I can love my country without having to humiliate yours

For one of my research projects, I was in contact with a Pakistani student living in the US for his studies. On one occasion when I called him he answered that he couldn’t talk right then as his friend, Abhijeet, was asleep in his studio apartment. The next day, I asked him out of curiosity that Abhijeet didn’t sound like a Pakistani name and he replied that he was Indian. They had watched a movie together and since it was too late at night he offered Abhijeet to sleep over instead of walking to his place two buildings away. It made me think of Indo-Pak love and hate relationship. Recently Pakistanis went through one of the saddest tragedies of their national life after the APS incident. More than hundred innocent citizens were killed in a brutal terrorist attack in Mastung, Balochistan. Some pictures were shared of patriotic Pakistanis, from the life of the martyred leader and the mourners after the incident, standing on the Indian flag laid down on the ground, as an expression of their protest against alleged Indian involvement in terrorist activities in Balochistan and other parts of the country. We can very well understand the state of mind one is after losing loved ones. For security agencies, on both sides of the border, it’s a convenient scapegoat stance of putting all the blame on “foreign hand”. It further infuriates the hatred amongst the populace against each other. This is a sad and dangerous state of affairs, since both the states possess nuclear weapons and a war between them is going to be a deadliest one. They both keep on issuing claims of having attained maximum killing capacity as their national achievements. The missiles are named after heroes and symbols from national histories like Agni, Prithvi, Ghauri etc. A war-prone media and rightist wing extremist parties and groups are active in both the states. They keep on glorifying war with each other in name of religion or nationalism. Rapid population increase and ensuing challenges of feeding, educating and employing this huge number of citizens is a serious issue and persuading population control is a challenge for governments and activists, since it’s considered irreligious and against the traditional norms. I sometimes can’t figure out the dilemma of how on one side the focus of fundamentalists is on increasing the population and on other side they advocate a destructive war that would kill millions. It’s like we are producing fodder for the battlefields. Right before the inception of these two states, the world witnessed the horrors of the Second World War including the Hiroshima and Nagasaki disasters. As Mark Twain had said that the greatest lesson that we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history, so we didn’t learn and kept on glorifying the war and gaining deadliest weapons in name of deterrence. The gesture of humiliating each other’s national symbols accentuates antagonism. We need to be careful about at least public display of such gestures. Even if some of the aggrieved citizens show such public expression of hatred in desperation, the media needs to exercise caution over publicizing it. Social Media in any case is beyond the control of all traditional value systems and in many cases the governments. Whatever control can be exercised must be put into action categorising such images or comments as hate speech. Though India is a secular state, still there’s a religious connotation associated with the state and its symbols. Seeing my flag or a national or religious symbol being humiliated by someone is going to hurt my feelings. Same goes for my counterparts on other side of the border. With a huge number of illiterate, semi-illiterate or “religiously literate” population in both the states, and the last category being the most dangerous one, there’s a growing stronghold of hate-communities countering the peace-constituencies. The peace lovers on both sides are a positive reality but their activism and influence gets subdued by the noisy extremist propaganda. One can still be a nationalist if one advocates peaceful co-existence with a conventional enemy. It would be much more interesting if we could transform it all toun-conventional friendship. We can love our national symbols and respect others’. Sharing of such pictures of humiliating gestures and comments for each other make the task of peacebuilders even more difficult.

Our young ones on both sides of the border are protective of each
other and cherish their similarities. While we, their elders, take
pride in humiliating and degrading each other

Pakistan-India relations are sometimes referred to the classic Disney characters Tom and Jerry. They can’t live without each other and keep on fighting each other tirelessly. One positive thing about cartoon world is that characters never die. This is to keep the targeted audience, the children, safe from the trauma of death. The real-life situation is different – we will kill and get killed in this Tom and Jerry show. We have many peace-oriented examples to look back (and forward) to. Ashoka, one of the bravest characters and a killer par excellence, later became a symbol of peace and reform in governance. Under Mughal emperor Akbar, cross-religious harmony was initiated and respect for each other’s norms and symbols was encouraged. Sufi poets have provided an intellectual base for tolerance. Salah ud Din Ayubi , after the victory in fiercely fought wars during crusades, made sure that religious and national symbols were protected following the Islamic injunctions of war ethics. Besides these local examples, there are many lessons from the European history of leaving behind an antagonistic past and moving forward towards a common pursuit of development in the region. If Germans and French after a history of killing each other in big numbers during the two world wars, can coexist as peaceful neighbours, why can’t the sub-continent states follow the example? Let’s not make religion an excuse as we have many examples of perfect cross-religious harmony in the region.

A young boy, an Indian, a Hindu, a vegetarian can be friends with a Pakistani boy. They share the family values, can relate to aroma of spices used in regional cuisine, can enjoy the Bollywood music and films, can jointly attend qawwali mehfils, can understand the desi rituals, can even watch a cricket match together rooting for their own teams, and can sleep over if it’s too late at night, without the fear of being killed by each other. Our young ones are protective of each other and cherish their similarities away from us. While we, their elders, take pride in humiliating and degrading each other. The “tiranga” and the “sabzhilaliparcham” are to be acknowledged and respected equally. They are symbolic representation of the people of their respective sovereign states. An environment of fear and hatred can never be conducive for development. Let’s stop fearing and degrading each other and let’s begin caring for each other, like speaking softly to care for Abhijeet if he is sleeping at his friend’s place.

The writer is an assistant professor of Political Science at Kinnaird College. Her email is ahawan99@gmail.com

Published in Daily Times, July 22nd 2018.


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