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Taking Stock
Great Equalizer 
By Rizwan Ullah

Sa’di, the Persian sage, says:
Cho aahang-e-raftan kunad jan-e-paak
Che bar takht murdan, che bar roo-e khaak.

(As the holy life tends to depart, dying on throne or dust matters not).

Nature is a great mentor. Curious are the ways of its teachings. It teaches every creature when, where and how to live, survive and procreate so as to maintain a balanced diversity in the universe. It is the role of Mother Nature soft and polite. But in the role of the teacher of morality it teaches the hard way. Presently we see in Gujarat where the natural disaster showed that all are equal in its furious eye. Huge structures crumbled like house of sand. Its debris mingled with those of the neighbouring smaller dwellings and under the debris lay the dead bodies of the big and the small side by side or piled up together. They just mingled with the dust wherever they might have come from. There was no distinction between Gujaratis and non-Gujaratis, between believers and non-believers. It has also shown that it could happen anywhere, anytime, and that no security measures can provide enough guarantee against such a fury of the elements. But who cares! While the volunteers coming from the farthest corners were sniffing and digging under mountains of rubbles to save a single life if it could be located, a group of ruffians in Prihar attacked the people who were going to bury the dead body of an old woman in a burial ground. 

However, once the mind is in a pensive mood various streaks of thought emerge in succession or all at the same time. One tends to turn to the pages of history and old scriptures to find answers to the questions when? And where? And turns to sciences to find answers to the questions why? And why not? Thus we find the descriptions of the civilizations in the distant past that sank not only in the ocean of time but virtually sank in the sand and dust. Excavations at various places have resulted in the discovery of the remains of cities mentioned in scriptures and epics, which may be taken as pre-historic descriptions. In the absence of sciences as we understand them today moral turpitude of the people was ascribed as the reason for those catastrophes. Now the geological sciences give a lot of explanations for the devastating earthquakes in the past, near and distant past, at present as well, which is nothing but the past of the future.

When Karnataka minister T. John said that the earthquake in Gujarat was the punishment of God for the ill treatment meted out to Christians and minorities there, and thus he himself invited the wrath of his own compatriots, he was actually relating what he must have learnt from the scriptures. However, no lesson seems to have been learnt either from history or from scientific knowledge. It is well known that great Harappan civilization lies buried in our part of the world. Descriptions of buried cities in Kutch area are also found. All those cities and civilizations must have undergone the fate similar to that of Gujarat. The fact that this area happens to be on the earthquake belt is known to our scientists and at times they have warned the authorities about probable catastrophe and suggested same precautionary measures. But all fell on deaf ears, for the administrations have little time to spare for such frivolities. They are busy in political muddling and mud slinging.

Media factor: Media has shown once again in recent years that it has reached and achieved a position where it can win many battles. In the case of Gujarat earthquake it attracted world-wide attention almost instantaneously and aid commitments along with messages of sympathy started pouring in followed by all sorts of rescue experts armed with their equipment medical teams with lots of medicines and plane loads of food and utility goods. This humanitarian response has come while the loss of life in the havoc has been estimated in thousands. This may be compared with the loss of life in the Bengal famine of 1943 when radio and the press had limited reach and other limitations in view of the war situation and being under the dominating influence of the British Raj. Noble laureate Amartya Sen says:

‘The last big famine that struck India was in 1943 during the British Raj. Three million people died because the truth was not allowed to surface’ (Hindustan Times, Jan 30). But he ascribes a different reason for press ineptitude: ‘In a multiparty democracy this was not possible’, for political parties feared elections and they could not risk ignoring people’s misery. Reasons apart, the fact remains that no tears were shed over the death of three million Indian people. So many lives were swept under the carpet.

Questions unanswered: All the top leaders of the state machinery were busy in connection with the Republic Day celebrations for about a couple of hours whereas the tragedy had overtaken about an hour before the celebrations started. Whether those at the helm had been informed about the tragedy before they went into a state of inaccessibility? When did they become seized of the situation and went into a mode of action? In these days of diminishing time span between survival and extinction, say in case of nuclear bombing, even by chance or by mistake, can the whole state machinery remain benumbed? Did not this happen when Mrs Gandhi was assassinated or when the Masjid in Ayodhya was demolished? Have we learnt any lesson from faltering in the past? Where do we go after the makeshift actions and arrangements? When shall our national leaders behave more maturely to save the people from real threats that dare them and disengage themselves from political skulduggery over false perceptions of national ego?
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