Sunday, May 10, 2015

I hear those voices that will not be drowned

Peter Grimes sings of how “I hear those voices that will not be drowned” in the second act of Britten's eponymous opera. One voice that sings out against the tide while refusing to be drowned is worth one million parroting received wisdom on social media. Many lone voices have been featured over the years On An Overgrown Path, and today's article posthumously celebrates a very special voice. Temples, snake charmers, cows and call centres feature in the stereotypical Western image of India. But the reality is very different: India's economy is the seventh largest in the world measured by nominal GDP and the third-largest measured by purchasing power parity. A forecast growth of 7.2% in 2015 puts China in the economic shade, and on current trends the Indian economy will be larger than that of Japan and Germany combined by the end of the decade. This economic powerhouse has created a commercially and culturally vibrant nation, but one that is certainly not without its problems. Human rights violations - particularly involving women and children - remain rife, and corruption is endemic at all levels.

The recent conviction of Bollywood star Salman Khan for culpable homicide - see photo above - in a legal process that dragged out over thirteen years was reported in the Western media. But the 'here today gone tomorrow' flurry of social media activity around the trial left a lot unsaid. So I invited Avradeep Pal to contribute a guest post on the subject. Avradeep, who is an accomplished sarod player, is a post-graduate student at Cambridge University where he is president of the Cambridge University Indian Classical Arts Society (CUICAS), and he has been involved with the anti-corruption movement in India. Here is Avradeep's tribute to a voice that would not be drowned:
All men are equal, but some men are more equal than others! You will be mistaken to read the above as an Orwellian commandment. It’s rather an inference drawn from a series of real life events which has unfolded under the glare and extensive coverage of world media. A sturdy, young, handsome, innocent man starts being harassed by his peers is arrested by the police, loses his job, is abandoned by his own family and goes in hiding. A year later he re-appears begging in the streets, suffering from starvation and acute tuberculosis, and subsequently expires in a condition which has been best described as ‘a pile of bones weighing 30kgs’. His only ‘crime’ was that he obdurately stuck to his statement as a witness against a speeding drunk driver who ran over four people sleeping on the pavement - killing one and severely injuring three others.

Support has been pouring in for the drunk driver from the moment he was given a five year prison sentence, following a quick trial lasting only thirteen years. ‘Dogs who sleep on streets, deserve to die like street dogs’, said one. Another noted personality tried to use the case to start a debate on whether the government should have taken steps to provide homes for the poor, while insinuating that because of the government's inaction the drunk driver should not be held guilty. While the former suggestion is well intended, it is worth reminding readers that the government’s commitment to fight poverty is unquestionable. In a bid to reduce poverty, the poverty level for households was redefined as any income of approximately 30 pence per day! One also wonders why such an important question about providing homes has not featured in mainstream media; especially when it is common knowledge that a few hundred million in the country still live below the redefined poverty line and a few thousand babies are born like ‘street dogs’ every day.

Our drunk driver is no ordinary man. It took him only a few hours to hire some of the most expensive lawyers in the country to ensure that he didn’t spend a single minute in jail. Interestingly, moments after the sentence was pronounced, lawyers revealed that the convicted driver has a heart ailment, therefore arguing for a lesser sentence. The country seems to suffer from an epidemic of heart ailments which strike the guilty the moment they are pronounced so, and this epidemic seems especially prevalent among the economically and politically well off. Nevertheless, 48 hours on, the prison sentence has been suspended by a higher court, and there isn’t any report of the drunk driver currently undergoing heart treatments. This convicted drunk driver is indeed no ordinary man. He has been voted as one the best looking men in the world, has been declared by some as the sexiest man alive, has his lifelike wax statute installed at London's Madame Tussauds Museum, and has played ‘hero’ in several motion pictures. He is also known for establishing a merchandise brand, the generated profit of which goes towards humanitarian philanthropic activities. Apart from humans, his heart goes out for animals as well, with endangered species of blackbucks being very dear to him.

There has been global coverage of the court case. But the world media has hardly ever uttered the name of the hit-and-run victim. Thirteen years on, the victim's family has not yet received the promised financial compensation. The world seems to have forgotten that if the justice is ever done, it will be due to the unsung selfless sacrifice and steadfast honesty under extreme personal distress of a sturdy, young, handsome, innocent man. If there is a hero to be celebrated, it’s not the one who dances bare chested on camera. It is the one, who in real life risked his all to stand by the truth, ultimately to be reduced to ‘a pile of bones weighing 30Kgs’. He also happened to be the personal bodyguard of our ‘heroic’ drunk driver.

Constable Ravindra Patil – you are an inspiration to millions in the world who still believe in honesty, equality and justice for all. You deserve immense respect, true fame and glory. Hence, yours is the only name I will care to mention in this article. I deeply admire you. I salute you!

Constable Ravindra Patil - seen in the photo above - died of tuberculosis on October 4, 2007. After his death, there was nobody to take back his body. The friend who had admitted him to the hospital was so scared that he didn’t even inform his family. Photo of Ravindra Patil via SaddaHaq, and of Salman Khan via 103FM. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).Also on Facebook and Twitter.

1 comment:

Philip Amos said...

Thank you, Bob, thanks that come from my heart. 'Hero' and 'heroic' are among the most misued -- 'abused' is a better word for it -- words today, which puts them at or near the top of a long list, perhaps No. 1, with 'genius' No. 2. I recall a news item in which a man was called a 'hero' because he saw a house on fire and called the emergency services number -- that was it.

You have revealed a true hero, a man I must think is possessed by nature of Kant's Categorical Imperative, and is thus incapable of not doing the right thing. He deserves all you say he does, though I must think that he will get it only through those of us who read your blog or whatever sources may have told his story -- if there are any. I salute him, and I am now going to light a candle in his memory and as small tribute. I shall also pass on his story as broadly as I can via the many social/economic/political action organizations I belong to. If I can get the necessary details, I may via one -- Care2 -- be able to start a movement to secure compensation for his family. I'll try.