Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Major Acts of Terrorism and Civilian Deaths in Recent Times

The graphics speak everything. I've taken some of the high profile cases in the recent past. There are many other events which I've ignored not with any particular intention or prejudice. The events I've considered seemed to be sufficient for the context in which I wanted to see the various acts of terrorism in the recent past and the civilian casualties in each case. I include genocides perpetuated by states or terrorist organizations alike in the list as from the human perspective, both are same. I've excluded full fledged wars. Finally these numbers are predominantly from post World War II period, with a preference to more recent events.

One thing that's very striking is the predominance of the various Arab and African countries massacred by tyrannical dictators. Saddam Hussein comes closest to Hitler or Stalin in terms of ferocity and the extent of the terrorism he had inflicted on his own people. He has killed at least 1 million people in Iraq.

Jean Kambanda killed a whooping 800K people in Rwanda and Idi Amin 300K in Uganda. Omar Al-Bashir killed 200K people in Sudan and Bashar al-Asad 180K in Syria. Taliban killed 400K in Afghanistan before the US strikes, after which they killed 16K.

Having killed only 5K and 10K people respectively, the Al Qaeda and Gaddafi look like kids in front of the others.

50K civilians were killed in the thirty years of conflict between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan state. It's not easy to say how many of these 50K were killed by LTTE and how many by the state. In terms of sheer number, given the size of Sri Lanka, this is indeed huge.

In the Israel-Palestine conflict, a total of 90K Palestinians have been killed till date, since the 1920s. The toll on the Israeli side is 25K. In the recent Israeli offensive against Palestine, only 50 Israelis have lost their lives against a whooping 1000 Palestinians.

In the East the massive genocides were by Pol Pot in Cambodia, killing 17 million people (couldn't be included in the chart as it would go out of bounds), Suharto in Indonesia, killing 500K, and Ho Chi Min in Vietnam killing 200K, against 70K killed by the US president Richard Nixon in the Vietnam War.

What intrigues me is why there wasn't this much of protest against Iraq or Libya or Syria in the recent times as we're now seeing against the Israeli offensive. It's not that we were not aware of Saddam's killings. But India had cordial ties with Iraq all throughout. Why wasn't there any protest from any quarter in all those decades when Saddam continued to be a friend of India? Why wasn't there any protest against the killings of so many people in Libya or Syria? Why do people awake only when Palestinians are killed in their ongoing conflict with Israel? Just because here, the Muslims are being killed by Jews and there, Muslims were killed by Muslims, are we concerned more about the Palestinians? What standard or code of morality are we following?

My friend Raja says, the question on Palestine-Israel conflict has historically gained attention because of multi-dimensional view around it - religious, racial, geo-political, strategic and the media emphasis on all of these. Countries opt to support or remain silent for (stupid) political reasons - India's silence on Myanmar for decades is well known as an example. The other main reason is relatively indifferent attitude towards region/people in the less 'fortunate' and poor areas - like many countries in Africa.

Atanu adds, we should demand upon ourselves an ethical equivalency in our response to all crises and suffering across the world. However we should start with our own personal responses before demanding it on others.

Debraj brings in a new spin. He says, such deaths/killing are natural outcomes of over population - nature's way of maintaining equilibrium. It is not obvious, however, with more population, there is an fiercer underlying competition of access to resources, which finally ends up in such killing under various religious or caste or ideological names. I agree this is too simplistic, but I think this angle needs some research...

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/26/weekinreview/the-world-how-many-people-has-hussein-killed.html
  2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ali-a-rizvi/picking-a-side-in-israel-palestine_b_5602701.html
  3. http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2010/aug/10/afghanistan-civilian-casualties-statistics
  4. http://npsglobal.org/eng/news/29-non-state-actors/1034-al-qaeda-attackss-death-toll-more-than-4400-lives.html
  5. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/jan/14/al-qaeda-hurts-muslims-most/?page=all
  6. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Terrorism/palterrortoc.html
  7. http://www.scaruffi.com/politics/dictat.html
  8. wikipedia

Monday, August 4, 2014

Why societies glorify oppressed and tragic women? Because men have been always men

