Fear

When I was in college, malls were only beginning to sprout in and around the city of Kolkata, and things were very different from now. At that time we could simply walk into a mall without being frisked or having to walk through beeping metal detectors. Fast forward seven years to the present, and everywhere we are assaulted by gates, separate queues for men and women, beeping metal detectors, frisking hands, demands to open bags, produce key chains for verification… and we have resigned ourselves to it. Earlier people would call out if one found someone leaving a bag behind; now we’re taught to run and call for the police if the same thing happened in a public place.

In short, my country has changed from the way I have seen through my growing up years. We are perpetually at war against a faceless enemy — terrorism. We live in constant fear; one can go to buy toothpaste and never return because some misguided moron somewhere may decide to blow up your local grocery store in the hope of winning his big ticket to heaven’s 72 virgins. Or some other moron may profess love, and if you refuse, he may hack you to death. Or maybe he was mistaken about your intentions since you were wearing tight jeans. It doesn’t matter to me what the reason is, because my point in this post is to analyse its effects.

  1. We in India live in fear, yet neither the media nor the government articulates this as fear. While reading up on reports of bomb blasts in Mumbai and elsewhere, some of which are too poignant to forget, I have often wondered why the press repeatedly talked about resilience of people resuming work after a spectacular terror strike. The difference strikes home when I read about the Connecticut shootout in American papers. It’s been four days, and I have not heard anyone talking of resilience. When news got around about the tragedy, US flags were ordered to fly at half-staff nationwide in tribute to the victims. We in India don’t have such overt manifestations of national mourning over random terrorist strikes. Neither do we have tearful presidents exhorting us to mend our ways. I’m not pronouncing a judgement on symbolism or Obama’s histrionics. The point I’m trying to make is that the ease with which we consume fearful news about death, disease, and deprivation makes me worry. I do not tear up while reading about drone strikes or civilian deaths, simply because I have got used to it. Multiply that a million times and you will have a sample of the educated Indian middle class — jaded, hopeless, self-centered and seemingly unresponsive.
  2. The unresponsiveness is only on the surface though. Much of the fear and deprivation transform into sage sermons — most of which boils down to escaping the constraints of the third world by settling down in a beautiful, pollution-free, landscaped neighbourhood in the first world, which unfortunately, is producing Adam Lanzas with alarming precision these days.
  3. A thick skin and a missionary zeal to settle abroad is not enough though; you also need some talent in prevarication and demagoguery. Which is more useful depends on your station in life, but both are needed. One chief minister of a state, for instance, declared monetary compensation for rape victims depending on the age and extent of damage. Yes, this is admirable, but there’s competition. A Khap Panchayat is a civilian body with some administrative powers in villages, especially in the north and west of India. They believe marriage, and not money solves the problem of rapes. And then of course there are certain foods, usually those that have a high protein content, that are widely believed to be aphrodisiacs. The new entrant to that list is the humble chowmein. When questioned about such random bullshitting, all of these people have invariably kicked up a storm on their good intentions, bad journalism, the degenerating social values, and a need to curb the wiggling tongues on the world wide web. I’m in two minds about whether to give a link to Julian Assange or to one that talks about our IT minister’s glorious but vague plans to curb inflammatory and offensive content on the Internet. Never mind that. You get the drift, I’m sure. The idea is to preach and profess different things, and when questioned, to drop verbal bombs big enough to obfuscate the issue at hand and muddy the inconsequential waters around.
  4. The most important part of this long rant — What does one do to overcome fear? Since offence is said to be the best defence, I have confessed to my husband that I would like to carry a kitchen knife in my bag. I elicited only laughter. I insisted that we need a gun. More laughter, followed by realisation. A gun would be too expensive and difficult to obtain. And no one would allow me to go around with a knife in my bag (refer to paragraph 2)! At any mall or movie, I’ll be the one handed over to the police if they catch me with a knife. Apparently, it’s perfectly admissible to drop random bombs, catch, rape and kill people, but you can’t carry a weapon to protect yourself.

I meant this post to be every bit the rant it is, and I’m already feeling better having written it. I promise to be back with a sequel if I ever get to use that knife I presume I wouldn’t be allowed to carry.

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Hi, I'm Sampurna and I'm from India. I love to write, paint, and play with my dogs. Catch up with me at Halfastory's Blog. Happy reading!

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9 comments on “Fear
  1. Abdul Rauf says:

    So clearly speaking, this is one of the very good posts you’ve written on your blog. Fear is something which is in our souls. But in the end, you have put consequences in our hands, which is again the thing which make us think different about the situation in india. I have also got some inspiration from Indian change.
    And I think we should get some weapon if needed (and only if we’re not lose tempered). Thanks for the post.

