The #PakistanProblem: Taking recourse to Philosophy


Philosophy is a potent weapon in the arsenal of the optimist – some might even say the last resort of the diehard.  But for a citizen of a country that bears the burden of a Mahatma and is stuck with a fanatic neighbour that fabricates fairytales even for its history, Philosophy, perhaps, is a natural option.

Says Duryodhana, scion of the Kuru family, in the Mahabharatha, ‘I know what is right but I can’t seem to do it; I know what is wrong but can’t seem to give it up’.  Duryodhana had several qualities that could have made him the hero of the epic. But the quirk in his character immortalised him as the ignoble prince whose obduracy and single-minded pursuit of a flawed goal led to the annihilation of an entire race – almost.

How does one treat an entity like Duryodhana? Says Tiruvalluvar: ‘The good alone deserve affection is a refrain of the ignorant; it is the only tool to handle the wicked as well (araththirkkE anbu sArbenbar ariyAr; maraththirkkum adhE thuNai).’  We don’t know the context in which he wrote these words (Tirukkural: verse 75).  But peaceniks in India zealously follow this ideal and lecture the rest of India on the need to adopt this attitude towards Pakistan: Talk with them … keep talking … talks are the only way …, they say. But, as another Indian philosopher put it, generosity towards the undeserving can be called anything but virtue.


Tolerance as the mid-point on a continuum: a tool to manage our differences

In the turbulence of a world order where cultures pull in conflicting directions, how does one move ahead? How can democracies, oligarchies/ authoritarian regimes and fascists ever find common ground? The short answer is, ‘one cannot’. To operate under the illusion that one can is dangerous and unsustainable. One cannot, after all, choose one’s neighbours or direct the contemporary happenings set in motion by co-inhabitants of the planet! It is important to remember this fact as we, the human inhabitants of this planet, negotiate to achieve better lives for ourselves. But we live in a world full of problems: social, ecological, economic … So what does one do if one is not the ‘throw-up-one’s hand in despair’ kind, or the ‘don’t-care-a-damn’ kind?

I think a way may be found if we cultivate the tendency to think in terms of possibilities rather than problems. The former helps place options on a continuum while the latter considers choices as opposites. It is easier to glide along a continuum rather than to jump across a divide.

As we negotiate for a more peaceful, more egalitarian world order, it would be worthwhile to not let Tolerance be faced off against Intolerance and Acceptance against Rejection. Rather, Tolerance should be the mid-point on a continuum that has intolerance at one end and acceptance on the other.  All contesting parties/ positions should count their steps towards a minimum of Tolerance first, before attempting to move towards greater agreement or unanimity.

Are you a missing plane or a missing girl?


Two months ago, a plane disappeared and 239 people simply vanished off the face of the earth. No one could say where the plane had gone or why it had disappeared. The world media persisted with the story for long, with experts of all hues giving it their all. The governments of the world chipped in and displayed the technological marvels at their command to scour from the sky and to spy swathes of under-sea, to search for a plane no one knew had gone where. A lot was also said about crowd-sourcing the search and thousands – if not millions – of netizens pored over hundreds – if not thousands – of satellite images looking for the lost plane. Nothing turned up. No plane, no people, no clue about what might have happened. The media’s interest dwindled, the governments withdrew their largesse quietly, and no one knows what is the stage at which the crowd-sourced search is.

