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Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Opinion | A tale of two cities as a wake-up call for us

The noise of political recriminations over Delhi riots must not drown out the anguish of common sufferers. It was a human tragedy. And humanity enjoins us to say ‘never again’

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, Charles Dickens might have noted of the lavish banquet held in New Delhi last Tuesday for US President Donald Trump even as an orgy of violence erupted just about 10km away, leaving more than 40 people dead, hundreds wounded and many more homeless. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, he could have added, as a global partnership of common interests based on shared values filled media airwaves while plumes of smoke engulfed entire localities under the idle watch of law enforcers on the ground. It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, he could’ve gone on, as varied versions of the country’s crisis were articulated though nothing made sense to the grief-stricken at cremations and burials. It was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, as peace activists rushed food and other relief supplies to the afflicted who could do little but stare at the charred remains of their homes and the scarred prospects of starting their lives anew. In short, it was a week that saw Indian chests swell with pride and deflate in despair. The sufferers were ordinary folk, and, if there’s an interest we all have in common that draws upon the values we share as citizens, it is a concern for their well-being.

Accusatory fingers have been aimed by politicians at one another, as expected. However, to prevent the embers of such a carnage from being fanned and flickering up again, our collective resolve should be to renew a pledge made long ago. Mahatma Gandhi was clear that the purpose of India’s freedom was not just for us to determine our own destiny, but also to look after the most vulnerable. To him, how the worst-off were treated was the true measure of a country’s worth. Alas, the man who wryly said “It would be a good idea" when asked what he thought of western civilization spent the latter part of his life trying not to let that quip be turned upon an India ruptured by religious bigotry. However, he never gave up. Striving to evoke empathy across the communal divide, he warned against the fallacy of either community judging itself by its best ideals and the other by its worst deeds. Humanity, in his view, had no need for labels. Today, that spirit animates the work of humanitarians out to heal Delhi.

For all the avowals of peace that we make, however, it would be naive to think these are enough to ensure that such an outbreak of violence never happens again. Animosity appears to have hardened on either side of a split that has widened at almost every level across the country in response to the dynamics of Indian politics. The dangers of this are obvious. If we are to stall the inexorability of divisive forces cleaving the country apart, the even hand of justice for all, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised on Saturday, has to be apparent to each and everyone. The weak and the voiceless, especially so. Like the privileged, they expect nothing less of higher-ups who are sworn to uphold the Constitution. It is the promise of human equality in the eyes of the state, after all, that underpins India’s unity in diversity. This is also the secret of our gestalt effect. It’s what makes the country’s whole greater than the sum of its parts.

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