Snakes have always had a fascination for us. We fear them, some people worship them, we hate them, and we kill them. Those who don’t do any of this and instead, appreciate them for what they are; rodent controllers, snake population controllers and just plain law-abiding citizens with as much, if not more, right to be left alone in peace, than we do, are a rare breed. The reason is the prevailing ignorance about snakes and the proliferation of myths. Ignorance breeds myths and that leads to hatred. This is the basis of all stereotyping, demonization and violence; ignorance about the subject. Applies to all subjects, be they snakes or people.
are among the most beneficial of creatures. They are not slimy, cunning, or treacherous.
They don’t bear grudges. They don’t photograph your face in their minds and
come into your bedroom in the night to bite you. People do all those things.
Not snakes. Snakes, like all animals, are concerned only about two things; food
and safety for themselves and their young. You, human being, are not their
food. And if you don’t threaten them, you can literally sleep with a snake in
your bed and remain perfectly unharmed. Not that I am advocating that. But
there have been cases of campers finding a snake in their sleeping bag, because
it was a cold night and the sleeping bag, warmed by a warm body was a very nice
place to be for a cold-blooded reptile like the snake. The camper was sensible,
didn’t thrash around, moved very slowly, unzipped his bag and rolled out and
then shook the snake out of his tent. It can be as simple as that. It can of
course be much more complicated and dangerous. The choice is ours. Not the
lived a lot of my life in forests and was introduced to snakes by people who
didn’t fear them. I learnt how to catch them, I had some as pets (also don’t
advocate that) and I rescued several from death at the hands of my fellowmen. This
fear and hatred of snakes is not instinctive as some would have us believe. It
is a conditioned response thanks to the way we raise children. You may have
seen some videos of small children playing with huge Burmese pythons. They are
totally unafraid and treat the snake like they would, any toy. Having said
that, it is highly inadvisable and very stupid to leave a small child with a
huge snake. The reality is that love, loyalty, tenderness, and compassion are
all human emotions, even if we don’t seem to see them too much nowadays. Snakes
are eating machines. If they are hungry then whatever is edible is food. Your
little kid is very edible. As long as a python is full, it won’t bother the
child, but if it gets hungry, it will treat prey as any predator. I was in
Kwantu Private Game Reserve in Port Elizabeth one winter. Kwantu is a wonderful
place well worth many visits, with all the Big Five of Africa on the reserve
and fabulous food in a very luxurious hotel when you get back from your game
evening, a local Afrikaner farmer came to the reserve to do a little talk-show
with his pet African Rock Python
(Python sebae), and an
African Rock Monitor
(Varanus albigularus). I was struck by how he explained the danger of treating
wild animals like we treat humans or domesticated animals like dogs. He said,
‘Imagine that I am working with a lathe machine for thirty years. I take care
of that machine; I oil it and polish it and clean it and use it with great
love. But one day I am careless, and it takes my thumb off. That is how it is
with these animals,’ he said, pointing to the snake and lizard. ‘They are
eating machines. If they are hungry, you are food. If they are not hungry, you
are a prop like a tree branch or a rock. When the snake is draped round my
neck, I am a tree for him. But when he is hungry, he can tighten his coils and
if he is large enough and I am small enough, the result is predestined.’ So,
while an irrational fear of snakes is, well, irrational, overconfidence about
them and becoming careless can result in very painful and even fatal outcomes.
Knowledge is the key.
I had a pet Boa Constrictor when I lived in Kwakwani, on the Rio Berbice in Guyana. Once when driving through the rain-forest, back from one of the mines I saw it very lethargically crossing the road and I picked it up. It was about 8 feet long. I built a large wooden box fronted with a mesh, as its home and put a thick tree branch for it to climb on. It would spend most of its time draped over the log, basking in the sun. The cage was under a tree and so if it got hot, the snake would glide over into the shade. Sometimes after it had recently eaten, I would take it out in the morning, and it would coil itself around my arm or leg for warmth. All quite friendly.
used to feed it live chickens, which it would catch and eat. It wouldn’t eat
dead meat. The interesting thing was that it never caught the chicken while I
was watching. It would simply lie there, totally still, draped on the branch.
The chicken would settle down after being put into the cage, totally unaware
that there was a snake in the cage with it. After all these were battery reared
broiler birds which had never seen anything other than other chickens. Then
when I returned after a couple of hours, I would find the chicken gone and a
lump inside the snake. One day the snake escaped. It wedged itself in a corner
and pushed the two-inch planks, nailed together, apart and left for the forest.
Mercifully all this happened in its natural environment and the snake went back
to where it came from. If not, this would have been a potential hazard.
wild animals as pets is not a good idea at all. Whether that is snakes or
anything else. Wild animals must be left in their natural habitat and enjoyed
there, watching and photographing them. Taking them out of their environment is
cruel on them and if they escape or are released in an alien environment, they
can become a major problem, like all the Burmese pythons in Florida. They have
no natural predators in the new place, breed unchallenged and prey on local
species which have no defence against them and become a major hazard. All
because someone thought the little snake was cute and wanted it as a pet and
then when it grew to its normal size, they couldn’t cope with it and released
it in the nearest piece of bush they could find, imagining that they were doing
a good deed. The rest is painfully clear. Please don’t keep any wild animal as
I lived and worked in tea and rubber plantations
in the Anamallais and Kanyakumari District in Tamilnadu for ten years. The
plantations were an interesting place where strange things happened as a matter
of course. Over the years, I learned never to be surprised at anything. In the
Iyerpadi Hospital where Dr. John Philip was the RMO, a man was brought in after
having been bitten by a cobra on his face. How this happened is a story in
itself. This man had the reputation of knowing some sort of magic spell that he
claimed neutralized the effect of snake venom. He would catch snakes and get
them to bite him on his hand and then show people that nothing happened to him.
This naturally gave him a lot of ‘brand’ in a place as superstitious as
Anamallais was. The reality is that most snakes are non-venomous to begin with
and those that are venomous usually don’t inject a full dose, either because
they had hunted recently and had used up their poison on their natural prey – rats
and other rodents – and have not regenerated a new supply. The long and short
of it is that many people who die of snake bite die more out of fear or because
they didn’t get medical aid in time.
In this case, however, our friend chased a cobra, which tried to escape down a hole in the embankment by the side of the road, but he caught it by the tail and hauled it out and then caught it behind its head and kissed it. He was himself sloshed out of his mind at the time and his bravado far exceeded his intelligence. The result was that the snake reciprocated the affection and he was bitten twice or thrice on the face. Given that this snake did have some venom to donate and that he was bitten on the face, the man collapsed. Mercifully, some people saw him and brought him to the hospital. At the hospital, there was no antivenin and so Dr. John gave him some antihistamine and put him on the ventilator, while they sent for antivenin. Now, the interesting thing was that the hospital didn’t have an electrical ventilator. What they had was a mechanical device which was like a bellows and needed someone to sit there and pump it constantly to ensure that the air supply continued uninterrupted. It was amazing how everyone in the hospital, nurses, doctors, other patients, their visitors, passersby who heard the tale, including my wife and I, all came to the aid of the man and took turns to keep the air flowing into the lungs of the man who was completely comatose. This continued day and night, hour on hour for 48 hours, and then we beheld that the man’s eyes opened, and he sat up and a couple of hours later he was as good as new. His love of kissing snakes though, had dampened a bit. I asked Dr. John about this ‘miraculous’ event. He told me, ‘No miracle at all. The poison is neurotoxic, but protein based. It affects the nerves and stops the breathing. But being protein based, if you can keep the patient breathing mechanically by forcing air into his lungs, when the poison naturally degenerates within 48 hours the patient can breathe again’. However, miracles are far more fun to believe in than science and so our friend’s stock went up even higher after it was ‘proved’ that snake venom had no effect on him. The fact that he was in a coma and had been kept alive mechanically for 48 hours was soon forgotten because it came in the way of the belief in the nice miracle. Shows how such beliefs thrive in all parts of the world, whereas the truth lies either in some straightforward physical reason or in less straightforward skulduggery and playacting.
Most recently, I had the opportunity to rescue two snakes, both pythons, one in Sri Lanka and one in India. In Sri Lanka my friends and I were camped in the Yala National Park, which is a real heaven on earth, rivaled only by Wilpattu. I can’t decide which is more beautiful. We were all relaxing or more accurately, recuperating from the morning drive, waiting for lunch to be served. Suddenly, the bearer came rushing in and said, ‘There is a Thith Polanga (Russel’s Viper’).’ He had good reason to be afraid as the Russel’s Viper has the record for highest number of fatalities in Sri Lanka. It’s poison is particularly venomous exceeded only by that of the Saw-scaled Viper.
