A New Year resolution

Published : Jan 27, 2006 00:00 IST

In memory of the victims of the serial blasts in New Delhi in October 2005. - RAJEEV BHATT

In memory of the victims of the serial blasts in New Delhi in October 2005. - RAJEEV BHATT

Resolute, rational and orderly responses to the effects of terror will be a formidable weapon against the objectives of the terrorist.

WE have lived, all things considered, easily. We have endured much in past years, we have known fear, misery and anger as well as happiness and delight - but it has been easy, we have passed through it all with a lightness and almost instinctive brevity. Our lives as a people, as social groups scattered through the country have been, if one were to use a single word, acquiescent.

There have been very few moments when that acquiescence changed to something else; perhaps the 1965 and 1971 conflicts were two such, and then we saw something more in the collective spirit. Something that lasted for much too short a time. For the rest, it has been the usual easiness, the acquiescence that has blurred judgment, has helped the passage from one event to the other.

This has not been a middle class phenomenon; it has been equally a major attribute of the lives of everyone irrespective of the level of affluence. Every one of us has been something of a voyeur, people who pass by on the other side. Events have challenged our sense of right and wrong, of civilised behaviour, of justice, our compassion and our understanding; our response has been in some cases noticeable but always muted, and always brief.

Some years ago, an item of news given prominence in the print media appeared to me to be an outrage. The item itself was of little consequence; what was and what I remember vividly is the reaction of the Minister to whom I had taken the news reports. "Tell me," he said, "what were yesterday's headlines?" I tried to remember and could not. "Precisely," he said with a smile, "everything passes and is soon forgotten. Wait till tomorrow; it will not matter then." He had read the nature of our social groups well - we pass on from one thing to another with remarkable rapidity, forgetting so easily, accepting so totally.

Consider, for example, our reaction to the horrors of Gujarat, or the terrible train accident in Bihar. We suffered, we reacted with grief and anger and we sought redress - but those passed as something else came upon us, which could have been private or public but sufficient to take up our awareness wholly.

This is not a criticism. It is an admission of what happens. We pass by those involved in yesterday's events with less and less curiosity, whether they are victims or heroes. Kuldeep Singh, the bus driver who picked up and tossed out a bomb left behind in his bus, and saved a large number of people's lives is without sight, without a limb, and his hearing is impaired. Gudiya, the young woman married to a soldier who was presumed killed but who came back after several years when she had been married to another man, was the focus of many television cameras for days and weeks on end. She is now dead, and her death was a small report. She was yesterday's child; today there is some other event or person who is important.

It is not indifference; it is acquiescence. It is the easy option and not the difficult one. There are some who choose, deliberately, the difficult option, but they are few, pitifully few - so few that it does not, in the end, really matter too much. The vast majority passes on, like a wind, blowing across events and people. Life is, admittedly, always more of a struggle, so there is little time for anything else - but that time is found by us except that it is evanescent and usually unquestioning. On the streets, in village gatherings, events are related as events. ("Have you heard? There was a bus accident. Fifteen people were killed." "I heard some were trapped in the bus for hours together." "Last year there was a train accident and many more people died.").

As the New Year begins and we have this sense of looking across a myriad possible events in the months to come, perhaps we need to look at our acquiescence. And at some of the events where it moved forward from a passive acceptance to something else. The terrible ordeal of the people affected by the tsunami, for example, was seen as a grim reminder of nature's fury, but there was a reaction that became, as time passed, more and more focussed; the state and voluntary groups came together to rebuild, the people themselves took on the rebuilding, and out of the tragedy lives are now being given purpose and direction once again. Fishermen are going to sea, children to school. There is certainly much more to be done, but we can see, even from a distance, that there is an effort. Acquiescence is being made taut with resolution.

In Delhi, the November 2005 bomb attacks may have resulted in the acquiescence with which all of us are so familiar as it is something we all share in. But there has, again, been a degree of resolution; there has been a realisation that life must be lived to some purpose, that terror cannot be allowed to dominate and dictate our way of living. And Deepavali last year was celebrated as it has been every year. Kuldeep Singh has to battle to gain some kind of normalcy on his own, but it would be unfair to say that the city is indifferent to his suffering. True, there is no conscious focus given to that shared feeling, and that lack of focus is precisely what this is all about.

We have now had an attack in Bangalore. Not in crowded markets and in a bus, but on an academic campus. It has, not surprisingly, created some fear but this is a new thing in Bangalore, in Karnataka. But this is the event that like the attack in Delhi, must be seen for what it is. We have to understand that easy options are no longer possible and that mere acquiescence will not do. No passing by on the other side, no averting of eyes. These are tests of the fortitude of our people and together with other action it is necessary for communities to understand that all vicissitudes must be faced with a degree of resolution and collective efforts to cope with it. As the effects of the tsunami are being handled, so must the fear that terror attacks spread. It is best done by communities; the state is not really equipped to do so or an agency that is appropriate. Community action, catalysed by voluntary effort, the effort that has brought about such admirable things in other fields.

Resolute, rational and orderly responses to the effects of terror in all the forms needed - physical help, counselling, and in other ways - will be a formidable weapon against the objectives of the terrorist. We have seen that resolution in the work being done for tsunami victims, for the victims of the earthquake in Kashmir; we now need to see it wherever and whenever terror strikes. Determined responses to the tsunami will not prevent another; nor will it be possible to end terror with this kind of collective reaction. But, it will help us to endure it; acquiescence tinged with resolution and firm action can have significant effects on the twisted minds of those who seek to kill ordinary people going about their business. The zealot's hate-filled determination needs to be met with determined and resolute reactions, reactions that seek to make us close ranks, and help one another as best we can. Nothing could be a better resolution for the year ahead.

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