Give Us a Break Now

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Just when the national temper was cooling down, Mr. Aamir Khan has shared his wife’s sense of insecurity, which was blissfully short lived, just as his desire to leave the country but a transient impulse.

Ironically enough, though Mr. Khan chose to stay back his momentary distress lead to such a dispute between a couple that the wife chose to depart this world and media is again firing on all cylinders, flagging the urgency of celebrity concerns to the exclusion of a hundred issues of greater magnitude in our impoverished, problem-ridden country. The argumentative Indian is back at the job that he likes best, but is the least equipped for: critical debate.

Let us face it. The intolerance debate has conscripted us all to politics, the media included. There is no middle ground; either you are with "us" or you are with "them"; to be neutral hints at moral dubiousness, even downright dishonesty. Normally the affliction of the common man, it has infected intellectuals and eminent historians like Irfan Habib, who went overboard with his comparison of RSS with ISIS.

We are now witness to this argument without end, where the disputants reiterate their stated positions endlessly? The banality of the debate can be summed up in the simple binary of "why" and "why not". Or the very dismissive "Worse immorality has been seen"; because, given their record, no political party worth the name can clear the minimum standards of a secular morality. It leads to a selective rummaging of sediments of historical past. If Godhra is the real and active component of the secular offensive, and that moment in the past a never-fading frame of reference, it becomes necessary for those under attack to remind their erstwhile partners now in the Mahagathbandhan of continued opportunistic alliance. And of course, the reference to the "puppies" and "dogs" remark is bound to be countered by the eternal verity of that philosophical rumination "When a big tree falls, the earth shakes". Some more in the same vein accrue to the anthology of such remarks.

Whether we like it or not, exploitation of fear is now recognised as a legitimate tool of electoral aggrandisement in our bitterly divisive politics. The Intolerance debate itself was initiated in the run up to the assembly elections to Bihar, and the Mahagathbandhan snatched a spectacular victory from the jaws of a certain defeat; thanks to the increased awareness of intolerance. The more terrorised the community is, the better yields it gives in terms of votes. The minorities flocked together like never before for Mahagathbandhan. The "secular" alliance, Mahagathbandhan, returned the favour by the declaration of election in Bihar as a war between the forwards and backwards, which delivered the so called forward caste, bound hand and foot as bonded voters in the camp of alliance led by the so called "communal" party. So would not one love one’s enemy for its egregiousness, if it is so productive? To expect a radical new commencement of politics after the results in Bihar is idle, so we would be foolish to see the end of the debate.

The intellectuals have contributed all that they had to the situation; their independent minds and their elegant opinions. Some of them have even gone to the extent of returning their awards. Celebrities have graced us enough with their star presences; but the fire rages on.

The Dadri incident – itself an abject failure of the local administration – which was one of the focal points from which fear and intolerance radiated throughout the country, is as good a point as any to look for solutions.

As a former police officer, it fills me with a vague sense of unease: how did one isolated incident here and one there in a vast country like ours add up to envelop the nation in a huge blanket of fear and anxiety? How did the tragic and unpardonable lynching of an alleged beef-eater assume an epidemic form of "mad cow disease", which went on to infect a large population with beef-related anxieties across the length and breadth of our vast country?

Communal issues are the staple of a policeman’s work, and those of us who valued our profession took prompt action and nipped the disinformation machinery by absolutely fair and neutral action.

To buttress my point, a couple of days back, the Bihar police shot down two from a mob determined to lynch a runaway driver belonging to the minority community. He had crushed two Hindu villagers to death. The police officer in charge of Hajipur Police station was lynched to death by the "intolerant" mob but the situation was saved. Had the police failed, would it have gone to substantiate the evidence of intolerance? Had Dadri been prevented, would we still be self-flagellating ourselves with the evidence of our intolerance? Incidents of communal nature are amenable to prompt professional response, and if they are taking place all over the country under various political dispensations, are they not contributing to the situation? Should not we be looking for better policing also, apart from what we are doing - engaging in debate, counselling the hate mongers - as an option? The law of the land provides every remedy for creators of distrust.

