The monsoon flooding and the deluge that swollen rivers have devastated long traits of north India, killing many and flattening whole villages and towns, have stunned the country and left us to bemoan countless tragedies. Why is it that the Lord Almighty has visited these irreparable losses on ordinary people, most of whom are pious citizens with unwavering faith in a just and humane God as their protection? That these disasters have happened, without a hint that they are retributions for unknown causes may even occasion a questioning of the very existence of an omnipotent trans-human force intent on seeing our world as basically capable of improvement. Will these horrible tragedies boost atheism and adharma out of a profound erosion of faith in God’s providence? How is it that even shrines and pilgrim centres dedicated to God were not spared?
Calmer reflection would modify such thoughts. A more practical and useful attitude would turn our collective attention to what we care about so as to lessen the likelihood of mass disaster and devastation. Blaming natural disaster on God or the perversity of some unknown power is irrational. Such phenomena happen, not because they are visited on us by a perverse Providence, but due to climatic changes beyond our control. It is also contrary to reason to argue that they are a punishment for our vices or lack of faith in God. Equally, it is not right to assume that a divine and omniscient power is keeping a score of every person’s good and bad deeds, virtuous and vicious thoughts.
Then we come to what we can do to mitigate these natural disasters. One measure is to intensify our capacity to anticipate climatic changes, and improve our precautions against sweeping disasters. We cannot prevent the next deluge, but timely action would have saved many lives and saved many crores worth of construction. Finally, what we need is not a ban on pilgrimages or religious gatherings, but more public education for cooperative effort to improve our safety standards in civil engineering.
A. Madhavan is a former Indian Foreign Serivce Officer. This is a web-only column, not published in print