Letter from Devika Narayan
I heard the gunfire all night. There was blood and mayhem for three days. The fear has now turned into rage. Anger is a good thing, it shakes us out of our indifference and inaction. I am angry for a number of reasons. I am angry that so many people died in this horrific way. I am angry that we were so ineffective in managing this crisis. There weren't enough ambulances, there weren't enough policemen, (and the ones present were armed with bamboo canes.) it was impossible for the system as a whole to respond appropriately. I am angry that our elected politicians are so casual about this nightmare. I am angry that they didn't respond to the multiple warnings that came from multiple sources. Now we shall watch as they become the mouthpieces for their respective agendas, shouldering one another to get ahead. I am angry at the class divisions that are playing themselves out. Why are we not talking about the dozens of victims at V.T? Why do they have to stand in longer lines to collect their dead? Why do we not value human life irrespective of their caste, class and religion? So yes, the collective outrage of a population is a powerful force.
There is one word that is being flashed repeatedly on our screens which promises to give a focus to our anger and grief. That one word is Pakistan. As a young and extremely outraged citizen I am afraid of the direction that our anger is taking. Afraid, because I see that as a people we seem to have developed a gut-level violent reaction to that word. When I watch the news with my peers I feel the violence in that visceral reaction whenever Pakistan is named. And it fills me with dread. There seems to be an intrinsic inability to distinguish between the people of a country, the governing body, the military and the various (extremist) groups that exist with that region. knowing that Pakistan is a country often at war with itself it is both dangerous and irresponsible to speak of it as if it is a coherent unified whole. Doing so, will only result in two nuclear powers baring their teeth at each other. It will also lead to the alienation of communities within our national boundary. Our news media often seem to forget how sensitive Pakistan as an issue is and play a definite role in kindling these embers. I recognize the fact that in some twisted way, this serves the interest of the media whose revenue today depends on the increase of heart rates.
Moreover, is it not a little too convenient? I hope that even as we make progress in establishing the identity of the agents of this atrocity we don't stop asking questions of our government and police. We ask the tough questions and demand more accountability. Pointing fingers at an outsider should not ease the pressure on our political elite. This is not to say that we don't talk of the ISI or the training camps, this is only to say that we don't let our pain numb our capacity to think. Whipping up public hate against the neighbor may make us feel temporarily better but in the long run this is destructive. Our self righteous rage against Pakistan's incapacity to 'control' its violent groups is a bit misplaced. We are simply amazed that these groups can walk the streets preaching hate and violence. We seem to have cultivated a special skill that allows us to effortlessly turn a blind eye to the devastation and violence committed by Indian extremist groups against fellow citizens. Do we ban them and put their leaders behind bars? No, we allow them unrestricted freedom or sometimes like in Gujarat we choose to democratically re-elect them to office. I don't see the organized group that mass murdered in Orissa behind bars, nor our own home-grown bunch that destroyed the city during the 92-93 riots. It is easy to ignore our hypocrisy when our emotions are volatile and our wounds throbbing. If we don't take a breath to cool off our angry chest-thumping could have disastrous consequences. Yes, we want action. But we most definitely don't want any more blood on our hands. Don't use the language of war.