At midnight a woman’s naked corpse was found at a crossroad. This is the crossroad where four roads converge, one from Aligarh, another Moradabad, another from Sambhal and yet another from Baghpat. Truck and car drivers, who went past, skirted the corpse when they drove past. But one hawker on a bicycle with bales of cloth, seeing the naked corpse covered it with a white sheet and informed the nearby police station. The police arrived to pick up the body. Four constables lifted the corpse on a stretcher, placed it in the van and drove to the hospital.
The van had covered only a short distance when there was a sound of wailing from the corpse.
‘Oh, I am dying, Oh, I am dying!’
‘Oh God, she is alive,’ said one constable.
‘The wretch was pretending to be dead,’ the other said.
‘Or did she rise from the dead?’ the third asked.
‘How can anyone do that? She looks like a witch to me,’ the fourth said.
The van stopped in front of the hospital, the four constables took out the stretcher. The woman was still wailing when they took her inside.
‘Damn you all, after raping me, had you killed me then I wouldn’t have seen myself die with my own eyes.’
One constable said, ‘She is really alive, quickly call the doctor and take down her statement.’ The second constable lit a bidi (type of cheap cigarette), ‘The doctor must be fast asleep. But if we don’t go and call him, this woman will certainly die.’ ‘But is she really alive?’ the constable asked.
The woman screamed, ‘YES, I am not dead yet. Although, they left no stone unturned to kill me, I am still alive. I am alive.’ The woman was quiet for a moment, then she smiled and then laughed out loud. But she could not laugh wholeheartedly.
‘Oh! She is laughing even as she is dying,’ one constable said. ‘She seems like a dangerous woman to me. We will have to call the doctor and have her examined.’
Meanwhile, the policeman who had gone returned with the doctor and when they entered, the woman was still laughing. The doctor looked carefully at the woman’s face. While laughing the woman said, ‘Don’t be surprised. You must be thinking how could a dead woman laugh?’ The doctor stretched his hand out to feel her pulse. The woman started screaming,‘You stay away from me, you don’t touch me. Someone like you, a doctor, while pretending to examine me, committed my rape!’ Then she looked at him carefully. ‘Okay, Okay, you are not the same person.’
‘But you cannot save me from death. No one can save me. Two daggers have been thrust in my body. One in my chest, and the other in a place on which men both valiant Hindus and devout Muslims, have forced themselves. Like using a public latrine; and when it was no longer capable of being used as a latrine, they thrust another dagger in it.’
While saying these words, the woman removed the white sheet from her body. The doctor who inspected her was aghast to see her mutilated body. The woman continued, ‘When those goondas (thugs) left me on the crossroads, I was probably naked. Some kind soul covered me with a white sheet thinking I was a dead body. I am wondering who he was?’ Now the doctor was carefully listening to the woman.
‘You will ask me, Doctor Sahib, why am I laughing? You will ask, ‘You have borne such heinous violence and are about to die, still you are laughing?’ Now let me tell you, come close to me, I will whisper in your ear…come… come…’
‘The truth is that, doctor Sahib, they did not rape me, and neither did they stab me. These ‘good deeds’, they performed on their own mothers and sisters. You will agree Doctor Sahib, isn’t this worth a good laugh!’
The woman started laughing uncontrollably. In a little while, she was exhausted then she started her story again. ‘For one month I have been trying to find out who I am. Am I a pious devoted Hindu or a reverent virtuous Muslim? Am I a daughter of a Brahmin or an untouchable? Am I rich or poor? Am I from Moradabad or Sambhal? Am I from Aligarh or Baghpat? My memory is wiped out. All I know is that I am a woman who has been violated. Among the violators, there were Hindus as well as Muslims; there were Brahmins as well as untouchables. For this very reason, I cannot die, because I cannot tell you whether I should be burnt or buried. On my right arm, there is a tattoo, which says Salma in Urdu. On my left, it is tattooed Sita. One of them is my name, and the other is my friend’s. Not only I, but the greatest scholars have tried to find out who I am. But to this day, no one knows, whether I am Hindu or Muslim.’ While speaking these words, the mad laughter disappeared and she began to sob.
‘But we will have to find out your name,’ the inspector said.
‘Had I only remembered that! Then no need for this fuss? I’ve asked everyone my name. But nobody tells me; everyone thinks I am mad.’
‘Listen woman, you will have to tell us your name. It is very important to know whether you are Hindu or Muslim, so that after your death, we know whether to burn you or bury you.’
