Through Crises We are Revealed

First published in The Pioneer, December 29, 2012:

December 21, 2012 came and went, and we are still here. Those skeptics, atheists and debunking activists chuckled, chortled, and called those who believed something dire was in store “suckers”. Life will go on, they said, and if and when something is going to strike the Earth and destroy us all we will let you know, they teased. They do know about the dire strait the world’s eco systems are in, and they are keeping tabs about the melting polar ice caps, the vanishing animal and insect species, and the destruction of the rain forests. What they cannot tell us is about the state of humankind. It is not that they don’t care, or that they are not somewhat aware of the human condition but they don’t have the techniques and the instruments to measure the depth of our despair or our disrepair. So, while they debunked the Mayan calendar and the supposed Mayan prophecies, they had nothing to tell us about the deteriorating condition of human affairs that may indeed lead us to a kind of “end times” that will make life not worth living. That is why an event like the rape of the 23-year-old girl in Delhi on December 18 or the massacre of 20 children and seven adults by a deranged young man, who then killed himself, in Connecticut on December 15, leaves us despondent about the state of human affairs and the future of human civilization.

How we respond as a people and as a nation can also tell us about our response to this human condition -- where it does seem that the world is hastening fast to some kind of social demise before there is a “maha pralaya” or Jesus returns to save Christians. So, when Adam Lanza went on his shooting rampage and left Newtown devastated Americans rallied round to rush help and listen to the traumatized citizens of the small community. President Obama talked poignantly to the nation, and had difficulty holding back his tears. The townspeople and the local churches, including the shocked and numbed parents and family members of those killed, rushed to organize a fitting memorial service, at which President Obama spoke with great feeling and chose words with care and thought. At the solemn service all those gathered embraced the police and emergency personnel who had rushed to the school to help save children, and stop the rampage. Their courage and their service found mention in all the eulogies delivered that evening.

In contrast, we have seen the Indian response to the brutal rape and beating of the young woman in Delhi. How the two nations have responded to a particular social problem seems starkly different, at first glance and on the surface. In the US we have seen the President on down – from the Connecticut State Governor to the Newtown Mayor – step in to perform their duties with serious concern and due haste. They have chosen their words with care, and they have spoken with feeling while acting with resolve. Whereas, in India, it seems that people consider lawmakers if not the cause for the surging problem of societal breakdown at least clueless bystanders who merely mouth inanities and point fingers. Where was the leader who could articulate powerfully the anguish of a shocked nation? There was none to be found. Where was the leader who stepped out to meet the angry and concerned citizens? All we found were the figureheads who “Namaste-d” to the cameras, mumbled truisms, as they hurried in and out of a pressroom flanked by their Z-level security men in safari suits. Sonia Gandhi wants exemplary punishment meted out to the rapists, while her son, the Prime Minister-in-waiting wants better policing. The Prime Minister, who appeared in front of the cameras, may be a week after the rape, appealed for calm as frustrated citizens rioted. He then in his stoic, barely audible manner assured the country that he would make sure women would be protected. All balderdash! All doled out with minimalist involvement and no passion. These are not leaders who have worked their way up the political ladder or those who know how or trained themselves to inspire a nation. They are nothing but platitude-mouthing poseurs, who by the chance of fate, become “leaders”.

In India, people rush to formulate laws, which are almost never followed or enforced. In about 60 years the Indian Constitution has been amended nearly 170 times, whereas the U.S. Constitution, in 225 years, has been amended only 27 times. The police in India have not ever been known to protect citizen rights and life, and policemen are dreaded and despised, reflecting Joseph Conrad’s belief expressed in the novel, Heart of Darkness, that the terrorist and the policeman come from the same basket. Nor has there been much succor from the courts, except in some rare instances in recent times. Whereas, in America the police are both honored and feared. Every town raises funds for the benefit of police associations, but we also remember the role police played in the brutal treatment of Blacks in the past, and their racial profiling in the present.

Of course, not all is well with the American nation. The day after the Newtown massacre people rushed to buy more semi-automatic weapons and truckloads of bullets. National Rifle Association (NRA) leaders stood their ground and proposed ludicrous laws to make American schoolchildren “safe”. When Piers Morgan, the British host of a CNN prime-time show, called out these madmen, 30,000 Americans signed a petition asking the President to deport Mr. Morgan! There are more than 320 million guns registered in private hands in this land of liberty, more than one per child and adult. In the past few years the number of homicides in the country, using guns, has ranged from 9,000 to 11,000, and the number of suicides, using guns, has ranged from 16,000 to 18,000. Yet, nearly half the country is wedded to the dangerous logic that more guns lead to better protection of the individual.

The United States and India are the world’s two largest and most diverse democracies. The histories and cultures of the two vary greatly, and one cannot compare the Indian musambi with the American apple, to add a twist to the old cliché. What, however, seems obvious in these dire times is that India continues to be a feudalist state, fueled by anarchic individualism, and managed by an inept if not corrupt political class, whereas Americans, despite deep divides, can still harness the power of words and the potency of policy to inspire and enact change.

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