It will be a decade tomorrow since whistleblower Satyendra Dubey was killed. A tribute.
You would have been scared. You would have been scared, when you left your home in the village of Shahpur at 15 in search of a good education and a better life. You would have been scared that first day at the IIT, wondering how you, a village boy from Bihar, would cope with all the fancy boys and girls from the metros. You would have been scared when the road mafia issued you death threats, or when the fact that you wrote to the Prime Minister was revealed despite your plea to keep your identity under wraps…The point is not that you were scared. Courage is not about being fearless. Courage is about doing the right thing despite being scared. And that is something you did with aplomb right through your short life.
You could have quit. You could have quit Bihar for an upscale metro. You could have quit India for a comfortable life in the West. Or, like so many of us, you could have ignored your conscience and justified your silence about the daylight robbery you were encountering by telling yourself what on earth you, an aam aadmi, could do about it. Maybe a part of you wanted to quit. Maybe someone close to you, a family member perhaps, asked you to quit, if not for yourself then for your family’s sake. Maybe there was a moment when quitting sounded like the smart thing to do. But you did not quit. You did not shut up. Instead, you spoke out in a voice that grew into a resounding roar that no one could ignore.
The brave are destined to stand alone. Courage is a quality we are happy to admire in others while wishing we don’t have to exhibit it ourselves. We shower the brave with plaudits after they win or look for appropriate ways to commemorate them once they fall. But not too many of us queue up to join the fight while it is being fought. As an aam aadmi daring to take on corruption in the heartland, you were especially alone. The aam aadmi wasn’t fashionable then. He didn’t count for too many eyeballs on TV screens. No political party bore his name. He was marginal, forgotten. His life was an eternal past continuous of accepting what those in power dished out. His silent acquiescence in their skulduggery was something the powerful took for granted.
You wouldn’t accept such a life. You wouldn’t close your eyes or shut your ears. You wouldn’t appease your demons when they came in the dead of the night with the refrain of what can I do. You, who spent your entire life doing the right thing, couldn’t accept anything less from others. You wanted the contractors to put the right material on the roads. You wanted your superiors to make sure the right norms were followed. When all of them wouldn’t do right, you asked the Prime Minister to step in and right everything. You weren’t going to stop, until all that was wrong had been set right. That was why they had to stop you.
We couldn’t protect you from them. Nothing we can do now will bring you back. But there are ways to make a death count; to ensure a life wasn’t lived in vain. Whistle-blowers are now better protected under the law. Your home State of Bihar has better roads and law and order. A political party bearing the aam aadmi’s name stands poised to give the high and the mighty a run for their money in the Delhi polls. But it is too little. There is so much more wrong waiting to be set right.
You showed us the way by doing the right thing. In an age where someone can become a hero merely by knowing how to swing a cricket bat or emote on screen, you were the real deal; a bona fide hero. You remain our inspiration. The generations to come will feel your influence.
(Vikram Kapur is a writer and associate professor at Shiv Nadar University. Website: http://www.vikramkapur.com)
This article appeared in the Hindu on 26/11/2013.