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Published in the 1-15 December 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Indo-Pak friendship: real or artificial

By VB Rawat

As the craze for peace among the middle classes is growing in India and Pakistan, one wonders, whether this peace between the two nations is real or artificial? Have we overcome the age-old prejudices? Have we really come out of the grip of the old rhetoric’s of two-nation theory? Have we really accepted Pakistan as an independent state for whatever be the reasons? Have Indian intelligentsia accepted Jinnah as a visionary or will they continue to equate him with Savarkar or other Hindutva lunatics? Has the Pakistani leadership really given a thought to whether their Pakistan represents the dreams of Jinnah? Whether Pakistanis will continue to treat India as a ‘Hindu nation’ much to the interest of the two nation theory protagonists?

We are still afraid of touching religious leaders. A Shankaracharya was arrested in an alleged murder case and the defenders of the Brahmanical order stood up in arms. A lunatic suggested that all the religious leaders should be given immunity. Immunity from what, I thought? Immunity to kill others? And the entire Parivar is in the street against this. For several years, human rights activists, humanist groups have been working for the release of Dr Yunus Sheikh who was charged for blasphemy in Pakistan and we know how difficult it was to get him released. 

And for this, we will have to take a hard look at our ‘golden’ past. We will have to take on the popular myths being injected in us through our media, textbooks, films, cricket as well as our forces. One wonders, whether the Indians or the Pakistanis will ever agree that there are peaceniks as well as villains on both sides of the border. It is not important to be part of the showbiz ‘peace’. Can there be peace without freedom? And will this subcontinent and its leaders mind their own business of serving the people instead of communalising every issue here and there. If freedom of dissent is not there, then the so-called peace does not mean anything, perhaps sometimes it become more dangerous because then the defense of fanaticism is done not by the religious lunatics but by the self-styled peaceniks.

We are still afraid of touching religious leaders. A Shankaracharya was arrested in an alleged murder case and the defenders of the Brahmanical order stood up in arms. A lunatic suggested that all the religious leaders should be given immunity. Immunity from what, I thought? Immunity to kill others? And the entire Parivar is in the street against this. For several years, human rights activists, humanist groups have been working for the release of Dr Yunus Sheikh who was charged for blasphemy in Pakistan and we know how difficult it was to get him released. Babu Gogineni, Executive Director, International Humanist and Ethical Union worked hard in this matter lobbying with the governments abroad but it is ironical as not many peace groups or even human rights groups were interested in the same. Even when Babu gave this information to me and we spoke to several journalist friends, none of them showed a keen interest. Hence it is important that a South Asia that we talk of must have space for dissent, which unfortunately is not present. 

It seems the Jehadi elements in Pakistan who consider themselves the sole representatives of Muslims of the subcontinent, as well as the Hindutva brigade who justify Hinduisation process in India as a counter to Islamic Pakistan, have developed an upper hand because of the inadequate response from the secular people. There are many reasons to believe in it. If a Shankaracharya in a criminal case, their chums would say that nothing is being done against Imam Bukhari while if the latter is involved in any case his supporters would say that it is the Hindus who have deliberately done it. And see the tamasha (show) over Shankaracharya that barring the DMK leader Karunanidhi, Indian political leadership is just crawling. It is crawling because the head of the Brahmanical social order is jailed. He cannot do anything wrong according to Manu Smriti hence the ’courts’ have no jurisdiction over him. The ruling party’s response is just the defense that we are not involved in this. The fact is that most of the religious heads in India have millions of rupees stashed away in their names. And ironically they all preach against maya and materialism without ever making any attempt to get rid of their big bank accounts.

Wagah Match
Therefore, one should not just go overboard with victories of ‘secular’ Congress or any other secular party which are predominantly upper caste Hindus but also highly orthodox even in the matters of foreign and defense policies towards Pakistan. And one such sugar coated pill of communalised nationalism is put in front of you at the border with Pakistan at Wagah. At the border of Wagah, which our ‘peace-keepers’ visit regularly, the biggest match between India and Pakistan is played regularly. It is a match, which is going to be used by the communal elements both in India and Pakistan in future. It is a match where the communalists seem to have won because we have fallen in their trap without questioning their jingoism and pseudo nationalism.

