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May 18, 2002
Life and death: the pseudo-patriot way
Question: what's one thing that happened within hours -- I mean that, hours -- of the terrorist atrocity in Jammu early on May 14? A dude somewhere in netspace fired up his computer and fired off email randomly, copy to me, saying: "Where are the human rights organizations to cry for [the victims]? Arent the people killed have some rights of being a human or you don't even consider them humans? You guys are encouraging terrorist to kill more people and I blame this killings on your head as you are the part of the gang. you have blood of innocent people on your hand and God (if he really is) will never forgive you guys." [Verbatim]
That's right. Apparently the man's first thought -- I mean that, his first thought -- on hearing the news was to use it to hammer villainous human rights organisations and scummy journalists. To be sure his abuse reached them even before the news itself did. To wallop them for not "even considering them human", before they even knew people had been killed.
At least with this scummy journalist, I have to admit, he succeeded in his endeavours. Trying to lick a tough problem at my software job, I was oblivious to news for much of that Tuesday. The dude's message was the first I heard of the Jammu crime. I read his words and understood that I was being blamed for murders -- "you have blood of innocent people on your hand" -- I wasn't even aware had happened.
Nor was his the only such message -- it was only the first. Many others have since floated in, just as willing to flail at human rights organisations, pseudo-secularists, journalists like me.
But in truth, when I then did read the news, the blame from these letter-writers was hardly the issue any more. Instead, I was revulsed by this latest horror. Men who kill like that, the men who send them to kill like that, deserve no better themselves. After September 11, I wrote these words in a column: I hope they get these guys. I hope they get the sick bastards who conceived this inconceivable horror.
After the massacre in Jammu, I feel that again. To tell you the truth, I have been feeling it again and again. More of that in a bit.
The next day, my prime minister told Parliament that "this issue [the killing in Jammu] cannot be taken up on partisan lines. There are no two views about the fact that what happened was a heinous incident." Starting from there, we now hear the talwars [swords] rattling, the cries to make war on Pakistan getting louder. For, the evil of Pakistan, the desire to "act" against that country, are issues which define patriotism for our politicians, whatever their stripe. And that definition is the mirror image of sentiments on the far side of the border. Left to themselves, these patriots in two countries will lead us all -- a fifth of humankind, here on this subcontinent -- into mass carnage, widespread destruction and nuclear nothingness. That's patriotism for you.
So before gangs of pseudo-patriots -- whether the email jockey sort or the fire-breathing politician sort -- do their worst, let's try to think some things through.
It was heinous. There is no other way to describe what happened in Jammu. Over 30 innocent Indians, including several women and children, died. So if a massacre like that outrages us enough to make us sink "partisan" differences and demand "action", what would a massacre of over a thousand innocent Indians, including large numbers of women and children, do?
Think it through, really. Burning 58 people alive in a train carriage? Burning dozens in cornfields? Slicing a ten-year-old girl into pieces as her best friend watches? Raping and then murdering women? All of these, and much more, happened in Godhra and several other parts of Gujarat. As horrifying as the Jammu massacre is, in what way is any of what happened in Gujarat any less horrifying?
And there is at least one way in which it is, arguably, more horrifying. The people who set Gujarat on fire were not some shadowy armed Pakistanis who were themselves shot dead eventually. They were perfectly ordinary Indians, most of whom have resumed their ordinary Indian lives. That is, in Godhra and Ahmedabad, the killers could very well have included your nearby ration-shop owner, your local optician, your friendly neighbours who lend you a few spoons of sugar when you run out. The people who burned your brother, or raped and killed your daughter, or slashed your father into bloody bits, are the people whom you lived with every day, whom you must live with every day even now.
If comprehending that, if killing like that, is not enough for us all to look beyond our "partisan lines", to unite and demand "action", I don't know what is.
Yet in Godhra and the rest of Gujarat, where killing just like that has happened for two-and-a-half months now, we are mired indeed in partisan differences. I'm weary of reading the letters and articles that say, explicitly or in smooth sophistry, that the Indians who died in Gujarat deserved what they got. Whoever they were, they no more deserved to die than the 30 in Jammu did: yet who among us would suggest that the 30 deserved death and not immediately be buried in outrage?
And far from demanding action, we are actually rationalising away the slaughter. It was "inevitable", it "had to happen", it was the result of "general frustration" and an "apartheid" that's apparently in force in India: how many times have you read phrases like that applied to Gujarat? [What would you think if you read a column that made out that the Jammu killings happened because of "general frustration"?]
Besides, we've watched another bankrupt government order that meaningless favourite of bankrupt governments throughout our history, a commission of inquiry into the slaughter in Gujarat that hasn't begun its inquiry yet anyway. Not that any of us expects it to result in any punishment whatsoever when it is done. If it is ever done. For the killings in Jammu, they demand war. For the killings across Gujarat, they institute an inquiry.
What are we to make of all this?
As far as I can see, in the face of every one of these atrocities, there's only one place for each of us to start: with the hope that they get the sick bastards who conceived this inconceivable horror.
No, I have no patent on that line. I use it only to underline the point that whether in Godhra, or in Ahmedabad's Naroda-Patia, or in Jammu, they are indeed sick bastards. Period. If we want an end to the violence that is destroying us, there is no alternative but to see the men who destroy us that way. There is no alternative but to see anyone -- Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Pakistani, and especially Indian -- who kills innocent Indians, or goads others to kill innocent Indians, as a terrorist. Treat them that way. Period.
If we get around to seeing them like that, perhaps we will stop finding excuses for their crimes, stop "inquiring" endlessly and fruitlessly. Perhaps we will instead punish them -- all of them -- swiftly and severely. As the sick bastards deserve.
Which leaves the letter-writers, like the dude whose prose I began this column with. Does it say something about where we are, where we have reached, that whole sets of Indians lie in wait for one kind of atrocity, leap to fire off letters to a list of whipping boys, me included, and then subside again into surly indifference?
I don't really know. But I don't really care either. Pseudo-patriots interest me minimally.
The Sabarmati in Flames: Complete coverage of the carnage in Gujarat
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