BHARAT KI KHOJ
EYE FOR AN EYE
It was the year 2008, on 26 November the country and people across the globe sat together in their living room clutching their palms to witness the massacre that unfolded in the precincts of Mumbai. Not just viewers, residents of the city peeped from their windows, stood at a distance across the streets, discussed over the telephone helplessly to record the happenings of 3 days,174 deaths and 304 injuries. The country stood still.
The media covered it extensively, almost a step by step footage of the people under attack, the work of the men who were protecting and timely snippets of the citizens who lived under threat. Never had INDIA collectively as a fraternity documented, lived and experienced an attack, so up close and personal. One that is etched in the memory of everyone till date.
What did this Wednesday change in the day to day of everyone?Broadly, nothing apart from a few days of speculations, and soon wary life was back to normal for almost all and continues to be.
And why would it not be so? We are a courageous democracy. For neither the country, nor the city or anyone else this was the first time the country had read, learnt or watched the loss of lives.
From history of ancient India, the independence battle and even post- independent India- the country has witnessed innumerable accounts of gun fires, bomb blasts, bloodsheds and painful sights - be it the Operation Blue Star in Punjab 1984, the Operation Blue Thunder in 1988, Bombay Blasts in 1993, the Gujarat riots in 2002 and several others in states of Manipur, Assam and those places where media failed to reach.
To live within massacre is nothing new for the country, but over the last few years the country has learnt to categorise the loss - between riots, killings, blasts, protests on one side and ‘terrorist attacks’ on the other.
The word ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’ is a term that along with the world, the country only imbibed with the turn of the 21st century - the year when the twin towers crashed to the ground. Prior to this, the word was almost unheard within the demographics of the country and when it was introduced, it found a new place in our society. How? Through setting up of rampant infrastructure that would be able to detect and identify arms and ammunition capable creating terror.
So now when we look around today, we are surrounded by security cameras, armed men, security beepers, controlled access points and ever evolving technologies to scan the potential terror. Be it all sorts of public buildings such as theatres, shopping malls, corporate offices, educational institutions, and even residential apartments and townships – security checks are a mandatory hurdle to cross today. Sometimes it is just not that, there are establishments that indulge in appointing armed forces who patrol the campus on a day to day and hourly basis to protect the employees nestled within a boundary from an apparent threat.
Is that not strange? That we believe or kind of give the impression that a shopping mall is under more threat than a market, an airport more than a railway station or a bus terminus and apartments more at risk than houses! Why is the security available to the rich and the affordable leaving the common man precariously under the threat of an attack? Simply because like terrorism's alter ego – security is also a capitalistic venture which is bought and paid for. It is almost as if the one who supplies the arms to destruct, also provides the arms to protect.
Is simply reinforcing smaller enclaves with security, protecting the people of the nation? Or, does this imply that we need to have security checks and scanning in all streets, across all public spaces in every household to be able to be safe in this country? Possibly, NO! Not that because laying such an infrastructure is not possible but primarily such measures can only provide security, but not make one feel secured.
When each of us wakes up every morning, do we wake up with a fear that we are going to be bombed by an attack? Mostly for a country like ours, no. Yet many in the country wake up with fear. Each day. Every day. The farmer who wakes up not knowing what demands the landlord may come up with or the bank will ask to pay back the debt. The lovers in the park, carefully express their intimacy under the fear of being judged for obscenity. The informal dwellers keep a close eye on every passing vehicle hoping no news arrives ordering their evacuation.
We as society collectively live under fear - the fear of intimidation. Each to its own – but we surely are living under fear. One may exclude oneself saying that I am neither the farmer, the lover or the dweller – but once you realise that you belong to a minor entity – you fear. That is why when one witnesses a group of people representing any form of power in the streets – we all avoid any engagement.We feel unnerved. Today even posting on social media carries this fear of intimidation. One must think twice before posting a viewpoint for one is not sure what its repercussions would be to any socio-political, cultural or religious group.
