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Senior journalist and rationalist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead at home today. Her killers knocked on her door and when she opened it, they gunned her down. Yet another vocal critic of fundamentalist Hindutva is shot down by masked gunmen as they go about their routine. Yet another season of shock, protest and promises of an investigation, as practiced trolls smoothly swing into action to "manage" yet another atrocity.

Many fear that this may also be yet another round of leg dragging investigations. Another round of the state looking in your face as dissent is slaughtered. Fear of one thing cannot go on for long.

A threat is always made from a position of weakness. A threat is a desperate gamble to intimidate. A voice silenced in cowardly anonymity is a confession of there being no honorable answers to the questions they raise. It is a confession that there is no one who is willing to be the face of the action, because not even in their eyes is the action justifiable to those they are scamming into blindly believing in them.

I have faced fear many times in my life. I have seen others face fear. And if there is one thing I have seen for sure, it is that a confrontation with fear cannot be sustained. It resolves into cowering inaction or a reckless head on challenge. And sometimes it coalesces into sustained action to defeat the cause of the fear. Today, the voices of dissent fear that their country is in the hands of those who would prefer them dead. Which is how fascists succeed and get away with their murderous ways. Over the last few years, I have seen many voices "play it safe" every dissenting entity with a licence and funds to investigate is looking over its shoulder and hoping to not get the attention of a government they have no faith will play fair.

I have seen journalists who spoke without fear learn to measure their words and "balance" them with something that would please the government, like an offering to vengeful gods. Ones who never feared to lash out at whichever government was in power areasking themselves whether they can afford to play David to a Goliath who can stalk every aspect of their existence. There are those that lash out at the opposition for failing to do an undefinable "something" - anything, I suppose that would let them be true to themselves without fear.

No one can live on the edge of tension forever. One way or the other, it resolves. And the less space remains to cower safely, the more people come out fighting. Those having excessive faith in their impunity should think about this. They cannot kill everyone who calls them unacceptable for what they do to the citizens of the country and the whole. They cannot expect the guarantors of their impunity to attack the jobs of every person who refuses to toe lines and not stand discredited. They cannot investigate every organization that decides to no longer toe subtly conveyed lines.

A tyrant who cracks a whip once inspires fear. A tyrant serial chasing those thumbing their nose at it is a cartoon character. Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi and now Lankesh. Fear gets old. Fury gets old. What is left is a determination. How many are they going to chase after with guns?

Beware, fascists, a reign of fear is only as good as the first confrontation with it. You are forcing more and more citizens to face off with it. One who looks into fear and acts anyway, ceases to be controlled by it.

Today, there are more and more people being reckless about what fate would befall them for speaking truth to power.  The usually careful journalists who abdicate their voice and do barely reported protest marches are using their pens against you and making furious statements that will reach across their spheres of influence. You have killed one of them. They could be next. Do you think they can be brought back to obedience? All of them? Do you have the capacity to keep the country running if enough people decided that your protectors did not deserve to run it? Do you have anywhere to hide when they are forced to give you up to survive? Wield your fear wisely, lest you force too many to fury and any government that shelters you be forced to give you up or fall itself.

There is only so much terrorism can force people to swallow words. If we must die one way or the other, we might as well die once, instead of daily.

1

I tend to have very strong opinions, so my contempt for the increasing "stupidification" of India is hardly a secret. This is a cause for alarm, because it is indeed contagious. Political views, gender, caste, class, religion are not barriers to this epidemic. The reason for it is the natural human tendency to reply in the manner in which we are spoken to. I have brought this up before. If I say apple, you may say "oranges, pie, tree, cold weather, computer...." but you are unlikely to say, say for example, "spoon" - our mind tends to reply in a manner that is relevant to what it is that we are replying.

This is a problem when there is an overall process of radicalization, because those conditioned to thinking in a polarized mannerh will have a tendency to bring all conversation to their programmed triggers. The trap is already set. There are few responses that can be made at that level that won't derail you from the subject you wish to talk about. As a consequence, this conditioning spreads also to those who oppose it through sheer Pavlovian repetition. So a person questioning a liberal perspective may be a bhakt, a person questioning a feminist perspective may be a misogynist, and so on. The fundamental tendency proliferates on its own through sheer engagement with it. Whether in agreement or disagreement does not matter, as long as the nature of interaction is polarized.

It creates an unconscious conditioning of disagreement being seen as hostility or outright evil. Among both desiring to exclude or target specific identities or those wishing to exclude or target those who exclude or target specific identities. This is where we are today. This is why it is so difficult to prevent the increasing irrationality. Because those opposing the irrational views themselves get sucked into the whirlpool to the bottom of the IQ scale.

