India, Pakistan share a culture, language – and the same evils
by Devika Mittal
“Pakistan ke log bhi ladai se utni hi nafrat karte hai jitni ki hum” (Pakistanis condemn war as much as we do)
“Pakistan mein bhi kuch log dharm ke naam pe ladai karte hai par ye ger-kanooni hai” (In Pakistan also, some people fight in the name of religion but this is illegal)
These were the thoughts expressed by Indian students when asked to write something about Pakistan, at the end of an Aman chaupal session, an initiative of an India-Pakistan friendship platform named Aaghaz-e-Dosti. As part of the initiative students are told about the other side of the border which their biased and political media will never tell. Though generally the students are not told but are encouraged to ask questions from someone who is from or has been to the other side of the border. In this session, students in a Delhi school were told about Pakistan – its geography, politics, culture and people. They were told about Pakistan’s rich diversity in terms of language, religion and culture, a reality contrary to the popular conception of Pakistan in India. In order to address the misconceptions that students had about Pakistan, they were also told about religious minorities, religious fundamentalism in Pakistan. They were told that like in India, there are problems in Pakistan. Like in India, there are people who use religion for their own interests, and that the people of Pakistan condemn violence like we do.
The students who were hardly 15 years of age understood this and wrote this when they were asked to write a message for Indo-Pak peace. They could have written something more common and moderate, but this is what they wrote; they shared their solidarity with the people of Pakistan. But it surprises me that people much older and much ‘wiser’ have not understood this. People in both countries use the other country as their measuring rod. Their view about themselves is shaped by the condition in the other country. One of the most famous examples would be the discussion on religious minorities. Any talk on religious minorities in India would mean a comparison with treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan. And the same goes in Pakistan. This tendency of comparison holds true for many issues. But the fact is that in all this comparison politics, we must know who is suffering. We must know that this comparison is against progress, against humanity. If the other country is treating a certain community badly, it doesn’t give us the legitimacy to treat ours horribly too.
This comparison politics has other vices. Recently, I read a news item in India about the unfair treatment meted out to Hindus in Pakistan forcing their migration to India. However, the news report was silent on their struggle within India, their demands from the Government of India. Similarly, a news item in Pakistan stated that Muslims and Dalits are not allowed education in India. It was a clear exaggeration. While it had happened only in a particular case the heading seemed to suggest that all Muslims and Dalits in India are denied education. This was a clear exaggeration and miscommunication but this is what frames the popular mindset. I must state that here too, the students turned out to be smarter than these older and “wiser” people as they themselves said that media exaggerates for the sake of TRPs. But the older and “wiser” people do not understand this. They fail to see the politics within. They get trapped in this half knowledge and miscommunication which is then used by religious fundamentalists for their own motives. The religious fundamentalists will use this hatred for legitimizing their own evil. This happens in Pakistan, just like in India. This is also used by the state to divert attention from more important concerns in both countries.
We need to realise that both India and Pakistan are diverse countries. We cannot form a homogeneous picture. It is diverse not only in terms of culture, religion but also in terms of people’s thoughts and opinions. True, that in some parts of India or in Pakistan, something wrong and condemnable may be happening; but that may not represent the view of the entire population. There are contrasting voices in both countries. There is religious fundamentalism, sectarianism, conservatism in both countries. Social, political and economic problems exist in both countries. But more importantly, we need to realise that this comparison politics will not lead us anywhere. If the feeling of humanity calls Indians talk about the rights for Pakistani Hindus, then the same humanity should also call them to care about the religious minorities in their own country. Humanity should also call them to reach out to those who are suffering irrespective of their religion. We need to be a bit more bothered about our own domestic politics before intervening into what is happening on the other side. We need to be a bit more wiser to understand this conspiracy that is being played out.
Both India and Pakistan are developing countries. They are both lagging behind. Both have failed to give basic rights to their citizens. Both countries have communal politics. Both have marginalised several sections of the society. Both are also diverse countries. Let’s spare each other for our own good. The students realised it and its time that the older and “wiser” do as well.
This article was published on South Asia Monitor
Devika Mittal is the convenor(India) of Aaghaz-e-Dosti and a core member of Mission Bhartiyam.