A few weeks ago a small group of intrepid citizens from India and Pakistan, increasingly alarmed by the ratcheting up of tensions between our two nuclear armed nations, drafted a statement/resolution that urged both countries to ‘take all possible steps towards improving relations’ and aimed towards countering the hostility between the two nuclear armed neighbours.
Cynics continue to point out that nothing has changed on ground despite all the efforts and resolutions. But the number of those who have endorsed and promoted the idea, gives one hope. As has been repeated ad nauseum, the impasse between our two countries can never be solved militarily, it demands political solutions. Alas there are many forces, including the global military industrial complex, which has a vested interest in keeping the fires burning. The political solutions of which we speak are necessarily intertwined with our own perceptions about our many personal identities.
Personal is political
So who am I and why do I feel so strongly about peace between India and Pakistan. I am a service/fauji [Indian Navy] brat and a service wife. I was fiercely loyal to the Navy and the Desh — and our loyalty and patriotism would always be proclaimed loudly during every hostility with that dreaded enemy — Pakistan. It is ironic that many decades later, our daughter met and married a Pakistani and our grand daughter, Mira, is a beautiful example of the best in both our embattled countries and people.
Fortunately, circumstances enabled me to work and live outside the very protected, privileged world of the fauj, often an ivory tower existence that can be alienated from the rough and tumble of civvy street. I was soon forging other links, alliances and concerns — especially through my work with the women’s movement, the literacy mission and with the deeply entrenched issues of poverty, class, caste, ethnicity, and gender. It was this above all that served to push me into a fundamental rethinking of the complex issue of identity, and the imperative of working for peace.
Today I would say my ‘pehchan’ or my ‘identity’ goes far beyond those earlier accepted and limited role as a service daughter and wife — and are deeply linked to by being a woman, a feminist, a mother and grandmother, an educator, an environmental and peace activist, a leader, a writer. For me these are among my preferred primary identities.
There are other identities too like nationality, religion, language, class and caste. Looking back, I can only thank Rabindranath Tagore who taught me to question and ultimately reject, narrow nationalism and the idea of the nation state itself. Yes, I have an Indian passport but the concept of Vasudaiva Kutumbakam [the world is my family] transcends nationality.
It has been the same with religion — I was born into a Hindu family, but over the years I found myself more comfortable in a set of multiple religious and cultural beliefs. This has left one with a great sense of liberation where no single religious identity would influence my thoughts and actions.
If we are able to press for peace and dialogue between India and Pakistan, we need to be able to shed many of the inherited barriers and baggage of the terrible trauma of Partition as the precursor to Independence. We still carry those scars and have been unable to transcend the bitterness and hatred of the experience of partition, with memories being kept alive by succeeding generations, by media and increasingly by political compulsions of those in power on both sides. These scars and our own personal experiences have always shaped the nature of our response to the emotive issues of Kashmir, Indo-Pak relations, human rights violations and by extension the role of the army /para military.
I had quoted Barkha Dutt over a decade ago — as she shared her own conflicted and agonising questions when reporting from the front — once again addressing the dilemmas of dealing with nationalisms. Her words are worth recalling:
“National identity is one of the many factors that add up to make the sum total of who we are and what we write or report. It sneaks up on us and weaves its way into our subconscious, often mangled and confused, but still there, determining what we see and how we see it. And when I speak of national identity I do not mean chest thumping, flag-waving nationalism. I mean years of accumulated baggage, what we read in school, the villains and heroes in our popular cinema — in fact the entire process of socialisation.” – Barkha Dutt
Echoes of these dilemmas can be found in the kind of response we got to our own recent attempts to enrol many more senior former service colleagues to endorse the latest call for peace: Said a close colleague, “I am not sure why I have been included in this mailing list, but I’m afraid I find this unctuous discourse somewhat distasteful and even distressing — coming from those who have worn the nation’s clothing and eaten its salt. Nothing that you are urging your friends to do is going to have the slightest impact on the Pakistani ‘deep-state’, bent on dismembering India”…..strong words indeed.
And again: “Let us see how many peaceniks from Pakistan will endorse this resolution. I would like to see the reaction of the Pakistanis who have endorsed the current wishy washy resolution.”
On the other hand, we have several veterans from both sides who have strongly endorsed the call and are also active members of organisations like IPSI [India Pakistan Soldiers Initiative for peace] and PIFPD [Pak India Forum for Peace and Democracy].
There is no doubt though that it is particularly hard for those who wore uniform and fought for their countries to be able to overcome decades of conditioning.
In 2001, as we prepared for the historic summit between Vajpayee and Musharraf a reporter asked me as a bunch of us were busy with our own Indo Pak Summit — a bunch of school girls from Pakistan on a visit to UP — Lucknow and Kanpur whether this was a good time for a peace initiative? My reply was clear:
“National security is not guns and bombs and battles of territory, but human security in every sense of the word. Therefore peace initiatives are important and relevant at any time. If we are to wait for some magical moment when the ‘atmosphere is right’ — perhaps we will be waiting forever! So, the short answer is yes! An emphatic yes — the atmosphere is as right as it will ever be.”
We are in 2017 and the elusive pursuit of peace seems once again a troubled quest. But as we did then, I say now — peace is the only way — and it is really only we the people who can make it happen — and it is the children and young people who hold the answers in their hands.
As the late Nirmala ‘didi’ Deshpande, the Gandhian who initiated the idea of IPSI used to say: “Jang nahin aman chahiye, vinaash nahin jeevan chahiye – jai Jagat” (No war, we want peace, no destruction, we want life, victory to the world).