Set in the tense post-riots years in Gujarat, The Youngest Suspect is the story of Adil and, yes, of Gujarat. Adil and seventeen other young men are arrested in Ahmedabad, and charged with terrorism. There are written confessions on record. Enter Deepa, linguist and subtle thrill-seeker. She is enlisted by Adil’s lawyer, the fiery Ramya, to discredit those confessions. Peggy Mohan brings to bear her rigorous research into 'POTA trials' - of those charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act – to tell a story that is, simultaneously, tragic and redemptive.
A courtroom thriller and a love story, and a vivid portrait of family and friends ranged against the darkness that is clouding their once-ordinary lives, The Youngest Suspect lays bare the underbelly of a world where ‘home’ has very little meaning.
Here's an excerpt from the book:
A doorbell rang. Adil opened his eyes. He was in a dimly lit room. There was a soft pillow under
his head, and a thick cotton quilt around him. He reached out a hand and touched the cold floor.
A door opened. Two sets of footsteps came back into the room. Adil closed his eyes, pretended to be asleep.
'Your son?' he heard an older man say.
'No, sir. We have no children as yet.'
The policeman who had taken them both home. Whose wife had fed them dinner, and then taken Faiza with her to sleep in the bedroom. Leaving him and the policeman to sleep in the living room.
The clink of ice cubes against a glass. The scrape of a chair against the floor.
'I found him while patrolling Jamalpur tonight. And his sister. They were waiting for their mother all alone in their house. Their neighbours were gone.' A pause. 'They hadn't had anything to eat since the night before. And they seemed to be from a good family. Educated people.'
'Cheers.' The older man's voice.
A long silence. Adil felt himself drifting off to sleep.
'Vijay . . .'
Adil was suddenly alert.
'He called us for a meeting that night.'
'I heard about it, sir. We get to know.'
'Then you know that they planned the bandh. To allow the riots to happen.'
'We knew we were not supposed to interfere.' A pause. 'The first morning they had some disturbances. In a few localities. Small things. We knew it was a test, to see if we would interfere or not. When they saw that the police were not going to make trouble for them, they started the real riots. That afternoon.'
Another pause. 'There was no need to bring those bodies to Ahmedabad, Vijay. They should have kept this thing in Godhra. Now they will not be able to control it.'
A long pause. 'I can't understand the need for riots at all!' Vijay growled.
'The riots? You know why riots like this happen.' A pause. 'Yes, here.'
A chair scraping the floor. Ice cubes tumbling into a glass.
'Bas, Vijay. Thanks. We all know it has nothing to do with little people and centuries of dushmani. No. It is much simpler. Much more cold-blooded than that.'
'I know it is not about little people. What is it this time?'
'They knew they were going to lose the elections. Already they had lost the panchayat elections. And two by-elections. Nothing was working. There was only one thing left to try.'
'The communal card . . .'
'And then this thing happened. In Godhra. He didn't even have to make it up.'
A pause. 'Be careful, sir. If they think you are going to talk . . .'
'What will they do?'
'They will kill you. I know their mood. They are capable of it.'
'I haven't said anything. Yet.' A pause. 'And I am not some small Muslim in the street who they can snuff out and no one will say a word. They will think a thousand times before they do anything to me.' Another pause. 'And what about you?
You don't have a reason to worry? It doesn't show on your face that you think you are better than them?'
A long silence.
'I don't think . . .' Vijay began.
'Come on, Vijay. Cut out the useless talk. These men are insecure little people. And one thing that they cannot stand is someone who reminds them how small they are. Someone with confidence.' He laughed. 'You know what they call you people? Pseudo-secularists. Not good Hindus. Always making friends with the minorities. You think they give a damn about whether you do pujas in the house? No! What makes them crazy is that you don't need them. The way they needeach other.'
A sudden scurry of little feet on the stone floor. Little claws skritch-scratching as they went. Adil opened his eyes and found himself face-to-face with a medium-sized mouse that had paused to consider him.
A burst of laughter and the mouse took off and hid itself behind a cabinet. Adil shut his eyes again.
'If you could only see your face now, Vijay! I can just read your mind!' A pause. 'You know, if there is one thing these little people hate more than Muslims, it is secularists. At the end of the day, they can do business with Muslims. With the leaders. All religious fundamentalists understand each other, want the same things.' A pause. The sound of ice cubes swirling in a glass. 'But it is people like you that they are most suspicious of. "Secularists should be deported to Pakistan."'
'I have heard that. My family has enough of those types.'
'And they all feel this way about you,' the older man ended the sentence for him. 'They will support you, when all the chips are down, because you are family. But they don't feel comfortable with you.'
'Because you are different. They see your stance in this
thing as contempt for their values. Contempt for who they
'"We don't agree with you on your choice of friends." That is how they put it. As if it was only something to do with personal taste . . .'
'Maybe it is.'
'No. This kind of brutality has nothing to do with "taste". I went out today and saw what they had done, after they let me out of the office. Bodies all over the streets. Stabbed. Burnt.' Another pause. 'And there is nothing spontaneous about this. They were going around with lists. They knew. They knew which flat had Muslims living in it! Where did these lists come from? They were just waiting for a chance to do this!'
'You misunderstand me, Vijay . . .'
'And they knew which shops belonged to Muslims. Even I don't know this! How can you tell? The shops all have Hindu names. Or English names. But they knew!'
'Vijay. What I meant is that it is a sort of personal taste. You are not just some hero trying to be good. That is not your main motivation. No, hear me out . . .' A pause.
'Sometimes I think you secularists are like a special sort of Brahmin. You don't have to go out there and get your hands dirty, and slog for your daily bread. You can sit back and be abstract. Take a Devil's Advocate view of things. And like a Brahmin, it comes easily to you to look down on the little people. You worry about the minorities, yes. But what you are seeing is not people. It is causes. And between you and the people you want to help is the great big mass in the middle. Not People Like Us.'
'Be careful using abstract words like that, sir. It is abstract thinking that allows a man to attack a perfect stranger, just because he is told the man is a Muslim. Or a Christian.' 'There is enough violence among those people you call non-abstract thinkers.'
'Yes, but they are small fights. Face to face. And mostly between equals. But when the thinking becomes abstract, you do not have a fight. Then you have a riot.' A pause. 'They are using the word riot. I would have used another word.'
'Pogrom. A word for violence directed against a minority group. And supported by the State.' A long pause.
'How are you different, sir? Aren't you a special sort of Brahmin too?'
'Me? No, Vijay. Not a special sort of Brahmin. I am just an ordinary Brahmin. A Party man, concerned about what this is doing to the Party. And concerned about the little people there in the middle who are lapping this up now, and who are beginning to believe that this is their fight. They believe that they are actually the ones out there doing these things, when, in truth, they are at home quaking with fear, and worried about damage to their property.' A pause. 'My constituents. I am worried about what this is doing to the people who voted for me.'
'An ordinary Brahmin with a conscience . . .'
'Yes, a conscience.' The sound of a glass put down on a wooden table. 'Chal, Vijay. Avje. I'll make a move.'
Footsteps receding. A door closed.
An ordinary Brahmin with a conscience . . .
The words rang in Adil's mind as he drifted back to sleep.
Book: The Youngest Suspect; By: Peggy Mohan; Cover Price: Rs. 299; Format: B/Paperback; Extent: 248 pages; Category: Fiction