Thursday, October 23, 2008

Time to revisit our definitions

Is it just my perception or have we recently entered a phase of accelerated history?

Everyday, something new comes in: a new dimension to a financial crisis of a scale never seen before and unanticipated by even billions-guzzling CEOs( a situation that even after a couple of months no one and no one actually knows the value at risk!), a new technique to brutality in a murder in Delhi, a new law flouted, a new barrier overcome (Bolt’s “Bob Beamon” moment, the coming of age of Indian cricket), and most importantly – a new definition to a phenomenon. I found myself comparing these times to the ones following 9-11 and I wondered why. And then it came to me. It was a time when we revised our definitions too – the definition of what is evil and what is good; of the grouping of non-alignment with opposition (‘Either you are with us, or against us’). Of the triumph of action over retrospection.

What is the revised definition that faces us right now? A blank line patiently waiting to be filled under our bated breath and poised quill?


Is it any act of violence by a group of people using firearms or bombs? Or is it the violence of the minority against the majority?

Ponder over this.

I did. And found that actually the two are interlinked. Being the minority, violence that requires head-on collision with the majority adversary is a no-win situation and suicidal. Hence, the use of upgraded weapons – where the person using the same is more effective to damage more members f the opposition than with, say, a lathi or bare hands.
I conclude that the definition we, as a country, have finally arrived at is this –

Terrorism is the act of violence by the minority against the majority in an area with a predominance of the majority population.

Godhra burning of the train was, hence, not a terrorist attack. The reason being that the perpetrators were the local Muslim majority gundas. By the same definition, the aftermath, Gujrat riots, were not a terrorist attack since, again, the majority razed the minority – albeit on a bigger scale than the train attack.

Thackrey’s attack on outside state railway examinees and VHP’s attack on churches is again, by the same criteria of who perpetrated the attack, the majority (the Marathis in Bombay, the Hindus elsewhere), not terrorism but the n number of things we declaim it with.
A fatwa crying for the head of a fellow Muslim who has expressed himself contrary to the majority belief, is an internal problem. The state using the same against a dissident group is military action.

The definition has international connotations too. LTTE is a terrorist organization since the Tamils are a minority in Sri lanka. The Sinhalese persecution of the 70s was not a terrorist action.

Hence, my definition, seems to stand the test of all euphemisms that we have lately decided to select for different acts of violence.

Ok. What’s the point? Violence by any means and by anyone looks the same – gore, blood, tears.
The point is that terrorism is the new pariah of our times. It is what Hitler did to the idea of eugenics – incontrovertibly evil. Without any extenuation.

It’s not a definition a community has imposed on us – we have silently arrived it across our multiple identities – religious, caste, regional, ethnic, national, class.

Hence, when I mention Raj’s brand of politics to my Marathi friends, they can glare at me and scream – why only Bombay should be tolerant?
My Hindu friends can in the same breath that they say ‘The Orissa violence should not be allowed..’ mutter ‘... tho’ there are some justifications to it.’
My Muslim friends can close ranks and murder a dissident and tell me to piss off – since his muslim identity is bigger than his human identity (wherein my weak fellowship credentials lie)

But mention terrorism and nobody attempts to extenuate that.

I propose that we cement this in stone and set out the rules – you can be violent if you are the majority. Sneak attacks done covertly are not allowed. You have to have the numbers to spill on the street to be given the right to be defended in conversations even among the intelligentsia (or the new bourgeoisie who have arrogated on themselves the right to a nation’s morality and best interests without either questioning the assumptions or any in-depth analysis)
Or we can choose to group all violence – perpetrated by anyone by whatever means – as indefensible. Non-violent debate the only accepted recourse. But for that we might have to start listening to stuff we don’t want to. Sardars might have to live with a comical take on a Sardar identity, muslims live with the right of others to tell them how they see them, hindus with the idea that their historical grievances are history now, regional parties with the idea of nationhood and of earning their own rewards.

But no – we have more or less accepted that just by being the majority we have some more rights than the minority. Because since we are more, we have more men, and if you don’t believe in this, we can beat you up easily.

Try telling this to the Huns or the Mongols. You can’t attack us, we came here first. We are more.
Try telling that to Ghazni at Somnath, conquistadors at Mexico, British settlers at America.

The new nation state was built on the principle of inalienable rights of all people as equal. Otherwise, America would have gobbled every nation of the world and only the ruling majority would have only rights.

And yet within this system that guarantees us the fundamental rights, we question them. (For ex. Hindus quoting Somnath attack eight hundred years ago as some extenuation for Ayodhya demolition can do so only because the nation-state system ensures that the Muslim nations, in reprisal, can't get together and trample down their ass like they did then)

Hence, to solve this paradox, I offer two solutions:
Accept my definition of terrorism and hence only allow violence by majority
Do not allow any argment that rides on the back of violence. No matter what genuine credentials the argument may have.

Gandhi, at Chauri Chaura, took the second call: much to the consternation of a nation. It is a chice too subtle and too slow to be understood by the masses. Hence, the only way out, I see, is the new definition of terrorism, and right ot violence, that we have agreed upon.


1 comment:

Ambar said...

i think your definition of terrorism makes sense. great post overall!