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The Janus Dilemmas

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By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

Janus, the Roman god of Doors gave his name to January. This ancient Deity has two faces: one looking into the future, the other into the past. The very pragmatic Romans realised the truth of the saying, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’

What civic upheavals occurred in the year gone by that we need to recall, and consciously avoid? Were they haphazard and unconnected events, or are they more than straws in the wind pointing to the increasingly authoritarian shape of things to come? We are both, neither gifted soothsayers nor trained astrologers but, as fairly aware columnists, we have trained ourselves to see trends in seemingly unrelated happenings.

We start with events in a little island-nation better known for its strange beliefs based on a unique amalgam of African mysticism and Christian practices called Voodoo.

It is a highly emotional and ritualised system that relies on skilled houngans /mambos who have built a spiritual aura around themselves. This god-like presence is not unique to that country. Some of our Indian states have adopted such dystopian practices. Do you recall citizens being tied to electric poles and being flogged by policemen in civvies without legal sanction? Do you recall vigilante justice being meted out without any condemnation by those in powerDo you remember civic authorities using bulldozers to demolish lawfully erected buildings without getting the law to sanction such wanton destruction? Haiti’s capital, Port au Prince is ruled by 100 armed gangs, including some made up of renegade police personnel! What happened there, and is probably still happening, is the natural outcome of an official approval of the Bulldozer Raj. Do we want that future?

Myanmar and Martial Law – Our beautiful neighbouring state, once known as Burma, got itself into a mess because of the conduct of its politicians. Or, so its armed forces believe. The army took over the reins of government. But there is an enormous difference in running a defence establishment and managing a civilian one.

As Tennyson expressed it in The Charge of the Light Brigade, for defence personnel the code of conduct is, “Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die”. The concept of an offence varies between the Defence Services’ point of view and the Civilian one. It is an offence to appear for duty in the wrong uniform. It is no crime to be dressed differently from your colleagues in a civilian establishment. The Generals who rule Myanmar felt that the last elected PM of their country was defying their orders so they have ensured her imprisonment till the end of her life. Her trial defied all the concepts of justice. In spite of this, there is a growing tendency in our country to create Armed Forces under the jurisdiction of Ministries other than the MOD. We worry that this shows an increasing disrespect of the normal judicial system in favour of a population ruled by diktat. We lived through this during the, so-called Emergency. And it was a terrifying experience.

Iran and Religious Fanaticism – When political parties lose their grip on their voters, they turn to religious fanaticism. This has happened, in its worst form, in Iran. Their “Morality Police” killed a woman for not keeping her head covered properly. This was the last straw. Hordes of irate Iranian women took to the streets in protest and they are still doing so. This fanatical intolerance is worrisome because we see signs of vicious bigotry growing in many sections of society in our land. Our ancient Indic faiths evolved as the most tolerant on the globe. No other nation has as diverse religious sects as the extremely austere ‘cloud clad” Jain saints and the Aghori sadhus. And yet we tolerate rich and well-dressed religious leaders baying for the blood of people of another faith. Where does tolerance end and politically encouraged fanaticism begin? Are the bearded political-priests of Iran great role models for our netas?

Finally, we don’t have to look abroad for a political role model. We have one in a person named Gandhi. Did you ask “Which one?’’ Sorry, we don’t reply to the deliberately dumb.

(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who was a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)