Swami Agnivesh & Rev.Valson Thampu

More and more people continue to succumb to the cold wave. Living human beings are freezing into lifeless statistics. The count till yesterday was 150. Nobody wants to even dare to make a guess of the final toll that would be reached by the end of the season. It is unfortunate that there is no one who really cares for them, because of the fact that the victims are poor. It will however not be surprising, if they die tomorrow by heat or hunger. Barring a few exceptions, the victims of communal riots too belong to the same socio-economic bracket. It is citizens, more or less from the same segment, who lay down their lives to defend the country.

It is time we reckoned the politics of death. For us today, only deaths due to cross-border terrorism matter. We are callously apathetic to deaths resulting from State apathy that outnumber by far the victims of terrorism. There is no doubt that not even a single Indian life should be lost at the hands of the terrorists and terrorism must not only be 'crushed' but also rooted out. At the root of the culture of terrorism is the tacit assumption that human life is a commodity to be played with in a political game of power. It is all right to butcher innocent, defenseless human beings to drive home one's political or communal point. Such an assumption is bad enough in politics. It is utterly repugnant in religion. There can be absolutely no religious justification of terrorism of any kind. The concept of jihad is irreligious and fails to make sense to a lot of people. The basic spiritual insight is that human life -not some ideology or religious establishment- is the ultimate value.  It must not only be defended but also cherished, enriched and celebrated through all means. Hence, terrorism is an outright insult to the essence of religion and it needs to be eradicated.

But, does the right to life entitle citizens to protection only from terrorists? Is death by terrorism worse than slow and prolonged death due to starvation or cold?  The moral high ground to fight terrorism must be derived from an uncompromising commitment to protect life from every threat that imperils it. A culture of mindless and murderous aggression, that sacrifices citizens for political ends, does not mix well with postures of
indignation at terrorism.

Deaths due to cold or starvation should be deemed a darker blot on the State than the tolls of terrorism. Deaths by starvation and cold are predictable and preventable. We know who the enemies are and where the victims are. We have the required resources. But nothing is done, and the toll continues to rise. That leaves us with only one inference: we have no intrinsic value for human life, unless it is embellished by caste or class labels. That is why five Dalits in Jhajjar can be brutally ill treated and lynched to death, allegedly for refusing to bribe the policemen, and this barbarity can be dressed up in communal costumes. The same message is writ large over the fate of Sergeant Bapi Sen, the 37-year old Kolkota policeman, done to death by his own colleagues for doing his duty on New Year's Eve. For the same reason, locks remain intact on go downs even as people starve and die, and experts keep themselves busy debating whether they died of famine or malnutrition. They are too wise to see what even children know instinctively and that is - that malnutrition is inevitable in famine.

We have just had a housewife convicted under POTA for not reporting about her husband's involvement in the conspiracy that presumably led to the December 13 attack on the Indian Parliament. She has been sent to jail for her act of omission and not for her act of commission. In other words, she did not do what she should have done. Shall we, then, extrapolate to the State the self-same principle? Surely, it is a sound moral principle that you are judged and condemned by your own norms? Shall we say, then, that deaths due to exposure and starvation amount to economic terrorism and state terrorism by default?

The devaluation of the life of the poor is the single most blatant blot on Indian democracy. The equal worth of all citizens -"one-person-one-vote"- is the basic creed of democracy. But, it is not only during election times that this principle should be remembered. It needs to be activated as the shaping principle of our democratic culture. If this is not done then the Indian democracy could degenerate into de facto oligarchy sooner than what we have imagined.  It is in this
light that the anti-democratic genius of the pro-rich and anti-poor ethos of the "globalization-liberalization-privatization syndrome" assumes epidemic proportions.

It is not only politics but even religion that seems to be taken over by the rich. God appears to be no longer a friend of the poor. He is assumed to be fixated on the rich and the powerful and happy to be monopolized and manipulated by them. This is the impression that the religious leaders in this country are creating. They are too busy haranguing their gods to extract maximum concessions and benefits for their rich clients who can buy their services with utmost ease. Sadly, the more politicized religion gets and the more communal politics becomes the more apathetic administration tends to be to the crying needs of those who are languishing on the edge of mere survival.  This is a loud indictment at once of our religiosity and political maturity.

As a nation, we are losing our capacity for righteous indignation, which is a clear pointer to the erosion of our sense of justice and compassion. At the same time, every trick in the trade is being employed to whip up nationalistic sentiments.  Desh bhakti is being defined narrowly as intolerance towards dissent and differences. We wonder why doesn't love for India include intolerance towards corruption, poverty, illiteracy, organized barbarity and other signs of backwardness? Why should hate and not compassion and harmony, be a more authentic expression of religiosity today? This may seem to go well for a while. But it is sure to corrode the very foundation of our collective life. By patronizing communal politics and overlooking callous governance, we encourage and reward misrule. That way we wield a double-edged sword, the other edge of which is reserved for those who flourish by it. The poisoned chalice, as Shakespeare says, will return to plague its inventor. Enunciating and propagating a culture of compassion and
fellow-feeling that transcends all barriers and labels is a fundamental, democratic duty if not being a spiritual duty. With every Indian citizen who succumbs to cold and hunger, light fades out on the soul of India and no amount of patriotic bombast can hide this national bankruptcy.