Of human compassion

Adversity, it is said, brings out both the best and the worst in us. So it has been with the tsunami tragedy. It will no doubt be a long, long time before near and dear ones of the over 162,000 people who were swept away by the killer waves, and the hundreds of thousands of survivors, can overcome their grief and trauma. Meanwhile, however, we can draw some inspiration from the numerous accounts of individuals who risked their own lives to rescue others. And some comfort from the fact that in India and elsewhere the response to the urgent relief needs of the victims has been spontaneous and generous with both commoners and celebrities contributing.

As in case of the devastating earthquakes in Maharashtra in 1993 and Gujarat in 2001, or the Orissa cyclone in 1999, the print and electronic media promptly put out appeals and started their own relief funds in aid of the devastated survivors. That’s our better side, which we can all, in some quiet way, celebrate. Sadly, however, even in times that cry out for a show of basic humanity, some of us cannot help but display the darker side of human nature. So we have had reports about those whose first concern it was to snatch what they could of the personal belongings of those no longer alive. There were reports in the past of how the sangh parivar used the opportunity to weave their network of hate into the post-cyclone relief work in Orissa and how caste discrimination was built into the post-quake rehabilitation efforts in Latur (Maharashtra) and Kutch (Gujarat). Yet again, within days of the tsunami striking, the national and international media and Dalit organisations were sending out alerts on how in the dispersal of relief Dalits were being sidelined in the tsunami hit coastal zones of Tamil Nadu.

Of course, "we" can distance ourselves from such disturbing accounts and tell ourselves that, thank god, "we" are not like that. But while we give ourselves credit for responding promptly to natural disasters as in 1993, 1999 or 2001, should we not ask ourselves, yet again, what happens to our human compassion and sense of social responsibility in the face of man-made calamities as in 2002 (Gujarat genocide)? In the aftermath of a State-sponsored carnage, where were celebrities and common folk and where were the media’s relief funds?

Over the years, we have published several cover stories and special reports highlighting the hijacking of the movement in Kashmir by Pakistan-aided Islamic extremist outfits and also focussed on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits forced to become refugees in their own land. In our cover story in this issue, Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, the Jammu-based executive editor of Kashmir Times takes us back to the time of India’s bloody partition and forces us to re-examine the roots of communal prejudice in the Valley. Delving into the past she raises some uncomfortable questions that we need to face up to if we are to have a proper appreciation of how this paradise on earth so rapidly deteriorated into hellish conditions within a few short decades.

Among other things, the tortuous trail of the ongoing Best Bakery trial has once again highlighted how judicial delays and the absence of a proper witness protection programme subvert the judicial process in India. Similarly, the commencement of the trial in the case of the 1991 massacre of Dalits of Tsundur in Andhra Pradesh, 13 years after the carnage, makes a mockery of the justice process. But it is also a tribute to the entire community of Tsundur’s Dalits who have stood rock-like behind the surviving witnesses in their resolve to ensure that the guilty are punished. We have a special report on this along with an appeal for solidarity support from groups and individuals during the trial. We also have an accompanying report from Kerala that clearly shows how, in the absence both of a witness protection programme and a community that is at once vigilant and supportive, politicians with criminal antecedents continuously threaten and bribe victims and use devious means to discredit human rights defenders fighting for justice.

Meanwhile, there is some very good news from Karnataka. The Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum offers an excellent case study on how the hate-mongers can be put on the back foot given persistence and an action plan that appeals to ordinary citizens. Thanks to the Forum’s unique mobilisation, the sangh parivar’s determination to convert the Baba Boudhangiri Dargah into an ‘Ayodhya of South India’ stands frustrated, at least for the moment.


Archived from Communalism Combat, January  2005,  Year 11  No.104, Editorial



Related Articles