It is human nature to recognize our own view as the sane one and see the irrationality outside us.

However, if we examine the interactions we have, for quality, as opposed to morality, the problem is clear. We have gazed too long into the abyss and the abyss also gazes into us.

This, in my view is the real danger to the society, the country and the world. A departure from rational thought in the public space is a very alarming situation. The stupidification is a bigger threat to India long term than the violence and it has grown far more than either side of the polarization is able to recognize.

Fear is seductive. Our survival instincts condition us to pay attention to threats in order to survive. Hence, negativity - real or imagined - will always draw attention more easily than well being (there is nothing that needs urgent attention).

In my view, the bigger urgency today is to understand how we get sucked into talking about things we don't wish to through sheer Pavlovian conditioning. We need to develop skills to engage in rational debate and refuse to engage in irrational triggers derailing conversation to programmed tirades on political stands. The immediate danger may be violent mobs, but the larger long term concern is what caused so many people to think that such a stupid choice is a bright idea.

This is the result of fear. The fear that is used as a quick fix to compensate with paranoia what the agenda lacks in quality. We are surrounded by a culture of fear. Majorities are led to believe that minorities are somehow going to subjugate them. People who wouldn't quit smoking over health issues in the next decade would happily celebrate the murders of hundreds or thousands to "protect" themselves from that unlikely threat. The chances of dying in a road accident are higher, but they feel no fear about being in a vehicle. The point I am making here is anxiety is carefully built about specific subjects to turn them into threats for political profit. This is how Muslims being less than a fifth of the population and yet disproportionately underrepresented in jobs, education, housing and over represented in disadvantageous statistics like death tolls in communal crimes or being killed in state violence or being imprisoned without trial and so on, still results in a perception of Muslims as a threat.

It is like asking someone whether they have a pimple forming on their nose. They will touch their nose and examine the smallest hint of a bump and see it as proof that a problem pimple is indeed growing. It is how a stage magician may move his hand in a flourish while saying something in a dramatic manner, while the other hand palms a coin or scribbles a message for the audience to "discover" in full sight of the audience - and yet invisible. Because attention is focused elsewhere. People trying to figure out how the trick was done will continue to imagine that there was something about the flourish and want to examine sleeves and such, but fail to notice the other hand in full view doing the tricky part on the table. If you see enough TV programmes discussing the risk Muslims are to the country, you don't stop to ask why there is a need to discuss Muslims specifically. The unconscious conditioning to see them as a problem that needs to be resolved is already established through what is called a "false dilemma" or "false dichotomy", where you are presented with two choices as the only ones possible, making several illogical assumptions in the process.

If you were to see TV talk shows discussing daily whether apples were healthy at all, regardless of the discussions or conclusions, the fact that there was a need to evaluate the safety profile of apples specifically at all on a daily basis would have you avoiding apples and eating bananas or some other fruit to play it safe. In reality, there is no particular reason to discuss apples with such exceptional intensity. There is nothing wrong with discussing apples either. But the disproportionate attention given to evaluating their safety will make them appear to be unsafe even if discussion after discussion daily affirms after much debate that they are safe - because that affirmation is no conclusion, a new discussion will be required tomorrow - it is not safe. It is an ongoing threat. Better eat the orange. Now, if I sold bananas and wanted more people to switch from apples to bananas... would I have a reason to trigger such paranoia among those I want to manipulate?

This is an important part of propaganda - the delegitimizing of the targeted population. The questioning of every aspect of their existence and needing it to be proved harmless, while the rest of the population is very much similar but bears no scrutiny gives out its own message. The issue is not what these debates conclude. The fact that you devote 80% of TV debates to less than 20% of the population itself is its own signal to the population - here is something that needs you to be alert. The examination of every aspect of a part of the population as though they were aliens also serves another purpose - dehumanization.

Humans inherently are social animals and do not aspire to see themselves as vicious killers or attackers or those depriving others of basic human dignity. Mere differences cannot make a person be okay with inhumanity. For that, the target needs to be dehumanized. It has to be rendered to something less than human. A threat. Something so alien that it feels less pain than us, is more violent than us, is less deserving of compassion than us. This is where impunity for genocides is manufactured. We are in this cold blooded process. And we have no way to elevate the conversation. Partly because these conversations are carefully engineered to avoid targets being seen as humans, but also because those countering have no skills to set their own level of conversation and respond on the same level. Whether you don't talk to me or I don't talk to you, if the end result is a chasm, the objective is achieved.

