Saturday, June 11, 2011

Collective responsibility

One summer day a few years ago I was walking back from work to my flat on campus (Warwick Uni). It was a nice day, but I was tired and dirty from all the dish washing, so I just wanted to get back home, have a shower and sleep. Something changed my mood though. Three men I had never seen before stopped me and opened with the question: "are you a Hindu?" I am not religious, but they looked South Asian, and Hindu is as much a reference to how you are brought up and how you live your life, as it is to religion, so I said yes; thought I had nothing to lose, maybe make a few more acquaintances. Their reaction shocked me: they started giving me a spiel on Indian atrocities in Kashmir, Indian soldiers raping their women, killing their people. I was scared, they looked angry enough to start getting physical, I expected a gun in my face any second. But I was lucky, they wound up after a few minutes and walked away giving me dirty looks and muttering expletives.

I was shaken. One thought of irony kept coming back, that I had lived almost my entire life in India and I had not run into a single Kashmiri in all those years (of course, I remembered later that Coventry was a settlement zone for refugees, and that there probably were a few of them living in the area). After I had cooled down, I started thinking about the encounter. Short bursts of outrage at being blamed and attacked for something I hadn't done kept bubbling out from me every so often. Every other incidence of a situation where I was blamed for something I hadn't done started surfacing. Through all this a new conclusion surfaced: it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that I hadn't done any of it personally or even remotely.

The human mind associates and categorises, and the fact that I am an Indian and a Hindu was sufficient for them to associate me with the Indian army and the Indian state. I had no clue if the Indian army had done what they said it had or not, but again it did not matter either way: what mattered was that they honestly thought that it had. I am not building up to a sermon on how one should take responsibility for one's community, country, etc. No, what I am building up to is the fact that one is going to be held responsible by association whether one wants the responsibility or not. And this fact works for every possible categorisation, religion, race, profession, nationality, doesn't have an end. One can not even pick and choose, one can not say I love my country and am willing to be held responsible for its every action, but I don't want to be held responsible for, say, all the doctors in the world: no, that doesn't work either.

Of course, it's not all bad. Given one's situation quite a few good things could come out of association too. In any case I am not writing to decide on the good or bad of it. I am more interested in how interwoven life is, and how it can surprise even the most aware with new or unthought of connections. 

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