All of us leapt out of our beds and ran outside
to see what the bearer had discovered. Think of ten reasons why your sink may
be blocked. I bet one of them is not, “6-foot young python lost his way.”
That’s what had happened. The cook and his helper first thought it was a
Russell’s Viper and wanted to kill it. But I identified it as a young python
who got there chasing the little frogs of which there are a profusion. He slid
up the drainpipe and got stuck. The standard solution was once again proposed
but I vetoed it. I then caught it and released it in the forest. Did wonders
for my mystique. I wisely remained silent about the fact that what I did was
easier than taking off my hat. Sometimes silence does more for you than all the
talk in the world. It is not surprising that the bearer thought it was a
Russel’s Viper because there is some similarity in markings. But that is where
it ends. The young python was totally harmless and would have been in danger of
meeting a nasty end thanks to people’s fear of snakes. Snakes are highly
beneficial in that they keep rodents under control. Had it not been for snakes
we would be run over with mice and rats. My friend Ifham took a video of the
event. So much for a lazy afternoon in the bush.
In early July, I was returning from Madurai on a late flight and driving home. The flight was more than six hours late and it was past 1 am when nearing my house, I saw a crowd of people gathered around a traffic island. I stopped the car and got out to see what the excitement was all about and discovered that a large Rock Python had been trying to cross the road from the forest on one side and had got stumped by the traffic island. People who saw it, mercifully didn’t try to kill it, but surrounded it, trying to protect it from traffic. That resulted in the snake being blocked from all sides and not knowing what to do. There was no time to call anyone, it was close to 2 am and I needed to do something to save the snake. I asked the people to stand back and went in to catch the snake. Free advice and warnings were fast flowing. “Uncle don’t touch it. You will die.” “Uncle, this and that and whatnot.” I asked them, “If I don’t touch it, it will remain here and so will you, all night. So, what shall I do?” That made them think and as they fell silent. I went in, picked up the snake, holding it behind its head, supported his body with my other hand and carried it across the road, back to the forest he had come out of and released it in the forest. Thankfully a happy ending for the snake’s adventure. The snake was about 9 feet long and weighed over 10 kilograms.
Which brings me to the question, “What must you do
if you see a snake?” The answer must begin with another question, “Where did
you see the snake?” The reason is that what you do, depends on where you see
the snake. Let me explain.
If you see the snake in its natural habitat, do nothing. Just walk away. Don’t disturb it. Leave it alone. It is meant to be there. You are not. So, leave quietly.
Handling snakes is not recommended. It is not a hobby. It is not fun, for you or the snake. And ideally you should never do it. You handle a snake only when you have no tools, no professional available and you need to make sure that the snake and people are both safe. It is a last resort thing and not something you rush to do.
Sometimes snakes will come into your house. Not to visit. Not because it is pursuing a vendetta or because it wants to take over your house. Snakes are likely to enter your house especially if you live near fields, on a farm, near a forest or have a large garden. The snake is likely to enter your home, because it is looking for rodents or frogs which it may have seen entering your home. Or it may come in out of the heat or cold. In very hot summers, sometimes you find snakes in the bathroom, because it is cooler near water. If you see the snake in a place where it is likely to cause harm to itself or someone else, then you need to remove it to a place where it can do neither. The options in order of priority are as follows:
Call ‘Friends of Snakes Society’ or the Forest Ranger or whatever is the equivalent in your place. Let experts take the snake away. That is best. They have the equipment and know what to do and you will be safe.
It is a good idea to read up about the venomous snakes in the place you live. There is a huge variety of snakes and the ones in your part of the world may be very different from others.
Try to get the snake to leave and return to where it came from without touching it at all. Use a long stick and tap it on the ground near the snake to encourage it to move in the direction you want it to. Leave a door open and ensure that people are far away from the path you want the snake to take. You don’t want the snake to feel threatened.
If you need to catch the snake, then try to find a Y-shaped forked stick with a long tail and holding it by its tail, pin the head of the snake to the ground, gently but firmly. Don’t press too hard because you don’t want to cause the snake injury or pain. Then hold it just behind the head, once again, firmly but gently. It must not escape but it must also be able to breathe, and you must not injure its spine. The only dangerous part of the snake is its mouth. So, as long as you are holding it just behind its head, it can’t do you any harm. Don’t panic. Don’t be afraid. The snake will sense that and respond.
Then with your other hand, support the body of the snake as you lift it, especially if it is long. Letting the body hang or drag on the ground is harmful to the snake and will get it agitated as it will struggle to try to escape. Support the body and carry it comfortably.
is a very good article with diagrams about how to catch a snake. https://m.wikihow.com/Catch-a-Snake Please DON’T try any of the snake traps that are mentioned in the article.
Never catch a snake unless it is an emergency.
If the place where you can safely release it is nearby, you can simply walk there and release it. If it is far away and you need to go there in a vehicle, then put the snake into a bag. Use a canvas or jute bag and not a plastic one. The bag must be of something that doesn’t cut off the air for the snake to breathe. Then tie the neck of the bag tightly with rope and place the bag safely on the floor of the vehicle, ensuring that the floor is not hot. If it is, then put the bag on an empty seat.
Ensure that you stay away from the bag, especially if the snake is venomous. People have been bitten through a bag because they were holding the bag in their lap or had their feet touching it.
Finally, when you reach your destination, untie the rope securing the neck of the bag and leave the bag on the ground facing away from you and quietly move away. The snake will emerge on his own and go away.
Don’t do any heroics. Don’t try to take selfies with the snake. Don’t try to kiss the snake. Don’t try any tricks. It is amazing the number of totally insane things that people do with snakes. Especially if the snake is venomous, that trick may be your last. Safety comes first and last. Both for you and for the snake.
If you or someone else gets bitten by a snake, what must you do?
First, identify the snake if you can find it. If not, look at the wound. If it has one or two fang marks, the snake was probably poisonous. Especially if you find skin discoloring near the wound then it is likely that is due to the venom injected into the wound.
If the wound has the mark of multiple teeth, or if it appears lacerated, which happens when a non-venomous snake bites you and you jerk your hand or foot away. Wash it with plenty of water, put some antiseptic on it and get the person to a hospital urgently.
If the bite is from a non-venomous snake, get them to a hospital as soon as you can anyway.
Don’t panic and don’t allow the person who was bitten, to panic. Panic is more deadly than the venom. Do your best to comfort them and keep calm.
Finally, to address some questions that a
dear friend asked. Please ask your own.
When picking up the snake, it tends to instinctively coil around the
hand or leg. Should I be trying to uncoil it, while picking it up and
attempting to release it? As I’m among those who are the conditioned to be scared
of snakes, cooling/uncoiling looks and feels creepy.
Answer: No, you should not uncoil them. If you
hold them properly, they won’t be able to coil at all. If they do, leave that
alone until you get to the release point. Then gently uncoil and release. The
coiling gives it comfort. So, leave it alone. As for feeling creepy, that is a
conditioned response. The only way to get over it is to handle snakes.
Question: How much of a “choke hold” is acceptable
Answer: First of all, you are not choking the
snake at all. You are only securing his head so that he doesn’t bite. Even
non-venomous snakes can bite extremely painfully and will do so because they
don’t know your good intentions. To them, you are a major threat and they are
trying to get away from you while you are bent on catching them. Hold firmly. I
use the thumb and two fingers with the other fingers supporting from below.
Hold firmly but not too tightly. The more painful the hold is for the snake,
the more it will struggle to get out. If you hold it evenly and firmly, it will
1984. The second and last formal employment
of my career was in the tea plantations in the Anamallai Hills in Coimbatore
District of Tamilnadu. I worked there for seven years, one of the most
enjoyable and instructive periods of my life. Fires and estates are companions.
Not surprising given the combination of people who smoke and don’t always
bother to put out their cigarettes, and forests with semi deciduous trees that
regularly carpet the floor with their leaves every summer. A forest fire is
easy to start. One cigarette butt is enough. But if it catches, then it can’t
be put out until there’s nothing left to burn. In the end, all that is left is
ash. We used to take a lot of preventive steps including clearing fire
boundaries where we would clear a wide swathe of ground of all undergrowth and
leaves and keep it swept clean so that even if a fire started it could be
contained. We had also constructed water tanks and dammed streams to create
small reservoirs, which would be useful if we needed water in a hurry to put
out a fire. These reservoirs were also very useful as watering holes for
wildlife in the summer and a source of endless delight for me to watch animals
as they came down to drink.
