Skip to content

2

We are all victims of something or the other. We all have the same processes of healing. We get hurt, we find our space, we cope, we re-engage with the world. There is no rocket science to it, except our own blocks. Maybe this sounds unsympathetic. But this is the truth. It is something we all have gone through with more or less severity as a part of living.

This process of recovering from victimization - whether it is bullying in a college campus, people shot dead by forces of good or evil, riots, domestic violence, whatever... involves a need for space free of the victimization. It involves developing thought processes beyond the hurt.

In India, politics permeates every aspect of public life - particularly when it comes to victimzation, because a victim touches everyone's heart strings, and it becomes very difficult to oppose a perspective that claims to stand for victims and still come out looking ethical. It only turns them into leverage against a powerful entity like the government.

It is a kind of mental "human shield" behind which one side of a debate can hide and attack with impunity knowing that any retaliation will hurt victims and thus get widespread condemnation from the larger world. This doesn't make what appears to be supporters of the victims necessarily right.

There are many places where such support has magnified the trauma of victims by preventing recovery through the simple process of denying space and distance from the trauma. Suffering is a state of the mind. Many people suffer fear and nightmares even from horror films without actually suffering any quantifiable loss at the hands of the villain of the film.

I think our public and people who act on its behalf, particularly people who act to aid victims need to understand this.

There has been much violence in our country. From ancient times to now. Even among people currently living, there are many who have been through many instances of violence. From communal violence, to state sponsored violence and from random murders to terrorist attacks. They have moved on to the best of their ability. It is false to look at recovery as a return to original status. We cannot erase what has happened. We cannot bring dead people back to life, or restore lost limbs or health. But governmental and social support along with personal resilience help arrive at some degree of functionality and an ability to allow new joy to enter life.

We have victims of countless instances of violence who have reintegrated with society - their violence a dark memory, but moving on with life too.

The trouble happens when our callous greed for political influence trumps our compassion as humans. We see it happen in Kashmir, where every skinny teenager who pelted stones in anger and frustration gets elevated to a martyr for a cause. The teenager accepts his place of glory in the public eye, grateful for the understanding and attention of a powerful entity angry with the object of his anger on his behalf. A woman's rape becomes some a sacrifice, as though it was an intentional challenge suffered toward an objective.

We see it in Gujarat, where victims of riots are still being paraded for their suffering. Where their importance and value is in them presenting their suffering to make a point. Where their identity becomes one of being irrevocably destroyed by injustice. No one is interested in them moving on, recovering, and they know it. They know that they will lose the attention of powerful voices speaking up for them, if they are not needy.

Another thing that happens is that this need and gratitude is "managed" into a movement and the defeat of that movement is associated with them not getting justice. Thus, the fantasy is that if Teesta and gang fail to bring Modi and gang down, the victims have been refused justice, or if Geelani and gang fail to get their Azadi or whatever, then the justice has not happened.

What about the Mumbai riots of 1993? What about the Sikhs victims or 1984? No. I am not asking this as a BJP person does - to show that riots happened under the Congress or any such thing. I am asking you genuinely, what do you remember of these people? The people themselves. Not the incidents that happened.

Occasional interviews apart, those people have largely got on with recovering emotionally. Where they are no longer symbols of crime or evidence, but people with lives to live - even if their circumstances and loss is terrible. They can begin the process of rebuilding their lives, with more happenings not related with tragedy.

But you have been knocked down and you have risen up again no matter how seriously or grievously. Have you done that by making your grief your identity? When you got ragged in college, what was more important for you? The dismissal of the dean, or the punishment of the bullies and security in future? If I claimed that the ones ragging you should only be suspended along with the dean, and it dragged on endlessly - possibly till the time it was for you to pass out of college. While you attended countless disciplinary committee meetings to describe in detail your humiliation while they tried to figure out if the dean had a policy of allowing ragging, did I actually act in your interest?

It isn't too difficult to separate the political or policy crimes from the incidents. Sure, address both, but spare the victim from keeping their life on hold till you fix the country. Unfortunately, this is where the "human shield" part comes in. Without the victim, there will be robust discussion of policy, practical limitations, possibly callous choices forced by circumstances, policy failures.... which may accurately address real problems in the system, but may not succeed in framing a person for a more major crime (notice I don't say "will not").

This risk is not acceptable to one who has decided who must hang. Also, without the "human shield" of the victim making any skepticism seem obscene, there is risk of uncomfortable questions being asked. Indeed I often think that the victim would not get support if it weren't for the possibility of hanging the choice target. An example being terrorists killing locals in Kashmir. Those terrorists not being desired targets, there isn't any demand for justice by the same protectors of innocents. The same goes for the Pandits of Kashmir or Hindus who died in the riots - they are not useful for the political goal - though there is a slight possibility that they may actually be human beings and not inconvenient statistics.