This manipulated and deliberately propagated insanity is also the reason why there is an increase in violence - both physical and verbal. Violence is the last refuge of the illogical. When a person runs out of words to express their stand, they escalate to violence. As long as there is scope for presenting more and more of their perspective with words, there is no need for violence. But because the propaganda is inherently illogical, a person who believes it has no way of explaining it to one who doesn't, unless they make considerable effort to come up with enough logical fallacies themselves as well. Questioning then becomes a threat, because they are convinced of the threat to them from their targets and any questioning that could undermine it also becomes a threat.

To avoid increasing violence and hostility, we desperately need more clever and well planned conversations. We need the public to develop skills in assessing where their interests lie and when they are being manipulated toward prefering or avoiding something for reasons that are completely irrelevant to them and will likely harm them.

Long term, I think Darwin nailed it. The stupidification itself will erode the mental faculties of those depending on propaganda and with time give increasing advantage to those able to think through it. In the meanwhile, I suppose they will also have to learn how to survive till that point.

2

Suicide is a taboo subject for conversation. Particularly what makes a person want to commit suicide or what to say in the face of their pain.

“A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future.”
― Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

Suicide is a subject almost everyone has thought of at some point or the other. Almost everyone has wondered what it would be like to end our own life or how it could be done without confronting the great fear - pain, suffocation or other discomforts. Yet suicide remains a taboo subject. The feelings behind suicide. What makes someone commit suicide. We can talk statistics or prevention or helplines, but in the face of actual pain that drives a person to suicide, we have no skills. There is a difference between contemplating suicide and planning to commit suicide. An important one. The first is a fairly common and natural response to unbearable negative emotions. The other is an irreversible action.

I admit I have often considered suicide. I have written about suicide before too. From a perspective of statistics, from a perspective of understanding widespread distress needing political answers, from a perspective of empathy when I read about suicide, from a perspective of failing to support and grieving when someone I know commits suicide and I have also considered suicide as an option to end my own life when I was very sad. Yet, whenever I have tweeted about the subject, I have immediately got responses that amount to stopstopstopstopstopstopstopstopSTOP! It is so immediate that it would be hilarious if the subject were not grave. I have got helpline numbers as replies, I have got advice to not let dark thoughts enter my mind.

Hello! I write and tweet and comment and contemplate issues of human rights abuse. How in the world can one do that without having any dark thoughts? If I were planning to commit suicide, why would I be tweeting instead of finding myself a rope? I understand that it can sometimes be a cry for help by a distraught person, but if the rest of the words are perfectly normal, where is the harm in reading to find out what is being said?

Because here is the thing. Even if a person were tweeting about suicide publicly as a last ditch call for attention and help, the last thing they'd need is to be told to shut up or a sea of platitudes. What they would be needing is an empathetic listener who cares.

What exactly is this fear of talking about suicides?

“The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

I admit I have spent a great deal of time contemplating committing suicide over the years. As in killing myself. I have been in unhappy relationships involving heartbreak, I've been in an abusive marriage with an alcoholic, I've been a broke single mother of a disabled child. Despair and depression are no strangers. And yet I am here, typing this post.

I have actually found thinking about suicide in great detail helpful. Instead of fearing the pain of death (and thus possibly taking a rash step "while I have the courage" maybe after a glass or two of vodka), I've gone and researched methods of suicide. What would cause the least pain? What are the consequences of failure? What is the best method so that it causes least pain and least risk of failing and living with permanent damage? And anyone who knows me knows that when I say research, I mean obsessive information finding till I am convinced I know the subject in and out without actual experience. Enough to make a very well considered decision. On and off, when I'm in utter despair, I've gone and rechecked all the information. And yet here I am, typing all this.

Is this a guarantee I will never commit suicide? No. But it pretty much guarantees that I have given it thorough thought and not found it a better tradeoff for now. It guarantees that if I do it, it will not be a thoughtless impulse, but a decision I take about my life after considering all options I have.

So how has contemplating suicide helped me?

By giving me an option. By giving me an exit from the pain. By giving me the concrete information that if all this gets unbearable, I still have the option to exit. In the process, a miracle happens. I am no longer cornered by my despair. I always have the cheat route out. And because I know that, I am never out of options. I lose the fear of making attempts to change my circumstances that could fail.  Just allowing myself to spend time thinking about ending myself is a catharsis. If no one else, at least I am acknowledging how bad things are. I am listening to myself. It helps me feel heard. It gives me a vocabulary for describing my situation when asking for help. No, I don't mean "I am suicidal, help me or else." I mean "This, this and this is the reason for my despair. I am not able to see functional ways out. I need help." - because hello, I've gone through all the reasons in my contemplation and have them now sorted out in my head.

