Give Peace a Chance
It started with the Ayodhya Incident. It was 6th of December, 1992. I was hardly five and a half years old. A crowd of Hindu extremists attacked and destroyed the Babri Mosque located in Ayodhya, Uttar Pardesh, in India. After that incident, inter communal riots in India began. As a reaction to the demolition, there were violent protests all over Pakistan and many Hindu temples, including one in Sialkot, were set on Fire. I still remember the atmosphere of hatred. Hatred for Hindus and India was everywhere, from our parents telling us stories about how brutal Hindus were, to news bulletins on State television channel(the only one that we had in Pakistan in those days), to newspapers and teachers in our school.
That particular incident and its aftermath left a deep imprint on my mind. For two decades after that incident, I religiously despised India. I threw away cassettes of Indian music, refused to watch Indian TV channels, didn’t watch bollywood films and considered India to be a Hindu country where Muslims were not safe. To make matters worse, I used to occasionally browse the weekly magazine of a Jihadi organization that is very India-centric and is implicated in recent attempts of terrorist activities in Kashmir. I read the obituaries of young ‘martyrs’ in Kashmir and their ‘impressive’ life stories. I read a Pakistani novelist who specialized in writing India-centric fiction where heroes were always Pakistani commandoes. I spent many years in Military run schools and was infused with a good enough dose of Pakistani nationalism(one of whose tenets is ‘hating India’).
I have to confess that I used to hate the Indians. And trust me, for I had never met an Indian in person till the year 2012. And then it all changed. My pre-conceived notions, my biases, the stereotypes in my mind, everything blew up in flames. I could finally put a face to what India meant to me, as a person from Pakistan.
I came to understand that we had more similarities with the Indians than differences. I came to know that they also have load shedding, ultra-fascist religious parties, a sensationalist media, corrupt politicians, secessionist movements, bad traffic, abject poverty, massive urbanization, a youth bulge and even their generals have recently started acting very much like our own.
I was fed lies, blatant lies, about Indians in my textbooks, in the newspapers, in electronic media, in films, in novels and in public discourse. The “other-ization” of Indians stripped them on their humanity in the image that I received while living in Pakistan. Since I started challenging the norms, I started reading up alternative sources of History. I threw Nasim Hijazi, Tariq Ismail Sagar and Nawai-waqt in the trash can and read about the “other” side. I discovered that partition was a shared misery, that massacre of innocent Hindus and Sikhs in Northern Punjab started much earlier than August 1947, that India had never initiated an attack on Pakistan’s physical boundaries, that India was not stealing our water (according to the Indus Waters Treaty), and that the domestic terrorism in Pakistan was not exactly promoted by Indian Intelligence agencies (but by our own establishment). I learnt that a destabilized Pakistan was not in the best interests of India, that Indian establishment promotes hatred for Pakistan exactly like our own, that minorities in India are treated less poorly than Pakistan’s minorities.
Eventually, my whole mindset changed. I met wonderful Indian people, in Pakistan and Abroad. I learnt that they were regularly harassed by Pakistan’s law enforcers when they come to visit (after a lot of trouble obtaining a visa for Pakistan). I did some volunteer work to help an effort aimed at easing the stringent Indo-Pak Visa Regime. One day, I plan to visit India. I want to visit Old Delhi and Agra and Bombay as much as my Indian Friends want to visit Lahore, Multan or Karachi. The wall of hatred that has been erected by people with ‘vested interests’ on both sides of the border needs to be brought down. There are humans on both sides of the divide, similar in shape and form, in language, in ambitions and aspirations, in culture, in norms, in culinary habits. I believe that hatred is not a healthy feeling and it damages our ability to think critically and impairs the inherent human quality of compassion. We’ve had enough wars, let’s give peace a chance.