An open letter to Modi

September 4, 2016

When you speak of Pakistan

An open letter to Modi

Dear Modi Sahib,

I trust this finds you well. I am writing to you from Lahore, Pakistan after hearing parts of your speech made at a highly impressive Independence Day ceremony.

You have been blessed with a talent for persuasive public speaking. Such talents, as you must know, come with great responsibility -- since you steer discourses and, perhaps more importantly, imaginations.

In your speech, you referred to the lack of compassion, or worse acts of celebration, in Pakistan when the territory of India is hit by terrorism. You referred to India’s compassion at the time of the Peshawar school attack and legitimately so. No one in Pakistan can forget Peshawar, how we kept hoping against hope that day that the worst was not true. And we in Pakistan will never forget the outpouring of support this country received that day and for many days after. We remain grateful.

The reason I am hurt, even offended, is that you pretended in your speech that Pakistan does not care the same way -- and portrayed ‘Pakistan’ as a monolithic entity. As if it does not have hundreds of millions of people -- with names, faces, multiple identities -- who worry about and derive happiness from the same things as people in India do. Those kids in Peshawar would never celebrate a terrorist attack on India. A mother who has buried her soldier son wrapped in Pakistan’s flag would never want a mother in India to go through the same.

Of course when it comes to extremists, both countries have their fair share. That is a battle our two countries must fight together. Furthermore, calling for due process or passionately advocating compliance with norms of human rights is not glorification of terrorism. It is a reminder that we should abide by our proclaimed principles even and especially when it is most inconvenient. Gandhi ji would agree with that. We are not hostage to our citizenships, we are human beings first and calling for protection of human rights in troubled areas in India or Pakistan is one’s right, in fact duty, as a human being -- a duty far greater than any under conferred-by-birth-citizenship.

When you speak of Pakistan why not speak of its people who, like their counterparts in India, fight important battles against injustices every day? They care about the education and wellbeing of their children and the health of their loved ones. Just as people in India do. Millions of Pakistanis belong to, have roots in or know stories of the same parts of the earth an Indian citizen invokes when she sings Punjab-Sindh, Gujarat-Maratha, Dravida, Utkal, Banga. Why would Pakistanis not care? Pakistanis admire the beauty of Vindhya-Himachal-Yumna-Ganga every time they celebrate the mighty Indus.

Part of the duty of patriotism must be to eliminate fears, discourage bigotry and point to love and friendship as the general rule -- instead of reversing the equation and pointing to hatred as a starting point.

They break out into impromptu dances to Bollywood numbers, at weddings and even study sessions, and tap their feet to Zakir Hussain’s tabla. Their idea of a treat includes arranging a movie-thon involving Amitabh Bachchan or Naseeruddin Shah. They will gather in large numbers at Wagah not primarily to shout nationalistic slogans but to ‘see an Indian’. So deep are the lines of division already that people on both sides need to see a person from the other side to believe that ‘the other’ are ‘normal’.

Why further such division and suspicions? Dozens were blown up at Wagah not too long ago yet they still go. Why would they not care Mr. Modi? These are people who, individually and collectively, would and did stand up in respect as Sachin Tendulkar turned his head skywards and walked onto the pitch in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar. Just to savour him and all that he represented -- of Mumbai and India.

No matter how late it may be at night in Lahore, you can always drive to a market and hear a Lata number in the distance. Come and see the smiles it spreads. Despite this, you think we do not or would not grieve or mourn with India?

Pakistanis have seen their children, parents and loved ones leave home -- never to come back because they were in a school, a hospital, a court, a market, a church, a temple or a bus that was blown up. They have consoled strangers while swallowing their own tears as they buried loved ones. They have stood in doorways desperately waiting for a loved one lost to terrorism. They have closed doors on rooms and made beds, for one last time that will never be slept in again. They have buried soldiers, policemen, and grieved in the wake of violence just like people in India. Whatever their beliefs may be, Tava subha Namme Jage, Tab subha Aashish maage remains true as they carry on. And our two people refuse to give up on the idea of peace. Why not assert that collective promise?

In my study room at home, there hang photographs of Jinnah as well as Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar. Photos sent by friends from India. Why should I or millions like me be invisible to India? Why should it be invisible that Pakistan’s political spectrum is a rainbow, just like India’s?

Pakistanis sat glued to their tv sets for multiple days as Mumbai burned. They held vigils and said prayers for the safety of all Indians -- knowing that terrorism presents a collective threat to our existence. Arnab Goswami will not tell you that but a visit to Lahore will. These people will be the first to donate blood to any sick or injured without asking religion or nationality. They cannot introduce themselves to you, just like a billion plus in India cannot. But you can introduce these people to India.

Whether we invoke Khuda-e-Zuljalal or Bharat-Bhagiya-Vidhata in our anthems Mr. Modi, we are asserting the same trust and belief in a higher power -- undertaking a journey of faith. This should unite, not divide, us. Part of the duty of patriotism must be to eliminate fears, discourage bigotry and point to love and friendship as the general rule -- instead of reversing the equation and pointing to hatred as a starting point.

If democratic governments derive strength from a majority within their borders, they should not ignore peaceful majorities in neighbouring countries when speaking about them.

Our states, our people and our politics, Mr. Modi, have different shades -- please do not obscure this hard truth. India is a dazzling rainbow of diversity and, if only you would care to see, so is Pakistan. Why inculcate in a people, any people, a belief that they are somehow better, more righteous or superior than others? I promise you that we in Pakistan will continue to oppose any such discourse here. Wouldn’t Gandhi grieve for the loss of our common humanity and humility? Is it not violence to teach a people that those across the border hate them?

If on a simple journey we can stop and ask for directions when we think we are headed in the wrong direction, why would we not stop and re-evaluate when destinies of more than a billion are involved?

I hope that next Independence Day, both you and Pakistani leaders can say something that will free us from the enslavement of hatred and mistrust. That will be the real Azadi. Aur Lahore dobara zaroor aai’ye (Do come back to Lahore)

An open letter to Modi