16 July, 2006

Surviving the New World


At the latest, confusion reigns in the circus that is Indian politics and TV news TRPs are shooting beyond all glass ceilings. Sounds like any other day in our country, doesn't it? But it isn't any other day. At the time of writing, it has been only 75 hours since a terrorist attack caused the death of close to 200 and injury to over 700 innocent people in Mumbai. Yet, apart from that horrific statistic, nothing in the lives around me are reminiscent of such a tragedy.

Is this indifference gradually killing Mumbai?

Every tragedy Mumbai faces (and our city has been through quite a few in the years gone by) throws up a bone to chew on while we avert our eyes from the dead and dying. This time the pet contention is the merit of Mumbai's resilience.

Much has been said about it on every media possible, so let's not convolute the issue further. The Oxford dictionary defines 'resilience' as the ability to recover quickly from difficult situations. Mumbai, as a city, is resilient in numbers. When 200 people die in train blasts, 200 more will arrive the next day to take their place in the trains. This is not surprising, neither is it really commendable. It is just a logical statistical fact. To say that the people of Mumbai are resilient, we would have to compare the resilience shown by those who sat at home on Tuesday and saw the tragedy unfold on their television sets with those of the families who lost their loved ones. It will be an unfair and impossible comparison. When people boarded the trains on Wednesday, it was not a testament to resilience as much as it was a comment on our overpopulated over-competitive world that could, put quite simply, care less for their expendable lives.

Today, the people of Mumbai (as with the rest of the world) have largely been desensitized by constant media exposure of random acts of violence. We are gradually losing the essential quality that makes us human - that of empathy (amidst an abundance of sympathy). When we compare the lifestyle of Mumbai to a rat-race, we should also acknowledge what that makes of us, the people. We have become animals - constantly racing toward some finish line or the other. In the larger socio-economic machinery that we move through, we have reduced ourselves to replaceable bits and pieces. It is heart-breaking (albeit cynical) to point out that the city of Mumbai will not miss the 200 who lost their lives.

That said, the media cannot be unequivocally blamed for turning viewers into heartless zombies - they are there to report facts. If violence is a fact, it is their responsibility to report it. As a conscientious audience and as a part of the world population, it is important to keep this fact in mind. The world today IS a world of violence. We cannot escape it. Somehow, while we went on about our daily lives, a new world has emerged. It is a world of unpredictable chaos.

As US soldiers panicked under guerrilla warfare in Vietnam, the world today quakes under this new form of warfare - terrorism. However, we have not been able to move away from conventional methods of combating this situation and if we do not wake up to the challenge soon, we too will crumble under its threat as the US did in Vietnam. The new world of chaos needs to be met with a new approach to combat and survival.

It needs to be understood that terrorist attacks cannot be given a face. While we instinctively bay for blood when hurt, we must understand that in the case of terrorism it is not a person or a group of people that are to blame. Terrorism has its roots in hatred, illiteracy and poverty. When we punish a person or ban a group involved in a terrorist attack, we do no more than lynch one head of the hydra that is terrorism. A new head is born before we are even done dealing our brand of justice. We cannot stamp out terrorism by killing terrorist leaders. There will always be newer ones to take their place. We cannot stop terrorism by banning or arresting terrorist groups - other groups will emerge to replace and avenge them.

The war against terrorism cannot be waged by armed forces. It cannot be won by weapons. We cannot fight on their turf. We must understand it and supersede it. All conflicts beings clashes of differences, we must work at resolving the differences that lead to terrorism. Terrorists cannot be terrorized. Violence will only beget more violence and the rift between the perennial 'Us and Them' will continue to widen with innocent blood to pay. We must combat the elements that bring about terrorist acts by spreading awareness, providing education and bettering the economic standards for citizens of the world - it is the lack of these very facilities that breed the manpower behind every terrorist attack. Sounds quite utopian, doesn't it? How can we expect the entire world to turn Gandhian? Yet, Gandhi was a man with utopian principles. Not meaning to split hairs and question the Indo-Pak divide that we still suffer from, the man with utopian principles did win his fight and inspire others like Martin Luther King Jr to win theirs.

