his cases, or even Delhi. He is also being invited at various fora across the country, wanting him to speak to eager audiences. He cannot say refuse such invitations because now it is our time to stand with them. He is the hope for many people today. They stood by us in what was our dark hour when Sanjiv was arrested. But all this travel means he is being watched all the time. The phones are tapped; his official phone number has been cancelled. These are Modi's ways of harassing anyone standing against him.
Sanjiv kept on insisting the SIT that he should be summoned to give his statements. But they ignored him because they knew that मोदी का पोल खुल जाएगा (Modi's secrets would be out). Why is Modi afraid of Sanjiv? Because Sanjiv has everything to say which Modi wants to hide.
What Modi did in 2002 was nothing short of a systematic and well-funded killing of Gujarat, which was once a truly prosperous and harmonious state. We never had a communal flare-up before Modi reign. BJP has changed that picture of Gujarat. There are flyovers being made in Kanpur; there are flyovers being made in Allahabad; there are flyovers being made in Ahmedabad. So why are just flyovers being deemed as development? There is no development in Gujarat; on the contrary, we are moving backwards.
Many have asked skeptically, why is Sanjiv speaking out now? Has he done it for Congress? My answer is this: there is something beyond politics, and that is one's one soul and conscience. Sanjiv is doing what he is doing for himself, and in doing so, to prevent any such communal flare-up ever again.
For all those 18 days when Sanjiv was in jail, my 75-year-old father, despite his ailing knees, would arrive here at 9 am each day, to be with me. People whom I had never known would just come home – they were people from different human rights groups, students from colleges, and others who had no group or organisation as their affiliation. I was buying up to 45 packets of milk everyday, for a constant supply of tea or nimboo paani to the visitors. That strength they offered was unbelievable. They knew that Sanjiv was doing the right thing.
Many many many people stood with candles every evening when Sanjiv was in jail. They would come and say, “We are with you.” We were at the mall the other day, and at least 12 people walked to our table and said to Sanjiv, “You are a brave man. We are proud of what you have done. We are with you.” Saniv and I wonder what it is that they mean by “We are with you.” We wonder if the people uttering those words would also know what they mean by that sentence. But we are happy to hear those words and are assured to know that people can see between right and wrong.
Be it on the streets....
Or on the bus....
On a residential building's wall...
Or on the concrete fence of a beautiful garden....
Just remember: Modi Bhai Is Watching You. It isn't anymore surprising that 'Modi' rhymes with 'moti', which, in Gujarati means 'big'. Literally, Big Brother is Watching You, in Gujarat!
When Modi Bhai isn't watching you directly, he urges you to look up at the photograph of Hrithik Roshan, which in reality is the compulsion for you to check out the gymnasium that has been sponsored by the Hindu Saamrajya Sena (Hindu Imperial Army).
Note: all of the photographs above have been taken within a stretch of 300 metres. On another day in South Gujarat, when I had to change 8 buses, I greeted Modi on each bus as he waved to me from the bus's side panels.