By Avanti Chhatre
The recent terrorist attack in Uri has, as expected, worsened the already fragile ties between India and Pakistan. Increasing tensions on the border and an ever-looming threat of an escalation of the conflict are realities that any concerned Indian should certainly take stock of, in his or her own little ways.
How does a perceptive individual from India, or even Pakistan, respond during such volatile times? By reflecting, thinking, and ultimately forming (and voicing) an informed opinion that supports the common good and humanity at large? Or by getting angrier by the day, creating hysteria, demonising the Pakistani people, and aggressively silencing those who may beg to differ with this strategy? It is unfortunate and worrying that large sections of the people have chosen the latter path. These include chest-thumping news anchors, who remain intolerant to differing perspectives; political and quasi-political outfits which are self-appointed guardians of patriotism; and a number of people who express their anger through crass Facebook posts. Masquerading as unflinching patriotism and a deep love for the country, this is a pernicious sort of rabble-rousing and mudslinging jingoism. Although jingoistic responses are also a personal choice, these tendencies indicate a hateful and divisive mindset that is getting increasingly prominent, ensuring that bigotry prevails.
These are times when hatred, chauvinistic frenzy, and zero tolerance to multiple viewpoints are beginning to pervade cultural politics. A famous Indian news anchor has taken it upon himself to “expose” not just the Pakistani bureaucrats and politicians he invites and slams on his show, but also people from either side, who choose to hold views different from his and to not partake in his cacophonic hate-mongering. The likes of him are part of a powerful factory. And one can’t be sure if this factory produces love for the country, but it definitely manufactures intense hatred. Hatred for the “damn Pakis who need to be taught a lesson” and for all those “weaklings”, who repeatedly insist on peace. This is a mentality that aggressively asserts itself on highly influential platforms like social media, as innumerable status updates, tweets and memes from either side of the border spew venom against the other side.
Not surprisingly, right-wing groups in India have threatened to stall any cultural ties between the two countries. In addition to threats issued to Pakistani artists working in India, a reputed educational institution had to cave in under pressure from these groups and disallow Pakistani students from coming here for a cultural and sports event. Cultural exchange programmes are an ambit that allow for some semblance of normalcy between the two hostile neighbours. They provide a space where people from either side can communicate with each other and unite against hatred. People-to-people contact brings Indians and Pakistanis together so they realize that the “other” across the border is not a demon but a person with a face, and someone who, in all likelihood, wants the two countries to have friendly relations. Thanks to pressure tactics of the hate manufacturers, this space is shrinking and may even cease to exist.
This deep hatred is not going to lead anywhere. Signals to Pakistan that their artists have no place in India are not going to solve the oldest political conflict known to Indians and Pakistanis, neither is this going to make terrorists change their modus operandi. What this persistent and senseless slandering by the jingoists will do, however, is that it’ll make both sides hate each other even more. Hatred will age and age until it transforms into a dangerous vitriolic monster which will kill reason, love, and any hope for peace. Is this monster patriotic? Perhaps, not. Patriotism is flexible and can assume benevolent forms as it is driven by love and concern for people who inhabit the country. It entails devotion to a particular place. It does not require an imposition of values and opinions on everyone and a consequent cataloguing of people into “good” conformists and “bad” people who disagree. Therein lies the difference between patriotism and aggressive nationalism, as George Orwell once pointed out. And more importantly, one doesn’t have to espouse their patriotism by making India-Pakistan relations sound like a righteous “us” versus the evil “them” struggle.
Governments, armies and terrorists will not alter their decisions or actions anytime soon. Public opinion, however, is more amenable to change, even though it takes long and reclaiming minds colonized by hatred is more difficult than instilling hatred into unassuming minds. The least we can do is defeat the anger against each other that consumes public opinion in the wake of political conflicts. Regardless of political or diplomatic exigencies, and irrespective of volatile borders, we must hold on to the hope for peace and normalcy. And that hope is nurtured by nothing but love for each other. To reiterate a truth that has been repeated so many times by well-intentioned peace initiatives that it has become a cliché, which cynics conveniently rebuff: we’re one. We face the same problems, terrorism being one of them. And we can acknowledge this only if we stab the hatred that threatens to creep into our minds with every gun that is fired across the border. Hatred is the only thing that deserves to be stabbed.
Saadat Hasan Manto, a writer loved in both countries, wrote after the partition, “Hindustan had become free. Pakistan had become independent soon after its inception but man was still slave in both these countries …slave of prejudice … slave of religious fanaticism … slave of barbarity and inhumanity.” The shackles of this slavery remain, and only thinking, loving, and concerned individuals can free this slave.
Avanti Chhatre is pursuing MPhil in sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.
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