Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hell is Other People

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Whenever a horrific incident imbibes itself in the consciousness of the people of our country, there are various stages of grief we go through together. Now, these are not based on any trenchant analysis by renowned mental health professionals. Instead, these are based on our values, our ancient culture, and the wisdom that has been passed on from generation to generation since the Indus civilization.

First comes shock. We feel this when we first hear of the incident. We wonder what kind of animals would do such a thing. We are taken aback by the fact that such people live and breathe among us. We can’t really believe that this happened! Despite there being plenty of proof and a large number of incidents documented in the past. Yet we imagine that this is the first time a deer distracted by the headlights got run over by a car. Wait, the snowball turned into an avalanche? Did not see that coming!

We feel guilty that we didn’t do anything to make sure such incidents didn’t happen. We kick ourselves for suffering injustice silently; for being those monkeys made out of stone and not hearing, seeing or saying anything. But the thing that we find most scary is the thought that this could happen to us too. That makes us angry. We get angry at everything and everybody. And we want revenge! We want heads to roll and bodies to pile up. No time to stop and consider how we contribute to an environment which leads to such an event. We want scapegoats and we want them now!

While the people are angry, the government is in denial. They did nothing wrong. They were all doing their job. In fact, according to them, they did an excellent job. And no, they’re not showing any cowardice by getting the police to suppress dissent using British Raj era tactics. They just retreated into their guarded palaces because they wanted to give the people some space. They aren’t holding onto to power within an inch of their life or anything. And refusing to meet people because of the misbelief that they aren’t going to vote for you anyway is not hubris. Neither is comparing people asking for justice for a fellow citizen with terrorists wanting to overthrow the state. And the advisory issued to news channels covering the protest, was as harmless as advice from a friend. No one was threatening anyone with dire consequences. Whatever gave you the idea!

Of course, it doesn’t take long for any discussion to devolve into a partisan food fight. Everyone stews in their righteousness, because they sincerely believe that this is just another event which happened because people don’t listen to them. Just another example of why the world is screwed up because of the other guy. If only more people would listen to us! You also can’t just be sad and upset about something by itself. You have to retroactively be upset about all the events that took place in the past. And simultaneously be upset about whatever is going to happen in the future.

Then we become mired in farce. Politicians want to make symbolic gestures towards the dearly departed. News channels want you to never forget until the next big story comes along.  And the rest of us just want to go back to our busy lives after someone assures us that we will be able to meander through the rest of our days in peace. Why don’t you just leave us alone, troubles of the world?

* * *

Life in India can make you quite cynical. When you see democracy being sold in packages of various sizes everyday, it’s quite hard to believe that words like “freedom,” “rule of law,” or “justice” mean anything.  Yet, there seemed something different about the current protests. When it started, it was a spontaneous expression of anger. It didn’t have the cold, calculative machiavellian organization of pasts protest. Nor were the protestors made up of the rent-a-mobs used by most political parties. They were outraged citizens who weren’t dead inside like the rest of us and still thought that they could change the world. They were also naive and so blinded by anger that they were not even sure of what they were protesting. They were in dire need of a civics lesson and those among them wanting to do unspeakable things to the accused should probably see a shrink.

We were trying to have a national discussion about things we need to do to make the country better for its female populace but we got caught in the same trap we always do. We lost our way somewhere between chemical castrations and mentally dented presidential scions.

Let’s hope it’s not too late to find our way back.

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