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Just another day in history

Just another day in history
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First Published: Wed, Sep 14 2011. 11 13 PM IST
Updated: Wed, Sep 14 2011. 11 13 PM IST
What happened on 11 September 2001 changed many lives. When terrorists hijacked four aeroplanes and attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing 2,977 people instantly, they set in motion events the implications of which it will take us a long time to understand. Many things did change since that day—how we view our neighbours; how we look at women who wear the veil, or men who don’t shave; how we respond when someone acts in a way we think of as suspicious; how we surrender some of our liberties to the state which, we assume, must know better. We obediently stop carrying liquids on flights, and take off shoes before boarding planes. We are good, they are bad.
Other attacks in the wake of 9/11 have consolidated collective paranoia: on 12 October 2002, three bombs detonated at nightclubs in Bali killing 202 people. On 11 March 2004, coordinated bombs placed in trains in Madrid killed 191 people. On 7 July 2005, four young men detonated bombs in three underground trains and a bus, killing 52 people, again, not counting the four terrorists.
And as Indians never tire of reminding Western leaders who list places hit by terrorism and forget India, on 26 November 2008, Pakistani terrorists came by boats and attacked two of Mumbai’s leading hotels, its main railway station, a Jewish house, and a bar, leaving 164 people dead after a three-day siege. Delhi has been hit often. Besides, suicide bombers and other terrorists have killed thousands in Afghanistan, Iraq, and lest one forgets, in Pakistan, in the last decade.
And yet, in the grand calendar of universe, those dates must compete for attention with other dates, which changed the world inalterably, affecting many people. There are many 9/11s, but known by different numbers.
Like 30 January 1948, when Nathuram Godse took out his revolver and shot Mohandas Gandhi, removing the one Indian with the moral appeal to calm passions at a time when millions in India and Pakistan were grieving over their loved ones killed in the insanity that accompanied independence and sought revenge.
Or 26 February 1848, the day Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published The Communist Manifesto. Ideas contained there inspired men like Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong. Enough said.
Closer home, on 25 March 1971, Pakistani troops began killing students in their hostels, professors in their homes, hunted down Bengali nationalists, and targeted intellectuals and professionals, and in the nine months of violence that followed, hundreds of thousands died, leading to Bangladesh’s independence in December that year.
On 6 April 1994, a plane carrying presidents Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi was shot down, triggering killings in which the Hutu Power genocidaires killed nearly 800,000 people, most of them Tutsis, while the United Nations did nothing.
On 17 April 1975, Phnom Penh fell to Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. In the years of unparalleled cruelty that followed, 1.7 million Cambodians were murdered. Perhaps T.S. Eliot had a point—April is the cruellest month.
On 4 May 1970, at Kent State University, the national guard opened fire on a crowd of students protesting US President Richard Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia. Four died, leading to mass protests across the US. Coming on top of the history of evasions, half-truths and deceptions, the US mood soured, making the end of Vietnam war inevitable.
On 4 June 1989, the Chinese government sent in troops into Tiananmen Square and later in other cities, where students had been protesting for several weeks, following the death of the reform-minded Hu Yaobang. Many civilians died, some estimates suggest three thousand, causing grave harm to prospects of democratization in China.
A few centuries earlier, on 14 July 1789 the Bastille fell in Paris—the reign of the kings ended. But what followed? Maximilien Robespierre’s Reign of Terror.
On 6 August 1945, the aeroplane Enola Gay dropped Little Boy, the atomic bomb that killed hundreds of thousands in Hiroshima. Three days later, Fat Man was dropped on Nagasaki. Within a week Japan surrendered, ending World War II, but keeping the world anxious about nuclear arms falling into wrong hands.
On 1 October 1938, German troops occupied Sudetanland in what was then Czechoslovakia. Britain and France acquiesced, emboldening Adolf Hitler. Need one say more?
On 1 November 1984, Mobs associated with the Congress party attacked Sikhs in cities across northern India, killing at least 2,700 Sikhs, after two Sikh bodyguards assassinated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi the previous day.
On 7 December 1941 Japanese kamikaze pilots attacked US warships at Pearl Harbor, bringing the US into the war.
This is only one such calendar, of dates remembered randomly—there can be, will be, many more calendars, many more dates on which exceptionally cruel acts were committed, or allowed to take place by those who could stop them. They changed the world—always for the worse. How many dates should one remember?
Salil Tripathi is a writer based in London. Your comments are welcome atsalil@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Sep 14 2011. 11 13 PM IST