We are free to choose but every choice has a price.
We seem to be living in times when some people appear to be bent on challenging this law of nature – that fire burns and the result is always ash.
The way people handle catastrophic news is as follows: Shock > Grief > Anger > Hope > Faith If, this cycle is interrupted, then a new ending happens. The new cycle becomes: Shock > Grief > Anger > Hope > Despair Beware the man who feels he has nothing to lose. Crime can be prevented. Crime must be prevented. As they say, ‘prevention is better than cure’. In the case of crime this is even more important because like the case in point above, nothing that can be done now will ever restore the lives of those who were murdered for no reason other than they belonged to a particular religious group. I didn’t put it like that because I am reluctant to use the word ‘Muslim’, but because Muslims are not the only ones at the receiving end. We had Sikhs killed in their hundreds (maybe thousands) when Indira Gandhi was assassinated and Congress was in power. They still await justice. We have Dalits who have been killed for decades and nobody even talks about justice for them. We had churches burnt, priests and nuns killed, one burnt alive in his car with his two little children. They still await justice. We had Muslims who were killed all over Gujarat in 2002 (one among hundreds of so-called riots all over India). We had two terms of Congress government rule thereafter but the victims still await justice. What I am trying to say is that what is happening in India today in the name of ‘cow vigilantism’ or extremism, is not new. Neither can the responsibility of it be laid at the door of the BJP alone. It is true that it is BJP in power today and so we look to them to ensure that justice is done and good governance is not sacrificed at the altar of political expediency. But that was and will always be our expectation from any government in power. Governments are supposed to govern. When they don’t, the country loses. Not any individual or group, but the whole nation. Where the loss is likely to be irreplaceable, it is even more important to ensure that it doesn’t happen in the first place.
This is why a strong system of crime investigation, community participation and swift justice plays a very powerful role in keeping the victims from the brink of despair. As long as people know that they have a viable alternative for redress of wrong, they will take that option every single time. But when they begin to see from experience after experience, that criminals always get away, crimes go unpunished, there is no hope for justice, compensation or retribution, then they fall into despair. Take the latest breaking news about the killers of Pehlu Khan, the dairy farmer who was slaughtered while he was legally, legitimately and justifiably transporting cows to his dairy farm.
I have no comments to make as I didn’t handle the investigation. All I can say is that Pehlu Khan didn’t commit suicide or drop dead on his own. He was killed. Before he died, he recognized and named his killers. So, if they are not guilty, who is? That is what the police and the State are supposed to find out and bring to book. If Pehlu Khan’s case was a Pehli-bar, then one wouldn’t be so concerned. But this is like a broken record, or a bad penny (choose your own proverb), it seems to happen every time. I can name incident after incident but don’t want to waste space here or your time. You know all the incidents that have happened. All with the same ending, nobody is guilty of the crime. Today there is a lot of justifiable concern to prevent radicalization of youth. What is needed is a frank assessment of what leads to radicalization and acceptance of the fact that it is lack of law enforcement and swift justice that leads to people falling into despair. That is a downward spiral that has only one end.
India is a land of contradictions. The only constant is diversity which we tolerate only by force. However, we are very comfortable living with complete contradictions as we live in compartments in our minds. Let me give you some examples: In India, we worship the woman – as a goddess – of everything from wealth, to fertility to knowledge to music to power. But have no problems demanding dowry from the bride for the favor of marrying her and then burning her alive (or murdering her in other ways) if the dowry is not enough or if we simply decide later that we want more. Incidentally this is an Indian issue, not a Hindu one. Muslims for whom taking dowry is Haraam, do so under different pretexts, trying to deceive God and man. But they deceive nobody except themselves.
Of late, rape has become a national pastime with our august politicians saying in effect, ‘Boys will be boys. Girls must not provoke them by dressing immodestly.’ Another said, ‘It is the effect of eating a lot of noodles.’ He was from Haryana where evidently, they eat a lot of noodles. Muslims like to proclaim loudly for all those who care to listen that Islam treats women and men equally and gives rights to women that they don’t have in many modern countries to this day. But they remain silent on the fact that Islam gives women these rights but Muslim men don’t. So, Muslim women continue to be deprived of what their religion guarantees them.
Take food, which today has literally become a matter of life and death in our country. Beef is the main course in Kerala, Goa, Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya (all Hindu majority states) and prohibited, banned, proscribed, Haraam in Kashmir (Muslim dominated state). But in UP, MP, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, if you say the word ‘beef’ without due respect, as determined by the Gau Rakshak (Cow Protector) who hears you, you will be summarily slaughtered without any problem or inconvenience to the slaughterers. Never mind that nobody in their right minds slaughters milch cows or buffaloes. It is bulls, male calves, or old cows which have run dry and are past yielding age which are slaughtered. That is an economic need of the farmer who can’t afford to keep and feed them, so he sells them. Anyway, none of these logical arguments makes any sense. Nor does the fact that despite the fact that Gau Rakshaks rule the roost, India continues to be the largest exporter of beef to the world. How that is possible in a country where even if you talk about killing a cow, you will pay for that with your life, is, like the Indian Rope Trick and the Water of Ganges magician’s tricks, an enduring mystery.
We worship snakes but slaughter the first one we see. We talk about Vasudev Kudumbakam (whole world is one family) but protect, uphold and propagate the caste system. We have Lord Aiyappa on his hilltop residence to visit whom you must necessarily, by his order, first pay respects to his Muslim friend, Vavar Swamy (resemblance to my name is accidental), whose temple (why a temple to a Muslim?) is at the foot of the hill. Millions do it, but it is Open Season on Muslims all over.
I can go on endlessly but I won’t. Why is this important? Because it shows up in attitudes in the workplace, society and politics. The ability to hold two opposing ideas simultaneously in the mind is a sign of intelligence. The ability to hold two opposing values simultaneously in the heart is a sign of hypocrisy. In this we are very skilled and entirely at ease.
The question is, where will this lead us. It is a rhetorical question to which I am sure we all know the answer.
Terror is fire.
Fire always burns.
And the result is always ash.