Could You Be Original Please

Are we ever going to display some original thought in our reactions to events?

Bal Thackaray

Two recent events in Maharashtra – and the reactions to them – have generated enormous volumes of reportage, and even greater volumes of comments about the reportage. The first was the death of Bal Thackeray, the chief of the Shiv Sena. The next was the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, the Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist.

In both these cases, the freedom of speech has been excitedly exercised by all and sundry. The freedom of thought, though, was rather infrequently used.

Reactions to both events fell into patterns so predictable that the comments could quite easily have been generated by software, instead of by actual humans.

The herd of automata loaded with Right-wing Hindu software reacted with glee to the killing of Kasab, and sorrow to the death of Thackeray. The more extreme among them also expressed suspicions that the Congresswallahs had hung Kasab to dry after he was already dead from dengue. Earlier, they had been the sort of folks who went out and smashed hospitals because not everyone was heartbroken at Thackeray’s passing.

It being nigh impossible to defend Kasab, the herd loaded with Left-liberal software has been expressing sorrow that the death penalty was used in his case, and pointing out how India refused to sign some UN convention against the death penalty very recently. These were the folks who were ranting about shops being shut the day Thackeray died, and expressing regret at the expressions of regret that followed his death.

Meanwhile, on that day, one million people had come out on the streets of Mumbai to pay their last respects to Thackeray. It was a charged atmosphere. Knowing the Sena, any perceived insult might have led to a conflagration. In that situation, it is difficult to predict just how many people would have wound up dead. Thankfully, this did not happen, and the moment passed with only one relatively minor incident – that too, outside Mumbai. In large measure, this was because the average person in this city is actually far more sensible than the Leftist or Rightist automaton.

In an ideal world, groups such as the Sena, or the even more violent Lashkar-e-Toiba, would not exist. Mumbai knows rather too well that they both do. The responses to them must be grounded in this reality.

A lot of folks who dismiss realism when it comes to such cases, on idealistic grounds pleading secularism or modernity, often display behaviour that betrays hypocrisy and confusion.

If you consider yourself modern and secular, please answer this: Do you hesitate to cross the road if a black cat crosses your path? Or observe any taboos, such as not eating beef or pork? If you do, I think you are not modern enough. If you call yourself secular, I’d like to add a “pseudo” before it. Observance of religious taboos betrays irrational religiosity at odds with a truly modern persona.

Perhaps you might want to justify it on grounds of tradition, or family values.

That’s not convincing. If you’re fighting against traditions and practices that don’t make sense in the modern world, such as forcing girls into purdah or preventing them from using mobile phones, then you ought to fight against meaningless taboos as well.

The only possible explanation is that you’re actually just afraid to tempt the fates.

Well, given that the workings of extremist outfits like the Shiv Sena are more predictable than the mysterious workings of fate, holding off protest on the day of Thackeray’s funeral was merely the sensible thing to do. The Sena is a more real danger than a black cat, or a steak or a pork chop. To play safe was in the best interests of all Mumbaikars, and Indians.

And so was hanging Kasab.

The LeT and its cohorts, who are made up of extremists more hardcore than the Sena, do not forgive and forget. They are organised groups who live and die with the aim of killing. We have seen that many times in the past.

Do you remember the IC 814 hijack? It led to the release of three terrorists from Indian jails. They were Masood Azhar, Omar Shaikh and Mushtaq Zargar. Azhar went on to launch the Jaish-e-Mohammad, a terrorist group that subsequently attacked the Indian parliament in 2001. It nearly led to a war between India and Pakistan. The armies mobilised, and several Western embassies began to withdraw staff from Delhi and Islamabad.

Omar Shaikh, a London School of Economics alumnus, was subsequently involved in the 9/11 terror attack. He also confessed to kidnapping and killing American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. He has been convicted of the crime.

Zargar hasn’t achieved the same level of infamy yet, but he’s not retired either. His biggest achievement in terrorism may be forthcoming, and if you are unlucky, you, dear reader, might become part of that story.

To keep Kasab alive would have been a drain on the Indian exchequer, and a constant security risk for every Indian. Before you jump to dispute this, please furnish a guarantee that another India flight will never be hijacked, and another demand for release of a terrorist never made.

Had such a thing happened to secure Kasab’s release, and a Pakistani group done it, the tension between the two countries could have led to war. In that situation, thousands of good people would have died because of one evil person.

Hanging him after due legal process was the most sensible thing to do. The entire subcontinent can breathe a little easier now.

