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January 25, 2016

An alternative discourse


January 25, 2016

India and Pakistan share a long-standing animosity. Even as the world becomes more connected, we see the hostility as something akin to a birthright. We parade and wear the hate like a badge of honour, fuelled by an unending conflict over land. We have made it a salient aspect of what makes us Indian or Pakistani, turning it into a glue that unites our citizens — to divert attention from the differences within.

The language of our discourse, news media, popular culture, politics and diplomacy reflects this hostility. There is no grand conspiracy for the status quo, nor a cloak and dagger mission to prop up this confrontationist attitude. What exists is a strange comfort, a habit reared over the years, a habit that we have used to forge the very chains of our hate.

It is easy to brand another country as the ‘other’ or as a ‘threat’ when the dominant narrative reinforces that thinking. We are unable to really see those who live on the other side of the man-made line and understand their pain, fear, hopes and dreams.

I know through experience that when Indians and Pakistanis meet on neutral ground in a foreign land, we end up staring at a mirror — the same language, customs, hopes and aspirations. When I attended college in Britain, my best friends were from Pakistan. We studied together, ate the same food, loved the same songs, films, sports and understood each other at a level not possible with students from other nations. The friendship developed through a natural process, and we even discussed India-Pakistan relations with fervour and gusto, having long and loud discussions.

However, that discourse itself reflected the very root of the animosity — our fear and our pride. We are afraid of being seen as weak, malevolent or unjust. In each other’s company, when we discuss the issues of our nations, we try and prove our sides as ‘better’. When we talk about corruption, poverty and the state of minorities, the discourse spirals down to ‘it is worse on the other side’; we seem afraid of honestly discussing the extent of the problems in our nations.

We are divided over what caused the wars between our two countries, even the outcome of all military campaigns. We refrain from exposing those monsters, poisonous sentiments and medieval mindsets that feed on our insecurities and reinforce the walls that divide us.

Why do we still struggle with this ‘hate hangover’? Why can’t Indians and Pakistanis agree that terrorism is a scourge on both sides of the border? Why do we refrain from joining hands to condemn those who cause death and destruction in our lands? Why can’t we agree that there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ terrorist? Why can’t we admit that corruption, poverty, economic stagnation and communal disharmony are hindering progress on both sides?

The language must change. The current India-Pakistan discourse is reminiscent of a bar brawl. It does not reflect an enlightened polity and is magnified by the hawks of the fourth estate who are not interested in specific issues and socio-political contexts, but in simply upholding an aggressive stance. When those who are supposed to be our intellectual watchdogs promote such discourse with relish, they do a huge disservice to society.

The media and civil society of both nations must draw out the liberals and the intellectuals with the courage to discuss the state of affairs with honesty and conviction. There is a long list of such people, especially the youth, and they must be given prime platforms. Media organisations and civil society simply need the resolve to unleash narratives to counter the loud, pervasive discourse of loathing, fear and doubt.

A serious, comprehensive and non-adversarial India-Pakistan narrative can have a significant effect on mindsets, and can primarily deny legitimacy to hawks who call for an end to cultural and sports ties, which still struggle to hold us together. A sense of purpose can go a long way to understand the value of prosperity, fulfilment and service to humanity when we tread the road to peace.

Even as our soldiers continue to die at the Line of Control and civilians face the blind fury of terrorism, as a student of history, I have seen that peace and love have always prevailed and overcome the trials and tribulations posed by the darkness of humanity. The United States and South Africa have achieved racial harmony after decades of unrest and violence, sidelining a mindset that treated one as ‘inhuman’. After decades of struggle, sexual orientation is being discussed openly.

What is common is that a group of people challenged a dominant narrative and persevered for the sake of something better. I cannot believe that the media’s determination to unleash a non-adversarial and constructive narrative will achieve nothing.

It may not be in my lifetime, but I have no doubt that Indians and Pakistanis are destined to live together as friends in an environment of peace and harmony. There will always be those who will create roadblocks using religion and politics. Along the way, lives will be lost, and we will be scarred with hatred and disappointment.

Nonetheless, we will limp and drag ourselves to this destiny, and our humanity will win. Those who seek to divide and break us will never rest — and neither should we.

The writer is a senior news editor at CNN-IBN in India.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @Jamwalthefirst

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