Dilip looks for sincere answers as to why the Mumbai attacks were condemned across the political spectrum and have spurred our leaders to action, while much worse atrocities in the past (in terms of numbers of lives lost) did not get the same reaction. (The answers he gets, so far, are sadly predictable.)
The Washington Post notes that in the case of an Iranian court ordering a man blinded because he blinded a woman with acid, few are protesting the appropriateness of the punishment. I noted my own ambivalence in a blogpost a few days ago. More recently, police have shot dead three acid-attackers in an “encounter” in Andhra Pradesh, and while some activists object on principle to such encounters and police action, most of the public applauds. But why do other commonplace crimes against women — even murder — not get the same attention?
I think Sherlock Holmes had it right. When Watson, a veteran of Afghanistan who had seen his own comrades “hacked to pieces” there, wondered why an individual murder (in A Study in Scarlet) upset him more than that war, Holmes remarked: “I can understand. There is a mystery about this which stimulates the imagination; where there is no imagination there is no horror.”
In the above cases, it is not the mystery, but the circumstances, that stimulate the imagination. A faceless riot victim, or 3000 of them, does not stimulate most of our imaginations. (The face of Qutubuddin Ansari, widely reproduced during the Gujarat riots, did however create a widespread impact.) But the Taj? A gunman photographed stalking CST? We could all imagine ourselves there. And if we can’t, the news channels dinned it into us in real time, over 36 hours. Similarly, random brutalisation of women does not impact the imagination, but an acid victim’s face does.
When we are forced to ask ourselves “How does it feel?”, and try to answer that question, then we are moved to words and, hopefully, action. Otherwise we ignore it all and get on with life.