I recently went to the Wagah border. It was beyond my imagination that over 10,000 people would come to see the parade in the stadium inaugurated by former iron man Lal Krishna Advani several years ago. There is, however, a smaller place for the same on the Pakistan side. The crowd start gathering at the BSF’s ‘Swarn Dwar’ at around 4 pm and form long lines. Border Security Force Jawans and officers are there at the gate. While the crowd grows in numbers, the officers enjoy this particular match where they are the superstars. At 4.30 PM the crowd is allowed to enter the stadium and there is a virtual stampede. With no law and order, people run here and there to get the best seats on both the sides to see the parade. Older women and people with special needs have no room in this scheme of things. My wife Namita who was on a wheel chair found it difficult to even move ahead with the ultra nationalism virus overcoming most people, we decided to see it the next day. Not only do the urban middle classes come here to ‘praise’ the strong built Jawans, but there is a virtual rush among India’s bureaucrats, their relatives, journalists all with their mobiles and video cameras are there to see the Parade which is a match of wits and strength between India and Pakistan. It is a match of ‘machoism’ as war, army, bombs, everything is macho in this world of armament. ‘Sisters’ praise their ‘Fauji brothers’ and do Bhangara when they salute the tri-colour and walk briskly towards their Pakistani counterparts. Wives of senior Faujis, bureaucrats clap to see these Jawans facing Pakistan. Suddenly, the Jawans become a symbol of India’s machoism at the border. One does not know how many of the Fauji officers and their wives start thinking of giving the same respect to the Jawans they deserve. Hope, none of them ever think of making the Jawans their personal assistants ferrying their wives and daughters to the market and doing shopping for them. As I guide the wheel chair of my wife to show her this jingoism, none of them are ready to make an allowance for her special need. Contrary to this, some of them ask a familiar question which we have become used to, living in this part of the world, where disability in a woman is a curse," Is she your sister, said one woman. I was angry at her, why the hell are you interested in her, I asked. But the truth is that woman amidst this machoism is nothing but a symbol of total dependency and the people there can never think of a woman with physical disability getting married to a ‘normal’ man. That is what the symbol of macho power makes us. They make a mockery of the symbol of equality. Even at the Wagah border, while everything is there to celebrate, there is no space for people with special needs. They have to ‘ask’ for help.

Inside the gate, the BSF Jawans are preparing for the show. Some people get the Tiranga (tri-colour) from the BSF office to make the programme more patriotic, and we have deshbhakti songs like Yeh Desh hai veer jawano ka from Naya Daur and Mere Desh kee dharti sona ugle and our people are jumping on the song. Outside the gate on the Pakistani side they are also preparing for the show of nerves. The children are curious as to why our army put on this artificial show and why do we go overboard on the same. As the Jawans get ready for the parade, a voice comes from inside requesting people to say loudly. Vande… Matram say the crowd. Hindustan…..Zindabad, and these slogans are repeated. On the other side of the border is Pakistan Paindabad.

My enthusiasm dies with the slogan Hindustan Zindabad, for the simple reason that Hindustan is not even the official word for my country in the constitution. It is India that is Bharat and not Hindustan. I know Lal Krishna Advani, his friends and radio Pakistan continue to call India, Hindustan. As for Pakistan it justifies the two-nation theory by calling us Hindustani as if we have less Muslims than them and for the Hindutva people it is the natural name of India. As the Jawans start the ceremonial parade these slogans sometimes seem naughty. People clap looking at the other side of the border and similar things happening. On both the sides young Jawans tap their feet to look more macho. Interestingly, it is this competition between the Jawans of the two sides people come to see. The crowd does not sing any anti-Pakistan slogan yet it still looks upon that country with suspicion as they do us. Everyday, our borders open with this ritual and close the same way. Some call it a ceremony but for a majority of the people who witness this it is ‘nationalism’, that they learn here and look upon the Pakistanis with utter contempt. See their soldiers, how they look in front of our smart BSF men? 

This nationalism of a communal variety needs to be challenged. Why cannot we open our borders like the Indo-Nepalese border? Why is this kind of pseudo nationalistic parade required to boost our ‘national pride’? Why does it become the Hindu pride watching these parades. Are we playing into the hands of Jehadis who want us to become a typical Hindu Rashtra, a vision of which they have for their own brand of Islam? Do they know the dangers of a Hindu Rashtra or a country unduly proud of its military might? Unfortunately, people in India have not tested army rule particularly the upper caste Hindus and hence they chant this patriotic mantra that army is the best alternative to democracy. If they were sensible enough, they should have learnt from the experiences of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Philippines. In our own country, can we sensitize ourself and say that what the army did in Manipur, Meghalaya, Kashmir and Nagaland were justified. We all are fighting for a piece of land without understanding the aspirations of the local people.

About five years back, I got an opportunity to travel to Heidelberg, a town of Germany, from Paris. Some of my friends offered to take me by car to that town which was about 500 kilometre from Paris. I could not have asked for more, to see the border between France and Germany. And the result was a fantastic journey without any border police parading or checking you in a way that has become a hallmark in our countries. I often thought why couldn’t South Asia be like that? We don’t stop anyone from Nepal, because our foreign and defense policy establishments still feel that it is the Hindus of the upper caste variety which are the sole guarantor of the security of the country hence they don’t feel threatened from Nepal while the same is not true about Pakistan and Bangladesh. Wagah, therefore, symbolises our mindset and the sooner it goes the better it is for the plural society and secular values. 

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