Views from Srinagar
Prof. M. A. Sofi
THE year 2017 just gone by has been a year which, in a certain sense, comes across as one of its kind but alas, not for all the good reasons. Leave alone the natural disasters that have consumed so many lives and destroyed properties across the board, the large number of cases involving violence leading to the death of innocents that has been witnessed across vast swathes of India (not restricted to the cow belt) and more particularly in the Kashmir valley has been unprecedented. The most unedifying realisation has been the evidence of ever-willingness of those in positions of power to resort to tactics that would only breed chaos, mayhem and unrest in the society. Those encouraging hate crimes or raising the war hysteria and baying for innocent blood would do well to heed the following terse message of the last living prosecutor of the Nazi war crimes during an interview he had given recently.
Reflecting on his experiences, Mr Ferencz issued an important message about war, saying that “The Nazi soldiers who committed atrocities were not “savages” but “intelligent, patriotic human beings”, and that “war can make any normal person do horrifying things. Do you think the man who dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima was a savage?”, he asked. “Now I will tell you something very profound, which I have learned after many years. War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people- all wars and all decent people” (emphasis added).
These words ring truer today than ever before and more pertinently than they were about eighty years ago when the ‘holocaust’ had happened. All that one needs to remind oneself is that war is not something that is necessarily fought on the borders or on the battlefield. What we are witnessing today is how wars are being conducted in the media houses, board rooms, press briefings, on social networking sites through the army of faithful trolls and more importantly in the so called ‘temples of democracy’ – the legislative assemblies and in the parliaments, in this country and around the world.
To wit: look at the alacrity with which the security establishment in concert with the local police in the J&K state are seen to identify, go after and kill with utmost ease the legions of those in the valley who are suspected of acts of terrorism and who are eliminated in a matter of hours, sometimes in a few minutes, without the latter offering even a semblance of resistance before they are captured or killed. The absence of fear of a counter attack from those holed up and the ease with which these operations are conducted are reason enough to believe that these are no hard core terrorists who would pose a threat to peace and calm in the valley if they were let scot free. In contrast, hark back to the utter indifference and lack of will on their part to get to those who were involved in innumerable cases of braid chopping in the valley which had created such a reign of terror and horror through the length and breadth of the valley. A much easier and a more reliable way of winning the hearts and minds of the people of the valley would have been for them to resort to tactics where the recourse to the use of firepower was either avoided or at least minimised. It is no brainer to assert that the dialogue and discussion alone would have achieved much more in terms of restoring peace to this place which has been on the receiving end of gratuitous violence, especially at the hands of those acting as dictated by their masters in the deep state.
Equally alarming is the choice of issues that are sought to be raked up to fight these wars. Come to think of it, the hysteria and the mass frenzy being whipped up by this cabal of new age nationalists on such innocuous (non)issues as cow vigilantism, Babri Masjid, Taj Mahal, Triple Talaq, Tipu Sultan and more recently by the row over Padmavati redound to their devious knack of dividing the country purely on caste/communal considerations. Of a piece with this strategy of playing the communal card in the run up to the recently held assembly elections in Gujarat was this grotesque reference to the former prime minister of the country being in cahoots with the enemy state of Pakistan in staging a coup d’état of sorts by clandestinely arranging to pitchfork Ahmed Patel, a Muslim congressman from Ahmedabad, as the future chief minister of Gujarat! Certainly nothing else could frighten the electorate in Gujarat more than the prospect of a Muslim Indian coming to rule the roost from the top, even as the credit for inventing the strategy of ‘othering’ the largest minority in India should surely go to the spin doctors of the BJP.
The relentless campaign of Pakistan bashing by the Establishment, with the ever ingratiating media houses in tow is part of the same devious strategy whose partisan role in perpetuating certain myths about a whole lot of things involving the (infallibility of their) political masters, an exaggerated sense of the state of economy in the country or about (the alleged antinational moorings of) certain religious communities in India has dealt a death blow to what used to be an egalitarian, libertarian ethos of the country. My main worry is on account of the purported large viewership of the noisy debates being hosted by certain self seeking anchors hired by some mainstream media houses who have abdicated their responsibility to hold to account the forces behind the surge in hate crimes. Because that would go to show that there indeed are takers for such arrogant, supercilious and extremely belligerent behaviour of the anchors with those guests who happen to toe a line that is not in keeping with that of the anchor who is generally seen to espouse an outlook that is for the most part, rabid, regressive and irrational to the core. Looking at the manner in which these debates are conducted and the extremely low level of articulation by these anchors in defence of their own stand on an issue, it needs no scholarship to assert that such arguments cannot carry conviction, other than to those who are educated illiterates with a mentality that is regressive, primitive, antediluvian and above all that is manifestly communal. This means that a possible increase in the viewership of such programs is tantamount to an attendant increase in the size of that segment of the society which espouses the same dangerous and dogmatic thinking. Should such a prospect indeed materialise, that shall sound the death knell of whatever little is left in the name of sanity in this country.
The tragedy, however, is that this and similar such sinister ploys have worked, and worked miraculously, as the election results in Gujarat have demonstrated. But the greater tragedy is that (at least a majority of) the people of this country are falling for the bait and are willingly allowing themselves to be inveigled into the trap being laid out for them by those feting themselves on the blood of the innocents. However, the plea that this mindset among the Indians marked by paranoia and animus towards other castes and other religious communities in India is deeply ingrained as part of their psyche strains credulity. Not because it was put under wraps or delayed by the relatively modern and secular outlook of various political dispensations that had ruled the country for the better part of post independent India. More pertinently, it is the ethos and outlook of those in power that is sought to be propagated as the sole determinant of the collective conduct of the masses, in complete consonance with the old adage “jaisa raja, waisa praja”- what is espoused as sacrosanct by the ruling clique percolates down to the common masses, as if by default.
It is this thinking flowing from the top that we are witness to the manner in which the state treats those who stand on the other side of the political divide and, on that analogy, how it treats its hapless, helpless and desperate prisoners rotting in its jails. The degree of civility and culture of a nation – or lack of them – is gauged precisely by these considerations and not necessarily by the facade of development and modernity that is endlessly tom-tommed as the sacred mantra of ‘greatness of the nation’ by those who have nothing to show for their concern of human dignity and of the fundamental rights of its citizens. There are innumerable cases of the incarcerated political prisoners from the valley being lodged in various jails in the country who are made to share space with die hard criminals and subjected to the most ignoble and ignominious treatment in contravention of the convention underlying the rights of political prisoners. You lose the moral high ground to raise voice on the maltreatment being meted out to Kulbhushan Jhadev by the hostile country as long as you continue to subject to inhuman treatment those who you claim to be the citizens of ‘your own country’!
One can only hope for things to look up in the weeks and months ahead. Let the New Year be the harbinger of peace and tranquillity, both in this region and elsewhere, and let the human dignity and human rights be restored their rightful place in the battlefield where ideas and thoughts, rather than muscle power and political expediency, may vie for space and supremacy in the hearts and minds of the people.
[M. A. Sofi is Professor Emeritus, Department of Mathematics, Kashmir University]