Foreign media outlets see attacks on the West as terrorism, but attacks elsewhere as other things that need not be taken seriously. They are partisan, and brave, from a safe distance. They do not live with our realities.

The Western-educated liberal elite that falls over itself to follow intellectual fashions of the West would do well to start thinking for itself.

As Erich Fromm pointed out many years ago, the freedom of speech and expression is meaningless if the thoughts you are expressing are not your own.

The writer is Consulting Editor, The Asian Age, Mumbai, and author of The Urban Jungle. Views expressed here are his personal views.


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Contribute Your Views
  • Abhishek

    The writer has very well exploited the Sena story with Kasab masala……gud attempt

  • Prakash

    A truly modern persona also understands that choosing what to eat or not for whatever reason is in private space. I eat both but the ones who dont are not necessarily less modern. same goes with superstitions in private space. Unless a person forces his choices others, he is as modern as the ones who choose differently; the parameters of modernity being different.

    Rest of the article is ok, but the point of religious practices in private space was straight out of a debate between naive school children.

  • Vijay S. Jodha

    Samrat , a thought-provoking piece but you didn’t elaborate where people who are
    not bothered by black cats or religious F & B issues, fit in? Are
    they the ones with the most credible opinion? Think Jinnah who would
    have passed this test but all he came up with was the most regressive
    and, as it turned out, damaging two-nation theory. Conversely do we
    discount the idea of sun rising from the east because a mad man is
    uttering it? The fact is that having a society governed by democratic
    norms and rule of law is a desirable goal even if people find ways to
    live with occasional tyranny and lawlessness such as those who chose to
    shut up and stay indoors on day of Thackeray’s funeral. Whether articulating this desire seems like a mimicry or gets good or bad foreign press, is perhaps less important.

  • Bala

    I agree with the comments on the attitude of the West and its media. The height of hypocrisy is from the good ol’ Beeb of Jimmy Saville fame, calls all terrorists who hit India as militants, but the ones who hit the Western targets as TERRORISTS.
    Can you beat that?

  • Vikrant

    While I agree with the author on most aspects, equating modernity and secularism with being spiritual and religious is a bit immature. One can be modern while being spiritual and one can be secular while having complete faith in the religion. The definition of secularism doesn’t convey that one needs to be an atheist or a complete non-believer to be secular.

  • hi! being secular and modern, to me, means breeding some level of tolerance towards ways of others and allowing ample breathing space for everyone to co-exist peacefully. But,by your example, if a person is not eating beef and pork, or indulging in other ‘modern’ activities, how does this make him pseudo-secularist/modernist? He is okay with everyone doing whatever they want but at the same time free enough to make his personal choices.

    • Venkat N

      Very well said! ….It is no use being a man with no principles….

    • why someone is eating or not eating beef, i believe is their own choice. But why you made that choice is what matters. You maybe vegan, beef intolerant (??) or maybe just hate the taste of pork, then its fine, you made a choice. But today, in 21st century India, half of our population does not eat beef/pork because they have been forbidden to do so. Now that my friend is an utterly stupid reason to base your food habits on.

  • Anand Patel

    Wow. Incredibly stupid arguments about hanging of Kasab. Since we are indulging in fantastical hypothesis. Let me put it this way. Now with Kasab dead, he will be used as an example of martyr to recruit other misguided youth hence serving as a good source of false jihadi propaganda. Is it possible that it would churn out more attacks on the Indian soil and hence resulting in more loss of lives of innocent Indians? I don’t know but what ‘guarantee’ (which he apparently asks people against the death penalty) can the author give that this will not happen?

    None. Herein lies the problem. You can’t prove your point on the basis of such absurd hypothesis and in any case Kasab was a mere pawn. His job was done and there is hardly any chance that there would have been another instance of something like a hijack to free him up. Indulge in better constructed arguments next time.

  • 20 lac mumbaites kept the peace which 50k goons could not do at Azad Maiden?!0

  • amina

    I think the piece is incredibly flawed, simplistic and pointless. You had me there, dear author, in your first few paras. But then when you started giving your thin arguments on modernity, secularism etc., and then you started your ‘original’ arguments. Seriously need a social science class on ‘secularism’, ‘modernity’ and related concepts. So people who don’t follow religious taboos are secular, modern etc? And such right-wing type arguments on Kasab’s hanging! Sensible? Who decides? Do you have any idea on how many people are on death penalty in Indian jails? Terribly disappointed, since you seem to be one of the reasonable journos in Indian media.

  • at no point does the author even mention being an atheist or a non believer, yes, you should be a non believer when it comes to stupid customs and rituals which you have been following because you were asked to.