And sometimes, in a very cynical way, the contemplations have saved me. If I don't care whether I live or die, why not try this one last thing or the other? If I hit a dead end, I can always die.

“Killing myself was a matter of such indifference to me that I felt like waiting for a moment when it would make some difference.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

Here is an example how. When I was younger, my emotions were more volatile. Taking what I felt seriously and giving it serious thought helped me see things more clearly and invariably, I ended up thinking that if there was any hope, I could use it and if there wasn't, well, I could always die. But the well thought out option being there and not at any threat of being taken off the table gave me the confidence to know I could opt for it any time and there was no need to do it right now. I could afford to wait and see. I am truly grateful no one immediately tried to stop me at such times, or I'd have been tempted to use the opportunity before someone blocked it from me.

Now I am older. I have a young disabled child. Whoever knows me knows that I'd chew my arm off before I allowed anything to harm him. Well, losing a mom would definitely harm him. So suicide is totally not an option any more. At least while he is alive. He needs me. Period. Again, if I hadn't thought this through, I could have been at risk of giving up without considering the impact.

In some of my more selfish and melodramatic ways, I've even thought "What will be, will be" If I am not there, someone or the other will care for my son, though I can't imagine who, right now. But then, in such a melodramatic moment, the desire is also to leave a lasting mark on the world when I die. And oops, it is not "orphaned kid in moment of despair". I'd like to be remembered for something better, thank you very much.

Whatever it is. Others may have their own reasoning. Still others may come to a well considered decision that suicide is actually a good choice for them, When my father was dying of Parkinson's, he had the option of looking forward to an indeterminate bed ridden existence with little control over his body, being bored out of his wits and too exhausted to do anything about it but to wait to die. He begged me to kill him almost every week. It is illegal and I have two more dependents, or I would definitely have arranged for him to be freed as per his will if it were legal. Others do it out of poverty. Starvation. When the alternative is to live in debt and watch your family suffer with no hope of ever providing for them in sight, it can be a brutal life to look forward to, and death may simply be a matter of running out of the ability to fight.

“Let them think what they liked, but I didn't mean to drown myself. I meant to swim till I sank -- but that's not the same thing.”
― Joseph Conrad, The Secret Sharer and other stories

Whatever it is, however it plays out, a suicide is not about dying or exiting the world, it is about escaping unbearable torment. A person who feels unheard and uncared for, is unlikely to respond to a panicked flood of platitudes that s/he has heard a hundred times that drowns their voice all over again, even in the contemplation of death.

How agonized we are by how people die. How untroubled we are by how they live. ~ P. Sainath

My suggestion is that we all examine what this fear is that stops us from listening on hearing that word. Because the lives of many around us could depend on how we respond to their pain. If someone has made a well considered decision to die, there isn't much we can do about it, but if someone is screaming into a void of despair, perhaps us offering a listening ear will give them the space to be heard, and in the process get a clearer view of their situation.

What do you think?

14

I have rather radical thoughts about love, sex and . I wish to state them, because I am getting increasingly itchy about the compulsive prudery pervading everything these days, even as divorce rates soar, premarital sex thrives and acceptable public opinion continues to chase some vampire romance-like view of love as an absolute - one true soul mate, etc.

I've been married twice, had a long live in relationship that was better than the marriages, divorced once, separated twice. And I have learned from all those.

Currently, I describe myself as solosexual with detours and am happier than I've been in a long time. I no longer believe in marriage and even less in monogamy as a commitment. I have successfully ruined excellent friendships by marrying them. Some have even improved after breaking off. What have I learned?

About myself, I have learned that I am not a suitable candidate for 24/7/365 relationships. Too intense, too close. I am too idealistic, too uncompromising and too unwilling to accept the mediocrity of daily life once a relationship mellows into a comfortable habit that usually settles comfortably into the woman making compromises for a happy family life. I don't stop working at it, and I feel betrayed by my partner stopping working at it. I most certainly don't do well relating with the world as someone's belonging - even a cherished, precious one.

I am also quite asocial and even when things are going well and like ample space for me to be left alone with my thoughts. I'm not interested in anyone's socks, playing 20 mushy messages or how their day went, unless they have something to share or something seems off... or on. In turn, I like a man leading a happy and fruitful life not needing rescued from himself or his tanhai. Together for joy, not compulsive habit.

It isn't easy for the man either to be held answerable for the actions of a woman who does not even notice convention, let alone toe it. Even one who accepts my freedom feels resentment over being asked questions he feels obliged to defend over things he never felt strongly about. Why? Because I'm his woman! Apparently that means he is responsible for all I do and for running a customer care service for unsolicited opinions about bringing me in line - which he is most incapable of doing. This pretty much decimates a man's ego in today's society, so a wife like me ain't exactly happiness for the man either.

