The Gateway of India, at first instance, appears to be an odd place for us to enter into the type of conversations we have been having today. It was, after all, built to commemorate a state visit of a foreign invader.
But rather than tearing down the Gateway on our liberation, we absorbed it, re-attributed to it our own meanings of hospitable welcome and an openness to the world, as much as simultaneously, possessing the cultural confidence to leave it intact as a reminder that the Raj happened, so that then we know that it also passed. And it passed because of our collective might. We overcame this foreign invader by the solidarity of peaceful resistance.
The Gateway, therefore, in its contemporary complexity of meanings, is a locus for reflection, pondering and debate. There could not be a more fitting place to commemorate the cowardly attacks on this day nine years ago that occurred at various places across our city, including at the landmark just across the street. Nine years ago, on this day, these attacks were, to me, a wake-up call.
But the question I asked myself was: “Wake-up, yes, but wake-up to what?” I woke up to a new era of violence, a new kind of violence — a violence that was inflicted by terrorism. I woke up to the fact that terrorism is not an ideology. It is an act of scaring peaceful people, an act of evoking the fear of a sudden, untimely death. It is an act of negotiating at the point of a gun.
Terrorism is not an act of faith. Terrorism can never replace another ideology. And there is, before us, true evidence of that: The same children who held the same guns and ammunition in the trenches of Afghanistan to fight a foreign invasion of their land, the same children who were paid wages and salaries to kill and be killed in those battles, became professional mercenaries after they began to use the same training and weapons out of hatred, malice and vengeance.
Whatever political rhetoric may say, terrorism is neither a form of justice — nor even an instrument of justice — it is the whimsical randomness of evil.
So how does an unarmed, peaceful humanity fight the fear of terrorism’s sudden violence? How does anyone who believes in a life of merit and hard work begin to believe in the authority of guns and bombs? Will armed mercenaries decide the future of our children? Will the threat of violence decide what is right or wrong, good or bad? Will terror decide what is true-false, correct-incorrect, good-bad and right or wrong?
Terror does no such thing, terror does not decide anything. Terror only hopes to establish the bluff that evil can be stronger than natural humanity, that hate is mightier than love. It is now for each one of us to decide if we want our children to accept this evil doctrine or show our children that terror does not have a place in our hearts.
An estimated 20 lakh people were killed during the Partition of our country in 1947, and several times more were displaced. When people are divided by distrust, when friends and neighbours stop trusting each other, when a nation turns into hostile islands of random fear, then our world is broken into fragments, broken by narrow domestic walls. This is precisely what terror aims to achieve.
Terror does not preserve anything, it is designed to destroy. Once unleashed, terror cannot be stopped by a debate. An act of terror, therefore, is not open to negotiations or to wisdom. It can only be repelled, repulsed and destroyed by a more powerful reaction. There are no two ways about that: A corrective action is necessary.
But it does not end there. When a farm is infested by weeds, a weed-killer does not stop them from growing again after the next rain. The farmer has to pull them out, one by one, every single weed, by its roots.
Terror, to be prevented before germinating, must be rooted out. We know that the war on terror worldwide has not eliminated the root cause of terrorism so far. And it doesn’t look likely, if the same method is expected to give different results.
And here is where I think we must fall back on Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha. Satyagraha — in its truest form — as in the persuasion of truth.
The perception that moderates are not relevant in the war on terror is rather myopic and short-sighted. Moderates are not part of this struggle because both the handlers of terror and the agents of resistance consider them to be passive and disempowered. Yet, the prime victims of terror are moderates. More than 70 per cent of our nation is moderate. And as moderates, we must recognise that to vilify a foe is no victory at all, to understand a foe is the first act of strength in resistance.
To understand a foe, one must first understand oneself. To understand ourselves, we must ask not what we are against, for that is defining ourselves by the ideas of our foe, by their power. Rather, to understand ourselves, we must ask what we are for. We can only understand ourselves together.
To understand ourselves as a collective is to find the time for debate, discussion, argument, listening to each other, trying to understand differing points of view, engaging, challenging our ways of thinking and honouring each other with compassion. These are the answers to violence and death. If we are to be for anything, then to start with, what we must be for is each other. That is solidarity, and history has shown that our country’s solidarity is as strong as oak.
The colonial rulers laughed at our Mahatma Gandhi when he spoke of this vision. His passive resistance suffered unimaginable brutality during its campaign. But we know the result: This approach wiped out the foundations of imperial colonialism from the face of the Earth.
The time has come for us moderates to unite once again. It is time to invoke the Mahatma’s satyagraha of peaceful, non-violent non-cooperation. Not only must we boycott violence, but everything that breeds it. We must rise up with one voice as a nation of moderates, and say, “No!”
To the terrorist, that one “no” shall have the most impact. It’s very simple: A parasite cannot kill and survive in the same host at the same time. We must refuse to host terrorists. And, today standing at the feet of the Gateway, this is my prayer:
“All those who live for humanity, all those who live for the children of tomorrow, must now realise that it is time to rise, and say, ‘No!’. Uproot every weed from your surroundings, one weed at a time. Do not threaten, do not fight, do not kill, do not injure. Simply refuse to cooperate, at any cost.
Do not feed the evil; do not host the parasite called the terrorist.” And then, may we all live in the dream of Gurudev Tagore’s words: “Into that Heaven of Freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”