Speak up for a peaceful future

India and Pakistan have both entered into their sixty-ninth year of independence this August. The generation which suffered the misery of partition but still nurtured the nostalgic remembrances of its place of origin is near extinction. However, the generation which now overwhelms the demography on both sides is young in age. If India has the world’s largest young population of 356 million, Pakistan is also one of the world’s largest youth bulge countries demographically speaking. This population on either side has neither experienced the trauma of partition nor seen the three wars, yet it’s condemned to live in an atmosphere of mistrust, hatred and war phobia.

If media reports, TV debates and ultra-zealous social media are any yardsticks to judge the popular sentiment on both sides, it seems to be one of absolute animosity. The intermittent acts of terror in India perpetrated by the so-called ‘non-state actors’ from Ajmal Kasab to Naved harden India’s conviction that talk and terror can’t go together. The consequential reverberation of reactive jingoism in India sends tacit signals across the border that the ‘Hindu India’ is a bully which has never accepted Quaid-E-Azam’s ‘two nation theory’ and hence inherently inimical to the very existence of Pakistan. Does the young population of India and Pakistan believe in noises of competitive xenophobia or would it prefer to write a new script inspired by shared history and culture to make up the trust deficit?

Pakistani-Canadian author Tarek Fateh’s talked about the book The Jew is Not My Enemy read with interest in India too, questions the centuries-old prejudices of his own community towards Jews. Nevertheless, his thought-provoking perspective also persuades us ask some fundamental questions viz. aren’t we indoctrinating our young generation with traditional prejudices, incessant propaganda and dissuading them to verify truth? Do they lack the intelligence and personal courage to question the lethal stereotypes pushing us to point of no return? No doubt besides real irritants, Indo-Pak relations are also a victim of some unfounded prejudices and suspicions. For example, a misapprehension shrouds the Pakistani mind that India is a Hindu Rashtra (nation) and, therefore, a threat to Islamic Pakistan. 

The fact is at no point of time India was a theocratic state. It was secular in its spirit even when the term ‘secularism’ was not introduced in the preamble of its constitution following the 21st amendment in 1976. It’s a Hindu populated nation and shall always remain so, but this population has learnt to cope and live with diversity in a much exemplary fashion than the Jews, Muslims and Christians - offshoots of the same Abrahamic tradition. Ideally, there should have been a better chance of them living together in harmony because as Tarek mentions in his book: “By all rational standard, Muslims and Jews should have been, and could be, partners. Their faiths are very <g data-gr-id="71">similar .</g> There were even times when Muslims and Jews prayed together around the tone covered today by the Dome of the Rock [in Jerusalem].” In reality, the entire West Asia today is hostage to the Arab-Israel conflict with no reconciliation forthcoming from either side.

On the contrary the 180 million Muslim population in India, near close to the population of Pakistan, not only lives in peace and harmony but also enjoys position of preeminence, respect and admiration in the so-called ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Why should then such a Hindu Rashtra be inimical to a neighbouring Islamic republic is beyond any logical comprehension. Mistrust hardens when radical groups in Pakistan extrapolate the ‘two nation theory’ to justify its interest in Kashmir. Accepting it will be contrary to the very idea of secular India and may lead to further hostility. Despite occasional communal conflicts, the Hindu-Muslim relation in India is based on a common understanding of shared history, culture and tolerance. Perhaps few people in Pakistan would know that the script of the immensely successful tele serials Mahabharata, one of the most sacred epic scriptures of the Hindus, was written by the acclaimed literary figure of India Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza. It was he who made the sublime messages of Mahabharata intelligible to the generation which may not have read the epic. On the other hand, it’s Gulzar who immortalized one of the tallest figures of Urdu literature Mirza Ghalib through his extremely popular tele- serial on the poet whom the new generation would have forgotten. He wrote, produced and directed this masterpiece. But neither Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza was a Hindu nor Gulzar Sahab is a Muslim. They’re icons of India’s rich composite culture. Labeling them as Hindu and Muslim will be blasphemous.

In fact, while many developed nations are struggling to cope with diversity, India has not only learnt to live with it, but also to celebrate it. Accepting and enjoying diversity are also the basic preconditions for survival in the globalized era today. Surely a sizeable section of Pakistan’s civil society and intelligentsia also believes in it. At least the views expressed by eminent Pakistani columnists in their own and in the Indian media, their candid writings, discussions, debates often indicate that introspection and self-criticism thrives in Pakistani society too despite threats of radicalism. Many of them abhor and reject fundamentalism as much as Indians do. One finds Pakistani journalists and authors often questioning the distortion of their own history, dictatorship, religious fanaticism, the relevance of their India-centric national security doctrine and a host of other issues which Indians feel concerned about. So then why can’t we must speak our mind to clear the misgivings, to denounce radicalism, to make up the trust deficit? One is reminded of Faiz’s inspiring lines: Bol, key lab <g data-gr-id="76">azaad</g> hai <g data-gr-id="77">tere</g>: Bol, <g data-gr-id="78">zabaan</g> ab tak teri <g data-gr-id="81">hai</g> which can encourage the youth on either side to speak up and engage in meaningful dialogue for a better future.

(The author is a senior faculty of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. Views are personal.)
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