Should Pakistani Hindus leave the mother country and move to India if they feel insecure? Should Indian Muslims leave India and move to Pakistan if they fear for their life and limb? Should India and Pakistan be allowed to tell the other country to properly protect their minorities or would this constitute interference in the sovereign affairs of the other? How long should governments, civil society and NGOs in India and Pakistan — and indeed, Bangladesh — wait until they publicise this matter so they are not surprised by the moving chain of events?
As the largest exodus of Indians inside India since Partition, all of the above questions stirred some sleepy heads. Approximately 30,000 people belonging to the north-eastern states fled Bangalore, Mysore and Pune last week, where they had been working for several years, coinciding with the movement of a few hundred Pakistani Hindus from Pakistan to India.
In fact, here is another question: can we compare the internal exodus of north-easterners inside India with the cross-border travel of the Pakistani Hindus into India?
For those of us who grew up on second-hand memories of the trauma of Partition, some answers are clear: the large-scale movement of people from one geographical space to another, especially if it is motivated by fear, must be dealt with immediately. It does not matter where the movement takes place, inside India or across the border. Citizens have a fundamental right to life and this means they cannot be allowed to become refugees.
Other questions — and their answers — are much more complicated: is the forcible conversion of Hindu girls by Islamic zealots or the Christian girl being falsely accused of burning pages of a religious text inside Pakistan better, worse or equal to the lynching of innocent Muslims by Hindu mobs in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002?
And lastly, should the horrific terror attacks in Mumbai be treated on a par with the deadly acts of ethnic or religious fundamentalism wreaked upon ordinary citizens inside Pakistan?
If we are to bring a semblance of sense to the violence and revenge that has wreaked such damage on our lives, then the last answer is clear: there can never be parity between the Mumbai attacks and the religious extremist violence inside Pakistan, simply because no Mumbaikar ever invited 10 Pakistani citizens to cross the choppy waters from Karachi to the Mumbai coastline and indiscriminately kill 166 people and wound a few hundred others.
Why did the attacks take place? Nobody really knows why because no one called the editors of The Times of India or Greater Kashmir to claim responsibility. The motives may range from crippling India’s financial centre and, therefore, India, to damaging the sense of equanimity that Indians had begun to rediscover as a result of substantial economic growth with social equity.
Cyber wars, proxy wars and territorial wars, India and Pakistan have seen them all. There can be no closure for Mumbai’s trauma because of the inability to provide motive for perpetrating that act.
You could ask what Mumbai’s terror has to do with the large-scale movement of the north-easterners from one part of the country to another or the escape of Pakistani Hindus into India. There are no real answers, let alone easy ones; only a few stray clues to measure our lives by. Among them is the memory of Mumbai’s Muslims refusing to bury the nine Pakistanis who wreaked such mindless horror on those November days and nights of 2008.
Is revenge the defining idea of our times? Must we turn our anger on hapless women and men because it is so much easier to prey on the weak? As for the victims — chosen on the basis of their ethnicity, religion or country — is their pain somehow worse?
Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2012.