A requiem for the unknown Indian

History is not made on page one or page three of the newspaper, but by countless, unnamed Indians who are easily forgotten. Here's a timely reminder.

hidden July 03, 2011 10:18:53 IST
A requiem for the unknown Indian

By Shiv Vishvanathan

Journalists like succulent stories about famous characters, with a touch of eccentricity and a whiff of scandal. For them history is made on page one or page three. Anonymity is something they despise because it invokes history-less non-events. Yet a lot of the 20th century and most of the 21st century is the history of the nameless, of I, nobody.

I, the migrant fisherman from Andhra Pradesh. I disappeared in the cyclones of Orissa. No one rescued me. I remain unknown, unlisted under the revenue, village, or census category. I who does not qualify for a National ID number under Mr. Nilekani’s project.

A requiem for the unknown Indian

I, the denotified, decriminalised tribal, the finest legacy of colonial enlightenment. I do not count but have been counted. Sebastian D'Souza/AFP Photo

I, the foetus, one of the 560,000 foetuses eliminated in a single district of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Killed not by the gun or a bomb but by the foeticide machines made in China. Experts say my numbers may soon surpass the death count of the Partition and soon equal the Holocaust. I may make the Guinness book of records – but I will never have a name.

I, the AIDS victim who will Africanise India faster than any epidemic of poverty.

I, the refugee, not of war but of development, one of the 40,000,000 displaced. Call me Narmada Koel Karo or POSCO or Bhatta Parsaul. I could be a tribal or farmer near any mine, electric plant, or highway. I harass progress and obstruct 'growth' as it cannibalises me.

I, scavenger, forager, ragpicker, hawker. I am the collective odd job woman of every city keeping the middle class alive. I am what economists dub the informal economy. I do not exist until I get arrested, raped or killed.

I, Muslim, woman. I am raped in every riot. The only history I can claim is the riot report that documents how many of us were raped, ruined, forgotten. Sadly these reports are forgotten even faster than us.

I, the denotified, decriminalised tribal, the finest legacy of colonial enlightenment. I do not count but have been counted. I number 1,200,000 in all. When policemen kill us, they call it an 'encounter.'

I, the Bhopal victim. I have survived unlike the thousands of my friends who were dumped in graves and forests. I endure my death-in-life situation waiting for justice, but justice needs a hearing aid to hear my dying lungs.

I, the farmer who once grew food but was seduced by cotton. There is a sadness to cotton and the devil they say is a bollworm. I am poverty soaked in desire. A hundred thousand of us have committed suicide while the government ponders reducing compensation to our families.

I, the villager hired by contractors at Tarapore, dying a nameless death from a living hell that you call radiation.

I, slave. I am one of the tens of thousands listed in the greatest tourist trade of all time — human trafficking. I am every girl child bought and sold for pleasure by parents and pimps alike. I am the illiterate village labourer who signs away his life and the life of his children for ten rupees of rice.

I am a chain of being, a seed destroyed, a soil mutilated, a language lost, a dream erased. A storyline without trace.

I am every language that you have forgotten, every dialect that you despise. I am voice, speech without text, without script. I am song sung but without history. I am the oral world whose songlines are in no archive.

I am nameless, numberless, faceless, wordless, voiceless. Yet I am news of yesterday, today and tomorrow. I am that report that you skim past in the morning, easily forgotten yet evoked, cited over and again as a statistic.

I sing the song of all victims and survivors alike.

Shiv Vishvanathan is a social science nomad.

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