A month ago 276 young girls were kidnapped in Nigeria by a cowardly group that terrorizes people in the name of Islam. The area of operation of this group is not a secret but no government operations have been initiated in earnest – neither by the home country nor by countries that presume to be the global conscience-keepers. Reports BBC News, ‘A senior US official said Washington was … considering a Nigerian request for surveillance aircraft’ and the British High Commissioner had said ‘The eye in the sky, even if it were able to be focused on the spot, isn’t a panacea,’ explaining that while drones could help gather intelligence, caution was of the essence. [What caution when young girls are being assaulted by a bunch of goons and are likely to lose more than their life in any case?]. This dust off the sleeve kind of response of the government perhaps takes a cue from the media, which lost interest after initially going to town reporting on an individual from the delinquent group who issued an open challenge, seemingly to the powers of the world to do what they could to rescue the girls, publicly announcing the intention of his group to sell off or marry off the school children who had dared to try and educate themselves despite having been born in the wrong gender. After a hiatus, the media turned its attention to the Nigerian girls once again yesterday: they were agog with the news that the US President’s spouse took the unprecedented step of taking over her husband’s weekly address to say they were ‘outraged and heartbroken’ over the abduction of the Nigerian girls. There is, to the best of my knowledge, no crowd sourcing, sharing of satellite imagery, etc. as the world doesn’t seem to be interested as much in the prospect of tracing some missing girls as a missing plane. On the other hand, eyes in the sky, perhaps, cannot penetrate woods and discover what lies moving in the midst of the undergrowth beneath.  In any case, the girls remain lost to their families.  There are valid guesses that can be made about where the girls are likely to be, and where their captors can be caught.  But who is looking?

Two events for an unaffected world. Twice two hundred tragedies for the individual families. That is all it boils down to in the end. But should we pause and ask how far we, the ordinary people, can bring to bear the power of our eyeballs on the media, and how much we can make the power of democracy work to bring the governments down from their elite, boardroom mindsets.  A mysteriously missing plane is a priority – if only to bring to some kind of closure the angst of the loved ones left behind.  But don’t missing girls matter at all?

The Rule of Law, Justice, and the subtlety of Dharma

On the face of it one would imagine that when the rule of law prevails, justice has been done. In such a society, things should hold together because it is apparently adhering to dharma. Let us pause to think:

What is the rule of law? They are recorded regulations that can be referred to, put together with a view to streamlining the chaos inherent in the process of living. Justice is deemed to have been done when the rules in the law book are applied to the process of living as a citizen of the society at various levels. Justice can be benign: you follow the rules and thereby allow for the operation of a just society; or justice can be functional: you apprehend the violators of the rules and charge them as per the law. It all appears fairly straightforward. Faith in the rule of law and the belief that justice is done when these rules are followed is, hence, tremendous. But faith and belief are transient and also intangible. On the ground, there is much agony, discord and dissatisfaction even in societies that follow the rule of law, even when justice is shown to prevail.

Let me take some examples:

Ajmal Kasab, a twenty-something year old [?] young person was executed a couple of days ago by India for having carried out a terrorist act on its soil. Many innocent persons died, and many more have been maimed for life – physically and psychologically – in the attack that Kasab and his cohort undertook four/ five/ six years ago. Kasab was executed after a due process of law. His hanging was seen by many as justice done, if not justice delayed. Yet, the execution has provoked some vagrants to threaten brutal acts against more Indians. Apparently, they view Kasab’s execution as an act of injustice and hold all of India culpable.

More than a decade ago, Ashley Jones, now in her twenties, shot dead her grandparents and her aunt and stabbed her 10-year old sister. She then took money from her dead grandfather’s purse, and drove away in his Cadillac. The immediate provocation for Ashley’s act was that the family objected to her choice of boyfriend. The prosecuting lawyer said that it was because “Ashley’s conscience has not developed… her inner voice does not counsel her”.  The girl was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. She is one of seventy-plus teenagers in America who have been similarly condemned to spend their lives in prison. Like many others, I have questioned the ‘justice’ in a justice system which could judge with such ruthlessness.

Some years ago, UN took up a resolution calling for the abolition of life imprisonment without parole for children and young teenagers. The vote was 185 to 1, with the United States the lone dissenter. A few days ago, India was among a minority of the countries that voted against a UN General Assembly draft resolution which called for abolishing the death penalty [it must be mentioned, however, that India’s negative vote was on the principle of the right of sovereign nations to define their own legal systems and hence cannot be taken as an indication of the country’s stance on death penalty as such]. Why are perceptions of justice so outrageously divergent? Why is there a volatility lurking barely beneath the surface even when the rule of law prevails? Is it because it fails the essential test of dharma: that which holds together?

