BLINDING pretenders to the throne has been an age-old favourite in our part of the world. In addition to making the aspirant an example for other external adventurists and curbing in-house ambition, the injury also added to the challenge of running chaotic kingdoms that frequently experienced uprisings the monarch usually had to quell, leading the forces at the empire`s disposal personally in the battlefield.
Lest anyone assume that the despicable practice was limite d to kings and their sons or brothers, in the 16th century, Mallu Adil Shah of Bijapur was blinded on his Maratha grandmother`s orders to promote another brother in the line of succession.
In an age when physical prowess was at least as much, if not more, important than the intellectual capacity to mount a credible challenge, blinding an opponent must have appeared as sufficient a minimisation of future risk as possible, short of outright extermination. Maybe, in their sick minds, they occupied a status one rung higher than those of murderers.
In the Bhagalpur district of Bihar in 1980, police officials, with the knowledge of at least one minister and active indifference of officers as senior as DIG and IG, went about blinding as many as 87 suspects in custody over a nine-month period. They claimed this was the only way to stem the tide of criminal activities in the area. The readers shall be spared the gruesome details of how these protectors of life and honour went about their gory business. It took some brilliant and courageous investigative reporting to expose the case. Inquiries were initiated, and 15 police officials, including the superintendent of Bhagalpur Central Prison, were suspended.
The superintendent, who had forwarded the victims` petitions for relief to the chief judicial magistrate, along with his forwarding letter, was accused of failing to record and report the undertrials` condition upon receiving their custody at the jail. The paity bhais (people wearing the same belt/badge) closed ranks and claimed that enraged mobs manhandled all the victims and that they were brought to the police stations already blinded.
The Indian supreme court heard the matter for three years. It used `grandiloquent` language to express its anguish, as Arun Shourie, former editor of the Indian Express, puts it in his book The Commissioner For Lost Causes. However, the court did little by way of punishing the policemen whose suspensions were, one by one, revoked, and some were even promoted to more important positions. Those victims who survived the ordeal got Rs30,000 deposited in their bank accounts as compensation to live off its interest, a grandamount of Rs750 a month at its highest point before it was discontinued altogether in 2019.
Recently, the caretaker chief minister of Punjab approved action against 18 Directorate of Drug Control officials in the Avastin eye injection case. More than 60 people have lost their vision completely or partially because of the administration, without consent, of apparently contaminated supplies of the drug. The inspectors were responsible for ensuring safety standards.
Some people would consider it unfair to equate the Bhagalpur atrocity with Punjab officialdom`s failure. Consider that expired stents were put in people`s hearts not too long ago. Technicians and, in one case, a security guard were found to be performing surgeries. According to media reports, a doctor and a motor mechanic were running a kidney transplant racket. Inquiries and `action` will be initiated; however, `gown brothers,` too, have each other`s back. Even if the culprits are apprehended,tried, and punished, how do you bring back the dead or compensate for a limb or an organ? The days of absolute monarchs and tyrants may have been over,and the modern state guarantees rights and protections to itscitizens. However, in the absence of constant vigilance, accountability, and timely justice, tiny state officials and common criminals can turn diabolical.
One is reminded of Iqbal`s poem Ghulam Qadir Rohilla, in which he laments the brutality of the invader who gouged out Mughal emperor Shah Alam II`s eyes upon overthrowing him. The Rohilla at least had an old grouse to hide behind, as his erstwhile retainer had purportedly gotten him castrated in childhood to serve inside the royal harem. What harm did Punjab`s hapless citizens bring the health officials to deprive them of their sight? The situation is aptly summarised by IqbalAzeem:The wúter is a poet. His latest publication is a collection of satire essays titled Rindana.