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The Pakistani conundrum

By Devanik Saha
March 21, 2016 15:10 IST
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What does Pakistan mean for a young Indian? Devanik Saha attempts an answer.

The name “Pakistan” is something which most Indians associate with either hatred or love. For an average Indian, a cricket match between India and Pakistan and a terror attack by Pakistani groups are ostensibly the two most common situations in which he or she thinks about Pakistan.

Last week, I attended a panel discussion on ‘Pakistan is in the eyes of the beholder’ as part of the Spring Cultural Festival 2016 organised by Penguin India in Delhi. The panel consisted of Shashi Tharoor, TCA Raghavan (former high commissioner to Pakistan), Taslima Nasreen (the Bangladeshi writer living in exile), Neeraj Kumar (former Delhi police commissioner) and Hindol Sengupta (journalist and writer), who shared their thoughts on Pakistan through the lens of their vast experience.

The stimulating discussion led me to think about Pakistan in depth and pen this piece on what I, a young 26-year-old Indian, think about Pakistan.

It is no secret that in the past two years the usage of the term ‘Pakistan’ has become a caricature in itself, thanks to radical Hindu leaders who recommend that anyone who dares to say anything critical of the country, Hinduism or the Bharatiya Janata Party move to Pakistan. ‘Send them to Pakistan’, ‘You are an ISI funded journalist’, ‘You sleep with your Pakistani masters’, ‘You are a Pakistani in disguise’, are just a few of the many insinuations used to intimidate writers and journalists.

The first time I was called a Pakistani by someone, albeit in a loving way, is pleasantly etched in my memories. In 2010, I was chosen to represent India at the South Asian conference on climate change in Sri Lanka, which witnessed the participation of young delegates from all South Asian nations. On the first day, as I was standing alone, wearing a white kurta and fiddling with my phone, a Pakistani girl came up to me and asked, “Are you from Pakistan?”, to which I responded in the negative and told her that I was from India.

Surprised to hear that, she mentioned that my attire and face made me appear like someone from Lahore.

Last week’s event in Delhi encompassed similar personal accounts of the panellists’ experiences with Pakistan. From their friends being shot dead in Pakistan to witnessing rapes by the Pakistani army in erstwhile East Pakistan, each of those emotional monologues made me travel back in time to Dawki, a small town in Meghalaya bordering Bangladesh, where I was on a backpacking vacation in October last year.

India’s border with Bangladesh is extremely porous with limited fencing, which has exacerbated the problem of illegal immigration in Assam and West Bengal. Especially in Meghalaya, there seemed to be no borders, with the railings of a road bridge being an unofficial make-do border.

My eyes wandered across the lush green fields of Bangladesh which looked beautiful under the vast expanse of the sunlight, with me yearning to cross over and visit the country.

During the 1971 war, the Pakistani army killed thousands of Bengalis and committed widespread atrocities against them -- mass murders, brutal rapes and beheadings -- which led to my paternal family migrating to India, among thousands of others who fled to India to avoid persecution.

I grew up hearing stories of their lives and the tragic war which took many lives. A distant relative was a fighter with Mukti Vahini, a revolutionary group fighting for independence, and narrated stories of direct combats with several Pakistani army men.

Back in Meghalaya, I didn’t cross over but the longing to visit Bangladesh still remains.

Another important point discussed at the Delhi event was that there is a difference between Pakistan the State and the Pakistani people.

As we all know, States are mostly rogues. If causing destruction, killing people and destroying economies are any consideration, then why not have the same hatred for America, which has single-handedly destroyed several countries? Why not have the same hatred for Saudi Arabia, which funds Wahhabi terrorism? Why not have the same hatred for Turkey which is clamping down on the Kurds?

Leave India-Pakistan, innocent citizens are the ones who always fall prey to conflicts between countries. In Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, millions of citizens have suffered and been killed due to rabid political ambitions. If at all there should be any hatred, it should always be directed at the radical elements such as the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Tehreek-E-Taliban, Hizbul Mujahideen, Indian Mujahideen, among other terrorist groups.

But despite all of that, it is the citizens who are ambassadors of a country’s identity and culture, and it should be no different with Pakistan. There are enough people on both sides who advocate peace and harmony.

As panellist Hindol Sengupta said, “When I think of Pakistan, I think of friends”. I will build on that and say, when I think of Pakistan I think of the millions of citizens who have suffered endlessly at the hands of the State. I think of the rich Pakistani music and culture which many of us love. I think of the infinite moments of happiness which million of citizens in both the countries experience during games -- cricket and hockey, mainly.

Despite being infamous for all the wrong reasons, there are a few recent silver linings to Pakistan and Bangladesh which should make us proud.

For Pakistan -- it is declaring a public holiday for Holi, hanging the killer of Salman Taseer despite the huge public support for him, getting recognised globally for fighting tuberculosis, are some of the commendable achievements that have made news, while for Bangladesh it is almost eliminating open defecation, the proposal to remove Islam as the official State religion, and its sustained efforts in fighting radical Islam and extremist groups.

Naturally, I would then say, India Zindabad. Pakistan Zindabad. Bangladesh Zindabad.

Image: Cricket, apart from Bollywood, has been one of the cementing factors between India and Pakistan, despite there not being enough of it. Photograph: Reuters.

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