Terror has two faces. One face is easier to recognise, it is the face of extreme fear. If you look at this fear-stricken face for a moment, you will recognize the other face as violence. The Pulwama attack has left us terrorised and hurt. When feeling terrorised, the first thing one needs to ensure is to restore the feeling of safety for all. Then comes the part of aiding to the wounds. Healing takes a long time. It also requires a lot of support from our fellow citizens. There is a bond between us. This bond could be observed in marches and the public outcry after the attack. We need to remember what Ela Bhatt calls anubandh- we are all bound to each other.
What we needed to be reminded of was to not react when in shock. This is our ancestral wisdom. First catch your breath. Look for the wounds, aid to them and then assess the situation.
Mahatma Gandhi opens the dialogue in Hind Swaraj with explaining the role of media in a modern society. He writes, “one of the objects of a newspaper is to understand the popular feeling and to give expression to it; another is to arouse among the people certain desirable sentiments; and the third is fearlessly to expose popular defects. The exercise of all these three functions is involved….”
After the Pulwama attack, the media should have helped the nation by restoring faith in itself. A feeling of safety for all is the desirable sentiment that must have been fostered. Then it should have helped the people to assess the situation. One may argue that our media community was as shocked as we all were. They were among the first to arrive at the scene, the first to not just see but also see it close enough to prepare an authentic report. Is there a mechanism in place for the media community to process and manage their shock and to strengthen their emotional state to get a grip on the situation?
Times of terror call for a careful reporting. The media community needs to take a moment to plan the way to report on the attack and consequent events. The reports and photographs need to be carefully worded and sensitively composed.
Unfortunately, media’s reporting lacked this foresight. Images that had the potential to evoke terror were splashed all over the electronic and print media. Media’s inability to manage shock acted as a catalyst for the display of unreasonable acts of aggression. Otherwise, can you imagine people having a problem with the name Karachi Bakery? If the media had momentarily avoided the race to plan the reporting of the gravely serious and hurtful attack, it would have foreseen this reaction.
Now, the feeling of terror is settling down in our lives just as dust settles after a storm. To see clearly we have to wipe the dust settled on our eye-glasses. We need to do the same with the feeling of terror that is settling down in our psyche. Otherwise, it will foster fear and violence. This fear and violence would manifest itself in the everyday life. We would observe it in the form of increased surveillance of our loved ones. It would cause us to restrict their movements. We would also see the other face of terror in the form of unreasonable aggression on the road and in the parking lot. Terror would fracture our bonds and give space to distrust.
Living in terror is not the kind of swaraj anyone of us would want. ‘To be able to live fearlessly’ is how Mahatma Gandhi defined swaraj in Hind Swaraj. Media needs to acknowledge this general feeling of terror and respond to it. It also needs to find creative ways to restore a sense of safety amongst all. At the same time, it needs to initiate and mediate the process of collective reflection. To recall Gandhi, “to a certain extent the people’s will has to be expressed; certain sentiments will need to be fostered and defects will have to be brought to light” by the media. Because we are bound to each other and “the world is sustained by the sum of all our correlated actions” (Ela Bhatt).