The media plays - ought to play - its role of keeping the reporting to balanced proportions, helps in confidence building measures, which are the antidote to mutual distrust, fear and anxieties. With the unruly and anarchic social media, now the mainstream media has not only to report but debunk the bogus and pernicious floated by the alternate media.

Fear is not a naturally occurring germ or virus; it is anthropogenically created information (or deliberate disinformation) riding on electromagnetic waves or other means of communication. Once brought into being, it mutates and multiplies of its own to create anxieties and distrust.

We may now recall the background of the intolerance debate: the interviews and remarks of the likes of Sakshi Maharaj, Yogi Aditya Nath, Pragya, and a clutch of sadhvis, Giriraj Singh – the collocation is both decisive and damning, they are well known for irresponsible remarks – started it all. The emblematic example of the intolerance against Mr. Shah Rukh Khan – certainly not the most tolerant of Indians, the man who only recently thrashed the security guards in the Wankhede Stadium in an IPL match, was involved in a high voltage star war performance with Salman Khan, and has reportedly dared one of his insulting followers on social networking sites to give him his home address and be prepared to be thrashed – needs to be examined at some length. After a union minister was forced to certify Shah Rukh Khan’s patriotism, and for good measure heaped a whole lot of praise on him for his many qualities and the contribution that he has made to society etc., we could have expected a closure. (Could one of the lessons be that a citizen must be worried and get his patriotism attested by a union minister should any jerk ever question it?) But that was not to be. Giriraj Singh, an expert on who should be excommunicated to Pakistan, was again up to his incendiary tricks on a channel the very next day. Whose interest was served by providing him a platform? If every deed of a particular hue is blown into every eye, if every hot head with a slingshot and every wounded heart on the receiving end of the shot is to be provided a platform, one cannot but feel snowed down under a pall of anxiety. If the Hinduttva brigade is the original arsonists, are others also not fanning the fire?

Paul Tillich, the existentialist Christian theologian of culture says, "He who is in anxiety is, insofar as it is mere anxiety, is delivered to it without help […] The only object is the threat itself, but not the source of the threat, because the source of the threat is "nothingness."

My worry is that Mr. Khan may not be the last victim of the anxiety to be "delivered without help". This creeping disease may create deep and abiding fissures in our society which would survive the departure of the man from the national scene who is alleged to be the "fountainhead" of it all. We seem to be a little like the Chinese boy in Charles Lamb’s Dissertation on the Roasting of a Pig who, in order to roast a pig, burns down the house itself. So it is time for common man and woman to take things in their hands. We plead: we are suitably alert to the situation, give us a break now.

We cheer up to think that even before the intolerance debate seized us by the throat we were not known to be a very tolerant nation. Leave aside the ire of the high and mighty, common men like you and me, regularly get involved in road rages, parking disputes, and disputes over something as trivial as sharing of berths. Inter caste and community love affairs have led to murders and honour killings. But we take these things on our chins and move on, and life goes on as usual. People still drive cars, use parking lots, travel in trains, and fall in love across communities and caste. Even those unfortunate enough to have been embroiled in violent communal situations pick up the threads of their disrupted lives and move on.

Despite a hundred things that divide us, we have survived together this long. Insha Allah! We will survive some more.


India Today magazine once referred to Manoje Nath, a 1973-batch IPS officer, as being fiercely independent, honest, and upright. Besides his numerous official reports on various issues exposing corruption in the bureaucracy in Bihar, Nath is also a writer extraordinaire expressing his thoughts on subjects ranging from science fiction to the effects of globalization. His sense of humor was evident through his extremely popular series named "Gulliver in Patiliputra" and "Modest Proposals" that were published in the local newspapers.

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