Immediately after the 1999 cyclone in Orissa, I worked in Erasama for a week. With me were hordes of others, from all over the country. I've written elsewhere about the friend I met there from a bank in Delhi, a man whose simple example inspires me even today. There was another man, a doctor I knew slightly, who helped victims selflessly for days on end. His example inspires me today too.
I'm thinking of him today. Because this man who served his fellow humans without a second thought after the cyclone runs a fine hospital in rural Orissa, where he and several others like him offer the only health care for miles. Because in the last few days, this hospital has been threatened and attacked.
Why? You know why: because this doctor I mentioned has a certain kind of name.
The killing of Graham Staines and his sons was a unspeakable crime. The killing of Laxmananda Saraswati was an unspeakable crime. The attacks on innocent people all over Orissa in the wake of the killing of Laxmananda Saraswati are unspeakable crimes. There is no justification for any of this. Anyone who pretends otherwise, who talks of smoke and mirrors and fire and that the murders are not as bad as some other intangibles -- anyone who does those things deserves contempt from us all.
This much seems obvious to me. I don't understand how anyone can see the tragic events in Orissa any differently. Yet they do.
Just before I wrote this, I listened to Barack Obama speak at the Democratic Party convention in Denver. One line struck a particular chord with me. As near to verbatim as I could get it down, this is what he said: "We have to change in our politics the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each others' patriotism. Patriotism has no party."
I would submit that now is the time, more than ever before, for some similar thinking on divisive Indian issues.
We may disagree on religions and conversions. But surely we can agree that murdering people and attacks on innocents are unconscionable acts? Surely we can do that without calling each other the worst possible names? And with that much, surely we can find ways to bridge these issues, punish murderous criminals, and move forward?
Can we not?