Feb 17, 2009

Don’t Wait For Godot: 26/11 Mumbai Blasts

The Mumbai blasts took place only a few days after I’d returned from the U.S amidst much eager anticipation at the change I would witness in the nation of my birth, my home. The next few days saw a flurry of activity, with everyone from journalists to the aam aadmi holding candle light vigils, writing petitions, sprouting bombast and criticizing the rescue operation. Almost everyone was sure that change was imminent and everyone from Javed Akhtar to Anu Kapoor proved their patriotism by yelling ‘Enough is enough’ repeatedly. Waiting for concrete action and change has become akin to that much celebrated vigil for Godot.

Now, almost 3 months later, much posturing, jago re and slogan writing later, we are still haggling over the issue of Pakistan’s guilt or innocence, the correct response to our unfriendly neighbour, what authorities from the U.S and U.K think about Pak’s role and ways to reform civil society so that such incident can be avoided. While it is important that the new American president understand and share our concerns regarding Pak’s support of the Kashmir insurgency and its attempts to destabilize our economy, it is equally important for us to rely on our own strengths; to understand that to expect others to fight your own battles will at best yield talks of solidarity and a lot of peace documents, much like the ones Israel routinely inks with Palestine.

Most people I know even made a lot of noise about the outrage the leaders of the minority community had expressed over 26/11 and lauded them for ‘condemning the heinous attacks’. What else should they have done, I wondered? Why should we even expect them to think or behave any differently? Last week I attended a meeting in Mahim where leaders of the minority community were asked to suggest ways to educate the common people and avoid their infiltration by the jihadi elements. Most of them blamed their poor economic and social status for their problems but failed to see that for every muslim who is poor or deprived, there are 3 hindus. Even Kashmiri pundits who are forced to flee the valley in what is perhaps one of the worst instances of ethnic cleansing the world has seen, do not take up arms against their persecutors in the name of some religious war. While grievances of social inequality should not be disregarded, they are by no means a valid justification for mindless murder and mayhem. Even if one were to accept such justification, it doesn’t in any way explain the collapse of the twin towers, or the bombings at Bali, Madrid or Glasgow.

A related problem is that of education. It is high time we banned all such institutions that impart education by adhering to the tenets of a particular religion to the exclusion of all else and thus breed intolerance. Before we mull attacking or reforming Pak, we must deal with the enemy within; we must abolish and ban the madarsas that dot the landscape around MP and UP and are breeding grounds of misinformation, hatred and intolerance. One of the most famous instances of this brand of education is the Darul Uloom in Deoband, UP who openly advocates an exclusivist brand of Islam while uttering polite denunciations against terrorists. While such teachings may be routine in Iran or Saudi Arabia, we know that India is different and we fight to preserve this difference.

Finally, we come to the ‘village syndrome’. In 17 century New England, rumors of witchcraft started in small isolated villages and soon flamed into a conflagration that saw hundreds of women being burnt at the stake during the Salem witch trials. While almost all of India was burning with anger against the British in 1857 and the Peshwas were actually mulling mutiny, all it took was a small regiment from Barackpore to start the Sepoy Mutiny. All it takes is one village, one community, to stand up and reject an evil that has taken root so deep that unless it is uprooted for good, it will devour all. Tavleen singh writes, “The best defense against this kind of murderous violence is to limit the pool of recruits, and the only way to do that is for the home society to isolate, condemn and denounce publicly and repeatedly the murderers — and not amplify, ignore, glorify, justify or “explain” their activities.” There is a lesson in this for all of us, notwithstanding our minority status or otherwise. There is a lesson for those Hindus like me who rejoice Narendra Modi’s sweeping victory in the Gujarat elections, as also a lesson for those who cheered when the U.S was brought on its knees in the wake of 9/11. We are all pawns on the same chessboard and what is mine may well be yours tomorrow.


Shoumitro said...

A lot has been said about “people’s wish”. . . the pact with Taliban in the Swat valley is the latest illustration. The problem with such argument is: First, in most such cases, the voice of half the population – the women – is never heard at all (can one see a single woman in those victory rallies in the valley?). Second, the so-called people’s wish, being born out of hatred and nourished by it, will need to have a pet hate object -- usually part of the society itself, and thus will necessarily not include the latter’s voice (of the Hindu’s and Buddhists in the case of J&K) Third, even the voice that is actually heard (of the vociferous section of the public) is warped – coming from people who have been thoroughly brainwashed since childhood. They have been taught a particular way of life and made to think that all the other ways are evil. Thus music, movies, television, girls, other faiths – are all evil. They are wired to hate and fight these things. When the deciding populace is not even aware of the various options modern society could have offered them, they are bound to rally under the only banner they have known since their birth. And all that will go under the name of people’s wish.

One thing I am sure. Sooner rather than later we will be drawn into this battle, and acting against the breeding grounds of all sorts of exclusivist thoughts, including the deobandis, madrassas, and also the various Hindu senas, should be the starting point.

onlooker said...

well thought out and penned! last week got to see 'A Wednesday', and it echoed so much of your sentiments. leads one to wonder, what exactly does the governement, the system, the forces, the so called forces which supposedly run the nation, do; or what exactly are their priorities, or action plan, if at all they have one!

drift wood said...

Shoumitro: You make a v.imp distinction abt the emerging voices & the resonant brainwashing that it includes. completely agree.

Onlooker: I liked 'AW' - taut, economical, without unnecessary flourishes. But the question remains - is that a valid response & should the govt leave things be till someone actually resorts to such behavior?