I find the best intentions eventually collapse into a resignation of "too much headache". Yet of course, I am incapable of being someone I am not. Someone tame, someone who colors within lines, someone society will approve of. Nor would I, if I could.

I have stopped believing in love as a relationship. Love, to me is moments of intense affinity that we chain together with a relationship in some desperate hope of more sense of belonging coming from the same source. To me, love is a feeling that simply is or isn't. It cannot be controlled by rules about where it should manifest and where it shouldn't. It also never goes away entirely. A memory can trigger it about someone you don't even like anymore.

I have learned that relationships die because the people in them stop making them work. In my experience of myself and others, more relationships have died from willful hurt and neglect than from someone "straying". From simply being too lazy to improve on a good thing till it goes broke and then too lazy for the phenomenal effort it would take. For those who believe in monogamy, any straying comes much after a sense of belonging is lost. For those who don't believe in it, the straying is irrelevant to the relationship anyway. Yet such a big fuss is made of loyalty to a partner, and so little about continuing to nurture a relationship. I believe in loyalty. Intense, committed loyalty, but not rights, including exclusivity over what another person is allowed to feel.

I do not wish to limit another. I do not wish to be limited by another. Love ought to be what expands us, not preventatively limits us.

Does this mean I no longer love? I do. But I don't set it in concrete. I feel it, am enriched by it, and am free of it once the moment passes without obligation. I feel no need for love to have a consequence. To turn into sex or marriage or a proposal or resentment over being unrequited. Or even be expressed. I have nothing against a relationship evolving either. Sometimes it does. But it doesn't "have to" and have to with "the right one". There are many right ones, with people who resonate and moments of meaning, and there are none that are always, tediously right.

Do I not believe in relationships? I do. But I'd like my partner to walk along. Independent, together. Our relationship is between us. I commit to nurture it, to treasure it and to fight for it when it is in trouble. But I do not commit to being owned by it. I do not commit to it overshadowing all other relationships or limiting their potential - including the potential for genuine, heartfelt intimacy. I would not want to own another either.

For someone who has never had simultaneous relationships and is absolutely disinterested in casual sex, it is surprising how strongly I have started feeling about rejecting monogamy. Would I have had? I honestly don't know. I'm quite content as a "solosexual" and currently feel no need for anyone in order to have a happy sexual life. The issue is the principle of it. Having thoroughly disliked the chains of being one half of a couple, where I have to dumb myself down and cater to expectations of what a part of a couple should be, I no longer am willing to get into all that. It is unpleasant.

And I have found there are many kinds of love, with many kinds of people. Many kinds of intimacy, that enrich, expand, grow with time, fade, metamorphize. There are many kinds of togetherness, of independence. They stretch across ages, genders, locations. There are even loving, caring relationships with men (gasp!), where both feel attracted, stated, yet there is no sexual relationship. Because there are no rules that say that "you're repressed if you don't sleep with people you love and are attracted to while you are single" either.

If there is one thing I have found common to these relationships, it is that there is a sense of grounding. Of being exactly who I am. Of being cherished, and of cherishing in turn. Of being accepted, appreciated and accepting and appreciating in turn. Of freedom, and yet being securely held. And it is all love.

 

My relationship is with the person. It is between the two of us. If it gets between me and the world, that is not acceptable to me. Because my first commitment is to myself. Self owned.

3

Season for questions on how to deradicalize Muslims. Later there will be a season on how to deradicalize Hindus (like much later, five years later). Answer is the same. Treat them the same. Respect them as people. Disagree with ideas, not hate identities. Golden rule of debate is there for a reason. It allows for dialogue without violence. Isn't that what society needs? For communities to be able to interact without violence and be able to negotiate differences?

Actions that are inappropriate can be changed. Identities cannot. If your laughing when I am in pain hurts me, you could try not laughing when I cry. But if your existing at all bothers me, then there is no end to this problem.

This is as much a suggestion to Islamophobics as it is to the anti-Hindutva fringe. Hate actions as much as you want. Be willing to accept that there is more to people than simply what you have chosen to notice and detest.

Be inclusive, treat people with equality rather than a default of mistrust or singling out for extra pity just because of surname or looks or religion. It is hardly as though we like everything about people like us either.

Alienation is the biggest reason for groups of people to break off. We can blame them for it and claim ourselves to be better or we can make the alienation less likely and make everyone safer.. Do not hurt or hate anyone you have not witnessed doing you wrong specifically as opposed to belonging to some community.

There I said it. The big elephant in the room which we prefer not to address because it doesn't give us a psychological high of "holier than thou".