They found his body in a river. He might have been any 22-year-old, but in the past ten days his face and name became the cause of social media speculation. To analyse it as mere online dysfunctional behaviour would be superficial. It reveals deep-seated prejudices.
Sunil Tripathi, a student of Brown University in the US, went missing on March 16, after he quit his studies. He had left behind his wallet and cellphone in his dorm room. His parents started a search, using every possible avenue, most prominently a Facebook page and YouTube videos. His photograph became familiar.
A month later, on April 16, the bomb blasts happened in Boston at the Marathon. Of the two men in the blurred images, one resembled Sunil, whose face had brought out so much sympathy from strangers. It got linked to the blasts by virtue of the vague similarity, and his disappearance. Devious mischief-makers projected this as a case of 'Hindu terror'.
When it was confirmed that the two attackers were Chechens, and Muslim, there was counter-jubilation. Sunil's unfortunate death at such a young age got transformed into martyrdom. The medical coroner said that there was no evidence of foul play.
There is every reason to believe it, for he had no connection with the Chechen brothers and had made no overt attempts that would reveal where he was. An accident, a mugging gone wrong are possibilities. He was also depressed.
His death and the blasts are far removed and yet in public memory they will be seen together.
Rather surprisingly, it isn't just by outsiders. The Independent reports:
“The family of Mr Tripathi, who was studying philosophy, said they were trying to seize on last week’s negative publicity and use it in their efforts to trace the young man."
I can understand the situation. But, will anyone say the Tripathis did not care for the victims of the Boston blasts? Or that they are not concerned about terrorism? Of course, they are. They live in the country. Sunil was getting a good education. Their attempt to use the negative publicity could be attributed to desperation.
In fact, except for that one statement, they have shown amazing grace. In a statement where they thanked the public for their support, they also added:
“Take care of one another. Be gentle, be compassionate. Be open to letting someone in when it is you who is faltering. Lend your hand. We need it. The world needs it."
This has not happened among the rabid Hindu rightwing. For them, it became an occasion to bait Islamists, and everyone was seen as such only because of the faith they were born into or pursued. Those who had not even mentioned Sunil were taunted as supporters of terrorism. There is just so much insecurity that no one cares about those who die because of terrorism, wherever they are. To assume that one billion people are terrorists is absurd. To assume that all of these one million support acts of terror is vile. To convey that except for those belonging to the faith of the terrorists, everyone is a natural victim reveals a truly superior delusional mindset.
One might recall the denial about Dhiren Barot, Al Qaida’s “first Hindu operative”. I had written then:
The Barot episode brings the prejudices even more sharply to the fore. The British Indians are distancing themselves from his Hindu origins. The message being that it is only "those Muslims" who indulge in terrorist activities. This is a curious denial of contemporary history, for Indian Muslims have been systematically put to test due to Hindu radicalism. And it has not been done by militant organisations, but by the State establishment in places like Gujarat.
Using a young man's death to gain sympathy for a cause is as bad as those who implicated him. However, the “editors of the Reddit social-news forum apologised for what they said turned into a 'witch-hunt'."
What sort of hunt is on now? It is disturbing because instead of putting matters to rest, as Sunil Tripathi's parents have done — and they should have been granted the privacy to mourn — the web world is not going to let it go. They know little about Chechnya, and the fact that two bomb blasts in Pakistan, one in Peshawar and another in Karachi, were carried out by Chechens. So much for pan-Islamism, Muslim brotherhood and uniformity.
In India, we do know that there is Hindutva terror, either by what people like to call 'fringe elements' or by organised groups, and in rare cases elements within the state machinery.
It most certainly is not to the extent of fundamentalist jihad, and the primary reason is that Hinduism is not practised in as many regions in the world as Islam is. Fanatic Islamists end up as enemies of their own people. Where does the Al Qaida operate from? Where is the Taliban concentrated in? The Hezbollah? What has happened to the Arab nations that strove for democracy? The rebels ended up electing religious leaders.
Where does the anti-kafir stand figure in all of this? We just read about the minaret destroyed in Syria. Mosques are bombed. I don't care much about buildings, although their sanctity lies in what they offer to the devotees, like any other place of worship. But why are people who pray to the same god targeted? This is not collateral damage, for they are planned attacks.
As long as this will be ignored to give forum to an archetype, it will bring out just how inhumane social discourse has become where death become theatre. The baggage of bigotry spares no innocents.
The tragedy of Sunil Tripathi is that he got caught up between other deaths before dying.
© Farzana Versey