From the start, hate has given human beings company, but hate’s destructive power went up when guns and explosives came along.
We know that callousness, contempt and indifference are some of hate’s siblings. The suicide bombers who in Sri Lanka killed hundreds of people on Easter Sunday couldn’t have cared less about who their victims were. They were contemptuous towards themselves too, and indifferent to their own imminent destruction.
Perhaps they had fortified themselves with an expectation of headlines, or with a dream of paradise for suicide-killers, or both.
Foiling, deterring and punishing terrorist attacks are questions the world once more discusses, but here let me focus on hate and its siblings.
And on one of its children: revenge. We are told that New Zealand’s mosque attacks on Muslims (March 15) were used to ignite this killing in Sri Lanka’s churches of Christians, some of whom were visiting from other lands.
A staple of contemporary politics, hate has become respectable in our world. It is honored in high places. A tweet fried in malice, or a speech boiling over with contempt, gets applauded.
A day before the Sri Lanka killings, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an explosive remark at an election rally in Rajasthan’s Barmer town, which is not far from the border with Pakistan.
‘Strategic experts used to warn,’ he said, ‘that Pakistan has the nuclear button.’ ‘What do we have then?’ he asked. ‘Have we kept our nuclear bomb for Diwali?’ The Hindu reports (Apr 21) that Mr. Modi went on to remind the audience that ‘India had the capability to launch nuclear attacks from land, air and sea’.
Evidently Mr. Modi’s remarks were greeted with thunderous applause.
To go back in history, 1947 was a year, on the Indian subcontinent, of glory and shame, of independence and carnage. An African-American scholar visiting India that year, William Stuart Nelson, asked Gandhi why, despite thirty years of his teaching nonviolence, slaughter had taken place.
Gandhi answered that though claiming to resist their British rulers nonviolently, many Indians had secretly ‘harboured ill-will and anger’ against the British. They had not been motivated by ‘a respect for the better element in the English people which they were trying to awaken by self-suffering’.
Continued Gandhi: ‘The attitude of violence which we had secretly harboured… now recoiled upon us and made us fly at each other’s throats.’ (Recorded by Nirmal Kumar Bose, My Days with Gandhi (pp. 170-71). The Mahatma was suggesting that hatred of the Brits had turned into mutual Hindu-Muslim hatred.
In other statements in 1947, Gandhi repeated his awareness that India was hospitable to hatred and often prone to violence. His nonviolence, Gandhi felt, had been accepted not in the heart but only as a strategy that worked. ‘The British had answered brickbats with bullets… Violence was wholly ineffective… Nonviolence had only been accepted as a more efficacious strategy.’ (June 16, 1947; Collected Works 88: 163)
In that prayer-meeting speech from which the preceding sentences have been quoted, Gandhi made another statement, stunning for those convinced of innate Indian peaceable-ness:
No one at the time (during the battles for independence) showed us how to make an atom bomb. Had we known how to make it, we would have considered annihilating the English with it (88: 163).
In that statement, Gandhi had put his finger on hate’s appeal to one part of the Indian psyche. When Gandhi was assassinated, that appeal suffered a large setback. Hatred and intolerance were seen as having harmed India. That was also the message, upon reflection, of the 1947 carnage.
Fortunately, mutual tolerance was boosted by the enlightened way in which Nehru, Patel and others governed India after independence. Guaranteeing freedom of belief and equal citizenship to all, free India’s Constitution, architected by Babasaheb Ambedkar, enshrined tolerance as a critical value in the nation’s life.
In recent years, however, intolerance has been celebrated worldwide and in India too. The Sri Lanka killings offer fresh confirmation of hatred’s wide attraction.
Earlier I had underlined indifference as one of hate’s siblings. When your subcontinent is like a tinder-box, to brandish your nuclear bomb for winning an election is to reveal a stunning indifference to human life.
May sense of responsibility and mutual concern return to our part of the world, and to other parts as well.