‘Let us recognise that in this catastrophe, as in all wars and conflicts, the poorest are once more the prime sufferers’
Anyone who knows anything about Rajmohan Gandhi would be unsurprised at his recent public appeal for the world to help Pakistan in its hour of need. Prof. Gandhi, a respected academic and human rights activist, has long been involved in efforts to promote peace between India and Pakistan.
It is no coincidence that he is the grandson of the great ‘Mahatama’ Gandhi, who literally laid down his life for Pakistan’s sake. Gandhi’s fast unto death until India agreed to give Pakistan her share of revenue so infuriated the Hindu right wing that Gandhi’s murderer Nathuram Godse who subscribed to the Hindutva ideology felt justified for carrying out the assassination.
Last week, Prof. Gandhi, currently a Research Professor at the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Illinois, joined hands with Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United Nations Hussain Haroon to raise awareness about floods that have devastated millions of Pakistani lives. Speaking at a press conference on Sept 3 at the UN Headquarters, the two men, whose grandfathers were friends, jointly appealed for world solidarity in response to the floods.
“I feel and pray also for the hundreds of thousands of courageous Pakistani children, women, men, and the elderly who lost in minutes what was built over a lifetime or inherited from the toil of earlier lifetimes, and who are ready nonetheless to face the future,” Prof. Gandhi said. “They are life-loving, not death-loving, millions.”
“We have to get the conscience of the world working on this jointly,” he added, calling for more widespread, generous and long-term assistance for those affected by the floods. “Let us recognise that in this catastrophe, as in all wars and conflicts, the poorest are once more the prime sufferers, losing not a portion of what they had but all they had. Their sorrows are unrecorded, their heroism unsung, their pain unremembered.”
He hoped that the floods would help South Asia to reorder its priorities to extract some good out of the tragedy, which also created an opportunity to bring down the “walls of hared” between India and Pakistan and to create a climate conducive to developing friendly, cooperative relations.
Ordinary Pakistanis, Prof. Gandhi noted, were helping each other, with young people displaying astonishing courage and leadership, including Pakistani student groups abroad. That should be seen as a proof of the strength of Pakistani society, despite the country’s image in the world media.
Terming the joint press conference “historic”, Hussain Haroon spoke of the personal friendship between his own grandfather Abdullah Haroon and Mahatma Gandhi, whom he noted was extremely concerned about the welfare of Muslims of the region.
In response to a question he said that militants are clearly willing to take advantage of opportunities, but those who are most affected are not militants but the “uncomplaining hard core” of Pakistani society.
Rajmohan Gandhi said that the disaster could increase unrest, but there have been strong reactions against the attacks carried out during such an emergency. He hoped that people would come together across ethnic, religious and class lines.
He welcomed the aid extended by the Indian government, saying many Indians had made personal donations. He hoped that the government and the people of India would come forward with more help. It was “up to all of us” to help reshape the relationship between both peoples at this profoundly human moment. An awakening of common humanity is possible and can produce reconciliation between peoples, he said, although it was difficult to predict how it would affect the controversy over Kashmir and other big issues.
Regarding the response of the United Nations to the floods, Mr. Haroon said there was a “strong burst of activity” before and after the Secretary-General’s visit, but the momentum had flagged a bit. He warned that the devastation caused by the floods so far “is the tip of iceberg, the worst is yet to come”. There are going to be severe, long-term needs he added, noting that Pakistanis themselves were supporting “18 million out of the 20 million people affected”. Pakistan was a granary of the world, so there would be severe food shortages beyond Pakistan, if the world did not act now.
There is a shortage of some 900,000 tents and other commodities, he said. There were still only 15 helicopters available to cover the affected area. Domestic assistance capacity is exhausted.
India could play a great role, provided more people like Rajmohan Gandhi came forward.
Rajmohan Gandhi thanked all Indians who had helped so far, but said the Indian heart could do so much more. Everyone in the world must feel accountable for what they are doing, or not doing to help the victims of the worst floods in living memory.
– AKA with reports from APP and the UN