Those on both sides of the border trying to keep hostility between India and Pakistan alive are facilitated by many who, while wanting to connect, unwittingly feed the peddlers of hate
As I rushed to a business meeting the other morning with an old friend, an ex-business colleague, my mind replayed my last conversation with him. He is a Kashmiri Pandit and strongly supports a hardline stance against Kashmiri separatists. We disagree quite strongly about the causes and solution of militancy in Kashmir but retain our friendship and business relations.
Our meeting was at the office of another Kashmiri Pandit in Ghaziabad. She owns her own business and we were doing a project collaboratively that involved our three business organizations.
Later, I as usual laid out my Aman ki Asha stall before her – my old friend had heard it all before. I shared with my new friend my experiences as a peace activist, the necessity of engagement with progressive elements in Pakistan and the sacrifices they make. She was quite pessimistic to begin with but warmed up gradually as the conversation progressed.
As we talked, I asked her to share her extended family’s story of the exodus from the valley in 1990-1991. It took some persuasion before she started talking about her experiences of intimidation and horror. None of it was new to me. I have heard echoed umpteen times from Kashmiri Pandits over the last couple of decades. Stories and threats of assault, abduction, rape and horror over an extended period of time in the early 1990s and a strong sense of “betrayal” by their Muslim friends and neighbors. The Pundits long to go back to their roots, something that would mean risking their lives.
I sympathized with her and shared my perspective of the tragedy that has befallen this heaven on earth. She expressed surprise and scepticism at my mentions of reports of brutality by Indian security forces.
As I bid good-bye to her, I struggled with how difficult it is to create a cohesive narrative that everybody can agree upon. The militants, their apologists, most Pakistanis and even some non-Kashmiri Indian Muslims hold that reports of what Kashmiri Pandits underwent in 1990-1991 is propaganda and a clever ploy by the Indian government to deflect criticism of its actions.
Conversely, most Kashmiri Pandits, like most Indians believe that allegations of atrocities by Indian security forces are propaganda to malign India.
It is as if there are victims of this Greek tragedy on both sides who have no sympathy or even an understanding of each other’s suffering.
When I shared these thoughts with my online friends, one of them responded with an interesting story about a friend of his who is an Indian army officer. Some time ago, while posted in Kashmir, this officer and his unit shot and killed a hardened militant — armed and active — in a tense encounter.
My friend told me what the officer said had happened next, how, still enraged, he had driven to the militant’s village with the body. He flung the body outside the militant’s house, knocked on the door and shouted to the mother that her son had come home to meet her.
As the officer narrated this, his mother overheard the whole story. My friend recalled how she ran out of the kitchen howling and crying, and clenched her son’s arm hard in horror. They asked him why he did it, and the Army officer replied, “There is no one you hate as much as someone shooting at you or any one who supports him”.
The next day I attended the annual cultural function at my children’s school. Along with the usual music, dance and other cultural programs, there was a song about universal brotherhood. One of the speakers stressed the importance of teaching humanity to the children – humanity that transcends boundaries of caste, sex, region, language and presumably nations.
As I listened to the rousing words, something struck me about the cleavage between what we teach our children and what we live by daily. We pay lip service to the ideals of “Vasudevaya Kutumbakam” (the whole world is a family). We spend much time listening to religious messages of love, compassion and tolerance, promise to do what is noble and teach moral science to our children.
Yet, we eagerly consume reports on news channels that feed us anger, hatred and psychosis in the name of religion/nationhood. A news report about “unprovoked firing by Pakistan” at the Line of Control or border never fails to upset us and we applaud the rhetoric of our leaders to “teach Pakistan a lesson”.
Presumably, this plays out much the same way in Pakistan, where the “unprovoked firing” is reported as being by India, and politicians threaten to teach India a lesson.
When the same newspaper or TV channel runs a story against our favourite political party/leader, we are quick to complain about the “paid media”. We see political leaders professional liars and cheats.
George Bernard Shaw famously wrote about a Native American elder who “described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time. When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, the one I feed the most”.
We feed the evil of hate and violence within and pretend that it resides outside of us. This is what causes us to de-humanise and see as “other” those we fight. It is what feeds our bloodlust.
Both the army officer and the militant are pawns in this game of hate that we play as a society, while we keep our pretense of morality and love for the nation/religion.
Our enemy does not live in those “militancy infested” regions, the GHQ or South Block. It lives in our compulsive need for an enemy that we can blame for the problems in our life.
All religious philosophies emphasise the need to conquer the dragon within before setting out to conquer the world. That is what the concepts of ‘atm-shodhan’ (self-purification) in Hinduism and ‘jihad’ (the greater jihad is the struggle within against your own weaknesses) in Islam is all about. Slay the dragon within and the dragons outside will disappear.
The author is an IT professional and a peace activist based in Ghaziabad, India. Email: [email protected]