This kind of aid turns victims from real people into props. This is a dehumanizing of people and a prolonging of their agony in order to parade it for goals not directly related to their justice. A justice which less of a survival need than recovery, though it is an important need too.

As a country, I think we need to focus more on rehabilitation of victims and moving on. We need to stop politicizing suffering and using victims to do what should rightfully be responsibility process of the system. I am not saying that any criminal should be left scot free, but I am definitely saying that a suspect who is not directly accused of the crime and is accused of a policy that led to it should not be a factor in convicting direct perpetrators - particularly when the investigations are about separate incidences. To minimize the uncertainty and sense of injustice of the actual crime before addressing its causes. To limit the involvement of the victims in the narration of what hurt them.

There is equal need for government institutions to take responsive and cooperative stands toward investigation and justice so that those seeking it don't need to use victims as a pressure tactic.

I do definitely think that any impunity politicians, forces or other leaders feel to command or allow the victimization of anyone should be investigated and punished and there should be systematic deterrents. However, to do this, there is no need to make victims of crimes become mascots of permanent misery. There is nothing wrong with people healing and moving on with their lives. The suffering is on record, and there should be no need to judge its credibility based on current condition. Whether it is Gujarat, Kashmir, North East or anywhere.

Creating mob mentality on two sides of a black and white stand only gets innocents caught in the middle.

Justice must not prevent healing.

This is very necessary if we are to hope for healing.

The 10th Anniversary of 9/11 came and went and everyone has on their minds the big question of terrorism. India is no stranger to terrorism, though we started calling it so mostly post 9/11. Till then, blasts were blasts and the perpetrators were militants. Then, we found a parallel with what we suffered in what the world was willing to fight - terrorism. I suspect part of our wide adoption of the word terrorism lies in the validation we felt in our suffering at the hands of covert elements and the blind eye the world turned to it till. There is an aura of "we have suffered this exact thing for a long time".

India's disbelief that Pakistan could sponsor terrorists and become an ally in fighting them is also reasonably vindicated in the decade that followed. How we experienced Pakistan is largely understood by the world now, and we are able to make more obvious overtures for reconciliation now that the overtures don't mean denial.

On another note, I want to look at the effect of radicalization and extremism in Pakistan on India. What the radicalization did to Pakistan is evident. Less evident is how it led to subtle radicalization in India. If the majority religion in Pakistan is Islam, the majority in India are Hindus.

While the overt influence that we see in Pakistan - officially changing narratives in history books, encouraging calls to arms in the name of religion etc are missing in India, the outrage over the Pakistani attitude has led to several less visible thoughts along the same lines. Visibly they may be in direct opposition, but they follow the same way of thought.

This is natural. This is automatic. If I say apple, you may say orange or red or fruit, but it is unlikely you will say desert or something totally unrelated. That is a process of coherent response. Our response is relevant to the stimulus if it is to be rational. If we don't like, we may do or say the opposite, but we play the same game unless we make conscious choices to disengage. We validate a dysfunctional premise of mistaken actions by countering actions.

Some ways I see it playing out here:

  • Focus on Muslims as potential terrorist agents. While it is true that covert agendas have tried to recruit Muslims, we play the same game when we investigate Muslims, or we defend them - both. If we don't agree with military alliances in the name of religion, we need to stop thinking from a religious perspective or at the very least narrrow the scope so much that we avoid that same broad match. Frankly, while it may be useful for terrorists to recruit in the name of religion, it is more difficult to investigate people based on religion rather than suspicious behaviour, because while influence can be exerted at a religious place, monitoring will have to happen in the wild.
  • Carte blanche to agents with "our" agenda. Terrorists summarily execute people who don't fit in with their agendas. To counter terrorists, we created anti-terror squads with similar carte blanche or made laws like the AFSPA. Both were difficult to control for a fundamental similarity - a belief that a certain kind of "good" people will kill only "bad" people - without the recognition of those people as individuals with their own ideas of loyalty, integrity or even who was wrong. Pakistan did it on a massive scale and has almost lost the country to them, India did it on a more cautious scale (also as a retaliation rather than initiative) and suffered fake encounters and police brutality overall. Both these plagues are difficult to control. Both these plagues continue on an assumption that they are "necessary". Terrorists are necessary for Pakistan's "strategic depth", and our extra legal powers of killing them are necessary for our "security".
  • The "good" protector guys. Atrocities by a certain kind of people getting a blind eye. These are usually the custodians of the "National Agenda". Their actions are immune from punishment because of one of three reasons. First - they "protect" against the bogeyman. If the bogeyman for the Pakistan Army is India, the bogeyman for the Indian Armed forces is terrorists. Because these guys "protect" the country, they cannot be called to account. Second - they are too powerful. It is an open secret that people can't do a damn thing against the Pakistan Army. India has a veneer of civilian control over Armed Forces - at least on a policy and decision making and salaries level. But the ground reality is untested. The control may exist, it may get thrown off - we tread carefully and avoid confrontations. The local public on the other hand has a healthy fear of their protectors and their potential to destroy their well being - and not just in areas with insurgency. Many wrongs by Armed Forces go unchallenged because they are fighting terrorists. Third - the voice of the majority and extra-curricular pressure. Challenging these protectors will quickly get one dubbed anti-national, targetted for verbal victimization, etc by a large number of people who believe in their heroism.
  • The role of the Army. Here there are opposite extremes. The Pakistan Army and ISI pretty much rule the country. They have thrown over governments, they have directly vetoed government statements... the works. The Indian Army on the other hand is firmly under the civilian thumb - at least on an official level. It got neglected for several years in terms of weapons upgrades, it is very low key in terms of a National presence, even top generals will rarely communicate to the media (and thus the public) directly about anything on policy or decisions. The few times they do, it is a big sensation and very marked deviation. The smallest disagreement, even if it isn't a conclusive refusal hits news instantly and reinforcing news articles will hit about the hierarchy in India. One would think that there is no similarity. But there is. There is a very serious fundamental similarity - the assumption that the Armed forces are a threat to the country's autonomy in India is similar to the reality in Pakistan - but it actually has no factual basis in India. The understanding of the nature of Armies seems to be influenced. They either take over, or they need to be kept severely in check. This is in spite of the fact that our Armed Forces have showed no actual inclination to do any such thing and in fact seem in agreement with the power distribution. This is in spite of the fact that lower attention to needs of the forces will be counterproductive to national interest. This is a largely unconscious thing, but the manifestations are visible. It is also interesting to note how the stronger the presence of the Army in National decision making became in Pakistan, the more low key it became in India.
  • Other similarities are obvious - religious extremism on the rise. Majoritarian justifications of injustices against minorities, and a strong opposition to minority supporting initiatives. This domination of national space on the basis of religion may have been more visible during the times of communal conflicts, but it is actually stronger now. It looks peaceful because there is no need to fight. There IS no fight for the most time. A fight needs a strong opposing force to exist in order to happen. The riots were hideous, but that force was at least present. Now, while a large number of minorities are reconciled to the National vision, the few that are not are small, explosive pockets with no ability to overtly take on the majority. Pakistan is far ahead of us on this road, and the extremists are actually in a war with the state for running it over entirely.
  • Both countries live under the illusion that extremists are a minority. In fact, extremism is on the rise in both. It is less visible in India, because there is a diversity of extremists, but make no mistake, there are actually very, very few people who are tolerant in both countries. Even liberals are what can only be described as "extremist fundamentalist liberals" who have extremist fundamentalist prejudices about non-liberals - paradoxical as it seems. Most of the people have concrete alliances of beliefs they have made and there is little space for tolerance or negotiation. This is risky for both countries. More visibly for Pakistan, but India has more to lose.
  • There are victims who are known victims who rarely get any assistance or acknowledgment - be it tribals or Kashmiris or people in the north east, or the Baloch or Pashtuns or Pok Kashmiris.

This may seem like a strange article, because it speaks of none of the obvious differences, or visible factors. What I am trying to do here is bring up the dynamics in the society and the processes influencing our thoughts.

There are many common patterns that trigger parallel versions across the border. We are born of one region. These Jekyll and Hyde games both countries play only help to blur the picture in unhelpful ways.

So what can be done? Responding rather than reacting. If we don't like something, there is no need to react to it no matter what the provocation. Some think that reacting to provocation is needed as a show of strength or whatever, but there is no strength in dancing to another's tune. We can explore all the options we have and choose ones that will be most useful rather than doing tit-for-tats like an unending game of table tennis.

Even better, if we can really understand how these influences work, we can use them to initiate transformation. Borders are for lands, not thoughts. If we can understand how our actions invoke relevant responses, we can invite change through what we do. Some very different patterns for interaction with Pakistan that disengage from previous dysfunctional patterns are described in "Hold your missiles". There can be more. There can be others.

More importantly, we can initiate transformations within the country to disengage from compulsive extremism and dysfunctional mistrusts. While I don't think these are some kind of Pakistani copyrighted rule, learning to avoid reactive behavior will help tone down a lot of reactive anger as well. We can deal with more transparency and tolerance.

I do think it will take dedicated minds to lead this change. Ideally social scientists, but politicians, media, civil leaders or any influences with high EQ could work too.