Yet, the government of India (should I also point to the US?) will not pay heed to the principles they export in the image of the 'Father of the Nation'. We are instead led on a wild goose chase across countries and communities to find the people behind the attack. Eventually a few arrests will be made to appease the bloodthirsty public, a few bans will be imposed, countries, communities and people will be blamed. Soon, we will forget this ever happened - till another terrorist strike wakes the media to dredge up statistics of this tragedy as they do now with the '93 attack. The dead will enter the books as numbers and the numbers will pile on till the entire world implodes with violence one fateful day that no one will be around to record.

It saddens me to see that the Tuesday attack is being used as an excuse to delay peace procedures with our neighbouring nation when it should be more of a reason to speed things up. Selfish, jingoistic patriot politics can be done without in the new world. In the new world, we stand united or we die. To combat terrorism is to combat hatred. It requires dissolving boundaries. There cannot be a country against terrorism. There can only be a united world against terrorism.

In the new world, we are responsible and should be held accountable for the overall development of all countries and people. That is the only way to combat terrorism. Yet, the priority remains fixed on discovering which people, group and community perpetrated the Tuesday attacks. Should these villainous people be allowed to go free, then? No. Justice must be handed out. Innocent blood has been spilt and the murderers must be found and adequately punished as decreed by law. However, this cannot be championed as a solution to terrorism. It is not even anywhere in the right direction. The sooner the citizens of Mumbai, India (and, subsequently, the world) learn to make the difference between justice, revenge and the solution to terrorism, the better are our chances of surviving in the new world.

What steps has the government taken to combat terrorism? What steps has the government taken to ensure the safety of the citizens? Is it enough to install a few CCTV cameras at four railway stations? Or is it a futile knee-jerk reaction meant to pacify the easily distracted citizens of Mumbai? Will the terrorists attack the trains again? Or, will they target some other sector next? What if they target malls and multiplexes? How difficult would it be to leave a package unattended inside a department store? What if they were to attack hospitals? What if they attacked schools? Or housing complexes? Is the government really taking honest steps to ensure our safety? And, I reiterate, is it really doing anything to combat terrorism?

Or is it dangling a carrot of revenge, quick-fix safety and temporary patchwork on terrorist activities to appease the general public?

In the new world, I wake up every morning to the reality that I may lose my life today. It is a reality that must be embraced and logically considered. I may lose family and friends. They might lose me. And what then? Will all be forgotten once the perpetrators are caught? If I die of a terrorist attack, I would much rather the government spends its resources on making sure my family and others live to see a safer day tomorrow. What else could be of greater importance?

Yet, the prospect for such reaction by the government looks bleak. Vested interests, ignorance and egoistic differences of opinions run cracks through the government we have elected as it also divides us, rendering both governments and citizens ineffective. We cannot afford to look up to our elected godfathers for help anymore. They are only as much flesh and blood as we are. The emergence of the new world demands accountability of every one of us as citizens for our own safety. We are responsible for our own future. To survive the new world we need to become proactive citizens.

The key to proactive citizenry lies in proactive empathy. What we do or do not affects the entire population, as it does us individually. Citizen initiatives like the mumbaihelp blog as well as the compassion displayed by the people at and around the blast sites on Tuesday are sterling examples of proactive citizenry. These acts of empathy can serve as motivation to snowball an outpouring of human compassion that can overcome any obstacle thrown at us. However, these sparks of humanity are pocketed, reactionary and largely quick to expire. In the new world, proactive citizenry must be a permanent condition.

A proactive citizen is responsible for the safety of the entire world. If the world we live in is secure, so are we. Citizen initiatives must be undertaken to ensure the safety of our homes, offices and modes of transport. We, the citizens, must come forward to pursue and spread awareness of a world view. We must actively work at providing education and employment to all. Our compassion toward others must not only be present at all times but be aggressively employed against all odds.

