Dear Indian friend,
I hope that you will not doubt the intentions of this letter. Recently, there has been a lot in the news about growing intolerance in India and I just wanted to share some of our learnings. You see, we went down that road and it is a very dangerous path. In fact, we are still trying to find our way to the exit. Let’s just do a quick recap. Recently, I saw a gentleman on TV who was covered in black ink, sitting next to a former foreign minister of Pakistan, Khurshid Kasuri. Mr Kasuri was in India to launch his book and some extremists thought it a good idea to disrupt the book launch by throwing black ink on the host’s face. There was also something about Ghulam Ali — one of Pakistan’s leading singers — being forced to cancel a concert. On this side of the border, we also heard about a Muslim man being killed on the suspicion of eating beef in an Indian village. Then, of course, the BCCI cancelled its scheduled meeting with Pakistan Cricket Board officials because of threats from some right-wingers.
I understand that many of these incidents echo an anti-Pakistan sentiment. With elements on both sides of the border hell-bent upon pursuing this agenda of hatred, this doesn’t really come as a surprise. Of course, this does not mean that every Indian hates Pakistan. Just like most Pakistanis don’t hate Indians. Nevertheless, this is a dangerous trend. You are treading a path that leads to social disintegration. How do I know this?
You see, here in Pakistan, we are still fighting a battle against intolerance and bigotry. Basically, we are trying to undo our mistakes. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to pay the costs for our massive oversights. The biggest cost that we have paid is a complete breakdown of our society. From a society that was built on principles of empathy, we have slowly disintegrated into one that lacks this all-important trait. We also became immune to many things that would, in an ideal society, rile up the majority. We allowed ourselves to be hijacked by hatemongers who, by virtue of claiming a higher moral ground, continued to dictate a narrative of hatred. This hatred was fuelled by all sorts of differences; differences that would otherwise bring out colours of diversity in a society. Geographical differences, religious differences, class differences, sectarian differences — in short, any and every kind of difference became a divisive factor.
I am sure you will be happy to know that we are starting to win small yet meaningful victories. Take the Supreme Court’s verdict in a recent blasphemy case as an example. Take the recent treatment and safe return of an Indian girl, Geeta, as another example. In general, take Pakistan’s commitment towards wiping out violent extremism as the biggest example.
But you are now beginning to make the same mistakes that we made in the not-so-distant past. A few years from now, as this unchecked intolerance eats away the very fabric of your country, you will look back and wonder why you didn’t react when it mattered. You can fight financial corruption, and work for health, education, infrastructural development, etc., and yield quick results. This intolerance, on the other hand, will eat you from the inside. I guess I have given you a fair idea of what I wanted to convey to you. I hope that our two countries go on to fight against our common issues together. You know, a child who can’t read is just that on both sides of the border — a child who can’t read. A mother running from pillar to post for her young daughter’s health is also just that on both sides of the border — a mother caring for her child. A minority asking for true acceptance is, of course, just that on both sides of the border — a minority asking for true acceptance. Hopefully, a few years down the line, we can celebrate our differences and march on towards achieving collective goals.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 12th, 2015.
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