‘Why? Isn’t it enough to know that I am a human being who has been treated like an animal? That I am a woman who has been treated like a bitch by all sorts of people.’
The inspector explained, ‘In a few minutes you will be dead. Then we have to do something with your corpse. Once again we will face the problem of whether we give you to the Hindu SevaSangh or to the Anjuman-e-KhuddamulMuslimeen? Life and death is a daily routine in this hospital. But the documents have to be correct so that our records are in order.’ While speaking these words, the inspector took a notebook out of his pocket and uncapped his pen. ‘So now, please apply your mind and tell us, what is your name?’
‘A human, a woman, a girl.Name of father—a human being. Name of mother—a woman.’
‘No, no, woman! You are not applying your mind.’
‘How can I apply my mind, inspector? One goonda dragged me so hard by the hair that it yanked out of its roots. I lost my power to think.’
The doctor who had been silent for a while said, ‘Try to remember something. Your home, your childhood, your father and mother, your brothers and sisters.’
‘I can only remember very, very vaguely.’
‘Shabaash, shabaash, tell me very quickly, very soon we will be able to know your identity.’
The woman looked at the ceiling of the room and fixed her glance onit. ‘Children are playing, I am also playing.’
‘What game are you playing?’
‘Blind man’s fold. ‘Oh Salma, where have you hidden?’ one friend is asking.‘Why should I tell you Sita? Look for me.’ The other friend is saying.’
‘What else can you remember?’
‘I can recall two girls playing blind man’s fold.’
‘Very good, very good, now we will get the answer to our question.Just tell us which one are you, Sita or Salma?’
‘I can’t remember. May be Sita, may be Salma, may be both.’
‘How can that be? How can you be Sita and Salma both? You will have to settle for one, Sita or Salma, Salma or Sita. Remember…remember… apply your mind…apply your mind. What more are you able to remember?’
‘I can see a beautiful temple.’
‘Oh good, so you are a Sita?’
‘Next to it, I can see a mosque, there is a bearded man reciting his namaaz.’
‘Oh! So then, you are Salma and that bearded man must be your father.’
‘But an identical man is coming out of the temple having finished his puja.’
‘So you must be Hindu, Sita, and that man must be your father.’
‘They are both moving towards me.’
‘Good, very good. So what are they saying?’
‘They are not saying anything. There is lust in their eyes, they are moving towards me.’
‘So then, they cannot be your father.’
The woman started screaming as if she had a fit.‘Baba, baba, don’t touch me. I am like your daughter. Don’t torture me, don’t do this to me. Aren’t you ashamed? Your daughter is my playmate. No…No…’
These questions and answers went on and on all night. From the masjid, came the sound of the namaaz. From the mandir, the bells started ringing. The inspector and the doctor were looking at their wristwatches. ‘Inspector Sahib, this is a very strange case, I think we should consult the Imam of the Masjid and the Pundit of the Mandir.’
‘You are right, doctor. We should consult them.’
‘After her death, when the Hindus insist on burning her and the Muslims insist on burying her, what will we do? It will only result in a communal incident.’
A policeman meanwhile returned with the Imam and the Pundit. The woman said, ‘When the inspector and the doctor could not find out who I am, then why are you people wasting your time? The Pundit spoke, ‘We are making this effort so that if you are a Hindu, we can perform your last rites and send your soul to Bhagwan.’
‘And if I am not Hindu, then?’‘Then you are not our responsibility.’
The Imam spoke, ‘If you are a Muslim, your last rites will be performed by your brothers in Islam.’
‘But if I don’t prove to be a Muslim, only a human...who will perform my last rites?’
Both the Imam and Pundit spoke at once, ‘You will have to be something or the other. Whoever comes to the world, he or she has some religion, you must also have had your own religion?’
‘Is humanism not a religion?’
‘Humanism?’ the Imam and Pundit spoke at once
Punditji asked, ‘What religion is that?’
Imam said, ‘We have never heard of the name of this religion.’
‘Either you are a Hindu or a Muslim or a Sikh or a Christian.Or it seems you are an atheist?’
The woman again screamed, ‘No, no, I am not atheist, I know the supreme power, higher than all of us from where we have come and where we will all meet at the end. We are closer to him than our jugular vein.’
‘Oh, she explained to us the philosophy of the Upanishads, she must be a Hindu.’
‘No, this is the translation of the Quran, she must be a Muslim.’
