The dialogue goes on

The dialogue goes on
Dilip D’Souza and Beena Sarwar

Dilip D’Souza and Beena Sarwar end their email exchange series with a pledge to keep the dialogue going

Dear Beena,  (June 17 2010)

You ask a pointed question: whether I, “like most Indians, think that if the Kashmiris just stopped agitating, all will be well?”

Well, I’m not sure what “most Indians” think about that, but I don’t think that at all. To begin with, I don’t think the Kashmiris will “just stop agitating” in the near term, and that’s why all is not well now and will not be well for a while. There is too deep a reservoir of resentment and anger for any kind of “normalcy” to return soon. No doubt that only gets further fueled by such measures as the cell phone restrictions. Our governments never seem to comprehend that clamping down on one means of communication cannot stop people from communicating. They will find ways.

I remember the family I met in Srinagar on my first visit on ’04, warm and welcoming. On my second visit a few months later, even as I entered their home I got the feeling I had overstayed my welcome. Yes, I thought they were being unfair in their coldness this time around. But our conversations had given me an idea of the complex mixture of affection and doubt, suspicion and the desire to reach out, that made up their feelings towards India and Indians like me. If we Indians want all to be well in J&K, we need to search for ways to understand and address that.

Yasmin Qureshi’s questions are ones that trouble a lot of Indians: what indeed is the meaning of Indian democracy when there is so much tension and unrest that we are now seeking to eliminate by force? (And will that eliminate it anyway?) (And should a democracy be in the business of eliminating it? or addressing it?) Yet there are also plenty of Indians who see nothing wrong with the use of force. Maybe the concerns about Indian democracy don’t occur to them, I don’t know. And your last letter’s mention of the disappearances in Azad J&K/PoK — or should we ourselves make the start by referring to it as Pakistan-Administered Kashmir? — supports what the news tells me as well, that there is plenty of serious unrest and discontent in Pakistan too, and it gets fueled by the actions of your security forces.

In some ways what troubles me more than the tensions themselves are the divides they are causing among us. The language used across those divides (Kashmir, reservations, dam-building, Maoists, Babri Masjid and more) is so heated and polarised that there’s no debate or dialogue any more, just an abuse-fest. As perhaps I’ve indicated in our exchange before, that’s no recipe for answering wrenching questions.

And that’s the way I feel about our relationship with Pakistan. And that’s why I’m grateful for this exchange we’ve had, in our own way, over the last few months. At least we’ve discussed some issues that cause tensions between our countries. Nothing gets resolved with accusations, hostility and prejudice. Perhaps nothing will get resolved with our effort either, but it’s at least a tiny step ahead of slipping easily into accusations, and even tiny steps count. I believe that. I think I said once before, I have to believe it.

So thank you, and let’s do it again sometime.


Dear Dilip,  (June 18 2010)

I want to start by thanking you for initiating this exchange and driving it with your introspection and openness to other points of view. Sorry about that pointed question which unfairly made an assumption about what ‘most Indians’ think — of course there are many shades of opinion in India, and within those shades of opinion are other shades. Nothing is simple.

I think we agree that there are injustices on both sides and rather than the blame game, we need to look inwards at our own situations. Such introspection should include not just what’s happening now but the injustices of the past. Internally, perhaps, we need our own truth and justice commissions.

In Pakistan, there is a long list of such injustices, often perpetuated by military dictators, including discriminatory laws perpetuated in the name of religion, oppression of political dissent (not just in former East Pakistan and Balochistan but elsewhere), disproportionate use of force against dissent and deviance (police torture, murderous encounters, deaths in custody, never-ending court cases), discrimination against indigenous peoples in the name of development, unfair distribution of resources and more.

Of course there’s a corresponding list for India. In fact I find it amazing that the world knows so little about the injustices that have led to the ongoing unrest in Kashmir, Manipur, Chattisgarh, and elsewhere. Too few people know about the Manipur women who came out in ‘naked protest’ against such abuses, or Irom Sharmila, the amazing young Manipuri woman who has been on hunger strike for TEN YEARS in protest against the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act that is applied to seven north-eastern states besides Kashmir (Andrew Buncombe had a great piece on the issue recently –

I’m not trying to point fingers. We in Pakistan have our own versions of draconian laws and oppressions that people have been protesting against. India does a far better job at playing down the situation and avoiding bad press.

That makes us jealous. Not that we want you to have bad press too, but it would be nice if we had less. Or at least, if people also saw our human side and the tremendous fight that people are putting up against injustice. That is something else we have in common. Surely, we need to gain strength and learn from each other’s experiences.

This is the last of this Conversations series, but Dilip, let’s keep the dialogue going in any way we can — ‘Guftugu bund na ho,’ as Ali Sardar Jafri wrote, hauntingly sung by Seema Sehgal. Both Mumbaikars like you though Seema is from Jammu. She generously allowed me to use her music in my documentary on Kashmir last year (online at Now Aman ki Asha is initiating a campaign against visa restrictions, Milne Do (same title as my docu). I know you share my views on this — let people meet.



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