Sunday, July 16, 2006


The train blasts in Mumbai on July 7th have left 200 dead and scores injured in their wake. As Prem Shankar Jha points out, this is but one more attack in a series that seems deliberately designed to unleash communal killing in India. I was immensely surprised when the Varanasi attacks did not lead to riots and killing. Varanasi is a deeply religious town and is not exactly renowned for liberal cosmopolitanism. It has a sizeable Muslim population living cheek-by-jowl with Hindus in a very densely populated city. That there were no riots is close to a modern miracle. Riots in India occur with far less provocation.

What worries me is that this may not last. The fact that these attacks are carried out by Muslims (albeit jihadi psychopaths) is not lost on anyone. At some point soon, the tendency to lash out against Muslims in general will be impossible to control.

Some of my recent conversations with expatriate Indian acquaintances about these happenings have been a bit distressing. Along with the justifiable denunciations of Pakistan and the ISI, I heard the regulation stereotyping of Indian Muslims as well: they never support India in cricket matches, they have too many wives and too many children, they never condemn terrorist acts in India, they are anti-national etc. The alarming new development is the admiration my acquaintances had for Israeli tactics in the middle east. When I argued that Israeli collective punishment is usually disproportionate and morally wrong, I found that I was making no headway. Basically, people are fairly comfortable with the killing of innocent civilians in retaliation for terrorist attacks.

When I responded to the rhetorical question: "So, what is the solution ?" by saying that there is no easy solution, the dissatisfaction was evident. People seem to prefer the simplicity of violent retaliation. The bombing of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir and some major Pakistani cities was thought to be a good idea.

I was bothered by the fact that people I was talking to were utterly oblivious to the death and suffering their suggested retaliation would cause. These are people who are living in comfortable circumstances in the US and most likely do not know anyone who would be harmed in the least bit by the purported bombing.

I have often wondered what aspect of the personality allows otherwise reasonable people to endorse large-scale violence - is it the inability to imagine and empathize with other people's agony, the remoteness of the ultimate victim or just plain, raw hatred ?


Blogger Saritha said...

Yup, when it comes to solutions, the preference seems to be by default, violence.

Great to see you in blogland. Keep writing!

7/26/2006 12:09 AM  
Blogger mm said...

Pods - Saritha echoes my sentiments. Good to know that you have started blogging. Now to see about that publisher...

7/26/2006 6:42 AM  
Blogger mm said...

It is not practical or possible to "kill all the Muslims" or "send all the Muslims to Pakistan". Some of the Hindu professionals I know have said as much in conversations. I myself have admired Israel in the past and wished India would "stand tough" like them. Not so this time. This is not "standing tough" -
However, I was heartened to see that India made a demand (albeit a weak one) to get Dawood handed over. We can do it one step at a time :-)

7/26/2006 7:02 AM  
Blogger hari donthi said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7/26/2006 12:59 PM  
Blogger hari donthi said...

vijay, do you think you'll be this balanced if you were not living in a peaceful nation - but instead had an immediate loved one who was hurt badly, and you saw violence around you every day? wouldn't you construct a mental model that "explains" the event?

7/26/2006 12:59 PM  
Blogger VP said...

Thanks for the welcome Saritha and mm.


My guess is that I would not be very balanced if I some one near to me were to be hurt. I must say though that personal experience does not necessarily lead to hatred. Two examples I know of:

1. My brother, who has been shot at by Pakistani soldiers in Kashmir, and has seen some of his men die, bears no ill-will against Pakistanis in general.

2. A colleague of mine who used to be in the Israeli army is far more liberal in his attitudes towards the Palestinians than many Israelis and Americans (as evident from the web).

7/26/2006 10:18 PM  
Blogger Hariprasad said...

The reason i ask that is because you seemed mystified by the "senseless killing". although these killings seem senseless in the aggregate, i feel that not every one is a brainwashed robot following some cleric's orders. My guess is a lot of people have deep personal reasons that are resulting in this "hatred".

Does the solution lie in improving the economic situation/opportunities for these individuals?

7/28/2006 12:53 PM  
Anonymous Chandrasekhar said...

A few things come to mind immediately:
1. Media is always controlled or at least colored by vested interests of one kind or the other. If it isn't sheer mercenary concerns then maybe it is just the need to push thru, willy nilly, one particular point of view; the underlying concept being that if you repeated it enough times it would become the truth. I read somewhere that there are people who do not believe that the Holocaust actually happened ( the Iranian president for one:correct me if i am wrong)If that is said enough times maybe the world would one day believe it! The sheer volume of content and the spread of their word, the very strangle hold on any kind of popular opinions, makes Media the king/queen of all they survey. This hegemony is not without its consequences. It can be bought for a price, and it can be twisted to suit the convenience of whoever is interested. So the question is: how does one register an individual opinion, amidst all this powerful and often biased media? It seems to me that you guys have discovered a way around this problem by blogging away at anything. Maybe if enoough people started to register their opinions, discuss/debate them, understand the counter point and acknowledge/accept it, things would move out of the stalemate that they usually are in. Instead of looking for simplistic solutions to rather complex problems, or trying to ask naive questions like, "what's the solution, then huh?", we could start a healthy debate. The first aim should be to remove ignorance about the different, sometimes oppsing, view points. So lets keep pluggin' away at it.

2. Most of us are primed since early days to hold some particular view point about many issues. It is quite akin to brainwashing. Under such an incomplete education, we develop our narrow mindsets and hardened positions, tending more towards the regional or the national, rather than the global. I guess, what i am saying is that, we need to develop a world view of things. We should be world citizens first and then citizens of the country. As can be seen from the examples in your blog, going abroad does not necessarily make world citizens of people. Probably healthy discussion and debate might just do that!

3. In this advanced day and age mere national boundaries cannot keep people from interacting with each other in one way or the other. The only way forward is for such interactions as these, to go on and eliminate the distance between hearts and minds. Forgive me if i become poetic here for a moment and quote GURUDEV RABINDRANATH TAGORE,

" ....Where the world has not been broken up into fragments, by narrow domestic walls,

Into that heaven of freedom , my Father........"

Now that would be a right jim-dandy place to wake up in!

What i have been trying to say for the past half an hour is that a popular groundswell of opinion can sometimes turn the tide. This in turn can compell the powers that be, to act upon it. Most often it is they who perpetrate such acts of violence and agression, at least they are the brains behind them, the foot soldiers only follow orders. I may sound idealistic, but is there anything better?!

7/30/2006 4:29 AM  

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