“IF fear and love are indivisible,” Graham Greene wrote, “ so too are fear and hate. Hate is an automatic response to fear, for fear humiliates.” The recent storms in the world’s markets have, at least partially, blotted out this cancer that is eating into the body of our society. The spate of bomb blasts across the country in city after city and the seemingly endless burning and vandalising of houses and churches of Christians have claimed a number of lives, the lives of people whose only “crime” was either believing in a particular god or just being at a particular place.
Greene rightly links hate to fear; it is primarily fear that fuels hatred, no matter how vehemently and viciously those consumed by that hatred may deny it. The fear is not that of the cornered rat but of creatures that believe that what they take for granted – their way of life and their relationships both social and personal – is being undermined in some way.
This perhaps underlies the hatred that prompts Raj Thackeray and his fanatic followers to attack and destroy shops and premises that do not have Marathi signboards and to thrash hawkers and vendors from other States. This is what has, in various parts of the country, led to the outbursts and at times unspeakably murderous cruelty against those perceived as outsiders.
One may perhaps be forgiven for concluding that the recrudescence of hatred again and again, leading to distance, suspicion and sullen wariness forming between groups and communities, is a forerunner to the break-up of our society, one that we have been used to parading to the world as a unique example of diversity – true diversity in language, religion, culture and ethnicity that formed one vibrant and integrated society. Such a conclusion would be all the more warranted by the ineptitude of the Central and State governments, which seem to be stricken with a paralysis brought on by the different considerations that they are prey to – political, financial and personal.
The prime driver for the perpetrators of violence in all these conflicts is their religion as they perceive it to be. Their perception distorts it and brings it down to a repulsive level, to their level, in such a strident manner that it leaves the ordinary practitioners of that religion aghast and appalled.
The perpetrators of violence have little or no knowledge of their own religions nor are they really too bothered by that. They use religion as an excuse, as a hostage, if you like, to their true intentions – which have the attributes of hatred: arson, destruction and murder. But that raises a basic question: Why do they do it? Surely, not merely because they like indulging in their penchant for hatred from time to time.
One plausible reason is the changes that have taken place over the past two decades in social and economic conditions. Today, relatively more members of different communities are educated, more of them are economically better off, have houses, cars and enjoy a comfortable middle-class life. This irks people who have not yet reached that level, especially those belonging to the majority community. The security of seeing members of other communities as depressed and economically weak is increasingly not available to them, leading, as Greene says, to fear, which translates into hatred.
Interestingly, a study done some years ago, possibly by the National Integration Council, revealed that conflicts of that time resulted in more arson and destruction of property than in deaths compared with the conflicts in the years soon after Independence. Going by media reports, that may well be the case in the Kandhamal district of Orissa.
Of course, not all incidents are related to the destruction of property. Certainly not the bomb blasts that took place in different cities; those were intended to cause injury and death and succeeded in doing just that in most cases. Again, we can only hypothesise about the reasons for the blasts. According to some statements made by the police in Mumbai, which were quoted in the press, it was out of a desire for revenge. That again is hatred at work, and hatred is much more easily fanned into violence than reason can be used to persuade persons to peace. Nonetheless, the blasts did not have the effect that was perhaps intended by the persons who planned and executed them. There was no retaliatory violence.
The attack on Christians in Kandhamal and in Karnataka had nothing to do with the blasts in Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Delhi. In these places, hatred grew from a perceived subversion of their religion by missionaries, if one is to believe media reports and analysts. According to a statement made by the Archbishop of Delhi, conversions were not forcible – he made the point that conversion, as it is commonly understood, is a voluntary act and that the Catholic Church engages in social work because its faith enjoins it to do so and not to convert people.
As far as the bomb blasts are concerned, there has been some fairly swift police action, but the response to the attacks on Christians has been virtually non-existent. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik of Orissa may claim that thousands of people have been arrested, but what effect that has had on the continuing violence is there for all to see. Nor have the fumbling responses of Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa of Karnataka been any more effective. What does stand out, in stark, ugly relief, is the fact that the Central government has been unable to take any decisive action against the Bajrang Dal for the atrocities in Orissa and Karnataka because it has placed political considerations above any human considerations it may have had.
It is true, of course, that Christians are a tiny portion of the population and in terms of votes hardly count, but in an age when media coverage is intense and uncompromising, the government’s deliberate decision not to act will have been watched by many, and it may just pay the price that it is clearly trying to avoid: destruction at the polls.•