Dharma is defined as the principle of cosmic order. It is for all time. Since life and living are subject to the vagaries of geography and history, the rules of law differ from place to place and from time to time. And justice is as justice does: it is the tangible and nebulous human acts of omission and commission that determine how the rule of law is interpreted in the pursuit of ‘justice’. But the principle of Dharma is not confined by geographical boundaries and historical time. In a dharmic world order, when Kasab’s guilt was never in doubt, his execution would not have been delayed so long. But I err. In a dharmic social order, Ajmal Kasab and Ashley Jones would not have had reason to become what they had.

The Libyan massacre and Obama’s reaction

The world has just become a safer place, thanks to the measured reaction of the American President to the tragic killing of American citizens in Libya. Gandhi’s view was that taking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth would leave the whole world blind and toothless. This is a truth that should be self-evident; it is also pragmatic politics: you take all sections of the people with you and alienate only the fringe elements (such as provocateurs who indulge in self-seeking freedoms, and their misguided endorsers).

With D-day just a couple of months away it would have been easy for a leader seeking re-election to seize on the sentiment of the moment and train guns on the innocent many for the sordid act of a few criminals. It requires a visionary to see that the security of individual nations is tied to a safe world. Lives were lost yesterday in Libya, yes, and tragically so. More would be lost in vain if tempers were ramped up. Barack Obama is to be commended for his measured reaction, which extends the boundaries of sanity and peace. It is not betrayal, but long term strategic sense. The Nobel Peace Prize has just acquired an added halo.

Defying Terror – Afghan Schoolgirls Show the Way!

On November 12, 2008 eleven girls and four teachers in the Mirwais School for Girls in Kandahar, Afghanistan, were attacked with acid by motorbike-borne men.  Prior to the attack, warnings had appeared on anonymous posters in mosques and other parts of the town, asking parents not to send their girls to school.  For some weeks after the attack, the classrooms of the Mirwais School were empty.  But the headmaster of the school, Mahmood Qadari, prevailed on the parents to fight the enemy by sending their daughters to school.  And, the community responded.  Today, there are so many girls wanting to study, including some in their late teens and twenties, who have never before attended school, that class rooms have to be supplemented with tents! 

I had posted a news item about one of the girls who was attacked with acid on November 17 [Link here:  ].  The girl, Shamshia, says: “The people who did this do not feel the pain of others.”  She is poor, has a disabled father and has no way of getting treated to have the scars on her face removed. Since the acid got into her eyes, her sight is also affected.  Still, she is going to continue to come to school.  Her parents are determined to send her too, even if she is killed for it.  Shamshia refuses to be a “stupid thing” as her attackers wanted her to be. 

For a detailed report on the incident in Mirwais School, follow link below:

Israel and India – responses in trying times

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth will only leave the whole world blind and toothless, said India’s apostle of peace and non-violence, Gandhi.  Ever since Israel’s retaliation against Hamas began, the papers have been full of pictures of Palestinian children – wounded, maimed, bloodied, dead.  Will they and their near and dear ones ever get over the trauma?  How many of them, innocent or otherwise, will find it in themselves to forgive those who wrought this devastation in their lives?  There would, surely, be sufferers among the Israelis too!  At least the families of the soldiers who have lost their lives?  If each of the Palestinian children, their families and the families of those Israelis who have encountered death in this war want to punish the other side, can there ever be an end to the siege?  Can the peoples of this wonderful, holy land ever live in peace? 

On the other hand, consider the response of India to the violence perpetrated on its soil by Pakistan.  By simply not rushing into a war they have not only given short shrift to the designs of the hand behind the terrorists, they have also avoided a lot of misery for the innocents on either side.  Can there be a better tribute to Gandhi, whom India calls the ‘Father of the Nation’.