Sunday, December 14, 2008

No time for revenge

I am not the first person to recommend peace and restraint since the terror attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008. Yet, within minutes of my column appearing in The Hindu, the hate mail has already started pouring in. One reader has called me "asinine", and writes: "India can do without weak sisters like you. Perhaps, they can be offered to the terrorists in exchange, if that will placate them." Others are more polite but suggest that I am completely wrong, and I am steeling myself for much more. But why does talk of peace at a time like this provoke such a violent response? Are we in the media partly to blame for drumming up these feelings of revenge each time there is a terror attack?

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, December 14, 2008


No time for revenge

Ever since the terrifying terror strike in Mumbai on November 26, many of us have strained hard to find some voices advocating peace. The overwhelming chant is one demanding war and revenge. It is reminiscent of other times, in other places. In the United States post 9/11. And an echo of that is heard in the India of today.

But after 9/11, there were also strong, public, prominent voices calling for peace, for sanity, for restraint. Some of these individuals were pilloried for flowing against the tide. Yet, they stuck to their convictions. Many of those who spoke out were women.

Robin Morgan, an award-winning American feminist writer wrote in the days after the terror strike, about the mood in New York. “The petitions have begun. For justice but not vengeance. For a reasoned response but against escalating retaliatory violence. For vigilance about civil liberties. For the rights of innocent Muslim Americans. For ‘bombing’ Afghanistan with food and medical parcels, NOT firepower.” She urged people to write to newspapers, use the Internet to talk about the root causes of terrorism. “Ours are complex messages with long-term solutions — and this is a moment when people yearn for simplicity and short-term, facile answers.”

Manufacturing consent

In India too, we have seen how our media forces facile answers. You are compelled to answer “yes” or “no” to questions that have pre-determined answers. You are asked to express “in 30 seconds” why you believe it would be wrong to provoke a confrontation with Pakistan. Then, what you say is misinterpreted and before you can respond, the subject is changed.

As a result, we have been inundated with expressions of aggression, often born out of ignorance. We are being forced to listen to opinions of people who have rarely engaged with issues that confront Indian society outside such times. And we are being informed that the “mood” of people is for “decisive action” to deal with terror. If there are voices saying something different, they are either not heard, or cut short.

Real security

Much of this is the media attempting to manufacture consent. Much of it is limited to the urban middle and upper classes. Proof of this has already been evident in the results of elections in five States where the party that used the “terror” message did not sweep the polls as expected. In rural India, the issue that remains the most relevant is development — sadak, bijli, paani. This is what security means to the ordinary woman and man, not war with Pakistan, not rule by the military, not stronger anti-terror laws, all of which are being demanded by some people in our cities.

Also, while there are voices seeking better governance, better intelligence, better training and equipment for the police, few are speaking out for better relations with Pakistan. Yet, with the backing of civil society groups on both sides of the border, India and Pakistan have made great strides in taking small but important steps to improve relations. The Mumbai terror strike appears to have wiped all this out.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)


Arpita said...

Agree with you absolutely.. the reactions seen on popular media were exactly what the terrorists might be playing for... anger, resentment and such seething emotions mean the lack of rationale in steps taken.
Already the terror law and its shape is beginning to scare me...frankly if we addressed the basics that people go to voting booths for, overcoming terror- like in Kashmir, then we'd never find ourselves in the place we are at now.

gaurav abbi said...

Totally agree with you, the war can never bring desired results. Moreover i believe this is a time for introspection and we should channelize our energies to find how a country boosting to be economic superpower can let such attacks happen and allow sectarian forces the foul play.
i believe its more about securing the borders and raising the internal security and intelligence than engaging in any war or hatred.

Kalpana Sharma said...

It's really good to get such comments. I was distressed initially at the negative comments to my column but since then many more have agreed that we need to think more deeply and not respond in this unthinking manner.

But we urgently need to get more people to think and talk about these issues. The mainstream media, particularly the electronic media, seems determined to keep the discussion focussed on "teaching Pakistan a lesson" without thinking about what we need to do in India.