There's a new way out there that news spreads, at least as it reaches me. Not TV, not Google News, not newspapers or radio or magazines. No, at least with some kinds of incidents, this particular method is faster and more direct than any of those.
It's the "you scumbag, where's your outrage?" gravy train, and it moves at a swift clip indeed.
Consider: on July 11 2006, the other set of blasts in this country happened in Srinagar. Being out and about on errands most of that morning, I entirely missed this news. Until the phone rang about noon. It was a man who had been calling regularly in those weeks. He claimed to be in Delhi, had somehow found my number, and would call to berate me and my writing in the worst possible language. As he did that afternoon. When I answered, he said to me: "D'you see what they did in Srinagar? You and your masters in Pakistan must be happy! You traitor! Why haven't you condemned it yet?"
And that's how I found out that something awful had happened in Srinagar. And late that night, the same gentle man called to abuse me about the blasts in Mumbai's suburban trains.
Consider: on October 29 2005, bombs went off all over Delhi. When my brother called about them, we were on our way to visit the Red Fort. I changed plans and visited hospitals instead, where I found blood, chaos and tragedy. Late that night, despondent at home, I dialed up for email. One long message waiting for me, and here, verbatim, are some excerpts:
- Dear Mr. DSouza
In view of these terrible blasts in New Delhi ... thnaks to the pseudo-secularist attitude of the politicans and the constant minority appeasement by people like yourself. ... you owe your allegiance to the god-damn Church rather than Indian constitution. People like Sonia Gandhi and others should be burnt alive for trying to destabilize India, I am confident that you bloody semites ... are in this together. ... The day is not far that ... India would be rid of all you inferior people ... You bloody bastards who have no sense of humanity and patriotism.
Apparently there are people who hear about an atrocity and their first thought is not "can I donate blood?", or "is there anyone I know who's been hurt?", things like that. No, instead they think: "let's call people we don't like, abuse them and ask why they haven't condemned the atrocity."
Takes all kinds, as always. Not just anonymous phone- and email-jockeys either.
On the evening of Thursday August 9, some thugs attacked Taslima Nasreen in Hyderabad. NDTV's Barkha Dutt had an article about it up on this newspaper's website in just over 24 hours (The secular silence, timestamped "23:48 IST 10/8/2007"), and it appeared on the edit page on Saturday the 11th. In it, Dutt wants to know where the outrage is over the assault on Taslima. From the "liberal establishment", she says, "there’s no real evidence of anger or disgust."
Considering the incident happened on Thursday evening and her essay was on air on Friday evening, it's worth wondering: what did Dutt expect? That liberals, whoever they are, would be out showing disgust even before she finished writing? (Maybe before the incident even happened?) That they should not be allowed the time even to distil their thoughts and formulate a cogent response? That this inexplicable demand for "anger and disgust" must not be made, as emptily, of non-liberals, whoever they are?
Why would Barkha Dutt assume that the "liberal establishment" does not feel "anger or disgust" over an assault like this? Other things aside, she feels it and expresses it herself, power to her. Isn't she part of the "liberal establishment"? Isn't her own anger "evidence" that contradicts her claim of "secular silence"?
Yet it's hardly that I want to offer a list of suitably outraged reactions to the attack on Taslima. Such a defence is meaningless to me, not least because it falls into the trap laid by the outrage-mongers. However long that list is, it will never be long enough, nor outraged enough, for them. Besides, when the next crime comes along, as it inevitably will, it's immediately as if the list never was. Back to square one: why haven't you condemned this one yet? It's been three entire minutes since it happened!
This game interests me not.
But are we in a time of competitive outrage? Do crimes happen only so that we can demonstrate our particular righteous horror? So that we can demand to know why others aren't as horrified, and instantly condemn them as hypocrites?
Yet think of it. Walking down the street, you and I, utter strangers, see a robbery, or a murder, or the looting of a shop happen. What would you assume about me? That I must be unaffected by these crimes, even callous to them? Or at any rate, that my reaction to them must depend on my particular ideological slant, which, if different from yours, must mean that I feel zero outrage?
In fact, I bet you're reading these questions in a kind of wonder. Who would stop to think in these terms? Would you even notice me on the street? Wouldn't you rush to help, or call the police, or something?
Or wait, would you instead turn and denounce me because I haven't showed any outrage (yet)?
"That other guy doesn't think like me. Therefore any given ghastly crime must make him happy": why have we reduced our shared humanity to this small-minded, twisted state?
Once, there was a simple assumption all of us grew up making, most likely unconsciously. This one: when something horrible happens, my fellow human being is appalled by it. Just as I myself am. Doesn't matter which side of which ideological debate she haunts, she's appalled. Period.
Why haven't you, yes you, made that assumption yet?