Terror and Compassion

I sometimes get scared when travelling by the local to and from field work.

I look under my seat (if and when I get one). I keep a sharp eye out to make sure every bag has an owner. I jump whenever I hear a strange ticking.

The last few months have not been good for our country. Bombs in Bangalore (which gave me no end of shock), Ahmedabad, Delhi, Delhi again, Malegaon and again in Ahmedabad and now in Agartala – is the subaltern fighting back? What are these bombs a response to? Or are they even a response?

Violence is not always a consequence of something. Violence is often a statement – look at my might. Violence is a demonstration. The question here is whose violence is this?

Today is Gandhi Jayanthi. Or World day of Non-VIolence. The Times of India has a special ‘peace’ edition out and I’m finding it very interesting to see what the representation of terror in the media is. We’re still looking for very individual factors of terrorism – terrorists and their personality traits – and are getting surprised when terrorists turn out to be educated, turn out to be the guy who could be your next door neighbour, the girl who sat across the bench from you in school. I remember meeting with the DCP of Thane, who asked me point blank when he found out that I am a 1/3 psychology student whether I could explain why educated Muslims with MBAs are getting into terrorist activities. As a social work student, I turned it around and said that psychology may not have the complete answer, it is in the way society labels a person and the person rebels against society.  And yet, we’re still bombarded with the myths and stereotypes of terrorists being consumed with the idea of jihad, terrorists having a sense of high self esteem and demanding respect. The article in the TOI by a psychoanalyst today condemns that very aspect of the terrorist, saying that high moral ideologies are responsible for terrorism today – people with self esteem and need for respect are more prone to become terrorists. In my opinion, we should be looking at why people are lashing out and demanding respect. It seems pretty obvious to me that somebody has been denying people their due. It’s so easy to pin the blame on the ‘other’ and say that it’s them who are at fault, it’s they who are causing all the problems. Violence is no one-way street. Especially violence resulting from cultural alienation, anomie, labelling and stereotyping. Another way of looking at this entire issue is why did TOI bring in a psychoanalyst to flag off their inaugural issue of their peace edition? Why not a sociologist or an economist? It’s like we’re unable to think beyond the individual terrorist and what he or she has done. It is also very important to understand structures and the role they play in the construction of a terrorist. Unfortunately, the people who make our policies do not realise this.

The psychoanalyst says that instead of building ideology in the young, we should breed compassion. I believe that ideology is the essential base from which we all function and any society which does away with ideology breeds mindless drones who follow the dominant ideology without any thought whatsoever. Instead ideology should be encouraged, and so should respect – for oneself and the other. Compassion is important. Compassion is needed. Compassion is not enough – because I don’t think I can ever be compassionate towards certain people, a rapist for example. And I dont think I’m alone in this.

I would like to be able to love the world and accept everyone unconditionally. But I do not know how practical that is. Instead, working towards accepting our biases and working around them, interacting and understanding people and the different forces surrounding them and effecting them, in fact, just friendship ought to be enough to even reduce that bias to whatever level it can.

Because if the terrorist is supposed to accept our views of how his or her behaviour ought to be, is it not his or her right that we be supposed to accept his/her views of what our behaviour ought to be like? You see…it’s really not easy as it sounds.

Comments, rejoinders, criticisms accepted and welcomed.

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