Has it ever occurred to you that we, as a society, male dominated that is, are comfortable seeing women always in the ghisa-pita cliched role of an oppressed abla nari? You may argue that things have changed and now women and men are at par, that women are driving everything from trucks to big companies. Yes that's true, but there too, when we look at them, we perhaps, even unknown to ourselves, tend to glorify not their achievements, but the pains they had to endure in order to achieve what a guy would have achieved without that much pain. When someone like Kiran Bedi is talked about, we highlight more the oppression she had to face from the system, than her real achievements. When we glorify her, what we actually do is sympathize with her struggles, her pains in fighting against a system shamelessly skewed against women, as though, her existence, her achievement, everything revolves around the oppression. Here oppression is not always a physical or mental thing caused by others, it can also be self imposed. I'm sure, after we heard that Indra Nooyi had to struggle so much to strike a balance between her personal life as a woman - mother, wife, daughter - and her profession, our respect for her increased manifold, as though without all those she was not a complete woman. The fact that Kiran Bedi, at the end of her career, was wrongfully declined the opportunity to become the DIG of Delhi made her more acceptable to us, like Indra Nooyi is now, in the role of an ideal woman, someone who has endured a lot, struggled a lot and has been deprived of many things in life.

This actually falls in line with the motifs often used to depict women across the ages in all cultures. For example, in many Greek mythologies, a woman is first shown as a virgin girl. Then she transitions into a woman and mother. Then there’s a phase of extreme sadness and solitude. The final element in her story combines both death and apotheosis. Stories of most women characters roughly follow this stereotype script. It's irresistible to not deprive a woman of her dose of sadness and oppression and struggle. To the advantage of the men, all top poets and bards have been always males, since the beginning of human civilization. It's no coincidence that Homer, Vyasa and Valmiki were all males. So it's not surprising that when they created 'perfect' women characters, they too didn't forget the doses of tragedies. They knew very well that 'tragic queen' sells. It sold then, it sells now too. 

It's perfectly logical that someone like Sonia Gandhi would be the most powerful woman politician in our country. Just yesterday I read that Natwar Singh, in his autobiography where he spilled lot of bins about the Gandhi family, has mentioned that Sonia's life is like a Greek tragedy. I'm not sure if he too wanted to bring out the same point I'm talking about now - that Sonia's popularity is greatly because of the perception in our minds that she is a tragedy queen. It also matches so well with the motif so often used to depict women. She had a fairy tale life, dating the son of one of the most powerful women in the world and the Prime Minister of India. After the Mills-n-Boons courtship and marriage, she suddenly became the first lady of India, after a catastrophe in her life - the assassination of her mother in law Indira Gandhi and the sudden accession of her husband Rajiv Gandhi to throne of India. This was the second stage of her life which was followed by the third stage of extreme sadness and solitude - she lost her husband. And then in the last stage we see her as the most powerful goddess in the political pantheon. It can't be denied that her wide acceptance and popularity, which is no less than apotheosis, is predominantly because of her tragic life. We love to see women as tragedy queens. We loved then, we love now too.

Has it ever occurred to you that we, the guys in the guys' world, follow the same principle even in our religion? Why do you think Sita gets such a special treatment by us whereas someone like Draupadi comes no where to the status accorded to Sita? If you see things without any prejudice, as they are, Sita's life is full of tragedies, starting from her birth. When she grows up, she's married to a family that sends her to exile for no fault of hers. Her husband Ram is depicted as though he is the epitome of decency, loyalty, generosity, faithfulness, truthfulness - we may exhaust words. He doesn't protest when his father asks him to go and stay in jungle. Does anyone ask Sita about her likes and dislikes? She is shown as a loyal and faithful wife who considers putting forth her likes and dislikes blasphemous, as though, wives don't have any. She accompanies her husband to the jungle, is kidnapped by a notorious villain, and then saved by his husband, but not before spending some good amount of time in an alien land in captivity. The tragedy doesn't end there. When times comes for her and her husband to get back to home, she is left behind in the jungle because her husband's folks feels she's a noshto meye, spoiled girl, having spent those days of captivity with Gabbar Singh. Even Sholay gave more respect to Basanti, who was kidnapped by the real Gabbar, than what we've accorded to Sita. Left behind in the jungle, she raises her kids alone. Let me not proceed further. There are more tragedies for her. Of course there are justifications for everything provided in Ramayana. Whatever they may be, on the face of it, we can't decline that Sita has been depicted as one of the million oppressed house wives we see all around our country. She is nothing more than a doormat. She doesn't have any respect. She can't speak out. She has to accept whatever her husband decides. No wonder she is so widely worshiped. We, the guys, have created her and placed her on the throne, because we love her - who else has seen such catastrophes in life, silently, without any protest?

Draupadi has her stock of tragedies too, but nothing matches with those of Sita. Moreover, the characterization of Draupadi doesn't make her look like a doormat. Her five husbands respect her, never leave her in jungle and above all she has her cool dude bro protecting her always. Sita is never protected. That makes her the perfect candidate to be glorified. She's the tragedy queen, the quintessential epithet of an oppressed woman. She satisfies the male ego. 

Men are men, across the world, in all ages.