One day late in the afternoon someone came running
to the office (days without mobile phones or walky-talky radios) and said that
a fire had started in the Murugalli coffee area. In the plantations, emergencies
were everyone’s affair. News would go to all those who could be informed, and
they all rushed to the aid of the estate which had the problem. All who could
go would go, regardless of whose estate it was.
As soon as the runner caught his breath, I put him
on the back of my motorcycle to guide me and we were off. When I reached the
place, I realized that this was a fairly large forest fire. There were about
thirty of our workers and two supervisors who had been working in the area. I
marshaled them all and got them to clear a belt and start a counter fire. The
idea was to burn an area across the direction of the fire and clear it of all
inflammable material so that when the main fire reached this place it would
simply starve to death. We started the counter fires and once the dry stuff was
burnt, we beat out the flames with green leafy branches that we had previously
cut and kept at hand. The main fire was moving very fast as it was being pushed
by a tail wind. As it came up to us it was our task to ensure that it did not
jump the cleared boundary. Every time a flame jumped the fire boundary, we beat
it to death. There was no water available where we were, otherwise, we would
have also wet as much area as possible as a preventive measure. The story didn’t
end here but for this article, this is enough.
The whole logic of fighting forest fires is about
preventing them from starting. And if they do start, then trying to prevent
them from growing. If this is not done, then once a fire grows beyond a certain
size, nothing can put it out until everything that can burn has been burnt. The
fire will die only when everyone and everything is dead. And all that is left
Today, as I reflect on global politics as well as
its local reflection in my country, I am reminded of forest fires and my own
experience of fighting one in the Anamallais. It appears that none of the
leaders either on the global stage or the even more critical local ones, has
ever seen or fought a forest fire. That is why they so blithely ignite and
stoke the fires of hatred. Racial hatred, communal hatred and religious hatred.
They know not what they do but regardless, we, every single one of us, will
burn if we allow this to go on unchallenged and unanswered. Fire can’t be
fought with fire. It must be fought with something that is cool and which is not
inflammable. So also, hatred can’t be fought with hatred, but with love. Loving
someone who hates you is not easy. It seems impossible. But the alternative is
to burn in the same fire.
In human relations terms, ignorance is
combustible. It is the substance that is used to ignite the fire of hatred and
to stoke it by demonizing the object of hate. The real purpose is to sow
discord and terror, so that we are all reduced to the same level, joined only
in our fear of one another rooted in ignorance. Then we become malleable and
controllable through fear. This is done by first focusing on the differences in
our diversity and then teaching us that these differences are things to hate. In
a society like ours which is based on caste differences that discriminate
against other people based on their ethnicity (race), to get people to hate
someone for something as ridiculous as what they eat, drink, wear or worship is
very easy. We already live in a society where we are taught that some of us are
superior to others for no fault of ours or theirs. It is just that we were born
into this or that caste and so that not only makes us superior, but it means
that we get to look down on others and consider them to be dirty, sub-human,
unworthy of associating with and to always be treated with contempt. Since this
entire edifice is built on an accident of birth, it means that it is permanent
and there is nothing that anyone can do to change that. That leads to the
logical progression of despising and hating the person and the entire group
that he/she belongs to, because that makes me feel superior and good, once
again free of cost.
continue to feel good, all I need to do is to perpetuate this lie from generation
to generation and ensure that the hatred and contempt stays alive. For this
there are some requirements; deny anything good that the target population may
have done, no matter how clear and substantial the evidence. Mock and disparage
their identity, beliefs, culture and customs and demonize them by interpreting
them in negative ways. Re-write history in a way that removes all evidence of
their contribution to the nation and world and replace that with cherry-picked or
manufactured stories of their ‘sins’. Pick a time period that is ancient enough
to ensure that nobody from the time is alive to defend themselves and do all
this so aggressively that those who are alive today, are intimidated enough to
remain silent and watch their heritage being trashed. The idea is to eventually
have a situation where even the memory of the contributions of those people is
lost and all sense of self-esteem is taken from them. It is an age-old tactic,
the only thing remarkable about which is that it still works.
again, what is the solution? For a solution we must find and implement if we
are not all to be consumed in the forest fire that we lighted or allowed to be
lighted while we watched. The first part of the solution is to reject every
ideology that teaches that you are either superior or inferior because of the
accident of birth. All such ideologies of being the ‘chosen of god’, are an
insult to humanity and God. All such ideologies are false, dangerous and
destructive and must be trashed. For the record as far as my own religion, Islam
is concerned, let me quote from the sermon of the Prophet Muhammad(S) during
his last Hajj where he said, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has
no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an
Arab. A white (person) has no superiority over a black, nor does a black
(person) have any superiority over a white; except by piety and good action.” Now that is clear enough and needs no
elaboration. We are all equal in our humanity and the only measure of goodness
is the goodness we spread around us.
part of the solution is to give names and faces to the labels that we are
confronted with. Labels seeking to create the ‘Other’ in our minds. Labels that
if we don’t question and see them for what they are, make it possible for us to
reject others. Labels are distant, disembodied and impersonal. That makes it
possible to hate those to whom they apply. Names are known and personal; faces
are recognizable. They make us stop to consider what we think, say or do about
those people. Let me illustrate with my own example, how a name changes the
complexion of a label.
I am Muslim.
But when I hear the label ‘Agnostic/Atheist’, I see Aunty Mohini and Uncle
Rama’s faces. The two people who were my mentors in childhood and youth and
role models, lifelong. They enabled me to discover myself and opened my heart
and mind to appreciate others. When I hear the label Sikh, I see the faces of
Gurcharan, Gurveen Kaur, Anup and Sandy. When I hear the label Hindu, I see the
faces of AMM Arunachalam, Renuka & Aditya Mishra, Purba & Sanjoy Sanyal,
Nikoo Rawlley, Arun Menon and Gudducha (Jaikant Chaturvedi). When I hear the label
Christian, I see the faces of Berty & Jenny Suares, Thambi Kurien, Ranjan
Solomon, Norman & Lorraine Wood. When I hear the label Buddhist, I see the
faces of Rose, Ivo and Alvito Baretto. When I hear the label Jew, I see the
faces of Kathy, Dennis Goodman, David and Jeffrey Solomon. When I hear the
label Christian Missionary, I see the faces of David and Miriam Ramse and
Thurston Riehl. When I hear the label Parsi, I see the faces of Jehangir
Ghadiali, Naushi and Mehru Tarapore. When I think of communal riots, I think of
Uncle Raman Kumar who came with a police escort through the curfew to give us
food grains. I think of Norman Lindie in Guyana who shielded me with his own
body from a man who had come to attack me with a knife. I think of Peter
Ramsingh, who was my constant companion in our innumerable camping trips through
the rain forests, up and down the Berbice River. These are by no means the only
people I know under these ‘categories’. There are many, many more. This is only
to make my point that when you have a face to a label, it becomes personal. With
each of them, I have many pleasant memories associated. Of happy times, helping
one another, just being with one another and enjoying each other’s company and
difference. So, deal with people, not labels.
of becoming personal is that I have a frame of reference when I hear or read something
hateful about the ‘category’ which in my mind and life experience is
represented by a name and face of a friend. I find it impossible to hate
anyone, but even if this were not the case, I would have cause to stop and reflect,
if I have a frame of reference against which to compare what I am being asked
to believe. Without that and given the unique human tendency to believe the negative
more easily than the positive, rumor becomes real and the lie becomes the
truth. Today the problem is that thanks to our highly urbanized and apparently
self-sufficient (but really isolationist) way of life, we manage to live in the
same apartment building for decades without even knowing the name of our neighbor,
let alone anything more. Our civic spaces are disappearing. Hence civilized interaction and dialogue. Even
schools are ‘segregated’. Not officially but children don’t seem to have
friends, except among their own kind. Racist language is rampant and normal.
