We have lost the plot. Why else would we mow down our very own and trigger mayhem in a most macabre way? In the process, we are grabbing global infamy
As a society, we seem to have lost all values, caught up in a desperate self-centered zest for glory and notoriety. We witness this around ourselves each day now, even as we seem to have decided that the battle against the deadly virus is over, and I am not talking COVID-19 alone. On all fronts, we now have our masks hanging down flaccidly around our necks; or lower still on our bodies. What's blatantly missing is our conscience, which is still throbbing but fast losing its pulse. And that leads me to write a multi-variegated column, one that encapsulates all the vagaries that plague our nation and polity today.
What better place to start this tirade than Lakhimpur Kheri, where we were all flagellated and dumbfounded by a terrible troika? This inhuman tumult was orchestrated by a Mahindra Thar, one that stormed a peaceful rally and mirthlessly mowed down farmers peacefully marching in the opposite direction, oblivious to the madness and death nipping at their heels. The runaway Thar SUV was followed by a larger Toyota Fortuner and they put paid to anyone who survived the first charge, ravaging and mutilating peaceful protestors. To finish things off was a Mahindra Scorpio at the tail-end, with the lookout manning the running board egging on the driver to create any more possible human pancakes.
This is not the India that we were born into. Ours was a generation that lived in simpler and kinder times, partaking of a decent education and indulging in far more mundane shenanigans, flying kites, jousting with cricket bats and shiny marbles, at worst playing truant at school. Today's India is a different place, one that is hardly recognizable, for it invokes in most of us a new-found fear, born out of callousness, apathy and downright barbarism. As we have been witnessing repeatedly, over the last few days…
Country mowed down
As mentioned, the bucolic rusticity of Lakhimpur Kheri lost all its charm and sheen last week under the wheels of the three meandering SUVs. The most shocking part of this incident was that this deliberate and inhuman act was allegedly masterminded by the son of a prominent politician belonging to the ruling party at the Center, the father a sitting Union Minister, no less. In the end-game, four farmers and a local journalist died under the wheels of the SUVs, while four others were allegedly killed by furious farmers and other onlookers.
For four days, as law enforcement agencies in Uttar Pradesh twiddled their thumbs and wiggled their toes in a state of absolute denial, the country watched graphic visuals and videos of this horrific act on their mobile phones and television screens. To add insult to injury, the main suspect repeatedly appeared on our mostly impotent television channels, waxing eloquent about his innocence and threatening anyone who would dare charge him with any involvement. After dragging its feet for days, the state police force finally filed a formal First Information Report (FIR), naming this gentleman as one of the main accused. In the blink of an eye, he disappeared and disregarded all calls for his appearance before the authorities for an investigation.
The Hon'ble Supreme Court was eventually brought into the picture when all else seemed lost. Within hours, a bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana rapped the state government and police, seeking a status update and demanding immediate action. Notices and summons were issued, as the main accused continued to remain at large. As world-best legal teams rushed to his defence via video-conference, a similar incident of SUVs ploughing into farmers was reported from Ambala, Haryana. Thankfully, there were no casualties here.
Then we have Kashmir
Then we have reports on the emergence of a new terrorist cell in Jammu & Kashmir, one that has been nonchalantly going around killing innocent civilians. In the last week alone, a new Kashmiri terror outfit TRF (The Resistance Front), backed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), has indulged in brutal and targeted killings. The small stretch of peace and harmony in the Valley was cruelly cut short last week as the TRF systematically went about identifying and killing Kashmiri pundit and Sikh residents.
In the last week alone, seven persons have been killed, including a Sikh and a Hindu employee of a government high school. It began with the killing of Makhan Lal Bindroo, the owner of a pharmacy in Srinagar on Tuesday, followed by the murders of young schoolteacher Deepak Chand and his principal Supinder Kour, the last two being singled out after an identification parade and then shot at point-blank range in front of their terrified colleagues. And it is not just Hindus and Sikhs who are being targeted; a street vendor of Bhelpuri was gunned down in Srinagar's Lal Bazar area just hours after Bindroo was killed.
Such is the fear running through the Valley now that a reported 75 families from these communities have temporarily moved out of Kashmir to safer locations, while scores of others working in government institutions have gone on 'voluntary leave', pending clarity on their future. Ironically, a majority of those who have moved out are those who came back to Kashmir under the government's Rehabilitation Package for Kashmiri Pundits, as per the announcement made in the Rajya Sabha in July this year.
A scoffing global media
Coming on the heels of the Pegasus spyware scandal and the deadly Second Wave of the pandemic in May-June this year, the events in Lakhimpur Kheri and Jammu & Kashmir are triggering massive outrage in sections of the global media, which has been scathing of its criticism of India and its handling of many critical issues. In May and June this year, media houses worldwide had called the Second Wave in India a 'self-inflicted national catastrophe', largely driven by massive election rallies and large gatherings for the Mahakumbh, which were allowed to proceed despite repeated warnings from the medical community.
Now, the focus of international criticism is shifting to Lakhimpur Kheri, with emphasis on the lack of action being taken by the authorities to throw the book at those guilty of perpetrating these vicious crimes. In particular, Members of Parliament from Canada and the United Kingdom have been scathing in their criticism. Punjab-origin MPs Tim Uppal and Ruby Sahota from Canada, and Preet Kaur Gill and Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi from the UK, have been taking to the social media to voice their anger and displeasure over the occurrences in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, pointing out that the authorities must take immediate action to punish those behind these heinous incidents.
As the Indian Government attempts to rebuild a sagging economy in some very trying times, it is imperative to restore global confidence in the country and the direction in which it is headed. Businesses national and international will only bet their future and their monies in economies that shout out stability and sustained growth, with no social impediments that may derail the process without due warning. Repairs have to be made, and quickly.
Some green shoots
It is not all gloom and doom, there's some good news too. Paradoxically, it comes from Shaheen Bagh, once seen as the hotbed of all that was wrong with the National Capital Region of Delhi. In this quaint and cluttered area of South-East Delhi, harmony prevails as it always has, except for those few tragic months of communal clashes that were triggered by some irresponsible and very inflammatory speeches made by highly ill-motivated political leaders.
Over the last year, I have been going there every other Sunday with a simple objective – that of getting my little kitten Bella a.k.a. Ballu to meet her birth mother, Shazia Didi. Once-kitten Bella has now morphed into full-blown cat Ballu, but that's all that has changed; everything else remains the same on my fortnightly jaunts into the Tayyab Masjid area of Shaheen Bagh. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs alike wait to meet me each time, as much as I look forward to wade into their gastronomic largesse. As little Ballu cuddles up to her Godmother, all of us Indians dig into kebabs, korma and roomali rotis, while sipping a cola or slurping up a hot cut of chai, listening to the raucous Bollywood music that blares from some very poor-quality local 'bhompus' mounted on street-side poles.
It is an unlikely setting for such an agreeable get-together of people from various colors, creed, religions and clothes. And as my peripheral vision catches another glimpse of Ballu hissing and clawing at and licking the many cooing over her, I realize why… The magic has always been there in the air for us to enjoy; we just need to take the politics and politicians out of the equation.
The writer is a communications consultant and a clinical analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed are personal.