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Keeping a score

The importance of holding on to humanity

Keeping a score
Family of the man killed by a mob near Delhi over rumours of eating beef.

A murder over allegations of eating beef in India. A petition in Pakistan seeking a ban on Ahmadis from sacrificing animals on Eid; violence against this community and its violent exclusion from all notions of rights in Pakistan continues to worsen. PEMRA asking us to watch our thoughts and speech because we might offend Saudi Arabia. This has not been an easy week. Then again, it has been just another week for this country — and the region.

The biggest tragedy in all of this is the ease with which we have abandoned our humanity. Instead of reflecting on our own shortcomings, and the injustices we perpetrate/condone, we in India and Pakistan continue to mock the other. One murder or one atrocity need not shame us, as per this view, since ‘the enemy’ has done much worse. Is this a competition for who has lost less humanity — with no acknowledgement of the fact that we continue to be less humane towards each other as well as towards the vulnerable within our borders? Both countries seem to be on a crusade (ironically enough) to force particular notions of religious or nationalistic purity down our throats. Those who do not buy this narrative need not be punished by the state; all that the state needs to do is look on while some devotee of the state-sponsored gospel slashes another’s throat. Let there be mourning and outrage in the aftermath; a lesson would, nonetheless, have been taught to those who stray from the righteous path.

People in Pakistan outraged by the murder of a Muslim man in India are somehow robbed of the same compassion when it comes to concern for minorities within our borders. In this country we mourn, and declare martyrs, those who tragically passed away in accidents during Haj. And we should mourn such deaths. But why do we then discriminate or feel nothing when people within our borders are murdered, in cold blood, in mosques, churches or en route to pilgrimages? Why does their religion or sect become more important? What notion of humanity results in looking at a body soaked in blood and then checking the deceased’s religion before deciding how to feel about that death?

Those who exhibit concern for humanity, and not just people of their own religion, are told in both India and Pakistan to leave the country if they do not like it. And, let us not forget, the so-called progressive media in both states contributes to this. There is a certain violent version of purity, or commitment to the national project as defined by the powerful, that is fast becoming a pre-requisite for secure existence.

The media in both countries wants us to compete with ‘the other’ in every possible way. Part of this competition is extended to which country’s prime minister waved to the other first. Any sign of extending basic civility to ‘the other’ is a sign of weakness. Being humane is a sin — it corrupts you and the national project. It weakens your blood soaked soil and betrays the promise of blood that you want to spill. This mind-set finds only a particular kind of violence abhorrent with complete disregard for humanity. Essentially, it is about keeping a score. The concern is not with reducing violence affecting your own kind but to do so in a way that celebrates violence against ‘the other’.

What could explain this? The most plausible explanation, yet again, seems to come from Adam Smith: sympathy is imagination. And failing to sympathise with those who suffer is a failure of imagination. We seem to have been conditioned in a way that we cannot imagine what those facing violence, because of our actions or silence, go through. Such is the power of this disconnect that those who try and awaken our collective conscience must be shunned — banished from the motherland or its protective sphere. In doing this we insult our country, our humanity and our motherland. Yet the greatest insult in this is to the concept of motherhood. What mother extends selective protection to her children? What mother holds some of her children close but throws others into the fire?

If being humane is a sign of weakness then I hope that more than a billion in India and Pakistan become fundamentally spineless and succumb to their humanity. More violence or wishing for more violence will not in any way avenge the lives we have lost on both sides. Facilitating, planning and celebrating more deaths is no way of honoring those who die.

Both Modi and Sharif seem to care deeply about their legacies. Both want to do a lot to raise their respective nations’ stature in the world. But shunning humanity or falling prey to calls for violence within and across their borders will leave that project in tatters. It will catch up with us eventually. It already has in so many ways.

When making commitments to the country, we invoke the motherland. When setting out aspirations, we refer to the future of our children. Yet we are insulting the love of mothers and love for children every single day.

Waqqas Mir

The writer is a practicing lawyer. He can be reached at [email protected]

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