Discrimination seems to be the order of the day. Even the question of a child going
to the home of a friend, not from his/her religion or ethnicity, to spend an overnight
or weekend with their family, doesn’t arise. Our conversation mentions other people,
their religion and culture, but always in disparaging words. Never with respect
and appreciation. Our world view has become totally color blind – black and
white. We don’t even see the racist overtone in the term, Black & White. We
have lost our frame of reference. We are blind, waiting to be led down the road
of someone else’s choosing.
change. This is the fire-break that we must build. The essential fire
prevention strategy if we want to protect ourselves from annihilation. We must
open our eyes and ears, homes and hearts, to others. We must stop ‘Othering’ each
other. We must learn to observe with respect and without being judgmental. We
must learn to appreciate difference and not reduce all difference to good (like
me) and bad (different from me). It is variety that adds color to the scenery.
Variety is another name for difference. We must consciously examine the
assumptions that we have become used to and treat as ‘The Truth’. We must face
the fact that they are baseless assumptions, rooted in bigotry. As Reza Aslan put
it very aptly, ‘Religion doesn’t make people bigots. People are bigots and
they use religion to justify their ideology.’ The question each one of us
needs to ask is, ‘Am I a bigot?’ I can imagine that in today’s world, the answer
may well be, ‘Yes’, in all cases with a difference only in degree. As a starting
point, I would say that it is enough to ask this question and then ask another
one, even more painful. ‘Am I willing to do anything to change this?’ That is
when we can start thinking of what we must do.
must we do?
conversations. At home, in the workplace, especially in our schools and in
public. It is ‘domestic legends’ which shape our worldview from a very early
age. We need to reflect on how we were conditioned and become conscious of how
we are conditioning our children. Most conditioning is unconscious and extremely
powerful and very difficult to undo, unless we make a serious effort. Monitoring
conversations will give us diagnostic evidence of the degree of change we need
to make. It is important to do this objectively with a no-praise-no-blame
mindset. The idea is to see how serious the terminal disease which afflicts us is
and see what we need to do, to cure it. For terminal it is. Hatred is fire. All
fires burn and the result is always ash.
need to create civic spaces to meet in and practice being civilized. We need to
develop the skills to speak about each other, our beliefs, culture, customs and
traditions with respect. We must visit each other, participate in each other’s
lives and do it with respect and without being judgmental. We must ask
questions, respectfully and strongly oppose all mockery of people different
from us, even if and especially when it is done in the name of ‘humor’.
Laughing at someone is not humorous. Reject outright anyone who preaches hatred
or mocks others; whether that is your priest or preacher, teacher or political
leader, uncle or mother. We need to become open-minded enough to try to
understand the reason why other people do things differently from us and not
only accept that but appreciate it as another way of life which has an equal right
to exist. We must deal with the fear that if we do this, we will need to ‘convert’
to their way. We won’t. What will happen though is that our minds and hearts will
expand, which is a very good thing for all minds and hearts. Even ours. We will
become more understanding, accepting, respectful and impervious to manipulation
by those who wish to fill our hearts with hatred for others, so that we become
tools in their hands to achieve their own ends.
It was a
very hot day in May, 1991. Very dry, at the peak of summer with the monsoon
another month away. I was driving through Thirunelveli District on my way back
from Madurai where I had gone to attend a Labour Court hearing. These were the
days before car air-conditioning in India, so the car was a moving oven.
Suddenly the moving oven stopped moving. A tyre was punctured. My driver
Santiago pulled over to the side. I got out of the car as it was simply too hot
to sit inside. Santiago didn’t need any help, he said, so I looked around. I
saw that we had stopped by some fields which in the monsoon would be planted
with rice, but which at this time were simply baked, dry clay fractured into
pieces according to whatever natural law was at work. There was not a blade of
grass or anything green in sight. Except that is, for two small Neem trees,
which had been planted by the roadside. Beside the trees, with its back to them
and facing the field was a mud hut. It must have been about twenty feet long
and had a grass thatch roof. Between the trees, which were at either end of the
hut, the ground had been swept clean and sprinkled with sand. Under each tree,
in the scant shade was a stone bench. It was really a stone fence post laid
flat on two short raisers about two feet in height. I was intrigued to say the
least about how this whole thing was obviously planned and prepared. Who would
bother to make this seating arrangement and why?
I sat on
one of the benches to see what would happen. In a little while a young boy came
out of the hut with a brass water pot and a steel tumbler and poured me a
tumbler full of tepid water. I had many thoughts about the origin of the water
and its hygiene but didn’t want to interfere with whatever was at work here. So,
I accepted the water and drank it. The boy went to Santiago and poured some water
for him also. Then he set the pot down and sat with Santiago to provide him
with moral support in changing the tyre of the car. A couple of minutes later,
his mother called him. He took his pot and departed, only to emerge with two
glass tumblers of tea. His mother came out as he finished giving the tea to me
and Santiago, with a plate of Murku – the twisted savory snack that is very
popular all over Tamilnadu and South India. I thanked her and took one, thinking
all the time that the mystery had been solved. We had been fortunate enough to
break down near a tea-shop and so we were now being served.
finished our tea and the tyre was changed. I got up and asked the boy how much
money I owed them for the tea and snack. He looked at me in surprise and said, ‘Onnum
illayingay.’ (Nothing, Sir.) He used the respectful form of address which given
the difference in our ages, our mutual social positions and the culture of Thirunelveli
was natural. I thanked him but told him to ask his mother. He went into the hut
and the lady came out, her head covered with the tail of her sari (pallu) and said,
‘This is not a shop Sir. Your car broke down, so I thought that maybe you would
like a cup of tea and made it for you. That is all. There is nothing to pay.
You are our guest.’ I didn’t know what to say. There was nothing in my
experience to handle this, except unless I went back almost 30 years earlier to
my time with Gond tribals in Adilabad, where I also encountered such generosity
of spirit from people who had nothing. In this case, it was Diwali next day. So,
I took out Rs. 100 and folded the note and put it in the pocket of the youngster
and said, ‘This is for Diwali sweets for you.’ His mother tried to object but I
said to her, ‘I am like his elder brother. Please allow me to give him a gift
for Diwali.’ She smiled and nodded. And we left. This happened in 1991. This is
2019. The memory is alive.
and sophistication seem to build walls and teach us to despise one another. These
people were among the poorest in the world, deprived, discriminated against, so-called
lower caste. Yet their hearts were full of compassion, generosity and
abundance. What is the secret? It is to see another human being as a human
being. Shorn of our titles and labels. Just another human being. This is what
we need to learn and teach. This is the secret of putting out fires and of
survival. This is our lifeline.
“Er! Ahem!! Excuse me, you may not have noticed but something is happening. My neighbor has imported a man-eating tiger to eat her mother-in-law.
She wants her MIL to become a MEAL.” (Ugh! Bad pun – or whatever).
“What after the tiger has finished the offending mother-in-law?”
“Well, my neighbor hasn’t thought about it that far. Maybe she thinks the tiger will conveniently disappear into the woodwork.”
“I don’t think so. It is a man-eating tiger. Not a mother-in-law eating tiger. I don’t think it cares about who it eats as long as it is human. Then it will be your neighbor herself, then her family and then you and me.”
“Er! Ahem!! I am not sure it is a good idea to say these things.”
“50 Muslims killed at Friday prayers in #NewZealandShooting by far-right fanatics”, say the headlines. Why do they call them ‘far-right’? They are far-far-wrong. It is not semantics. ‘Right’ has a nice ring to it. Right is just, justifiable, correct, accurate, fair and good. Killing 50 worshipers is none of these things. And then the man livestreams the killing. Let us begin by calling the animal by its correct name which is ‘fascism’. Not far-right, but fascism. Remember what happens when you don’t name the disease. Six million Jews died to teach us a lesson. Millions of Germans, otherwise ‘good’ people I suppose, remained silent and watched it happen. These Jews were not killed by rampaging hordes of barbarians. They were clinically murdered by scientists who developed ever more efficient ways to do it. Just like the man in New Zealand who not only killed innocent people but livestreamed his actions.
Social media platforms which don’t get tired of telling you how state-of-the-art their technology is and how it can catch and identify every message, allowed the video of cold-blooded murder, to travel all over the world, unremarked for many hours after it happened and until someone protested about it. When someone can livestream murder of worshippers at prayer you know depravity has sunk to its lowest level. As I said, something is happening.
What is that something?
That something is the rapid normalization of hate. Hate has suddenly been legitimized and given pride of place. I lived and worked in America and among the things I taught there is the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. The Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 is the act which gives the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) authority to sue in federal courts when it finds reasonable cause to believe that there has been employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Yet today none other than the President of America himself, mocks, condemns and expresses hatred against Americans and others on all these bases. And apparently that is acceptable. The truth is that hatred has been stoked and nurtured at every level and it is international. That is what we must accept if we want a cure.
