Can anyone tell me why India and Pakistan don't get along?
In 1950, three years after the partition, my great grandfather, who was living in Dhaka (then Dacca) at the time, was brought to West Bengal, India, by his sons.
This was not a voluntary move, for Charuchandra Dasgupta had lived in Manikganj almost all his life and saw no reason to relocate to what was now an independent India. The communal riots in East Pakistan of that year further pressed the resolve of his sons, who ultimately prevailed upon him and that was the last he ever saw of Dhaka.
In the last week of August, a conflict transformation workshop organised by Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP) - a not-for-profit organisation set up with the Nobel Peace Prize money endowed to the Dalai Lama - brought together Pakistani and Indian nationals in New Delhi. They were to engage with one another on issues of importance to both countries (to their credit, this was the 10th edition of this annual feature on WISCOMP’s calendar).
I was a participant in the workshop, and trite as this may sound, the experience holds the possibility of forever changing the way I look at Pakistan and Pakistanis.
I had met Pakistanis before but never engaged with them on a level of intimacy and involution as this time round. What followed in the course of the four-day period at the workshop was very revealing, not only for me but also for every other participant in the programme.
I am by no means hyperbolising when I say that it took just a little over a day for me to make friends with people from 'across the fence'. In no time at all, we were actually jesting about each other’s stereotypes. So, to illustrate, the Indians were accused of machinating to destroy Lollywood, and Pakistanis were charged with loving India's cinema more than her people. This was all done in good humour. Of course, there were a few participants who seemed content with keeping to themselves but they were the exceptions.
There were so many points of commonality that it seemed ironic for us to belong to 'enemy countries', as a guest speaker also pointed out. If Bollywood was a great unifier, it must be mentioned that our Pakistani friends knew more on the subject than we did, or at least I did.
Our love of musicians from across the border also turned out to be a great topic for discussion. One of the first audio cassettes that I remember buying as a child was Junoon’s Azadi some 15 years ago. On odd days, if you listen very carefully, you can still hear me humming Kyun Parishan.
Why then, if we know so much about each other, do we not seem to get along?
I am afraid that is a very hard question to answer although possibly a simpler question couldn’t be posed. On a superficial level, it might seem very easy to make a list of things we hate about the 'other', but on a philosophical level, can we justify that list and swear to ourselves that it would hold true for eternity?
I, too, have my fair share of problems with the Pakistani state just as I’m sure Pakistanis have their share of problems with the Indian state. Today, I might have a more legitimate claim to bitterness against their state but yesterday, perhaps Pakistan did. The Pakistani state will have to reassure the Indian state by doing everything possible to avert another Mumbai.
However, that in no way should impede our right to engage with and visit each other. Making friends and sustaining those friendships is one way we can hope to get out of this quagmire. Also, the whole idea of limited visas wherein most Pakistanis receive permits to visit only one or a few Indian cities, and Indians, too, receive permits to visit only one or a few Pakistani cities needs to be scrapped.
How can one call oneself a South Asian under such throttled circumstances?
Agreed, South Asia is a recent construct and this part of the world has always been known as the Indian subcontinent. But do I not hear peaceniks on either side (not to forget like-minded Bangladeshis, Nepalese and Sri Lankans) hoping to forge a new, post-colonial South Asian identity?
Well, such a thing must be worked for and will not drop, all of a sudden, from the sky.
Our guests (and now friends) from Pakistan have returned home. I hope we stay in touch because after all the geniality and warmth exchanged, the real challenge will lie in our being able to sustain those ties and informing friends and family in our respective countries that the other is, in fact, quite similar.
A partitioned subcontinent need not necessarily mean partitioned people.
Charuchandra Dasgupta, I’m certain, would agree.
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