‘Then what’s the problem? Let me die.’
The Imam and Pundit spoke at once, ‘How can we let you die before we decide whether you are a Hindu or a Muslim?’
The woman started groaning,‘My torturers, believe what you want, I am a human being. Let me die. At first you don’t let me live and now you don’t let me die. This is no justice.’
Pundit said, ‘I am sorry inspector. I cannot say if this woman is a Hindu or not.’
Imam said, ‘I am sorry inspector. Even I cannot say if this woman is a Muslim or not.’
Having said that both went out of the hospital leaving the inspector and the doctor in a state of confusion.
‘Doctor sahib, this is a strange case. If we don’t have her name and her address, we will be in a greater mess.’
‘Inspector, we should call that foreigndoctor, Dr. Johnson who is an expert in psychotherapy. He has an interesting technique of memory recall by using some instruments and some machines.’ A police constable brought Dr. Johnson who asked, ‘Well what is the matter?’
‘Doctor, she has lost her memory. She doesn’t know what religion she belongs to and before she dies it is extremely important to know whether she is Hindu or Muslim.’
Dr. Johnson instead of examining the girl said, ‘I am a great admirer of India’s different religions. The swamis, the gurus and the mahatmas of your country are doing great business in my country. Islam is spreading among the African Americans. Have you heard the name of Mohammad Ali Clay?’
‘We have heard the name of Mohammad Ali Clay and Hare Rama Hare Krishna. But this woman is dying and it is important we find out if she is a Hindu or a Muslim. In which list should we write down her name? This is a big problem.’
Dr. Johnson took out from his bag some coloured slides. ‘Don’t worry, we will find out about her in a moment.’ Then he took out a small projector, which he placed on a small table by his side, and focused it on the wall across from him.
‘Well, we are going to show you some colours. Let us see which colour reminds you of what. First of all, see the green colour lights? Do you recall anything?’
The woman spoke trying to remember, ‘Yes, I remember a green verdant field. Some of us girls are coming through them with packages of food for our menfolk.’‘What else does green colour remind you of? Try to recall… try to recall.’
‘Yes, yes, green bangles. Girls are wearing green bangles. And the bangle-seller is helping the girls to put them on.’
‘What is her religion?
‘You ask her.’
‘But we are asking you…’
‘The bangle-seller has no religion. She is the protector of marriages.’
‘Okay, now we are going to show another colour. What is it reminding you of?’
‘I remember saffron fields, mustard flowers, my yellow dupatta.’
Dr. Johnson began to ground his teeth, ‘Oh damn’
‘Okay, tell me what this is?’
‘This is a temple.’
‘This is a masjid.’
‘What is the difference between the two?’
‘Both are houses of God. Spaces for God which human beings have made impure by their dirty deeds.’
Dr. Johnson was fed up,‘Sorry gentlemen. I cannot help you. I cannot give this woman her memory back.’ He picked up his instruments; leaving the doctor and the inspector more perplexed than ever.
‘Doctor, this woman is mad.’
‘Inspector, I find this woman neither a Hindu nor a Muslim, I find this woman a witch!’
At that very moment, the woman started laughing like a child. The inspector and doctor exclaimed at once, ‘What did you remember?’
The woman continued to laugh like a child.
‘I won’t tell, I won’t tell, whether I am a Hindu or a Muslim, a Muslim or a Hindu. I will not tell…I will not tell…’
Both asked together, ‘Why not?’
‘So I can die in peace and tranquility and leave you to burn in the fire of suspicion and doubt. Poisonous serpents will attack you because you raped your own mothers and sisters and killed them. This question will deprive you of your sleep and will not leave you alone from the day I leave you. You will not have peace neither during day nor night. Neither at the temple nor in the masjid. Your wife will give you no pleasure. My ghost will never leave you. I am neither Hindu nor Muslim. I am a witch. So, I will horrify you in this form because I AM NOT… ME. I am your lost conscience. I am your lost soul. I will never allow you to enjoy a moment of tranquility. This will be my revenge. Actually, you know what? I have been dead for ages.’
While saying these words, the woman’s neck turned to one side and her eyes protruded from her face as if she was glaring at them in anger.
The next day, in a local newspaper, the following item appeared:
‘At the crossroad of a qasba, an unidentified naked corpse of a woman was discovered. Despite every effort, it could not be found out whether the dead woman was Hindu or Muslim.
(Translated by Syeda Saiyidain Hameed)