Proactive citizens are also, finally, responsible for their own safety. If we secure the world for ourselves, we secure the world for others. Since as far back as I can remember, railway officials have insisted on the citizens' responsibility to ensure safe travel. How many of those safety norms have we flouted and how many have we seen flouted without protest? How many of us really keep a look out for abandoned packages and how many of us bother to inform authorities when we see one? The new world demands a proactive vigilance. Ever since the BEST bomb incident, I have always pushed a foot beneath my seat to check for planted parcels when travelling by bus. I call this a healthy paranoia. We have nothing to lose by it except for a complacent sense of well being that we, frankly, can do without.

The next time a tragedy like this occurs, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

The war against terror can only have one victory - peace. This war has already begun and, whether you like it or not, we are all soldiers in this war. If we are to survive this war, we must wake up to our responsibilities as soldiers of peace. It is not an easy task. We have been wronged, you and I, in so many ways. It is not easy to forget those scars. Yet, if we want to score victories for the world, we must start on a clean slate. We cannot walk into the future with one foot in the past. This is a new world. This is a new war. We must shed our civilian skins and be reborn as soldiers of humanity. We must become proactive citizens of the world.

It is not an impossible feat. It will be difficult. It will be painful. Yet, it is not impossible.
I dream of a day when we can live without the shadow of mortal fear upon us. There is a long way to go yet. That day will not dawn on us while we sleep. We must wake up. Wake up and question your animosity. Wake up and question your apathy. Wake up and question your helplessness.

I urge you. Wake up. Wake up to the reality of the new world. Wake up before it is too late.

4 Comments:

Blogger Falstaff said...

Will someone please explain to me what's so evil or inhuman about wanting to get on with your life?

I think we're mixing up three very different arguments here:

a) That the fact the Mumbaikars managed to move on shows that they are somehow special and have some sort of magic spirit.

b) That in moving on as if nothing had happened, we risk not asking serious questions about what we can do to prevent such tragedies in the future. We need to proactively think about what can be done to fight terrorism, not simply retreat into denial.

c) The fact that we all moved on the very next day makes us inhuman cynical rats wedded to a soul-sucking quest for money and power and unable to empathise with our fellow mortals.

Now, a and b I entirely agree with, but c I don't get. First, I see no reason to assume that sympathy for the victims is incompatible with moving on - you can feel really sorry for those who were killed and still get on with your work. Second, I'm not clear on what the alternative to moving on is. Would the world somehow have been a better place if we'd all spent the next day or the next week sitting at home feeling sorry for those who were killed and by extension for ourselves? What would that have achieved? If the city moved on the next day it wasn't because Mumbai is the most courageous city in the world or because we're all inhuman lab rats who have been entirely drained of the milk of human kindness, it's simply because most of us are sensible enough to recognise the nothing is achieved by soppy playacting. We do what little we can to help those who are affected by the crime and then we get on with our lives because that's what it means to be alive. And hopefully, ask ourselves some tough questions about what we can do to stop it from happening again. What's so inhuman about that?

I'm not questioning any of the things you say about the new world and what we need to do to fight terrorism. I'm just sick of all this talk about how we're unfeeling slaves to the corporate grind because we didn't sit around crying into our bowl of cornflakes Wednesday morning to express sympathy for the victims.

16/7/06 18:03  
Blogger Maxim said...

UNITED WE STAND AGAINST TERRORISM !

16/7/06 19:37  
Blogger Enemy of the Republic said...

Everyone wants to get on with their life. But sometimes it just can't happen after a severe trauma. And talking/writing about it can help. Unfortunately, events of this magnitude never leave life the same.

18/7/06 05:31  
Blogger rahulv said...

Indian Railway is not only the second largest rail network in the world but it is also the heart of soul of India through which float millions everyday. Railway is the only transport system of reaching to some of the most obscure but extremely beautiful regions. Recent tourist initiatives like Palace on Wheels, Royal Orient, and Kalka-Shimla hill railway along with world heritage train - Darjeeling Hill Railway has given a new face to the image of a transport system, which is more than 150 years old

to know more about pls visit:

Railway Packages in India

8/8/06 17:12  

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