Just to recollect; the gunman who killed worshipers in Quebec, Anders Breivik in Norway, Donald Trump’s brazen anti-Muslim rhetoric, Boris Johnson’s vilification of Muslim women, Tommy Robinson, Katie Hopkins, Jayda Fransen, Paul Golding are all given prime time slots on mainstream media and allowed millions of followers on social media. In India, the rise of fascist views has grown in tandem with extremist Hindu groups supporting Trump and attacking Muslims. This is tacitly supported by a total lack of action against the criminals thereby encouraging them to do more. Israel routinely shoots Palestinian men, women and children. No comments. Communist China imprisons, rapes and tortures over a million Uighur Muslims in the name of fighting extremism. Allegedly peace-loving Buddhists of Myanmar, led by the infamous Aung San Suu Kyi, slaughter and dispossess their Rohingya Muslim citizens with impunity. The list is endless, but this will suffice for what I need to say.
Killing and abusing Muslims has always been justified and easily explained. Just as killing Jews was accepted and justified all through Medieval times. The reality is that there were no Syrian or Iraqi or Libyan or Palestinian refugees until America and its allies created them. Most refugees today are escaping the hell that has been created in their homelands by wars and strife foisted on them by nations seeking resources, selling arms and seeking exploitation. In the same breath as demanding peace, Western nations manufacture and sell weapons of mass destruction to the vilest dictators on the planet or use them in their own personal pursuit of commerce and diplomacy through the barrel of a gun. The comment I heard which is ‘stand-up comedy standard’, is what one of the ‘leaders’ said about a sale of F-16’s, ‘It was not meant to be used in combat.’ Well, what else do you use it for? To take your girlfriend to the movies? I recall a poster when JFK was assassinated. It had a picture of a gun in a square frame and the caption, “This is made for one thing only.” At least someone then, spoke the truth.
The point I want to make is not for those individuals, leaders or groups perpetrating these crimes. I am speaking to the vast majority; people who remain silent even though they are well aware of what is happening. That is why I began with my man-eating tiger analogy. Hatred is a man-eater far more voracious than any poor tiger. Hatred is fire and it burns anything in its path. Hatred is fire and the result is always ash. It doesn’t matter why the fire was lit. Whether it was lit as an act of worship or to cook food or keep warm or anything else. It can do only one thing, burn. And the result is always ash. I ask you, is this what you want to bequeath to the world? To your own children?
Some very heartwarming and encouraging reactions to the horrific incident in New Zealand. Overwhelming support from local communities for the victims and their families. Spontaneous outpouring of love and kindness and courage. Thousands of calls to the mosques where people were killed. An unprecedented clear statement of courage by the Prime Minister who called it an ‘Unprecedented premeditated terrorist act.’ I must admit that I was waiting for the usual, ‘stressed out man with personal problems’, definition that is usually used for all white male terrorists. But God Bless her, she said it like it is. Similar statements by the Head of New Zealand Police which is doing an amazing job of bringing the perpetrators to book. No police force in the world can be expected to anticipate and prevent every crime. But every police force in the world can and must investigate crime when it happens and prosecute the criminal and aid the victim. When that is not done, the police are as culpable as the criminal, if not more.
What I want to say to you is this. Get out of denial. There is a change happening in the world and it is the same the world over. Fascism is gaining roots and is being nourished by those who benefit from it. But even more by your silence. Fascism and cowardice are a lethal combination and you will be the casualty. You think your silence and hiding in your hole will save you? It won’t. On the contrary that is what allows fascism to grow ever stronger until the bell tolls for you one day. Pastor Neimoller’s words are, perhaps even more relevant today. “First they came …” is a poem written by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984). It is about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent incremental purging of their chosen targets, group after group.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum quotes the following text as one of the many poetic versions of the speech:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Yes, it is wonderful when we see good reactions from people after a horrific incident happens. But what we need even more is proactive action. Proactive action by all of us. We need to stand up and speak out. We need to get out of our safe little nests and speak out against those who seek to use hatred to divide us so that they can benefit. We must speak out against all hatred, no matter who it is directed against. Antisemitism is as wrong as Islamophobia or any other form of hatred. Not less or more. But equal. This means it must be condemned equally. Those who seek to promote it must be rejected, lambasted and castigated. Whoever they may be. Without exception.
We must send the snakes of hatred, racism, fascism back into their holes. We must recognize the obscenity of hate speech and be ashamed of it. It is time to speak up. We must show our support for justice, compassion, mutual respect and human dignity at the ballot boxes. We must hold the media accountable for fanning the flames of hatred and for giving hate speakers and xenophobia mongers, public platforms from which to propagate their venomous ideologies. The easiest and most powerful way to bring media to heel is to switch off your TV, cancel your advertisement or subscription for the press. You have the right to choose. Nobody can force you to choose against your will. So, choose. Choose life, dignity, peace, prosperity and economic development. Remember that not one of those will come from killing people, spreading hatred, or supporting fascist agendas of self-serving leaders.
For how long the denial? We are going back towards fascism. It’s the Muslims today but really it is all of us. If we don’t fight it, it will consume us and then we’ll have only ourselves to blame. Islamophobia is Xenophobia, is fascism, is racism; the blatant hijacking of society by a few because the majority are too lazy to speak up and stand for what they know to be right. I don’t want to be among them. I will speak and I will stand up. Even if I am alone. Especially if I am alone.
If you don’t want to burn, help to put out the fire. It is as simple as that.
If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. ~ George Orwell
India has changed. I hate to say it, but that is the truth. It is no longer the nation I grew up in. The question is, ‘Do we want to continue to remain silent and allow this to happen? Or are we going to do something about it?’ The greatest strength of the corrupting forces is the silence of the good people.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Cowardice asks the question – is it safe? Expediency asks the question – is it politic? Vanity asks the question – is it popular? But conscience asks the question – is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; But one must take it because it is right.”
That time has come. It has come for each one of us in India and for each one of us who calls himself or herself, ‘Indian’. We are not at a crossroad. We are at the brink of the precipice. If we go over, there will be no return. I am not sure that we are, even now as I speak, able to reverse what we allowed to be started. But I don’t want to die without having tried. I debated long and hard with myself about writing this article. ‘What is the use? Who cares about what I say? Let people choose whatever they want? Who will change because of one more article? After all there are several people today who are writing more or less the same things.’ I said all these things to myself and then concluded that it is not about them. It is about me. In that place, my heart is at rest.
Today the plight of the Muslims, Dalits and Christians is that they seem to have been all but abandoned by the three pillars of democracy, the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. And this, for no fault of their own, except that they happen to believe in a religion different from the dominant one, i.e. Hindutva Hinduism. The final nail in the coffin is the Press and Media, which is supposed to be the conscience of the nation. It is the single most powerful force of civil society which can raise a voice against government action or apathy and ask questions to the highest offices of power. In India today, both (with honorable exceptions) have reduced themselves to the role of being ad agencies for the corporation-bureaucracy-politician nexus. They sing their tune. They don’t report news. They state opinions as fact. Their entire effort seems to be to support the divisive, hate filled mindset, that is being propagated and is being used to win elections. Hate sells. And is being bought by our society in general. The general profusion of hatred and its open expression with impunity is to be placed squarely at the door of our so-called national media.
Finally, we have an opposition which busy in fighting among themselves. An opposition which is tainted by corruption, nepotism and partisanship like everyone else. Yes, there are minor exceptions. But they are minor. They show what can be done, if there is a will. But is there a will? In the last four years we have not seen any evidence of the opposition parties coming together on matters of principle to push strongly for change. Much more energy and heat seems to be expended in fighting for seats and shooting themselves in the foot in the process. Their chief claim seems to be, ‘At least we are not as bad as them!’ That is not a particularly inspiring slogan if you ask me. I know someone needs to be voted in. I know I must say, ‘VOTE FOR………………Because they are so inspiring.’ But sorry, I can’t. No wonder I am not a politician. I am a simple fellow trying to make sense of a world that seems to have gone insane. My point is, if you want to lead, you must differentiate. You must be able to say, ‘We are different for this wonderful reason.’ Is that the case here? Sorry to be undiplomatic.
