Could You Be Original Please
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.