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Home > News > Columnists > Sri Sri Ravishankar

Lessons from Pakistan

January 18, 2008

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When we retrace our steps in history perhaps we can learn some lessons from the unfortunate situation Pakistan is in today.

After partition Pakistan's population had 15 percent Hindus and 2 percent Christians. If Pakistan had promoted diversity then, the next generation would have grown up in a multi-cultural, multi-religious society and exercised more tolerance.

General Zia-ul-Haq during his tenure as President systematically erased this multi-cultural heritage replacing it by radical 'Islamicisation' of civil society and the army. The rich Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh legacy that was common between Pakistan and India was forgotten. Had they recognised that their ancestors were also part of these traditions, they would have imbibed and kept alive some of those values and that perhaps would have made them more tolerant and less violent. When people dispose of their own heritage it makes them intolerant and fanatical.

Pakistan, a land where many an ancient university existed and Ayurveda texts were written, where Hinduism and other religions flourished, has today seemingly forgotten its tradition with little respect for these religions. Unlike India, where the contribution of the Mughal empire is recognised and honoured, in Pakistan, honouring its diverse traditions and culture has been ignored. The result of this has been a mono-cultural, mono-religious education that has made them radical. Lack of exposure to her own heritage has cost Pakistan dearly.

When I visited Pakistan a few years ago, I met with several journalists and interacted with thousands of people. To my amazement they seemed to know very little about India's freedom movement or Mahatma Gandhi [Images] and his principles.

The young people that I met there had very little knowledge of either ayurveda, yoga or our rich Sanskrit and Vedic heritage that is common to both countries. Tolerance and appreciation of other cultures have to be developed from a very young age. Children in Pakistan know nothing about the Bhakti movement, the spiritual renaissance which the continent once witnessed.

Their knowledge of Mahatma Gandhi is limited to the fact that he was a Hindu saint and a freedom fighter and not much beyond that. And they lack knowledge of many other saints and Sikh gurus who have traveled to and lived in Pakistan; even of people like Chanakya who wrote the Artha Shastra, and lived most of his life in a university in Taxila.

By tampering with history books educationists have done great damage to the society. The soft power they appear to wield ultimately brings out a hardened attitude in the people.

Extremist groups, who, by and large, comprise people not educated in the broad spectrum of knowledge, tend to be very insular. Unfortunately today, even in India, seeds of these tendencies can be seen in protests about "Vande Materam" being sung in schools and colleges or a fatwa issued to an actor for visiting a Ganesh festival or objections about Valentine's Day celebrations.

This should be unequivocally condemned by society as a whole. A composite society will always promote harmony and peace and put a check on extremism. It is clear that people who espouse violence today such as Naxalites and religious extremists in India and across borders have little respect for Gandhi.

Since partition, the growth of the minority population in India has been manifold while Pakistan's minority population has dwindled from 15 percent to just 1 percent. The biggest mistake that Pakistan made was in not supporting its minority communities. Fifteen percent Hindus would have turned the country into a more democratic, liberal society. But when this 15 percent was annihilated, converted or sent out of Pakistan and were replaced by mono-religious zealots and it has weighed heavily on Pakistan, leading to total chaos and fundamentalism.

Though India also has seen communal tensions, by and large the society is tolerant. Extremism in one religion does not remain contained in one. Its shadow spills over to others as well which is evident in Buddhist monks taking to the streets in Thailand, Malaysia and Myanmar.

Honouring the Hindu minority would not have been a threat to its Islamic identity, particularly because in Hinduism there is nothing such as proselytizing or conversion.  

The two countries born to freedom sixty years ago clearly took different paths.

Sri Sri Ravishankar is the founder of the Art of Living Foundation.


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