Another very disturbing issue is that this is eroding our co-existential culture. This is as true in our cities as it is in rural India. Segregation in South Africa was an officially endorsed policy under Apartheid. So, it could be fought and was eventually abolished. In India our Apartheid is not officially endorsed but unofficially supported by what is in our hearts and it is equally effective. With one big benefit; that because it is not ‘official’ it can be conveniently denied when challenged. You can’t fight against something that doesn’t exist, can you? But proof is easy to find. Go to almost any Indian city and try to rent an apartment, pretending to be Muslim or Dalit. Just call yourself by a Muslim or Christian name and see what happens. We no longer live in mixed communities and therefore do not understand, appreciate or value each other. Unlike in my childhood. Therefore, it’s easier to be prejudiced and to stereotype, to demonize and hate. It is a self-reinforcing, vicious cycle that can have only one end.
In one line, what is happening is the ‘ghettoization of India’. Hate speech is the means by which this is being achieved. What is happening today in India is not about Muslims or Dalits. It is about India. My motherland. Your motherland. It is not enough to chant Bharat Mata ki Jai, if we fail to stand up to defend our Mata. It is India crying out in pain and begging for help. It is time to stand up, stand shoulder to shoulder for the integrity of our nation. If we don’t recognize the nature of the beast and terminate it, it will devour us all. Not a single person in this country will be left untouched.
Kathua didn’t happen in isolation or overnight. It is the culmination of innumerable hate speeches, made and tacitly supported that created a mindset where a nephew and uncle invited each other to satisfy their lust on a poor 8-year-old girl. Is this our society today? Are you happy to be called a member of such a society? If your son starts a conversation planning to rape a girl and invites you to join him, are you ready for it? Sorry to be blunt but this conversation actually happened in the Kathua case, between and uncle and his nephew and they jointly violated an 8-year-old and that too inside a temple. So, is this about Hindus and Muslims? Or is this about our humanity itself?
In the Unnao and Kathua cases, the Government and the Prime Minister made a statement only after countrywide protests. The incident happened in January. The Government’s statement came in April. That statement too was not specifically directed against the perpetrators of the rape and murder of Asifa but was a general statement about the protection of women. Statistics of hate speech after the NDA has come to power show that hate speech has gone up 500%.
The reason is not hard to find. In behavioral science and training, whether it be of animals or humans, we call it ‘positive reinforcement’. This means that the person who adopts the ‘approved’ new behavior is allowed to taste its sweetness, so that in encourages him to do it again. In training hunting dogs, trainers allow them to eat from the kill, so that the dog is encouraged to kill again. Same is the case in training falcons. Same is the case in training humans, you reinforce the new behavior by allowing them to enjoy it or by giving them prizes for it. This is what has been happening in India.
You may challenge me and point to all the marches and demonstrations, all the status pictures changed in WhatsApp, FB and so on, that are now happening all over the world, demanding #JusticeforAsifa. All the clever Tweets and Snapchat and Instagram messages. All the screaming for the death penalty for the rapists, some frankly very creative ways suggested to inflict maximum pain and suffering. But hold on a minute. After all, didn’t we see all this outrage in the case of Nirbhaya? And then? Did attacks on women end with that or with the law that was enacted? You know the answer. Not only did attacks not end, they increased. So, what’s the reason to believe that this will be any different? After all, Asifa’s parents are poor people, nomads to boot, who probably never vote. The rapists belong to the Ruling Class and have powerful supporters, including law makers, law enforcers and lawyers. Asifa’s parents have one gutsy woman lawyer. I hope she proves to be someone who can change the path of destiny; not of Asifa’s family, but of my nation.
To prove my point above about how after all the shouting has died down, we continue in our ways, here are some incidents of violence against women that have happened recently and continue to happen because we don’t care.
Hate speech happens because it can happen. Because it is allowed, encouraged actively or tacitly. Because those who do it, know that they can get away with it and despite the stringent laws against it, they know that those laws are for the books but will never be applied to them. The enforcers of the law, the police, seem to have accepted the role of ‘lackey to the politician’ and are happy with it and IPC (Indian Penal Code) and CrPC (The Code of Criminal Procedure) be damned. Once again there are notable and honorable exceptions that prove the rule. You would have to be blindfolded, not to see this. As for our Constitution and what it guarantees, well, I don’t think you need me to explain that.
Here is an example of what I mean by creating a mindset of hatred.
Both Yogi Adityanath and Maharani Vijaya Raje Scindia can be seen sitting on the stage, while this man is calling upon Hindus to exhume dead Muslim women and rape them. Both remain silent. Silence is support. Silence in assent. Silence is culpable.
Question: Does this constitute hate speech? If so, what action was taken? We know that Yogiji was made the CM of UP. But was any action taken against the speaker?
Sadly, this is not the only such speech. There are dozens of such speeches, each more outrageous than the other by luminaries and leaders who are center stage. I am not talking here about some small-time village leader. I am talking about people who are seen and called ‘national leaders’. This has created a situation where hatred and its expression have become mainstream and are done without shame, because they are applauded. Here is one example:
As always, the comments are even more ‘interesting’. We have reached a stage today where someone not only openly says something like this, but it is condoned and supported also openly by others, some of whom are very prominent people in the leadership of the nation. I know some of you are going to say, ‘If D. Trump can do it, why not others?’ My answer is, ‘D. Trump is not my Gold Standard. Is he yours?’ We need to decide what kind of nation we want ours to be. We are not a part of any other nation, be it Pakistan or America or anything else. We are a sovereign nation and we must take our own decisions. In this case, ‘we’ means, ‘Hindu’. India is a Hindu majority nation. It could have been a theocracy on Day-1 if the Hindus wanted it to be. Instead it chose to be secular with equal respect for everyone. Something has changed since then. We know what that is. The question is, ‘Do we want this change?’ If the answer is, ‘Yes’, then I have nothing more to say. If the answer is, ‘No!’, then I submit to you, my Hindu brothers and sisters, it is in your hands. Because you are the majority. Majoritarianism is a non-inclusive ideology. While a majority that cares for, respects, appreciates and protects minorities is the surest sign of civilization. We need to make that choice.
We are progressively seeing a situation where those who raise a voice and have the courage to stand up to the divisive forces of extremism are targeted, harassed and silenced. Currently, the brave lawyer (Hindu) who is defending the victim of the Kathua case, is a case in point.
Is this the nation we want to create? Is this the nation we want ours to become?
To give the devil his due, this is not new. And it is not something that the BJP or RSS invented. True, they are in the driving seat now and so must answer for what happens during their watch. But just to make a list of this litany of shame, we have the Gujarat Riots of 1969, followed by the Sikh Riots of 1984, then the Bhagalpur Riots in Bihar of 1989, then the Bombay Riots of 1992/93, then once again Gujarat Riots of 2002. One common factor in all of them and the numerous incidents of violence against minorities; the perpetrators always walk away, scot free. Positive reinforcement works.
In Kathua, the Bakarwala tribe has moved from the region out of fear. Which is exactly what the perpetrators wanted and that should concern the law as much as the act of rape itself. It was a premeditated act of aggression with the aim of creating terror. So, it was a terrorist act. Let us see what action is taken. The underlying narrative we need to look at is something that is happening in many places in the country, more so in Assam. A demographic purge is happening with the idea to move minorities out, so that the vote swing factor is canceled out. The fall out is that these people move to areas where ‘their own people are’. You would think this strengthens the community there who can now pick their MLA. This in practice creates one minority MLA in an assembly of opposition, rendering him ineffective and a target of government apathy.
Interestingly, you will notice, and this is the case in almost every such incident, all this violence, looting and killing is done in the presence of the police. Nobody can accuse the police of not coming in time. They always seem to be present when minorities are subjected to violence. They bear witness while those who indulged in the looting and terrorizing, walk away with their loot, free. Is this the role of the police? Or is their role to stop the violence and bring the perpetrators to justice? Well, you should ask your friendly, neighborhood policeman or woman. I am not one of them. Just for the record, the police and the bureaucracy are empowered by the Constitution of India, no less, to stand up against any illegal instructions of politicians and implement the Rule of Law by the book. They don’t need to wait for directions. And they don’t need to succumb to illegal instructions. But they do. Why?
As for the courts, let me just mention three prominent and most recent cases and leave you to figure out what is happening.
Great relief to know that there was no blast in Makkah Masjid. Or maybe it was an act of God, because it appears that no human being did it. But why did the judge resign immediately after giving this judgment? Ask Pontius Pilate why he washed his hands after giving his judgment.
