Where was God?
God should have come up with a better way of shaking us up, says RAJMOHAN GANDHI, reflecting on the suffering of those innocent ones.
All's right with the world?
TOILING long hours, and far from home, for two survival meals a day, humble women, children and men from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh are gunned down in Qasim Nagar near Jammu. Where were you, God?
A father and a son who escaped earlier orgies return in slender hope and ardent prayer to their home in a north Gujarat village, and are done to death. God, where were you?
Surrounded by a violent crowd, but blessed with a cell phone, a former MP phones the police and his friends in Government in Ahmedabad and Delhi and begs to be rescued but is cut to pieces. What the police was doing is a good question; yet where was God?
I have been a believer all my life except for a brief spell in my late teens, when I thought I understood all there was to understand, including the need of some unlucky folk for a crutch called God. Believer I remain, yet I complain, protest, demand explanations. When, following September 11, I felt the urge to offer some reflections through the columns of The Hindu, I could not resist referring to an unfeeling, if all-knowing, Almighty.
A fresh outrage against innocents can sometimes remind me of remarks by a European lecturer who was visiting Delhi. A God who was both all-powerful and all-loving could not, he said, permit such outrages. He was either not strong enough or not caring enough. Finding it impossible to accept that God was less than all love, the European visitor concluded that God was somehow crippled.
Remembering the Holocaust of the 1930s and the 1940s, the Jews, worshippers of God for centuries, ask where He was at the time. Reminding God of the several-times-a-day prayers of millions of fellow-Muslims, the poet Iqbal composed his famous complaint that God had let the faithful down.
The 1947 brutalities on the subcontinent, Cambodia's killing fields of the mid-1970s, the Delhi massacres of 1984, the Rwanda heartlessness of 1994, and the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 invite the same question, which however is as old as time. After the Kurukshetra war, the selfless Gandhari had asked of Krishna:
The Pandavas and Kauravas are all dead;
Why did you allow this?
O Krishna, you could have stopped the war,
You had the tongue, you had the power.
(tr. by P. Lal)
Then she cursed, and in effect crippled, Krishna. Deservedly placed in the dock, God, it seems, has refused to give a direct answer.
God may be silent in the dock, or answer our questions with questions of his own, yet it is also true that some of us with complacent and comfortable hearts are impacted only by the suffering of innocents. God should no doubt have come up with a better way of shaking us up; yet when the sinless pay a terrible price, the rest of us are goaded into some little caring, some little unselfishness.
Between pounding the Almighty's door with bitter complaints and attempting to realise the God within, my personal preference is for the former. The notion that given some special sight or insight humans can realise the God within or know their real self to be part, somehow, of God is beyond me. I respect friends and personalities who can think that way. But for myself I like to go to God as a child to a parent, and plead and complain and beg and demand, confident in the parents' love yet knowing that parents too have demands on me.
I feel entitled to pound on God's doors, even as we should on the doors of the government, the police, the courts, the media, the human rights commissions. I feel I have the right to say to God, as to a government officer, I recognise your authority, but kindly do your job.
Turn to Me, said God as Krishna, and I will never let you down. If I feel that noble or innocent people have been let down, I will complain.
Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth, said an old Jewish prayer.
Speak up, Lord, for thy believer complaineth may be a permissible variant. This gives him the chance to say something to us, or to oblige us to look within, or to reflect.
In the Quran it says that God cannot change a people unless they change themselves. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka are all deeply religious countries where Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism are expressed in a variety of striking ways. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flights commence with a (recorded) prayer. At least one TV channel in Pakistan is exclusively religious (Islamic). In India, gods and goddesses are only a finger-touch away. At any given moment, three or four channels provide us with stories of their surface rivalries, their ultimate unity, and their miracles.
But both in India and Pakistan we can ask whether our religious nation is truly a God-turning nation. Are we a people satisfied with ourselves, or are we a God-pleading, God-complaining people? If we pester him, he may suggest how we may begin to change ourselves, so that he may complete the job.
When we (Indians or Pakistanis) win a cricket match, then God is in heaven and all's well with the world. When times are bad, and the innocent suffer, we do many things but rarely reconnect with God, or dial "G" with a grouse.
If we do, a voice, our own or prompted by a greater source, may well say to us: It is up to you, and others like you, to decide whether or not a faultless one died in vain. Don't you know that you can help the innocent dead to remain alive and working? Do you tell your friends, and if possible others, their stories? Don't make them out to be angels, but let your friends know that they were decent, and innocent, and yet they were killed. They were killed because some people loved to hate, and others thought that to kill was proof of manliness.
In 1993, Amy Biehl, a White American serving Black Africans, was killed in Guguletu outside Cape Town. Because her parents refused to hate Amy's killers, and because Amy's story was told again and again, that dead American girl is a living force for reconciliation in South Africa. After September 11, a few Americans connected to victims of the attacks on the Manhattan Towers went to Afghanistan to share their grief with victims of the U.S. bombing.
But, you may with reason protest, in some situations mothers and fathers dare not talk of a child who was killed for fear of endangering another child who has survived. In that case, the second voice may say, expose such situations.
Alike for the guilty and the innocent, the famous and the unknown, the rich and the poor, life is precarious. Hence it is that when the remarkable Dhirubhai Ambani recently died, we heard those accompanying his body recite the words, Raam Naam Satya Hai. The name of Rama is the truth. Greater than Dhirubhai, greater even than Rama, was the name. The God the name evokes is in the end everyone's judge and executioner.
India's truck and taxi drivers who daily, before their first outing, plead for survival also acknowledge
God's authority and their vulnerability. They are not shy of confronting God.
The writer is a journalist, biographer and historian.
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