Shock and anguish were the first reaction to a news this morning about a racially motivated shoot out at a grocery store in New York. An 18 year old white supremacist young man had shot 13 persons, killing 10 of them. 11 of the 13 victims were coloured people.
This Victims in this case were all innocent and none deserved to lose their lives the way they did. Their families also did not deserve the ordeal and trauma or scar that may persist for life. The debate over this killing even in the United States focuses on gun laws. People assume that once access to guns is stopped, probably such killings may stop. They may not be entirely be wrong. With knives and hammers, far lesser casualties can be inflicted. Victims in such cases, may have better prospect to fight back and protect themselves. But what is more serious is the depth of hatred and poison in the hearts of such assailants as well as social and otherwise conditions promoting such state of mind or mental instability among a few.
There has been a complaint from sections within the American society, that most stakeholders of United States lack sincerity or conviction to address this menace. Their condemnations of such killings and expression of outrage sounds more like hollow rituals rather than real intent or purpose. Probably a steeply inequal and materialistic society, that worships wealth, may struggle to attach priority to an issue where victims are irrelevant in larger economic and political power equations.
Nevertheless, I feel that the regularity with which such shootouts have been taking place in the world's most powerful democracy, reflects serious deficiencies and dysfunctionality of some of their institutions. But such phenomenon is nearly universal in many democracies, even though their forms and contents may vary. Some of the underlying conditions that drive such racial or hate-filled attacks are omnipresent in nearly all plural societies.
But apathy towards human life may be more pronounced in some of the authoritarian societies as well as post-colonial democracies. Even the better governed authoritarian states, where masses may not have access to guns, it is enforcement agencies and their personnel who frequently unleash such or somewhat similar terror which may not even get reported. Many excesses and acts of violence by them may not have sanction of the political leadership.
Since the world look up to America to assess the standards of governance, integrity and efficiency of institutions and state of human rights in their own countries, it becomes imperative to delve deeper into this phenomenon and explore solutions that may be universal in nature.
Of course the American gun-laws are outrightly atrocious. There is no place for such laws in a society that aspires or pretends to be a beacon for entire humanity. But probably abolition of laws in themselves may not be sufficient. It is more important that effort is made to eliminate those conditions where people need such deadly weapons of mass killings. If they need it for their own security from wild animals or deadly criminals, let there be a less lethal weapon in the market that only immobilizes people but only temporarily, without causing any injury. Even sale and use of such weapons must be strictly regulated only for self-defense.
The second question that has come to fore is racial prejudice and motivation of the assailant. I have always maintained that democracies all over the world need to pay serious attention to usher in a firm and effective mechanism of rule of law. Even political mobilization in the name of identity- race, religion or language- must be banned. Attempt to profiteer out of identity politics is nothing but day light assault on principles of democracy and equality. This holds true not only for politicians but also religious seminaries or civil society groups who have been seeking to demonize all members of other identity.
I realize that there are certain theological principles and so-called religious texts that instigate violence against members of other faiths. These must be banned. Preaching or advocating violence or hatred against any community is no freedom. It is rather abuse of freedom and the biggest threat to lives, liberty and security of people as well as security and stability of states and societies.
Finally, I would call for re-prioritization of some of the governance objectives, especially in democracies. Human health-both physical and mental- has to be at the top. I am not advocating that democratic states should create an army of lazy parasites who produce nothing and consume a lot. But probably, all democracies need to create a citizenry that is physically and mentally healthy, professionally and technically skilled and ethically conscientious to foster optimal collaboration of the highest possible quality.
The attacker in this incident is certainly a mentally ill person. There are lot of mentally unstable and ill people around us. Some of them are sadly harming themselves but many among them are inflicting severe harm on their societies and people around them. If mentally ill persons get power- either in the form of a gun or even a position of authority- they may simply become unmanageable monsters.
A deterrent action, howsoever strong, can do very little to retrieve the situation once the harm of this nature has already been inflicted or some human lives have already been lost. Hence, it is important that democratic states restructure their priorities to attach optimal importance to physical and mental health of their citizenry. Wherever required, even families must be counselled to ensure that they provide optimal conditions for wellbeing of their children. A regular physical and mental health check-up must be mandatory in all societies for all individuals.
Similarly, universal access to quality education, dignity of labour, basic economic security must be prioritized. Leadership in democracy, or what I envision as Indocracy in its more humanised form, is all about leading people towards a better society that fosters better collaboration and trust. Hence, leaders must harness collective strengths and capacities of their people towards collective goals. Today the victims of attack from a mentally unstable may be few poor hapless black citizens of a mighty democracy. But tomorrow even the mightiest among the mighty may face consequences of reckless actions of normal looking insane persons, with lot of destructive power at their disposal.