Finally, let me share with you this totally amazing case of how saving lives and taking them seems to be the same. Be careful when you next have a pressing urge to save any lives. Who knows what kind of soup that may land you in.
https://youtu.be/dBL5pVYSmsY Interestingly, even the parents of the children whose lives he saved are silent, when the savior is paying the price of his soft heart and devotion to duty.
And of course, we expect that little Asifa will get justice because we run a hashtag campaign #JusticeforAsifa. Where is the boundary between hope and delusion? Between optimism and fantasy?
Just a moment. Who is this mob? Are these trained mercenaries brought in from somewhere? Are they thugs from Chambal? Are they professional killers and highway robbers? No, they are not. Go look in the mirror to meet one of them. They are you. They are me. Look at those around your dining table in your home. Look at those worshiping with you in your place of worship. Look at those who work with you in your office. Look at those you deal with in the market. You are looking at mob members, who at the drop of a hat, have no compunctions about breaking and entering the homes of their neighbors, raping their daughters, looting their hard-earned savings, destroying their lives and laughing all the way home, laden with the loot they accumulated. They do this because they can. They do this because there are no comebacks, no accountability, no punishment. As long as the victims are Muslim, Christian or Dalit. How does this happen? Remember this question every time you hear a derogatory comment, a curse word, a snide remark, a nasty joke, with a Muslim or a Dalit as its butt.
That is how it happens. Hatred is nurtured in our homes, in our hearts and is ingested with mother’s milk in our cradles. That is where it must be fought and stopped and replaced with love, with acceptance, with appreciation of difference. It must be fought because all hatred is fire. Fire burns everything and everyone. And the result is always ash. Remember that the religion of a murderer is cancelled when he/she commits or instigates murder. Remember that the religion of the victim doesn’t make them ‘guilty’ and ‘deserving’ of being murdered. Remember that when we support a murderer or a rapist, we are supporting our own murderers and rapists in the future. Because injustice to one is injustice to all. All murder, rape, plunder, all acts of aggression are wrong, no matter who does them or to whom they are done. That is the only principle which can keep us from going over the brink, into the void from which there is no return. Your silence makes you culpable. By remaining silent you are supporting the crime. So, why are you silent? Don’t tell me. Stand in front of a mirror and tell him/her.
Many people tell me, ‘The vast majority of Hindus are not like this. They don’t want extremism to succeed. They don’t hate Muslims and don’t support Hindutva ideology.’ My answer is, ‘Really?’ The fact is that all those we see protesting against the extremist agenda are the ‘usual suspects’; Hindu socialites, intellectuals, artists, Dalit activits, Christian priests, leftists, liberals and the odd white-capped or burkha-clad Muslim. I sound dismissive, but I am not. I bow to them in reverence and love and undying gratitude for having the courage to stand up when nobody else is doing. I am mentioning this only to show that they are not the so-called vast majority. So where is this vast majority of Hindus who allegedly believe in human rights, equality, freedom of religion, gulab jamoons and rasagollas? I don’t see them. Do you?
Extremist orators seem to be fond of drawing parallels between Indian Muslims and Jews in Hitler’s Germany, casting themselves proudly in the role of Hitler and his Nazis. The question we (normal, garden variety, peaceful, moral, kind, compassionate, cosmopolitan, educated, suave, fashionable and erudite Hindus) need to ask is, ‘By inference does that not put us in the role of the silent German majority which allowed concentration camps to be established, gas chambers to be built and six million, innocent Jewish men, women and children, old and young, even babies, to be exterminated? It was this majority that would never have dreamt of defining itself as ‘murderous, genocide supporters’. But they were. Hitler, after all, didn’t kill a single Jew, at least to my knowledge. Yet six million died for no fault other than that they believed in another religion than that of the Germans. And remember that they were also German citizens. Yet it was their own government, sworn to protect all citizens equally, which put them in concentration camps and then in gas chambers. Why? Because their friends, compatriots, fellow citizens chose to remain silent. Silence is culpable.
In the words of Castillo, the Guatemalan poet and activist:
One day the apolitical intellectuals of my country will be interrogated by the simplest of our people.
They will be asked what they did when their nation died out slowly, like a sweet fire, small and alone.
No one will ask them about their dress, their long siestas after lunch, no one will want to know about their sterile combats with “the idea of the nothing” no one will care about their higher financial learning.
They won’t be questioned on Greek mythology, or regarding their self-disgust when someone within them begins to die the coward’s death.
They’ll be asked nothing about their absurd justifications, born in the shadow of the total life.
On that day the simple men will come.
Those who had no place in the books and poems of the apolitical intellectuals, but daily delivered their bread and milk, their tortillas and eggs, those who drove their cars, who cared for their dogs and gardens and worked for them, and they’ll ask:
“What did you do when the poor suffered, when tenderness and life burned out of them?”
Apolitical intellectuals of my sweet country, you will not be able to answer.
A vulture of silence will eat your gut.
Your own misery will pick at your soul.
And you will be mute in your shame.
(Otto rene Castillo, Guatemalan Poet and activist)
Once again, Hitler’s gas chambers didn’t happen in isolation. They were the ultimate culmination of centuries of oppression of Jews all over Europe and Russia. They were the ultimate expression of centuries of silence of ‘good’ Russian people, French people, German people, English people, Austrian people and many such people all over Europe; all good, religious, moral (or so they would have defined themselves) and kind people, for whom, killing a Jew or remaining silent when someone did it in their name, didn’t cast any aspersions on their own morality, kindness or religion. They would have gladly risked their lives to save a puppy caught in a house on fire but would also stand silently and watch while a Jewish man or child was set on fire. That is exactly where we, the vast and silent majority of Hindus, stand in India today. If India is to change, we Hindus must take the lead and change it. The minorities can’t do it alone without our support. We Hindus must stand with them, around them and ahead of them. My question is, do we want to continue to stand and watch until we are ourselves engulfed? Or do we want to drive the change we want to see, by being it ourselves?
It will be salutary for those who draw parallels between Jews in Hitler’s Germany and Indian Muslims to consider two facts: Even Hitler and all his silent accomplices, couldn’t exterminate all the Jews in Germany and those who remained, came out of the trial by fire, tempered as hard as steel. And those who remained silent, perished with Hitler and his active companions, when Germany fell to Allied Forces in World War II. Being silent didn’t save them from the consequences of the actions of their compatriots.
I am clueless about how as an ordinary citizen of this country, I can raise a voice and be heard, so that action can be taken to save our society from going over the brink. Where do I raise a voice? Who is there to listen? Who has the authority and the will to bring about change? It seems today that we, as a people, have no self-respect, no principles, no values and no shame. You don’t like what I’ve said? So, prove me wrong.
The biggest lie that is peddled to us and which we swallow without examining it, is that our leaders are ‘our’ leaders. The reality is that our leaders are a different species, who manipulate and rule us, because we are easy to manipulate, and we collude in this manipulation. They are our leaders. That is how they become our leaders in this poor, blessed democracy of ours. By manipulation. We know this. We have suffered this, election after election. But we still fall for the same stories, the same lies, the same betrayal. The truth is that today everyone has failed us. Who’s us? You. Me. Your neighbor, your parents, my parents, your wife, my wife, your husband, my husband, your children, my children, one of whom called Asifa, died in unspeakable terror and agony. Why did she die? Because she was ours. If she’d been theirs’, she’d have had Z-class security.
But hold on a minute, just in case you forgot. Who pays for their security? Who gave them their status? Who pays their salaries? Who pays for them to live in the style they live in? Who pays for them to travel all over the world in the name of service to the nation?
Big question to you, “How much longer do you want to continue to do this?
What can you do?
What’s the action being taken in the Asifa case? Are the culprits going to be hanged?
What’s the action taken in the Unao case?
Why is Dr. Kafeel, who saved the lives of 200 children, imprisoned?
Why are the parents of those children silent?
Why are all these great leaders of ours, silent in all these cases?
What action has been taken in the Gauri Lankesh murder?
And the many other murders of anyone who raised the voice of dissent?
What action has been taken in the more than hundred cases of lynching by Gaurakshaks?
What action has been taken for the numerous encounter killings by police? Extrajudicial killings. In one simple word, murder.
I can go on but won’t.
Meet each other as people, as human beings, not with your religious and caste labels. Meet in your localities, villages, buildings, offices. Tell each other your stories. And discover that it’s really the same story. We are one. We all want safety for our children, education, good affordable health care, food on the table, decent jobs, to be treated with dignity, to be respected for what we are. Same story whether we are Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Dalit, Christian, God fearing or Godless. Same story. So, what’s the fighting about?
