Are we really living in the land of Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace and non-violence? Not a day passes without reports of murders and mayhem being splashed in the print and electronic media. It is not just that strangers kill strangers for gain; a disturbingly large proportion of incidents has to do with disputes over property, personal quarrels, reprisals for earlier attacks, or settling political scores.

On the face of it, the last category seems to be on the rise. Especially during elections, and after the formation of a new government, the process of eliminating political opponents claims a number of lives across the political spectrum.

The forms of violence often assume a barbaric character, the victims being brutally done to death, sometimes in the full view of family members. These are said to be mostly the work of dadas and hit squads whose `services' can apparently be had for the asking.

Every time a gruesome incident occurs, leaders of the political party to which the victim belongs, issue ringing statements condemning it in the strongest possible language and visit the grieving families, and even sanction a generous amount as solatium from public coffers (if it is the ruling party) or from party funds. But seldom does one come across a leader of a party himself ensuring that its henchmen alleged to be involved in instigating, or carrying out, beastly acts are brought to book or publicly issuing an unmistakable warning to its members to desist from violence at all costs.

For instance, some years ago, four innocent girls were burnt alive in a bus in broad daylight by hooligans allegedly owing allegiance to a particular party, and one has not seen any statement so far from the leaders of the party expressing anguish at the demoniacal outrage.

Contrast this with Gandhiji's withdrawing his civil obedience, calling it a "Himalayan blunder", because a mob burnt to death some policemen in Chauri Chaura police station.

B. S. RAGHAVAN

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 5, 2006)
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