A few weeks back we were in the midst of a couple of events, which came one after the other and what followed was both sad and strange. We lost our most beloved President, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and we sentenced a proven terrorist to death. While the Nation was united in grieving for the former, a section of the media and a fragment of the populace felt very offended and aggrieved by the hanging of the latter. So much so that even before the funeral of the former President, his news was reduced to 2 half columns of the front page of our leading news daily, and the rest of the page was offered to the terrorist! A few 24x7 news channels ran a well organized campaign against the decision of the President and the Supreme Court of India! Some pious intellectuals with a heart of gold hopped from channel to channel whipping up passion against the Union of India and crying hoarse about the human rights of the terrorist, and no one even bothered to think about his victims. So obvious was their effort that it smelled of being sponsored by big money, and not black money but far worse ……red money!
They successfully divided the Nation by what I call ‘competitive victimhood’. When you would think that a terrorist is the enemy of the entire nation, this effort ensured that more than 10,000 people attended the terrorist’s burial. If this is ‘freedom of speech’ I am proud to be an Indian, but a very concerned one.
We in India are not the only sufferers of this competitive victimhood, whether it is demolition of Babri Masjid or Mumbai blasts. In most intractable conflicts, throughout the world both of the parties involved suffer severe physical and psychological trauma. However, people often assess the impact of the conflict subjectively, perceiving their own group to be the only legitimate victim, and their rivals as illegitimate perpetrators of unjust and immoral misdeeds. How can members of different groups live together after decades of mutual violence, humiliation and abuse? Is it possible for them to coexist peacefully? Addressing these questions is perhaps one of the most challenging but urgent tasks for social scientists in general, and social psychologists in particular. Over the last few decades, the world has indeed been marked by deep-rooted conflicts, not just across national borders, but also between ethnic and religious groups within the same territory, as we have seen this time in our country. The Arab-Israel conflict, Apartheid in South Africa, genocide in Rwanda, violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, and civil wars in the former Yugoslavia are just a few other examples, and these should send a chill down our spine because we don’t want to go that way.
In this arena of competitive victimhood parties involved in a conflict or their golden heart representatives makes great efforts to persuade themselves, rivals, and third parties that their suffering has been greatest. There is however a detrimental consequence of competitive victimhood in reconciliation processes, and our wise television debaters conveniently forget this simple issue. All they have to do is look at Northern Ireland, competitive victimhood decreases the Protestants' and Catholics' inclination to forgive each other and, at the same time, reduces the willingness to accept responsibility for each group's past misdeeds. Similarly, in Chile, competitive victimhood has been empirically demonstrated to be a great obstacle to the reconciliation between pro-Pinochet and anti-Pinochet groups.
As against all these why did Germany succeed in their effort of reunification after the fall of the Berlin wall? What did they do differently? They just did three things – develop, educate and absorb the best of both the worlds, A heterogeneous kaleidoscopic society like India can only follow this model. Hindus and Muslims in India cannot go the Israel Palestine way because that can only lead to doom and hell. And messengers of hell who run our 24x7 news channels and their golden heart commentators must learn to keep the welfare of the Nation as their top most priority. They have miserably failed this time around.