Just under a month ago, far away from our land, I headed up the Andes and temporarily disconnected myself from the information grid. As I left the world wide web, the ghastly attack on Indian paramilitary personnel in Pulwama took place. The act of killing others and oneself in the name of a cause has now couched itself amongst us and almost attained normality. In this new dastardly normal, the reaction too has been designated and sculpted into another series of violent acts – we call it vengeance. Whether or not we are physically engaged in the violence, every one of us deliberately articulates and espouses the sentiment.
In fact, I received a Facebook message from a well-wisher asking me not to tweet or write a column about this occurrence since I might put out a vaguely worded pacifist tweet or an article that has foot-in-the-mouth phrases which people will use to foment hatred against me. I did not know being a person who abhors war or any kind of violence, irrespective of whether the perpetrator is a legal institution or not, is undesirable. I am a pacifist but that does not make me passive.
Shouldn’t we be deeply concerned about our state of mind and what we are making of ourselves? What do we really seek from this democracy? Protecting our borders and those who fight for its safety is without doubt our duty but does that mean we turn into a mob, abuse, bully and attack all those who come from the region? Do those who believe in other ways of dealing with the problem have no place in our country? As I catch up on all that has been written I am shocked by the mindlessness of my fellow citizens. Where has all the reason, the thousands of years of spiritualism gone?
As people of shared existence and Constitution we seem to have lost our equilibrium. And should we not, with what happened in Christchurch on March 15, finally and forever rid our minds of the false twinning of terror with Islam? What was Christchurch a retaliation for? What was it avenging? And will some horror now retaliate Christchurch? Will the diabolism continue? At least now, let us see terror as terror, not in any religious colour.
We, whether by overt action or covert passivity, have successfully turned patriotism into a state of hatred. Today’s patriotism has nothing celebratory about it; it is about drawing lines that are hardened, insensitive, angry and exclusionary. When we have lost our own thinking faculties, when we are unable to declutter our minds from the insistent negative bombardment unleashed by our government, when we have made Narendra Modi the undeclared paragon of truth, is there an iota of sanity left?
Still no accountability?
Something has gone missing within us. We speak of standing up for our soldiers and want to go to war as though it is a walk in the park. Our soldiers are bravehearts. They are also precious human beings. They protect us with their lives, their bravery, their sense of and readiness for self-sacrifice. They too need to be protected – from heartless terrorists as well as from policy and intelligence bungling. And what about our farmers? Does anger fill us and overflow when we hear of numerous farmer suicides that have become an everyday reality across this country? Where was our patriotic spirit when thousands of farmers marched into Delhi demanding that we notice them? We have not challenged the corporates that usurp the lands of Adivasis and the fisherfolk, the capitalism that has killed the welfare state, or the money-hungry private healthcare system that has drained citizens.
Where was our care for the country when Dalits and Muslims were attacked and lynched in the name of the cow? Demonetisation destroyed so many lives, converted the few thousands saved by the poor into worthless paper overnight. We sadly rejoiced, claiming this hardship was necessary for a better tomorrow. We even convinced those with very little that it was for their own good. Many nights have passed and even after the reality of demonetisation having squeezed the life out of millions stares at us we refuse to hold this government accountable.
Operations that should happen without fanfare are today part of the state’s public relations strategy. Any foreign affairs and defence specialist would emphasise the need for camouflage, a cloak and dagger method to counter terrorism. But we seem to want a leader who flaunts this might and uses our forces to show off.
A bitter truth
Another goal of these publicised Army operations is discounting and discarding the everyday realities of Kashimiris. We just cannot ignore the fact that there is disenchantment in the Valley, especially among the youth. It is a reality that there is, and has been for years, deep-seated anger towards the Indian government and the actions of the Army. And successive Indian governments have failed the Kashmiri people. We have to accept that to many, those we call terrorists are heroes. It is astonishing that even as we rightly grieve over the deaths of our soldiers we have little time for common Kashmiris who have lost their lives at the hands of terrorists from across the border and the actions of our security forces. This is also a bitter truth that needs to be said.
We call Kashmir an integral part of India but it does not become one unless the people of Kashmir feel Indian and believe they are part of this nation. We have to find ways of changing this. Instead, we have marginalised them and militarised the Valley. If Kashmir is our internal problem, then we have to deal with it, not hand over the struggle to those who want to foment trouble from elsewhere, the Pakistani state and its non-state actors. Kashmir is a complex, complicated web of problems entrenched in history and culture and it is time we realise its gravity beyond the terrorism narrative.
When I say “we” I mean the citizens because it is only in our realisation that the Indian government will change. We have to discard once and for all the good versus evil storyline we have consumed for decades. Kashmir is filled with multiple voices and we have to listen to every one of them even if their words hurt and force us to fundamentally shift some of our beliefs. This is the only way we can counter acts of terror. If we truly care for our soldiers this is the path we should be taking.
The 2019 general election is at our doorstep. We need to pause and reflect upon our own mind and its manipulated state. Voting must be about ideas and realities. Time has come for us to ponder whether we have become better or worse human beings and citizens over the past five years.