India Uncut

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Courage and cowardice

In a powerful essay, Amitav Ghosh writes of a time during the 1984 riots when he joined a protest march:
Rounding a corner, we found ourselves facing a crowd that was larger and more determined-looking that any other crowds that we had encountered. On each previous occasion, we had prevailed by marching at the thugs and engaging them directly, in dialogues that turned quickly into extended shouting matches. In every instance, we had succeeded in facing them down. But this particular mob was intent on confrontation. As its members advanced on us, brandishing knives and steel rods, we stopped. Our voices grew louder as they came towards us; a kind of rapture descended on us, exhilaration in anticipation of a climax. We braced for the attack, leaning forward as though into a wind.

And then something happened that I have never completely understood. Nothing was said; there was no signal, nor was there any break in the rhythm of our chanting. But suddenly all women in our group - and the women made up more than half of the group's numbers - stepped out and surrounded the men; their saris and kameezes became thin, fluttering barrier, a wall around us. They turned to face the approaching men, challenging them, daring them to attack.

The thugs took a few more steps toward us and then faltered, confused. A moment later, they were gone.
Read the full essay, it is deeply moving. Note that the cowards, the men with knives and rods and blood on their hands, were never punished.

(Link via email from Arzan Sam Wadia, who writes about it here, and also discussed at Sepia Mutiny.)

Update: Anand informs me that this essay is collected in Ghosh's book of essays, "Imam and the Indian." Should have mentioned this earlier.
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