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Condemnation on the House

By Dilip D'souza

A friend wrote to us college buddies after the recent horror in Bombay, saying: “All I want to hear from all of us is categorical condemnation.”

I wondered about this. I mean, I wandered the downtown streets of my city through Thursday and Friday, my mind whirling with anger and depression and confusion and fright all at once. I watched families break down outside the Trident as they finally heard about their loved ones, either dead or utterly traumatised by having been hostage. Through it all, I felt a tide of helpless anger flowing over me like one of the waves crashing on the tetrapods nearby.

Why would this friend think that I, or anyone he or I know, felt anything but condemnation for what these guys did to my city, to people I know?

And I’ve felt the same anger and depression for years, through many other wanderings. I felt it when I roamed the streets of my city in 1992-93, fearing for my life because Mumbaikar was killing Mumbaikar all around me — over a thousand dead in the most horrible way. I felt it when I went to hospitals after the March 1993 blasts and met bewildered victims who couldn’t even comprehend what had hit them.

I felt it as I roamed through Godhra and elsewhere in Gujarat in 2002, not least when I was in Dehlol and I began to feel the entire village would like nothing better at that very moment but to kill me; or later when people threw stones at me because I was walking with a saffron-clad monk, thinking foolishly that my arm around his shoulders would protect him.

I felt it in 2004, when I visited Kashmiri Pandit families in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar and in the Purkhoo camp in Jammu, and found out not just about the misery and squalor of their lives —sadly, I knew I’d see that — but also about the inexplicable hostility towards them from their neighbours outside the camps. (“They are all thieves,” one Jammu housewife told me). I felt it when I walked through the streets of my city one pouring night in July 2006, half an hour after bombs had torn apart the bodies of 200 train travellers.

And I remember feeling it in November 1984, even though I was very far away from my country. At least three good friends called to tell me that they felt completely betrayed by this country that they and I had grown up in. They said they could never think of returning. Had they been in Delhi instead of the US in those crisp days of early November, they realised with disbelief, they would have been killed like 3,000 of our fellow Indians were killed. Killed, because they wore a certain piece of cloth on their heads.

What do you think I felt like, listening to these friends saying this? What could I tell them? Would it have meant anything to them then had I interrupted to say: “I categorically condemn what happened in Delhi”?

So let’s blame the politicians and their Z-security ways, sure. I saw some of that first-hand outside the Trident, especially the ten-car convoy filled with armed cops for a deputy home minister who thinks that small incidents happen in big cities like this one. Let’s not ever give up on anger like that.

But let’s also blame the fences we erect in our minds. If this atrocity, this tragedy, has to have any silver lining at all, my wish is that it will get us to challenge those fences.

Dilip D’Souza is a Mumbai based journalist and a trustee of Citizens for Peace. This article appeared in the Hindustan Times on December 6th, 2008.


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