Truly we’re not that stupid, right? Wrong. We are, that stupid. That’s why we are where we are, and they are where they are. We elect them, keep them, support them, pay for them and then they treat us like dirt. So, who is at fault?
Meet each other and ask these questions.
Believe me, it doesn’t matter a damn to you what my religion is or if I have any religion at all. And vice versa. What matters to both you and I, is whether we and our children have a future in this land? Our motherland.
Guess who decides that?
Wake up, take charge, enforce justice. Or keep moaning and groaning until the next Asifa or Nirbhaya or Kafeel. Except, then, the name might be your own or your daughter’s.
In the famous words of Pastor Neimoller who wrote about Hitler’s Germany”
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
This world is a coin. It has two faces. Both joined together but both different; often the opposite of one another. I am speaking about social media, the coin which on one side has convenience, communication and companionship and on the other, lies, ignorance and hatred. Both made possible by technology which like all technology is value neutral. What we forget is that technology is a knife, which in the hands of a surgeon, can save a life, while in the hands of Macbeth, took one.
One of the plagues of our times is what is being called ‘Fake news’. News with a spin has been around for a long time. The days when journalists were the conscience of society, warriors for justice and the shield of the downtrodden, are long gone. Most journalists are today the willing slaves of their employers and news channels are really ad agencies creating sales spiel. Truthfulness, veracity, integrity and courage have all been sacrificed at the altar of TRP ratings or political leanings. Spin doctors rule the roost. Sales figures are the ultimate criterion for all decision making. Truth be damned.
I am reminded of the story of a farmer named Donaldwho had a donkey which was old, stubborn and lazy. The man got so sick of that donkey that he decided to sell it. Sunday was the market day and so he took his donkey to the market to sell it. As Donald was standing there, a man came and asked him, ‘How much for this donkey?’
Donald replied, ‘One hundred dollars.’
‘It looks like a fine donkey. Good, here’s the money. Let me have him.’
‘Please wait a minute’, said Donald. ‘I am an honest man. I must tell you about this donkey before you take him home. He is old, stubborn and lazy. If you still want him, he is yours.’
The man looked at Donald and said, ‘There are very few people like you in the world, who have the integrity to speak the truth even at their own cost. I greatly appreciate your honesty and will always remember this meeting of ours. Let me see if I can find another donkey. I don’t think I can afford this one.’
This story repeated all day. At the end of the day, Donald had a host of pleasant memories of the good things people told him but he still had his donkey. Sadly, he started to wind his way home with his donkey on its lead.
As he was about to leave the market area, a man came up to him and said, ‘Sir, I am an agent. I sell livestock. I have been watching you all day. I appreciate your honesty but please allow me to tell you that you, will never be able to sell that donkey. I suggest instead, that you allow me to sell the donkey and I will charge you a 10% commission. I am a professional and I have a very good track record. You can ask anyone about me.’
Donald was happy to hear this but said to the agent, ‘I am happy to accept your offer, but I have one condition. You must tell the people about this donkey. I don’t want anyone to buy this donkey under any false impression. It is old, lazy and stubborn and I want whoever buys it, to know this. If you are willing to accept this condition, then I am willing to accept your offer.’ The agent agreed to the condition and promised to pick the donkey up the following Sunday.
Next Sunday the agent arrived early in the morning and led the donkey away to the market. A little later, Donald also decided to go to the market so that he could take the sale proceeds from his donkey and buy another one, because he needed a donkey for his work. As he arrived there, he saw the agent standing on a soap box, with many donkeys tethered behind him and a big crowd of people surrounding him. The man was auctioning the donkeys. Donald joined the crowd, standing at the back where he could get a place.
‘Ladies and gentlemen’, shouted the agent. ‘You saw those before you, buy some excellent donkeys. Many of you bid for them but couldn’t get them. But please don’t worry, I now have a donkey for you which excels them all. But before I open the bidding, please allow me to tell you something about this exceptional animal. He is so special that I hesitate even to call him an animal. He is the greatest donkey that I have ever known in my long years in this profession. He is a donkey with three very special qualities. The first quality is that he has a lot of life experience. He has seen life. He has seen its ups and downs, its joys and tragedies. He knows the morning mists and orange dusks, the turn of the seasons and the fall of rain. He has seen kings and kingdoms, rise and fall and through all this, he learned, he reflected and he accumulated wisdom. As I said, he has a lot of life experience.
His second quality is that he has a mind of his own. He is a willing servant, not a slave. If you say, ‘Jump’, he won’t ask, ‘How high?’ He will ask, ‘Why?’ But once you convince him, nobody can jump higher than he can. What is the good of wisdom if you don’t use it? That is the motto of this donkey; If you have it, use it. He has it and he uses it.
His third quality is that he knows the meaning of leisure. He knows that all work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Believe me, this donkey is anything but dull. He is spontaneous, humorous and energetic. He knows the importance of relaxation, of meditation and of sleep. There is much that you can learn about your own lifestyle by being in the company of this donkey. For this reason, because we have a very special donkey, I propose we start the bidding at $200.’
Donald was delighted. ‘How fortunate I am’, said Donald to himself. ‘I need a donkey and here is one that seems so full of great things that I must have him.’ The bidding was rapidly going on. Donald joined the bidding and finally the donkey was sold to Donald for $400.
When Donald went to pay the agent, and collect the donkey that he had bought, to his utter disgust, he saw that it was his own donkey that he had bought. He was livid. He said to the agent, ‘You deceived me. You didn’t speak the truth.’ The man replied, ‘But I did. I just said it differently. You said the donkey was old; I said that he was experienced. You said that he was stubborn; I said that he was wise and so needed to be convinced about the need to do your bidding. You said that the donkey was lazy; I said that he knew the value of leisure. How is that lying or cheating?’ Donald was stumped.
Just as our audience is stumped, when our journalists today, spin their yarns and tell their tales in ways that make history vanish and mythology real. They make numbers jump through hoops to show economic growth where there is only ruin and despair. They conduct investigations without police, trials without judges and executions without the hangman, all in their media rooms or newsprint. They are artists and their canvas is the lives of people and nations. Their paint is the blood of innocents diluted with the tears of children who don’t even understand what is going on. They win Pulitzer Prizes for photographs of the starving, the dying and the dead. They make millions, are applauded and toasted, while the starving, starve and the dying, die. Change is not on the agenda. Only TRP ratings and paper sales.
But I am not talking about this. I am talking about another kind of calamity that has befallen us, which is in the hands of everyone with a camera phone. The calamity of fake news. Videos are made and then attributed to others to convey a specific message. A message of hatred. Some of the videos are of real events but are attributed falsely; like the video of Pakistani boys rejoicing at the Pakistani team’s win in an India-Pakistan cricket match. This was spread on social media saying that it was Indian Muslims rejoicing at Pakistan’s win and so it proves that they are anti-national traitors.
Or another of a young woman who was beaten bloody and then set on fire, claiming that she was a Hindu girl who had married a Muslim boy and was being punished for that. Actually, it was a scene from Guatemala where the girl was a member of a motorcycle gang which murdered a man and ran away. The girl got caught and was summarily executed by a mob, with police standing mute witness. Despicable as it is, it was not something that happened in India at all. But it was used to ignite Hindu Muslim hatred. There are many others to the extent that this has become an epidemic which like all epidemics takes its toll. The resultant hatred that has spread all over India is cause of real concern. It is therefore time to sit up and take note.
2.If you still can’t find out if the message or video is fact or fake, DON’T FORWARD IT.
3.Once you find out the truth, ask yourself why you want to forward it at all. What will happen because of your forwarding? What will happen if you don’t forward it?
4.Then take a conscious, responsible and informed decision to forward or delete.
5.Forwarding with the disclaimer, ‘Forwarded as received’, shows that at best you are highly irresponsible and at worst, a mischief maker. In both cases, not fit to associate with. So please think about this before blindly forwarding things.
6.If you get fake news and have the time to check its veracity, then please inform all you can that it is fake and what the real news is. Let the liars be exposed.
Remember that fake news is a living media and your forwarding, is its oxygen. Stop forwarding and it dies. People who create or propagate fake news (and you may unwittingly be one of them) are like arsonists who go around setting fires. Remember that all fires burn and the result is always ash. It doesn’t matter who set the fire or why. Fire fighters are moral, sensible and responsible and put out fires.
Ask yourself if you are an arsonist or a fire fighter.