A gunman is not a brave person. The media has been feeding us images of Rambos avenging their wrongs; Bollywood movies of the 80s and 90s always churned up blockbusters of lone gunmen going after the corrupted politician or the terrorising mafia don "Sunny Deol style". I still remember young boys singing "duniya bura maane to goli maro" (if the world takes offence shoot'em up!) at the top of their voices in the 90s and self-styling themselves after Omar Mukhtar-Lion of the Desert fame.

The thing is, it was/is a war of ideas, of opinions, of belief systems, of views and 'bringing a gun to the table' has never been a solution. There is no bravery in going into the home of a person to kill him/her simply for the fact that their belief systems and opinions are different from yours. It is cowardice. I remember the testimony of a Paris attack survivor which chillingly sounded familiar - "I saw what a bullet could do, I saw how devastatingly destructive it could be!"

What chance does a person have in front of a gun? Is it bravery to terrorise him/her into the belief you want him to have? What should be said of the belief that requires a gun or sword to be shoved in one's face to make a person see your point of view? What about the meaning of the word 'BELIEVE' itself? Belief is the state of mind in which a person thinks something to be the case, with or without there being empirical evidence to prove that something is the case with factual certainty. It also has synonyms called certainty, conviction. Another way of defining belief is, it is a mental representation of an attitude positively orientated towards the likelihood of something being true. So in all probability, there is also a scope for rejecting that belief or choosing to do away that belief. Most of our beliefs come from inheritance and conditioning of our societies. When one has physical and mental experiences, they can either reinforce the belief that was taught or totally negate it.

Therein lies the choice, to accept or reject. But our societies do not operate on this norm. They are vestiges of tribal societies of yore which needed sustenance in numbers and could survive hostile conditions only if everyone stuck together. But modern nation states and evolving belief systems have made it possible that individuality and individualism can be accorded a place in human rights - the right to find one's potential and if enough individuals do that then we can have a harmonious and pluralistic society.

But that is not on the horizon as yet and not by a long shot judging by the nearly 3 decades of violence we have had to endure. The current narrative demands that we follow the dominant discourse and quietly submit to the majoritarian view. But some morally courageous beings choose not to. This is where the 'gunman' comes in. Now gunmen operate from the belief system that anyone living contrary to his or her belief system has to be cut down. In my understanding, that is a mental disorder, a twisted logic that often precedes a terrorising act, or premeditated destruction. The reasoning ability has been deadened with the conditioning and because the mental perception is skewed, there are all sorts of justifications going on in the minds of the gunman or gunwoman.

There are two images which never leave my mind. A Kashmiri Pandit man cowering in a rice barrel in his last moments before a burst of an AK-47 ended his life and the rice mingled with his blood. The curse of my imagination often conjures up his cries and the shaking and trembling of his body, his mind having gone numb with fear knowing his end was near.

The second image is that of an LMG hoisted on a bridge and a military man's line of vision down the barrel seeing hundreds of peaceful protestors in dark hues in a confined space on a cold January morning. I can imagine his deadened mind with years of conditioning of the 'enemy' drilled in the military training academy and can't figure how he saw the swaying crowd with banners as the "enemy". Maybe because it was a new thing of its kind, never having been witnessed before and a hastily assembled paramilitary, deployed in haste was the culmination of a massacre that sparked an undeclared war. The stunned silence between the first shot and the subsequent bursts often paralyses me at odd moments.

They were both gunmen on opposite sides operating on their belief systems and they obviously were not brave. Yet each is eulogised in their own ways, in their own communities and hailed as martyrs or heroes depending on who got a medal and who achieved shahadat (martyrdom). To me, it's easy to pick a gun and shoot, it's ten times difficult to sit with someone and convince them, persuade them, debate them, discuss with them, dissuade them, make them see one's own point of view. And if the other party has a ready-made concept of how things should be, especially if they are fresh off the floor of the 'intifada factory', it becomes a battle of wills. Now that is bravery in the true sense because you are employing all the civilizational skills of listening, speaking, reasoning, logic, and even giving space to the other to put forward hi/her point of view. It goes further in the pride of the evolutionary scale that even if the two end up disagreeing, they don't have to hate each other for it. That has been the essential achievement of humankind. To agree to disagree and move on.

Those peaceful protestors should have been invited to a negotiating table and heard instead of being gunned down. The cowering Pandit man should have been taken into confidence and in the event of him not agreeing could have been left alone. Instead, it has been a cycle of violence and more violence. The gunned down protestors inspired more towards the perceived revenge justice of the gun and the cold-blooded murder of the Pandit man tore a fabric of harmony that had been there for centuries and can never be mended no matter how much we try to 'rufoo' it, our excellent skills at sewing and knotting our world-famous carpets notwithstanding.

A gunman is not brave. It's not bravery to put forth your view with violence. No amount of gallantry awards at military ceremonies and scores of people at funerals of martyrs is going to do away with the fact of lives having been snuffed out. Of course, self-defense is an oft-cited reason in these cases or the pet "they're after all freedom fighters". I see pictures of Kurdish women fighters splashed all across social networking sites and I can't help thinking how much the blood and gore of war is being glamorised. 

The anniversary of the APS, Peshawar tragedy again brought in stark focus what we have inherited from this 68 years of violence starting from 1947. These were sons and daughters of Army officers and they were targeted because the gunmen 'believed' they were avenging the wrongs done to their children. For me sitting from my vantage view of my hometown, nothing could be farcical and tragic than children being killed for having fathers in the Army, the same army that equipped the terrorists in the first place. Trust me, it's not a nice sight to see a gunman barge into your home and shout for you, cursing and swearing that what you have been talking around is bullshit and that I am going to pay for it with my life. It's pure cowardice in all its naked hypocrisy and it does the opposite of its intention. It shoots away the fear. It's better to battle in a cafe, or a madrasa, or a writing platform. I sincerely do "believe" that the pen is mightier than a sword.

I dedicate this piece to the Raif Badawis of Kashmir who in their own way, in their daily lives show/express dissent in a civilised way but are terrorised into silence. Raif Badawi is a metaphor for dissent and the lashes that the dissenters go through here are not visible yet each infliction cages the moral fibre of the dissenter that he/she is forced to recede either in the 'gulags of their minds' or take up a dual, conflicting stand which destroys his/her essence.