By Najeeb Jung
August 1, 2011
HOW MUCH pain, sorrow, disease, and starvation can a human bear! Across centuries the human species has demonstrated an enormous capacity to bear pain and with each passing century has hoped for conquering it. Europe which was the continent of the dark ages faced with extreme climate, constant wars, famines, ethnic and religious conflict was perhaps the first to realise that to make life bearable people had to develop greater tolerance and give space to different thought processes, points of view, and ways of life.
Helped by the Industrial Revolution and better education, European countries evolved into more tolerant societies. As a consequence, disparate cultures and centuries old conflicts and controversies were set aside to form the European Union.
The continent is today, despite enormous economic problems and social and cultural differences, cemented by a common currency and a free travel regime.
On the other hand, many countries, particularly those in the developing world, continue to wallow in conflict. For example, Pakistan of which we have been exceptionally critical in the recent past.
The country is on the brink of collapse, it is often said. Islamic fundamentalism has entered the entrails of society, bazaars and Dargahs are bombed with impunity, secular Pakistanis are under the gun, their politicians are dishonest, the bureaucracy is collapsing, there is a huge question mark on the survival of the democratic process, the justice system is in slumber, the women a harassed lot.
Now, step back and think of the conversation around us in India — across the entire spectrum — among politicians, businessmen, academics, civil servants, clubs etc. The theme is the same: the difficult times that we are passing through. Will we sink deeper? What is the way forward? Does the solution lie in opening up the economy further and deepening financial reforms or in firming up government controls further? Are our problems an offshoot of communalism or casteism or parochialism or corruption or all of the above and many more? Of course we are different from Pakistan — we do not kill and maim with abandon, we still hold elections, and despite aberrations we are largely secular and the government remains committed to affirmative action for the minorities and the weaker sections. But there is also pain around us, if only of a different sort. The deep hurt of the Kashmiri, losing his youthful years under the shadow of the gun and the sound of military boots, the dismay of the Kashmiri Pandit — bewildered at being a refugee in his own country— the surprise of the Adivasi ousted from his salubrious forest surroundings by corrupt forest and revenue officers and bullied by thugs ( Salwa Judum) at the behest of the government, the sense of defeat of the small farmer forced to kill his family and himself over his inability to repay debts, and much more that is happening underlines the decline and dismay around us.
In the past two weeks, two instances in different parts of India bring into sharp focus the collapsing state of governance.
Workers in a high tech profitable factory (Maruti Suzuki) charged into company offices on a wanton spree of destruction and with intent to kill. Was this pre-planned? Was this because of the temporary labourers at the Maruti plant who are in their mid- 20s? Are their minds troubled by the fact that they see so much of liquid money and prosperity in the Millennium City while they live in disgusting conditions in nearby villages? Ill- educated and physically exhausted, their evenings are spent consuming cheap Indian liquor, bawdy jokes, harassing women etc. Confident of political patronage and incompetent police investigation, they think they will get away with such brazen acts.
About 2,000 km away in distant Kokrajhar, 200,000 human beings have been displaced from their homes and about 60 have died. Till now there is no clarity on whether this was an ethnic or communal clash or if it happened because of pressure on land. The truth remains that the issue was mishandled by sheer mis- governance.
The state government was warned that tension was building up but chose inaction as an option.
The government of Gujarat is constantly criticised for inaction ( if not complicity) during the Gujarat riots. How different is this inaction of the government of Assam? Who will be held accountable for the permanent scars on the psyche of these people? Can we in Delhi imagine what it would feel like if rioting mobs, baying for blood, stood outside our doors with naked swords, petrol bombs and lathis? Ask the Sikhs in Delhi what a proud community went through in 1984, and then ask who is accountable for the grave failure to protect human lives. Does it matter whether these were Muslims or Bodos or other Assamese? A more pertinent question is how the army refused to follow the orders of the civil administration. The rules of engagement are clear. Army commanders must necessarily follow instructions of the civil administration.
These recent instances embody much that is amiss in India — violence, government indifference, ethnic cleansing, regional feelings, communalism, vote bank politics and (I hope I am really wrong) an army which can disobey orders. And as things slowly move out of control, we in Delhi complain, crib and wait. We wait in the hope that while things around us may be bad, we would be protected. We have our movie halls, we have our jobs, we have our contacts, and our children are abroad.
This is exactly what well off Jews living in posh areas of Berlin felt when Hitler’s men hunted down Jews across Nazi Germany.
But soon came the midnight knock.
The writer is vice- chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia
Source: Mail Today