Truth versus terror

Truth versus terror

AMARNATH PILGRIMAGE : The Muslim terrorists at one end, the Hindu pilgrims at another end; and, in between them, the Muslim driver.

There is something about the recent terrorist attack on Amarnath pilgrims that we cannot afford to lose sight of. Let us look at it right away, without any introductory delay.

For that, first, the bare facts. A group of over 50 Hindu pilgrims in a bus. The bus driver is Sheik Salim, a Muslim. Five motorcycle-borne terrorists, also Muslims, mount a deadly assault.

Now the situation becomes strikingly significant. The Muslim terrorists at that end, the Hindu pilgrims at this end; and, between them, the Muslim driver! The struggle that ensues is not between Hindus and Muslims, but between the terrorists and the driver, both being, incidentally Muslim.

Now, here is the crucial question: were the terrorists and the driver aware of their being Muslims in doing whatever they did? Embedded in this question is the truth about the dangerous lie that we call by diverse names - terrorism, communalism, sectarian violence, hate-mongering and so on.

It is tempting to caricature this atrocity into a Hindu vs Muslim carnage. But Kashmir is, in truth, only a significant chunk of land. A majority of those living in the Valley happen to be Muslim. The religion they practice is, vis-a-vis the Kashmir imbroglio, only an identity marker.
The J&K stand-off is not a religious crusade; it is a territorial stalemate. The strategic criticality of a border state and the merits of the relative claims on both sides need not deter us here. We are partial to the claims of our country. There the matter rests as far as the territorial dispute goes.

But, by no stretch of imagination is Kashmir a Hindu versus Muslim plot. No matter how hard both sides try to mis-project it communally, it will not carry conviction with those who are non-partisan. The religious identities of both sides are incidental, not basic to this festering territorial wound. Bringing religion into it is only a strategy.

The status is J&K is of supreme importance for India and Pakistan; but it is, at best, indifferent to the genius of Hinduism and Islam. Religion is perversely abused as a means to cripple rational thinking and to mislead the gullible on both sides.

The attacked Amarnath yatris faced a crisis in Anantnag. The value of crisis is that it removes blinkers from one’s eyes and illumines the irreducible truth. To the survivors of the terrorist carnage, Sheik Salim is not a Muslim, but a saviour of sorts.

He did not risk his life to drive the pilgrims — his passengers — to safety because he is a Muslim; but because he is a human being. He did not risk his life for those in his charge, not because they were Hindus; but because they were fellow human beings.

The highlight of this year’s Amarnath pilgrimage is, thus, the triumph of a sense of fellow humanity. In that sense, it is an unequivocal assertion of our humanity against the aberrations thrust upon it by agents of depravity. This is the truth in the end; and the only truth that matters.

Take away all the clothes and colours, the lingams and the lingos, the smells and the yells that we package as communal religiosity, what is left? Only the pure, liberating essence of our shared humanity, unfettered by the life-choking hostilities and mutual suspicions that we have been infected with.

All enmities and hostilities are manufactured. The anger and grievance we feel depend on the context. Suppose I slap you, in my zeal, hard on your back, instead of patting you gently on the same site of your anatomy; will it offend you, or please you?

Depends on whether you consider me a friend or a foe. If a friend, the hardness of the blow is welcomed as a metaphor of love; if not, as a measure of my malice. Our dispositions, and that is the funny thing, are not our dispositions. They have been thrust on us.

I appreciate the mature way in which the central government has handled this explosive situation. Now, imagine otherwise. If the event had been used to provoke communal passions, there would have been bloodbaths in diverse parts of the country. People would have fought and killed each other, believing that they are acting on personal convictions; whereas, in truth, they are merely possessed by the demon of communal propaganda.

Pathetic and suicidal

This goes for every situation of hate, conflict and bloodshed. Religion is superfluous to each one on them, without exception. But we have been fooled into believing otherwise. This is profitable to those who wish to thrive on our gullibility; but it is pathetic and suicidal for us to be so fooled.

To me, this year’s Amarnath yatra is the truest of all pilgrimages. It has illumined the truth, as nothing else has in a long, long time. A US pilot, shot over North Vietnam, taken prisoner and released after three years in detention —in the infamous tiger cages — used to go around giving thrilling talks in various cities on his experiences in Ho Chi Minh’s land.

One night, back in his hotel room after a successful session, he was visited by a commoner. He said, “You parachuted to safety, when your plane was shot over Hanoi, no? I was the one who packed your parachute.” So, there it is. The creed, colour, gender of the parachute-packer is laughably irrelevant to the crisis the pilot faced. What saved his life was that someone packed the parachute, and packed it well.

In the pilgrimage, driver Salim takes the place of the unsung parachute-packer. Fifty-odd lives depended on his sense of duty. Neither the hawks of the Pentagon nor the quacks of religion will mean a thing to you when the crisis -the plane shot, or the bus attacked — hits you. Only a fellow human being does. No god, folks, can take the place of a fellow human being.
(The writer is former principal, St Ste­phen’s College, Delhi)
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