“He never made eye contact with me. His eyes were constantly searching for things. They were frighteningly empty, and yet, they seemed to dance. He hid it behind them. He hid everything.”
I was walking the streets of Chhapra, Bihar, looking around. The day had been a long one. A scorching sun above me was constantly telling me to go back home. It was around 2 in the afternoon. I was lucky to have spotted him, considering how he was camouflaged due to the grey rags on his body, surrounded by the grey rubbish around him.
At first, he seemed to be yet another sweeper or cleaner, but, upon taking a closer look, one noticed that he was not collecting the garbage. He was scavenging for glass, metal and valuables that he could sell. He was obsessed with his work.
I walked up to him and asked him what his name was. Bound to his financial predicament, crushed under the weight of a society that did not know he existed, living in the jail of his pessimism, in the graveyard of hopes, the wreck of a man in front of me, whispered, “Azad (Free/Independent)”.
When asked where he lived, he simple lifted his hand in the general direction of a slum, still searching the garbage heap with his empty eyes wandering. At times, he would lift up his head enough for me to look into his eyes. They were the emptiest ones I had seen in my life.
Azad did not talk much, he rarely answered the questions I asked, unlike other people I had come across. He said nothing when asked about his family. Azad did not vote, because he had no people to stand with, and no one who would fight for him and his rights.
It is funny how, while droning on about unity and integrity of our nation, and while citing the grave consequences of communal politics, we forget to consider other implications for voting our caste, religion and community. Azad is probably one of thousands, or at least hundreds, because he comes from nowhere. He constitutes a part of the Indian society that no one cares about. We can fight elections for Muslim rights, Hindu rights, Jatts, Tribals, because these are much more prominent and louder compared to an individual. But, in doing so, we become incapable of defending those who do not pander to a certain group’s ideas, who do not align themselves with a particular ideology, who have no one to speak for them.