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We are the grateful dead, live cadavers doing a post-mortem of small mercies. A chief minister appealing to the people to remain calm following a series of bomb blasts is commended for statesmanship and those who are quick to reach the goalpost to hoist their condemnatory flags are seen as concerned citizens.
On Wednesday, July 13, three bomb blasts went off in three busy localities of Mumbai. Two of them ? Zaveri Bazaar and Opera House ? are business districts, dotted with jewellery stores and gold and diamond merchants; the third, Dadar Kabutarkhana, is a middle-class area not too far from the rightwing Shiv Sena headquarters.
Locations are important. They convey the motives of the perpetrators. Someone wants to hit at Mumbai’s financial clout. While it is frightening to think of people becoming comatose to such acts, one wonders about the stratified ways of reacting. In a manner, this becomes reason enough to showcase India’s economic progress. Is it any surprise that the rich and the famous have cancelled celebrations? They have made it a point to announce it. They condemn.
A few months ago, I had sat with a group at Delhi’s intellectual hub. Big businessman was among them. “India is a soft state,” he said. “We take all the bashing.” There was no immediate provocation, but he had discovered that I had written about Pakistan. By default, the conversation had to veer towards the subject. As he leaned back, he said, “I am proud of India.” The same India that he was rubbishing minutes earlier as a soft state made him proud. In one swift move, Indians become gods, the Vishnus, protectors. But they are protecting their small areas of concern. The condemnatory attitude irks me for it is like a vacuum cleaner that makes a lot of noise and sucks in superficial dirt that remains within.
It was rather shocking to read in an article in ProRepublica reproduced by The Guardian a comment such as this: “The coordinated rush-hour explosions, which killed at least 21 and wounded more than 100, were smaller and less sophisticated than the meticulously planned strike on Mumbai in November 2008. During that three-day rampage by the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, ten gunmen targeted westerners and Jews, killed 166 people and left India and Pakistan on the brink of war.”
The war zones have embedded themselves in the mindset, and it has become crucial to refer to the 2008 attacks. While the Jewish Chabad House was one of the targets, westerners were not specifically chosen. An Indo-US strategic dialogue is planned for next week in Delhi, therefore Congressmen deem it necessary to discuss “counter terrorism as top priority”.
US President Barack Obama issued a statement: “The US government continues to monitor the situation, including the safety and security of our citizens. India is a close friend and partner of the United States. The American people will stand with the Indian people in times of trial, and we will offer support to India’s efforts to bring the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice. During my trip to Mumbai, I saw firsthand the strength and resilience of the Indian people, and I have no doubt that the India will overcome these deplorable terrorist attacks.”
The US citizens working in India are evidence of our economic power. By offering support, America is ensuring that the ‘war on terror’ remains as alive as state terrorism. If an Indian group such as the Indian Mujahideen is involved, the Obama enthusiasm will wane considerably. It needs a Lashkar-e-Taiba/ISI/Taliban link. The US has never offered help against the many extremist factions within India, in the north, the east, the west right down to the south.
It is intriguing that he saw “firsthand” the resilience of the Indian people when he was a state guest and as the bright star there were no protests against him. What did he witness? That people were still going to work and not cringing? Is this not what a globalised India is about? Or, is it just the helplessness of a people?
After the 1993 blasts, I had written about how Mumbai was gloating that attendance at the offices was 92 per cent. Huge banners hailed the city’s spirit. “Salaam Bombay”. The Bombayite had risen to the occasion and, as always, was advertising it. I should have felt good about it, but I had found it unsettling. The city had to get off its butt and move. And those moving either had no choice or had the luxury, and applauding it amounted to applauding insensitivity.
Insensitivity rules. We have now become inured to images of blood and broken limbs. The media does not blink; it replays the clips. Psychologically, it creates paranoia and not sympathy. The channels do not realise that they are playing the game of terror, for those who plant bombs would like to watch the result and this is their main source. It seems to be a mutual accord.
Some newspapers have done the same. There have often been discussions regarding the prudence of such display. It becomes an occasion to condemn ? the media assault forces people into a cult-like conscience awakening. The trivial takes over. The theories appear juvenile, but have a deeper devious message to create a chain linking events of the recent past. Serious newspapers brought in numerologists and astrologers to tell us that 13 is a bad number and 13 is the number that adds up to the names of two underworld dons and Saddam Hussein. What does Saddam Hussein have to do here? Of course, there is an international connection, and it is especially important if we share the enemy with a western nation.
To top the ridiculous quotient, there were also suggestions that the attack coincided with the birthday of Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor of the terrorist group that attacked the city in November 2008 and who is serving a sentence. Given that Pakistan is not interested in him, is there any commonsensical reason for anyone to celebrate his birthday?
No group has claimed responsibility and the intelligence agencies were clueless about ‘warnings’. It is, therefore, within the realm of investigations to look at all angles, but by those who know their job. Not the media and I am not sure one can trust politicians with the task. For now, the heat has reduced from the numerous scams and the public attention has been diverted. The Home Minister has promised two-hourly updates. This is not accountability, but desperation. This is government interference in the work of the security agencies. It is clearly a move to take the gathering momentum of the people’s movement against corruption to a tangential level.
In the next few days, there will be even more condemnation ? from citizens’ groups, from celebrities, from the police, from the intelligence agencies, from the opposition parties, from the ruling party. It will be a free-for-all.
India has made huge strides, but not where it matters. The demon is chewing off bits of its own tail. When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, Muslims said prayers, not out of sorrow but fear that they would be blamed for it. Six decades later, they are even afraid to pray for a fear that is similar each time such terrorist attacks take place. More so, when they see the mandatory token photograph of a Muslim victim and a Muslim Samaritan, when clerics call for rallies to condemn the “heinous crime” and are joined by moderate, liberal and feminist Muslims, with prefixed tags.
I already see the writings in newsprint. Flaky prose will spill over with personal accounts of “my Muslim egg seller”, “my Muslim driver”, “my Muslim servant”, “my Muslim tailor”. You will not hear stories about “my Muslim employer”.
This is to show a community its place. That is the reason why politicians have to appeal to maintain communal harmony in a country of over one billion people with a few hundred languages and dialects. For a crime that no one knows who has committed, the sops of fake concern are condemnation enough.
Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based author-columnist. She can be reached at http://www.farzana-versey.blogspot.com/