    • Sampurna says:

      Thanks for commenting. Fear is indeed in one’s soul, and yes, one can choose not to be afraid. But fear is created and sustained by systems, and that is what I hinted at in my post.
      I have my doubts about the forces that want such systems in place that are governed by the fear principle. It has been used by many regimes to control people, and that’s another thing I fear. I fear lawlessness and anarchy, and that kind of makes me hold on dearly to whatever semblance of governance we have, however corrupt and inefficient. It is an established fact that corrupt regimes across the world have used fear psychosis to mobilise public opinion, sentiment, etc.
      And what’s more scary is that the “regime” or “system” I’m referring to is not necessarily a government, an institution, a religion, or represented in an individual. It is all of these put together and more. We do not know the enemy, although we know we are at the mercy of unpredictable and ruthless forces. On the face of it, it seems like the enemy is our next-door neighbour, but then, even if that were true, it is only a symptom and not the root of the cancer.
      We would all want a better world, if not for ourselves, but for our children perhaps. However, the scary part is that we know it’s a dangerous world we live in, but we have neither the means to control it nor the answers to make it better.
      And I believe you’d understand that all of this applies to Pakistan as well.

  2. pflead73 says:

    You can carry Pepper spray in your bag!

  3. johncoyote says:

    I don’t understand why someone would desire to kill people in a public place. If you have anger at the leaders. Fight the government. Why murder woman and children? Time for logic. Killing of brother against brother is destroying hope and dreams of many. I pray for peace. Somehow we must teach love and healing. Hate is a heavy load to carry. Thank you for your thoughts on a world wide issue.

    • Sampurna says:

      Thanks for commenting johncoyote.
      I understand you in spirit; killing and slaughter is bad, not just in public places, but also inside prisons, animal shelters, etc. The death penalty for heinous crimes is already contested across the world – I must confess that I have not been able to make up my mind about it – However, I do acknowledge the fact that there’s no way to be sure when baying for blood supersedes justice and becomes retribution and revenge.
      But that, I think, may well be the topic for another post. Can you clarify your stance when you say “If you have anger at the leaders. Fight the government. Why murder woman and children?”
      All over the world, the crux of guerrilla warfare has been and continues to be the attack on government property, symbols, etc. so as to make the establishment bleed. The objective is to prove the apathy, inefficiency, disconnectedness of the regime, and not necessarily to defeat the regime in a full-scale war. And that’s one reason (among others) why they kill innocent people.
      There’s no one-solution-fits-all formula to solve all the different groups/interests doing this. At least I don’t see one. Nevertheless I’m going out of my way to write on this because I want to underscore the fact that not every voice against the regime is anti-national or anarchist. I’m saying this because recently, one of our ministers have unfortunately equated student protesters with armed insurgents. Regimes need to understand that people don’t take to the streets for fun. People do not leave their homes to become armed insurgents for adventure either. Pain drives them to do it, and the way to heal the pain is to first listen, and then say ‘I will try and lessen your pain’.
      I don’t see any regime in the whole wide world willing to stop and listen. And unless that happens I don’t see any chance of healing. We will continue to live in fear and pass our burdens onto our children. I don’t know who wins in this arrangement though.

  4. jrharries says:

    I have no solutions to your issues, but here is one observation –
    It is clear that fear is a very natural and desireable cause in an individual life, in defined situations – pepper spray, travelling in groups, knowing your area are all short term indiviual solutions that make sense. But you need to be very careful about politicising fear – when it manifests in a mass context, then it becomes very dubious – offfering a ready tool to the political or religious demagogue, eventually being used to justify the most appalling brutalities across history – the gas chambers of Auschwitz, the killing fields of Viet Nam and Indonesia and so on.

    • Sampurna says:

      You’re right in that political and religious demagogues through history have stoked fear and aggression based out of fear, to further their goals.
      However, the fear I talk about is a very real one; and not a war-cry of any sort. And it’s a political one too, and not just because politics is ubiquitous.
      I’m not for stating the obvious; but if we question the legitimacy of fear, any type of fear, we need also to question the heroic narrative of history, the ideals of hero-worship, the concept of courage, fortitude, and in contrast, our associations of what is cowardly, effeminate, etc etc. I’m bringing this in because fear is almost always unwittingly associated in our minds with action – as in what does one do when one’s afraid? The one who challenges is hailed as a hero, and the one who flees is dismissed as a coward, or at best, a victim.
      You see, language is problematic. And articulating what’s inside of my head brings out more trouble.
      Decidedly, I don’t want Hitler or Pol Pot to revisit India. However, that doesn’t exactly mean that we’re doing as well as we sometimes delude ourselves with.
      Thanks for your insightful comment though.

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