Sunday, June 29, 2008

Xenpphobia and the Kingdom of Night

Over the last week or so, I have been tracking several articles about the “outsiders” and the hostility surrounding them. Maharashtra of course has been of course very prominently covered, because of the ranting of the Thackerays. But of course Maharashtra is not the only state in the country plagued by xenophobia – it just so happens that every one has their correspondent stationed there and so what happens there gets around faster. But this trait of us vs them is every where. In Manipur. In parts of West Bengal. The rabidly ethnic Amra Bangali and Kannada Chalvali and many more of the kind.

Somehow in India things do not reach extremes – they get sorted out along the way but if any one wants to know the logical direction that these quasi fascist movements take, then they ought to pick up Ellie Wiesel’s riveting book Night. Of course, there are many, many books written on the holocaust – The Diary of Anne Frank being one of the most famous but Night is different because the author survived to not just retell a story but also be a prophetic voice into the future – for which he received the Nobel Peace prize in 1986.

Wiesel was first ghettoized and then deported along with his family from Hungary to Germany where he was separated from his mother and three sisters as men and women were separated. He and his father stayed together and survived for a while before age, deprivation and the sub human living conditions felled the father. Watching his father die before his eyes and watching other sons betray their fathers in a dog eat dog environment scarred him forever.

When the ethnic cleansing of the Jews began in Hungary, Wiesel and his family as well most other Jews are in denial that any thing more drastic than some minor harassment will ever take place. Wiesel remembers asking his father “Can this be true ? This is the twentieth century, not the middle ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed ? How could the world remain silent ?”

Well the twentieth century came and went and many other episodes of ethnic cleansing and genocide came and went – Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia. These are of course the more well documented ones. There are numerous other hot spots of a smaller scale and many within our country. Although we have crossed the calendar into the twenty first century, it is still possible to ask in Wiesel’s child like fashion as to whether any acts spurred by anger or bitterness or hatred that make less than half a column’s worth of news will lead to any thing more.

Most of us believe that responding to what happens when a group of people in one part of the country act and believe that those others who are different from them are migrants and infiltrators or “unwanted” by one or the other name, the responsibility for action lies with the government and a bunch of professional human rights groups like PUCL. Such an attitude is common as most of us do not know what to do and how to get involved and some times as these issues are politically tinged, we want to be extra cautious.

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, Elie Wiesel recounted how surviving the holocaust forever changed his view of life. He says that after the war was over and he was finally released, he swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. He emphatically says that “ We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented….”

Looking at my own apathy and the apathy of most people around me, I wonder if the principal problem for most of us is that we have not been victims – yet and so we know nothing of the psyche of the wounded. The sufficiently insulated lives that we lead, kind of ensure that we remain protected. and as yet Elie Wiesel discovered, assurances can be misleading and walls and barricades can be broken.

No comments: