Every ghost you have encountered is a dead person. But not every dead person is a ghost. So, even as most displays of public rage end up as heavy fumes easily dispelled by opening the windows or letting new fumes take over, it is important to show anger. For that is how people may be able to take you seriously.
My friend Samar Halarnkar in his HT Comment page column last Friday (In private republics, Maha Bharat, January 18) is correct when he wrote that “middle-class India now leads this life of knee-jerk rage because we hide, ignore or would rather not discuss our real infirmities, our true maladies... We like to rage, and we do it from the comfort of the mob.” But there is a different anger, not the one that comes in a ‘flavour-of-the-week’ format that many of us have learnt to replicate from news TV. This anger is shared grief and frustration curdled into rage.
When over 100 people were murdered in faraway Quetta in Pakistan on January 10, it was not outrage that one encountered — if one chose to encounter it in the first place. It was rage. Of the 102 dead in two separate bomb attacks in the Balochistan capital, 87 were from the Hazara community. The rise of militant Sunni Islam, latched on to the ‘traditional’ hatred against the minority Hazaras — marked not only by their faith (Shia) but also by their distinctly visible ethnicity — has seen the community targeted down the years with openly racist-sectarian abandon. Last year was a particularly violent year with 61 recorded attacks killing 116 Hazaras by fellow Pakistanis with not a single arrest. On January 10, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s targets in Quetta, especially of the second blast outside a snooker hall in the Hazara locality of Alamdar Road, were Shia Hazaras.
Like anyone else sitting here in our happy valley and following that jetstream called ‘world affairs’, I, too, am hardly ever jolted by encountering news reports with large death-counts and Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir datelines, never mind from places ‘too far away’ such as Syria and Somalia. But it was the Hazara community in Quetta’s refusal to bury the bodies of their loved ones until the Pakistani government placed the province of Balochistan under army control that made me freshly aware that anger isn’t just a middle-class therapy tool. Hundreds of Hazaras sat in sub-zero temperatures next to coffins for three whole days before the government sacked Balochistan chief minister Aslam Khan Raisani — who had earlier had the support of important people both in Rawalpindi and Islamabad and had refused to return from a holiday abroad even after he had heard of the massacre — and put the province under central rule and army protection.
All of us choose the people we decide to be concerned about. The choice of family, friends and loved ones is obvious, connected as we are through intimacy. But we also empathise with people whom we don’t know. This impersonal variety of empathy is usually made through ‘traditional routes’ such as the sharing of nationality, religion, ethnicity, caste and/or a common past.
Many of us make such ‘wireless’ connections through another route: the media. The fact that the Delhi gang rape was covered extensively and loudly by the media allowed us to be aghast. If the news had been printed in an ‘inside page’ — as that of a brutal gang rape in Rajasthan in August of an 11-year-old girl still battling for her life was and continues to be — we would have felt less aggrieved.
But feelings of empathy, the basic ingredient from which emotions such as outrage and grief stem, can sometimes come about from the strangest of routes that are neither national, religious, nor along any other mass-approved and mass-maintained lines. For me, the Hazara anger displayed on the streets of Quetta and which unfurled like a giant black flag and then relayed around the world, including in various cities of Pakistan, was a shimmering example of a long-simmering sense of anguish and injustice turning into rage in the face of a more powerful and numerous scourge.
The Quetta attack on Hazaras and the enraged response from the community is unlikely to change the way the majority of Pakistanis (and Afghans) view and treat this minority community. But it certainly did something that may not have been possible in the state of another nearby country but was done in anarchic, sectarian Balochistan: an attacked minority population getting the central government to throw out a chief minister under whom members of that community were targeted, attacked and killed. Even if he put his heart and soul into development and governance, becoming the darling of Pakistan’s people who are tired of corrupt and useless leaders, Aslam Raisani will never be able to run for prime minister. And that is no small consequence of rage.