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Reflections at the start of the year


New Year celebration at Nariman Point, Mumbai, Maharashtra. Omkar Todarmal under a Creative Commons Licence

One always hopes for the best, Mari Marcel Thekaekara writes looking toward 2016.

I ended 2015 on a note of optimism. A wise old uncle used to say 'Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.' Now, is that cynical or merely pragmatic, I wonder.

I always hope for better Indo-Pakistan relations. For the fighting to end. For the soldiers, on both sides to stop losing their lives so tragically and pointlessly. I pray for peace. The idealist in me wants an end to the arms race, an end to war. Yet, I wonder, if I were in charge of the nation's safety could I sit back and begin an end to defence, even though our neighbours have their nuclear armaments ready to go and make threatening noises all the time? Could I jeopardise the future, the lives of our children and grandchildren?

I think of our soldiers who lost their lives a few days ago in the terrorist attack in a Pathankot airbase, in Punjab. They have been hailed as martyrs. They join the ranks of the nation's heroes. But isn't that cold comfort, dreadfully poor compensation for their widows and children, condemned to a life without the love and laughter of a husband and father? What does one do in such terrible nightmarish situations like these?

I read reports of young German women sexually attacked, their bodies grossly groped and violated in Cologne. The Germans opened their borders and their hearts to welcome refugees. Now Angela Merkel faces abusive criticism from several quarters. The sexual predators are described by newspapers as North African and Middle Eastern. How much patience can you demand from the victims? It is situations like these which bring out the worst in people. Even the kindest of people. It fuels fears, the worst imagined scenarios, the most nightmarish imaginings coming true. Facile right wing solutions will not answer. But neither will ultra liberal, head in the sand, ostrich like protestations, that immigrant men were blameless, help find a way forward.

Since 2002, when I covered a genocide in Gujarat, I have empathised specially with my country's Muslim population. It’s terrible to always live with your neighbours suspecting your sons and young male relatives of being terrorist sympathisers. Yet I cannot pretend not to be uneasy about the West Bengal governments encouraging thousands of Bangladeshis to cross the border into India unchecked. Pure vote-bank politics. A recipe for disaster in a country with millions already living in dire poverty. Violence breaks out regularly, in parts of Assam and Bodoland, where once docile tribal communities have turned violently militant to protect their meagre agricultural lands from encroachment by the more aggressive Bangladeshi immigrants. I'm sympathetic to poor Bangladeshis. We were involved in refugee relief during the 1971 Bangladesh war when over a million Bangladeshi refugees were welcomed into Kolkata. But can Bengali Hindus whose ancestors were butchered and driven out of their homes relentlessly and systematically, be expected to welcome the immigrants with open arms? It’s a dilemma. It’s what always comes up when I have my 'on the other hand' moments of introspection.

A few days ago, Bengali Muslims in Malda, West Bengal went on the rampage burning jeeps, cars and Hindu homes during a protest against anti Islamist comments of a rabid politician. Our liberal journalists, yours truly included, have been accused of keeping a selective silence about Muslim violence, whereas they would bay for the blood of Hindutva fanatics. The equivalent are liberal western journalists who unequivocally condemn anyone who questions the wisdom of mass immigration while keeping silent about the latest Cologne crisis. Or about the attacks on young white girls in Rotterham by mostly Pakistani British men. Its reverse racism. Shying away from allowing the victims sympathy and making excuses for the perpetrators.

I strongly feel we should stop taking ideological stands which are not based on reality, and judge each case with a modicum of common sense. We are at a frightening crossroads at the start of the New Year. We need more than sanity and good sense to steer us out of the mess we are in. Pray God we find sensible solutions, somewhere, somehow.

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