Harsh Mander is a social worker and writer, and the Director of the Centre for Equity Studies. He is a former IAS officer who served in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh for almost two decades. He is associated with various social causes and movements, and writes regularly on communal harmony, tribal, dalit and disabled persons’ rights, custodial justice, homelessness and bonded labour.
In his new book Invisible People: Stories of Courage and Hope, Mander profiles 12 different individuals who have fought against unimaginable odds to live a life of dignity and courage:
This book is a chronicle of memories. Memories of begrimed city pavements and demolished slums. Of hunger and stolen childhoods. Of life within and beyond prison walls. Of hate in the air and blood on the streets. Of stigmatised castes. These are narratives from an India which few of us who read this book will ever encounter.
There is nothing in the stories that I have fictionalised. I have tried to recreate faithfully the narratives of the protagonists as recalled by them. I have only changed some names, to preserve confidentiality.
The stories have been written over many years. In the nature of stories, they have a beginning and an end. But the people have, of course, continued to live beyond the ending of the story. I have updated a few of the stories, but many I have chosen to leave in the form they were originally written in.
Many of the young actors in the pages of the book have triumphed, some have been defeated. But every one of them has fought and resisted.
Their stories are not just of epic, sometimes incomprehensible, suffering. They are also stories of the most extraordinary courage and hope under fire, love amidst slaughter, beauty in squalor, generosity in penury and dignity in profound want.
An excerpt from Invisible People:
That night, Rahul lay on the bare floor of the lock-up, in a restless, fitful, troubled sleep.
The next morning, he was presented before a court. The magistrate grimly heard the charges of murder against him, and ordered a police remand. Rahul returned with his escort to the police station.
The police inspector asked Rahul his age, and he told him that he was fourteen years old. The magistrate had not asked him his age. The inspector took him to a doctor for a medical certificate of his age. In Rahul’s presence, the policeman asked the doctor to certify that he was nineteen. The doctor consented without protest.
Rahul got used to the routine in the police lock-up. Since he had confessed to the crime from the start, there was no long interrogation. The police asked him the names of his parents and his village, and photographed him. He was not handcuffed. Food—basic but adequate— came from a nearby dhaba.
At night, Rahul often accompanied the policemen on duty as they patrolled the streets on their assigned beats. More than half the nights, he was therefore unable to sleep. But the policemen were friendly, and he felt that walking the streets with them was better than the loneliness, the sleeplessness, the mosquitoes and the stale, dank air of the police lock-up.
A month later, the magistrate ordered his transfer to prison, to await his trial. As he passed through the imposing gates of Arthur Road Jail, adjacent to a busy Mumbai highway, Rahul felt a new chapter was opening up in his life.