The war within

One has to understand that war is a temporary phenomenon with permanent scars of violence.

War is a strange phenomenon whose alchemy is difficult to understand. We try to “sciencitise” it so it can be reduced to cause and effect, efficiency, impact and body counts. But deep down war is a psychological, moral phenomenon, where it is not often clear whether we are at war with ourselves or with the enemy.

The paranoia about Pakistan and the demonology around it is easy to comprehend. Pakistan is that irritating other, which once was deeply part of us. Once part of our culture, Pakistan is that piece of pathology we confront to remind us we are normal. A logic of dichotomies and oppositions follows. India is democratic, Pakistan is a military-ruled regime; India is plural and mature while Pakistan is a failed state propped up by the Saudis and the Americans.
India eschews terror as policy and Pakistan seems to revel in it. The litany of oppositions could continue, but basically it is an attempt to create a purist self. War becomes a battle for a kind of piety, purism, patriotism where oddly after a while the enemy does not count. Ironically, we begin battling ourselves to witness who is purer and more patriotic than the other. The patriotic games where Indians battle with each other becomes intense and fetishistic. Instead of confronting the economy, the gladiators confront each other in a battle that is a subtle questioning of loyalty and citizenship.

Everyone is forced to run a confound of tests or rites. The first is what we might term the language game, where even the Prime Minister confronts unity with uniformity. Uniformity demands a complete erasure of difference. Everyone must speak, think and talk the same language. Unity provides a different sense of the whole. It allows for variation. When one confuses the two, a certain rigidity and intolerance enters the system. Even suspected difference becomes a threat to the nation. Suspicion, in fact, becomes hyperactive, searching for targets where none exist.

The suspicion games are then followed by the purist games, where each loyalist wants to feel more loyal than the other. In fact, one is not really secure, till one identifies someone less pure. The psychology is simple: One needs impunity to establish the scapegoat and the untouchable. One desperately needs an enemy within more than the external power to fight one’s battles. Oddly, war against the other often becomes a war against oneself. Our self splits and battles itself when it is not sure about the full demonology of the enemy. The purity games allow patriotic groups to label some as less patriotic than the other. A smell of suspicion and the witchhunts that follow, the rumours that circulate becomes even more important than hatred of the other. All one has to do is to watch TV. TV vigilantism is even more violent than war. Vigilantism tends to impose pollution rankings where except for the interrogator no one survives without a set of question marks. Arnab Goswami becomes the ideal patriot because he is convinced no one is holier than he is.

There is a third set of process, which control political dynamics at these times. This is the game of political correctness where no one can challenge the standing shibboleths, or even question and criticise the war. Political correctness in the guise of unity disallows critiques of the war. Any critique of strategy, any discordant view of the Army is discouraged. There was a time when each one of us was an expert on war like we were all expert commentators on cricket. While cricket as a civil society game thrives on diversity and discordance, war is not prone to multiple interpretation. The official way is the only way. This political correctness has gone so far that even a once liberal group like NDTV removes P. Chidambaram from criticising the war contending that at such moments the Army as an institution should remain sacrosanct. One respects such a faith in institutions but democracy, which is often tragically suspended during war, demands critique. Political correctness which claims the Army is losing people fails to understand that it is ordinary people who anchor our soldiers.

There is a fourth and more insidiously violent ritual which is scapegoating. The demonology of war often demands an internal enemy as a double to the external enemy. To every Pakistan or terrorist outside we need a traitor or a quisling inside. Scapegoating acquires an epidemic quality as war gets prolonged or one-sided. What happens at this moment is that the general fault lines of a society become more obvious. Suspicion falls too readily on those who are generally seen as eccentric, deviant, dissenting, marginal or minoritarian. Scapegoating creates casualties which are often bloodier than war and the injustice done to these people is difficult to rectify. I remember a time when hundreds of Chinese Indians were arrested merely because they were Chinese. Families which had spent their entire lives in India suddenly found themselves as non-citizens. The tragedy here lies in the fact that such stones are never a part of war narratives. The shroud of silence compounds the injustice done to an innocent community.

I am identifying all the indecent rituals associated with war because war as a process often becomes ironic. In protecting the state, it demeans citizenship, in upholding security, it often corrodes democracy and the effects last long after the war. One has to understand that war is a temporary phenomenon with permanent scars of violence. It is a time when we embalm political concepts into an unthinking officialdom. Words like patriotism, security, border get electrified and short circuit the very joy of being democratic. I confess I am anti-war. Anyone who has seen a collection of war widows or orphans is cured of the glory of war. But what I would like to emphasise more is that I am more for peace and democracy. I feel sad that my country hardly speaks the language of peace, of non-violence. This is my search and I hope this is the quest of a new generation which dreams a happier, friendlier South Asia. India has to celebrate the dream, look open and be proud that our heroes dreamt peace and fought war and violence in every form of life. A society which combines so many civilisational wisdoms cannot dream otherwise.


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