Sunday, October 19, 2008
Which life is more precious?
In a recent development. all the DMK MPs at the centre have been asked to resign by the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Mr. Karunanidhi as a means of putting pressure on the Centre to lean on the Sri Lankan Government to ease off on the offensive they have launched in Northern Sri Lanka to flesh out the LTTE. In the process, many innocent Tamil civilians have either lost their lives in the cross fire or have been severely affected by the ongoing hostilities. Now, any action that tries to ameliorate the suffering of innocent civilians in an ongoing war (and indeed, what is happening in Northern Sri Lanka is little short of war between the Government and LTTE forces) should be encouraged. However, what I find more than faintly repulsive is the unwritten assumption that the lives of the Tamilians there is more valuable that those of others. The suicide bombers of the ferociously violent and ruthless LTTE have killed thousands of innocents, Sinhalese and Tamilian alike and I recall no particularly action by the DMK on such occasion except the usual platitudes muttered about innocents being killed. Is the life of a Tamilian more valuable than, say, the lives of others in Sri Lanka or for that matter in India? What about all the people killed in bomb blasts here, the thousands of Kashmiris killed in terrorist violence and in cross fire? Does not the DMK feel the same for all these people. Why is the life of a person of one's own community (that too in another country) more valuable than those of others? Before I am accused of harbouring anti-Tamil sentiments, let me hasten to add that this kind of chauvinism is not limited to Tamil Nadu politics though it does tend to rear its ugly face there more often, perhaps due to the proximity of Sri Lanka and the ethnic conflict there. I am sure Mr Raj Thackerey would consider the life of a 'Marathi Manoos' more precious than that of a Tamilian (definitely that of a Tamilian -- after all at one time they were the ones accused of taking away jobs from the locals). The same, I have no doubt, would be true of a blue-blooded Bengali -- even a distinguished intellectual like Sunil Gangopadhyay once fulminated against these Marwaris in Kolkata who were destroying Bengali 'kalchar'. Mercifully it remained at that level and there were no lives at stake though I can imagine scenarios involving next door Bangladesh. Mr Karunanidhi, as a senior statesman may fulminate at being compared to Raj Thackerey, considered by many to be just a rabble-rousing thuggish politician, but surely there is little difference? If hordes of 'North Indians' -- Biharis, UPites, Assamese invaded Chennai the way they do Mumbai, I am willing to bet my last Galavati kebab that the reaction of Mr Karunanidhi and the DMK would be very similar. The point is that after more than 60 years after independence, we continue to be prisoners of our caste, creed, ethnicity, language, religion and community. This is usually the point where I am accused of having a typical rootless elitist Westernised education (in India that only means going to a, perhaps convent, English medium school) and have therefore little sense of 'belonging'. This may or may not be true, but I must confess that I do feel far more de-racinated than many people I see around me, particularly in Chennai. If that is the result of my education, so be it. But I feel no reason to be apologetic about it -- in fact, I think a little more deracination is overall a good thing for an excessively diverse country like India. By that I do not mean to imply that one should not have any appreciation for one's own art and culture, literature, food, customs -- Maharashtrians can celebrate their Ganesh festivals and Bengalis their Durga Puja and Tamilians their Pongals and Diwalis (perhaps the one festival that seems to have become truly pan-Indian). But unfortunately it doesn't end with that. One's own existence becomes superior to that of people from other communities, chauvinism is just a step away and jingoism just around the next corner. Kashmiri Pandits feel only for Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs are worried only about whether the Sikh Maryada is being compromised (one heard much of such statements during the Khalistan problem), Bengalis worry about fellow Bengalis being slaughtered next door by the mostly Punjabi Pakistani army and the DMK worries only about the Tamils in Sri Lanka. One can presumably look at the good side -- at least someone is worried about innocent human lives being lost, even if those are from just one community. But wouldn't it be nice if we could, for once, have concern for a fellow human without worrying about the person's ethnicity?