When the decibel is deafening, silence can be a survival instinct. Besides, there is no debate to join or win. One can’t argue against incantations meant to rouse lynch mob soundalikes. Yet, the absurdity screaming at us demands a response, if only for the record.
The whining intellectuals, we are told, are hypocrites because they consider incidents such as the Dadri lynching as signs of growing intolerance but not the killing of an army officer by terrorists in Kashmir. Aamir Khan was asked the question by a member of the audience during the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism awards evening, and thousands of times on social media thereafter.
From the stage, Aamir replied that all acts of violence should be condemned. Modest of him to not point out that the question was outright meaningless. Terrorists did not kill that particular soldier because he offended them. They killed him like they kill many other soldiers and civilians of all faiths because that is what terrorists do.
Calling terrorism a form of intolerance, however extreme, stretches the limits of euphemism. So when we compare the two killings, do we imply that the Dadri villagers acted like terrorists? That acute intolerance made a bunch of regular people find an excuse to take out a neighbour of a different faith? Much like terrorists seeking opportunities to target anyone on the other side?
Besides, the outrage over the murders of Mohammad Akhlaq, Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi is primarily against a section of political leadership busy playing down the incidents and a government lax in punishing the culprits. Likewise, the country would have erupted in anger had the establishment come across as soft on terror. Or, do the Hindutva apologists demanding parity in outrage believe that is actually the case?
Then, those harangues over selective protest. What happened in Delhi in 1984 or in Mumbai in 1992-93 or in Gujarat in 2002 deserved every bit of outrage that India in 2015 is drawing. A number of those outraged today might well have had incentives for acting far less sensitively on earlier occasions. But to claim that everyone protesting now
is beholden to some political camp is to testify for the very intolerance charge they seek to dismiss.
In a long-cynical world, our reaction to almost anything depends on the scale, proximity and immediacy of it. In a decidedly corrupt country, it took the scale of a Bofors scandal to bring a government down. In a society scarred by daylight rapes doled out as punishment, we took to the streets only when one of us was brutally raped in the busy evening hours in the capital.
Unfortunate though it is, we are tempted to rationalise killings during a riot as an aberration — perpetrated by faceless mobs and possible only in such a lawless frenzy. These things, we tend to believe, can’t happen to us in our kinds of neighbourhoods, certainly not in normal times.
The killers in Dadri did not require any riot. The murderers of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi did not have to
hide behind any lynch mob. They hit brazenly and with an apparent sense of impunity. The victims are defenceless elderly citizens who had probably never felt so physically vulnerable for their views, scholarship or household menu. That is the difference in 2015.
Aamir’s recollection of a family conversation was as rhetorical as his wife wondering if they would have to leave the country. He could well have made his point without offering that anecdote. But even the tolerant verdict, that he should have weighed every word lest he provoked many and made some feel insecure, is a comment more on us and our bizarre times than on Aamir himself. Today, anguish over violence shames India way more than violence does.