Saturday, September 13, 2008

Apathy, Activism and the Line in Between

The Christian community has typically been used to living a fairly sheltered and secluded life. The community has been largely till recently been spared the social ostracism that even elite and urbane Muslims have faced in times of communal violence and the poorer sections of the community have till recently been spared the violence that has so regularly lashed the Muslims. The result is a very obvious one: the Christian community has often lacked the institutional mechanism to deal with targeted attacks on the community it is still fumbling to press the right buttons, and apart from the response of human rights activists and bodies of clergy, the lay person’s response has been lukewarm. Indeed the Christian community is perhaps full of people guided by apathy.

Traditionally the Muslim response has been clergy driven and the over riding slogan has been that of “Islam in danger.” Whether Islam was in danger or not at these times, the power of the clergy probably was and that red flag provided certain shrillness to the protests that were driven by a sense of urgency. In contrast, the appropriate Christian response might have been that “Christianity is in danger” but mercifully, the resistance has not taken that route and it is good that it has been this way. The worst possible way to counter fundamentalism of one kind is to replace it with fundamentalism of another kind.

The Christian response to this kind of violence has thus far to be commended for not losing the moral high ground by also resorting to violence. This is especially so because in spite of the largely measured responses from the Christian clergy, in a volatile environment, there is always the danger of some lunatic fringe element shooting off some loose canon.

On the other hand, a better and more effective answer to rising tides of fundamentalism of any shade would be to try and enlarge the space of secular and liberal ideologies and by speaking up against all forms of communalism and sectarian and ethnic or region based violence – whether it affects one’s particular community or language group or not this time round. If it has, this time around… never mind this - there is always another time.

If one disagrees with this thesis, one need not look very far away for evidence. One will remember in that in the not too distant past, the Shiv Sena had as its target the Udipi restaurants dotting the Mumbai landscape. In fact, the Shiv Sena really came of age as a lumpen organization, out to vanquish the South Indians from the city’s landscape. Of course, once the Sena had carved out its identity, it promptly forgot the South Indians and more than a generation later, the Generation X Sena – has begun inventing itself by venting itself on the North Indians - the Biharis and the UP wallahs.

Martin Niemöller, the Nazi era, Christian theologian had it right, when he explained the dangers of looking out only for one’s own. His quote of war time Germany explaining the apathy of many in his generation concerned just with getting on with their lives… “First they came for the Jews…..” has become a lodestar for engagement with wider, liberal elements of civil society whose boundaries are wider than one’s own. Niemoller’s words were later elaborated ….

When Hitler attacked the Jews I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists, I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned. Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church — and there was nobody left to be concerned.”

In a multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-lingual country like India, this prophecy could be fulfilled faster than one thinks. Those who sit back today, unaffected by the plight of any one else’s but their own, comforted in their ghettos could find their security shattered very soon. At the end of the day, when all our identities are stripped down to the bone; there is only one question that remains to be asked ; one that remains to be answered… are you an inclusive person—embracing every one and their culture and belief or are you an exclusive person, with your world shrinking by the day.. as you leave out more and more and more people out of the fold because they are different …. Or are you just plain apathetic … that worst sin of all? For even an excluvist person can perhaps be won over by reasoning or argument …. but an apathetic person can pass through life unmoved by all things and every thing… till his own life is shattered by a glass pane.

1 comment:

Gabrielle said...

Hi, I am an American Christian. I am a writer in seminary. I am working on a fiction book that is designed to create awareness of world issues, I particularly want to target famine, war, and sex trade. I have read some of your blog posts and was wondering if you would be willing to discuss the situation in India with me?
Thank you and God be with you.
~ Gabrielle