Letter to the editor: Responses to articles on Mumbai attacks

Sandip Roy writes on Salon.com about terrorism in Mumbai. I react:

The sectarian divides in India are complex problems — my grandfather pointed me to Churchill’s speeches and his concerns. There’s a remarkable line in one of his speeches where he describes the lack of inter-mingling — “While the Hindu elaborates his argument, the Muslim sharpens his sword. Between these two races and creeds, containing as they do so many gifted and charming beings in all the glory of youth, there is no intermarriage.” A point well made, I think.

And the problem exists to this day in much the same degree. I don’t doubt the sincerity of either side of the argument: the humanistic one that has faith in the two communities’ abilities to bridge the divisions, but also the reactionary one that portends chaos coming from the inflammatory passions of the articulate and certainly not marginal minorities that incite conflicts. No, we should not and cannot ethnically cleanse India; but the alternative is not a politically impossible utopia either.

I agree with one of the letter writers who said that revolution is a middle class fantasy. India is not on the verge of some sort of collapse, difficult though economic inequities are, because of some lava of resentment simmering underneath the thin surface of the boom. I think history teaches us that revolution only happens because the intellectual class and the bourgeoisie, as political handmaidens, incite it. The masses, the proletariat, don’t inherently want to upturn anything, until some message of the sort is fed them by the disaffected, anarchy-loving, intellectual guerilla leader (witness: Mao, Lenin, Guevara, bin Laden.)

The letter writer speaks eloquently of the grace and dignity with which the lower classes do in fact deal with their situation in India. I believe this comes closer to the truth of the situation. The have nots are not about to upturn a system that does offer them upward mobility, if in patches and places only. Civil disturbance of the scale of the Mumbai attacks is of benefit to no one. A large percentage of the dead were lower middle class and Muslims themselves. Their attackers offered no one any redemption by virtue of their class or religion. Nearly 90% of the dead were native Indians — even the morbid consolation that this happens only to foreigners does not apply at all in this case.

I also agree with the writer that “musty academic theories” of the “other” hardly describe what is really the systemic fault in India — the lack of independence of the civic machineries (police, emergency response teams) from centralized political intervention. Law enforcement functionaries are paralyzed in their duties because their futures can be and frequently are determined by arbitrary decisions coming from state and federal level politicians with egos to satisfy and axes to grind. This leads to an unnecessary connection in the Indian psyche between the failure of the political process and the inefficacy of the policing apparatus. One should have nothing to do with the other. The governor of the state can be corrupt but people can still believe their police force acts for the benefit of a city’s denizens, as we generally expect here in the US.

Who are the saviors then? No one I can name, but I (and someone like Sandip too, bless his heart) can only scan the landscape from far afield with ineffective telescopes. Don’t believe either of us when we say or write about knowing the pulse of things in India — to that extent, I would, in my Wittgensteinian fashion, that someone like Sandip rather be silent whereof he cannot speak, than offer us the outpourings, however sincere, of his heart. There are quite possibly many people “on the ground” who will be able to provide a unifying vision, or are doing so on small scales, across the country.


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