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See oneself in some other’s shoes


Seven or eight years back, while waiting for a pointless editorial meeting to begin, a colleague of mine narrated a horror story of how his family had to literally run away in a single day from their ancestral property in Kashmir. Even now, they haven't returned and their house is occupied by people whom were not given permission and they don't pay any rent. Until then, this event in Kashmir was a fact that resided in my mind, but when I heard it from my former colleague, I put myself in his shoes and truly felt the anguish his family would have felt.
In the last three or four months, I have taken the opportunity of reading and watching stuff related to 1984 anti-Sikh riots and 2002 Gujarat riots. Reading many of the first person accounts made me shudder that the slaughter happened at the very city where I am living right now (1984 riots). Friends and neighbors turned into butchers, and strangers protected families. In both these riots- based on eyewitness accounts as narrated in books/ newspaper reports/ police reports- there are a lot of commonality. First, it was certainly not a spontaneous response. For example, in Delhi when Sikh houses were being burnt, survivors narrate how fuel was arranged systematically. Imagine if anyone decides to burn 10 houses, it's not an easy task to find enough fuel. Second, police turned a blind eye- refusing to take action. There was a delay in recording statements, and in many cases, cases were not recorded. Third, the victims' families have never got the sense of justice to what they gone through. 442 convictions in 1984 riots where nearly 8,000 Sikhs were killed. No top level leaders who were seen as main organisers of the riots are convicted.
This general election has brought out so much hatred. Comments that are clearly divisive, often by Indians living abroad who among them many claim to care more about India than people living in India, and are often laced with half-truths. Such abusive behaviour, I feel, is laying the foundation for future riots. I wish these people take a moment to put themselves in the shoes of people who are affected by violence, and see the vanity of what they are talking.
Amartya Sen in his book "Identity and violence", says the problem is because people identify others with just one identity. In most cases, it is religion. To them, all Muslims are like that or all South Indians behave like that. As a civilization, we need to embrace the varied identities one have (for example, I am an Indian, also a Tamilian, Christian by birth and faith, former Journalist, economist by training, badminton player, father of a 20-month son, data lover, news junkie, likes rock music, and many more). In my life, I find I have more common things with people who love data/ journalists than people from my church. I wish people may see the wonderful diversity we have in a country like India.
And more importantly, I hope people would learn from past violence that have taken away so many lives due to riots, and embrace diversity!

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