As PK innocently remarked (PK, the film 2014) “Ab mujhe pura khel samajh aa gaya hai! Yeh khel darr ka hai” (Now I have understood the entire game. This is a game of fear) Yes, and rightly so for fear as a game, has precipitated deep in our ways of living . That is why everyone of us knows the art of installing fear.
We have all learnt and lived it – “Eat your food fast or the demons will come”; “Make your offering every Sunday or it will bring bad luck to the family”; “If you go out to play, I will break you hand”, and “If you do not do this, I will stop talking to you.” At every instance in life we have always depended on fear to show authority, to exercise rights and to demand love. We, as a society have collectively learnt the art to be both the intimidator and the intimidated, the fright and the fear.
Terrorism, as has been recorded, has no universal definition and the acts of it also have no global denominator. However, terrorism which is broadly understood as some form of violence has found itself an image. An image of guns, ammunition and other utilitarian things that can cause severe physical damage.
As a country we uphold this image, and thereby deploy our resources to fight this violence. That is why several places such as Kashmir, and even till recent history Assam, Manipur have been under the Armed Forces (Special Forces) Act to counter physical aggression. Special forces and army units have also been fighting the Naxalites in remote areas of Eastern part of the country.
Are these deemed fit? Well, it is matter of perspective. But what cannot be overlooked is that the country has chosen not to pay equal attention to the violence of oppression that exists in areas that lie near these 'disturbed areas'.
Focus on any side of these physically violent areas, and one can witness oppression or emotional violence taking centre stage in the day to day affairs.
Violence that stems from ethnographic differences, perpetuated through cultural understandings, rooted in religious beliefs, and ones pulsating in industries and establishments.And, these are not the forms of terrorism that the country is under threat from, but those that are curated as culture within.
“A culture of fear only breeds fear”, as Nandita Das stated, for that is why today we are at unease if we are asked for an opinion. Unsure whether to reveal our religious identity. Anxious if the family will be lynched if one deviates from the prescribed social order. Tensed to step out on the streets if there is a death of a political leader. Or hesitant to demand equal pay from an establishment. We feel oppressed from within.
As a country, here in lies the fear, the violence, the terror. But one that is so daily that we often fail to recognise, to act upon it. But as a nation, we have turned a blind eye to this. If not a blind, then certainly one that is out of focus at the cost of addressing the so called ‘larger terror strike’ - that we are obsessed to seek protection from. Why? Because may be none of the daily lived fear can be funded with arms, ammunition and patrolling.
TThe history of violence that India has witnessed far supersedes the history of the armed violence that as a nation we have witnessed.It is not to say that the violence caused by intimidation and oppression have not been identified and foregrounded. There are of course several Government bodies as well as Non-Government sectors that work on ground to address these issues and complaints. But that does not eradicate the fear that persists and continues to mature.
One may easily wash their hands of this stating – “No, I have not faced any of this, so I am safe!” But one is never safe if the someone next door is living in violence and facing fear. Fear is contagious, and no matter how many security cameras are installed it will penetrate. Like how the culture of fear breeds fear, similarly the culture of being brave breeds bravery.
And, at this juncture the democracy, as a collective, needs to be brave.Brave, to stand up as one and raise a voice. On the other side, the represented electives of our country are participating in the UN meetings to sign treaties countering the 'other' threat. That is all that a representative can do. But only as a collective , we can bring a revolution. A revolution not of revenge, as it is said “Inteqaam se inteqaam milte hi, azaadi nahi” (A revenge will only trigger another revenge, it does not give freedom). Today it is this freedom, that as a society and a democracy, we ought to seek. A freedom for us, for them, and the rest of the others. A freedom to speak, to act, to express and a one to live and love in a secured manner. Is there a definite path to achieve this? May be not. But it can be only be found out once treaded - as it's expressed “Darr ke aagey jeet hain.” (There is victory ahead of fear”)