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May Sanity And Courage Descend On The People And Leaders Of India & Pakistan

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Rajmohan Gandhi responds to reflections by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed (published on this portal) and argues that the message of peace and reconciliation must reach the publics of India and Pakistan.

After tough work as an administrator in a demanding area in Pakistan, followed by a period in diplomacy, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed has served for many years as a distinguished professor on a leading American campus.

He is a scholar who also seeks, in word and deed, to be a reconciler. In his works, he recalls images from the past of wisdom and harmony; he highlights inspiring elements in history, architecture, interfaith relationships, and elsewhere.

I respect him for this. However, he was more candid about India’s departure from Gandhi and Nehru than about Pakistan’s departure from Jinnah.

Although he didn’t speak of it, I suspect that he is pained by the hostility towards dissenters that exists in Pakistan as well.

We are not here, neither he nor I, to condemn, although sadly there is so much in both India and Pakistan to condemn.

This is not the occasion even for expressing disappointment that on both sides of our border those who should be speaking out against coercion and cruelty often remain silent.

Instead, let us praise those who do speak out. Let us also praise the large number of silent servants of goodwill and insaniyat in both our countries. There are so many of these, doing the right thing – teachers, doctors, neighbours, humble officials, even policemen, who quietly protect the weak, the threatened, the vulnerable.

Let us acknowledge and quietly honor them. Naming them is not smart. It will merely attract the attention of super-patriots.

Today, we know, the megaphone has been seized by merchants of hate. But decibel levels are not everything. The murmurs for friendship, and the quiet entreaties to the Almighty for peace, constitute another real story. In the end, it will also be, God willing, a more powerful story.

Last week, India’s Prime Minister commenced himself the construction, in Ayodhya in UP, of a Ram Temple on land where the Babri Masjid had stood from the 1520s until its illegal demolition in December 1992.

Many claim that in earlier centuries a temple had stood on that spot, and that in remote antiquity Lord Ram was born on that spot.

Still, India’s Prime Minister starting with his hands the building of a Hindu shrine in the year 2020 is a troubling additional step in India’s journey away from the secular state that was established in 1947, where all were equal before the law and before the government.

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Other nations too, we all know, are making troubling journeys. I must mention the event last month in Turkey when the historic Hagia Sophia was turned, to the concern of many in the world, from a museum into a mosque.

Ambassador Akbar Ahmed speaks of the madness that can touch off a nuclear war. He wants “leaders and thinkers of both nations to understand the depth of the crisis”. Dear Akbar Ahmed Sahib, you and I and others – the usual suspects — have been saying this for more than fifty years. And we’ll keep on saying it.

But maybe we should direct our appeal to everyday people. Let even a small number of ordinary people, men and women, make up their minds that as long as it lies in their power, there will be no coercion in our lands. That people will not be punished for their views, their beliefs, or for belonging to their religion, their caste, their poverty, their dissenting sects.

The fault is not of governments alone. Perhaps the greater weakness has been in our societies, in our approaches to one another, or in our lack of approaches to one another.

Hindu-Muslim mistrust is not the only mistrust on our common subcontinent. We divide by sect, we divide by language, by caste, by biradari, by tribe, by class, by profession. We think we know one another but we don’t. We have opinions about one another; we don’t have knowledge!

We don’t have friends from these other circles whom we might listen to. We don’t even read about them.

Allow me, as a friend of Pakistan, to say this. When, half a century ago, the Pakistani people lost the people of Bangladesh, they also lost a fabulous bridge to India, the Bengali language.

But that bridge is still there. If he or she learns Bangla today, a Punjabi, Pukhto, Sindhi, Baloch or Urdu-speaking student would enter Bangladeshi as well as Indian hearts.

The forebears of many in today’s Pakistan lived in different parts of today’s India. Why shouldn’t Pakistanis learn more of the histories, cultures of those parts?

Tipu Sultan, who died in 1799, was fluent in the Kannada language, the language of the state of Karnataka, of which the capital is Bangalore, now called Bengaluru. The Qutbshahi rulers of Hyderabad in India were fluent in Telugu.

It will be an asset, not a crime, if some in Lahore, Pindi, Multan, Quetta, Karachi, or Islamabad learn Bangla, or Kannada, or Tamil, or Telugu. It will be of value if some in Kolkata, Mumbai and Lucknow learn Punjabi, Pukhto, Urdu, or Balochi.

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The improvements we long for will probably come in unexpected ways. The paths to sanity and reconciliation may be opened up in surprising ways, perhaps by people we are not thinking of.

Historians have seen many ups and downs. Right now, India-Pakistan relations are in a pretty deep ditch, and on the subcontinent very few influential people urge a climb back up to level ground.

Within their private worlds, however, a great many Pakistanis and Indians are different. They want better relations between their countries, and between majority and minority communities within their country.

Indians and Pakistanis also live outside the subcontinent. Look at the partnership in the US, the UK, and Europe between medical experts of Pakistani origin and of Indian origin. What a delight it has been, amidst all the Covid anxieties, to see doctors of Pakistani and Indian origin explaining Covid to Americans! — even as other Pakistanis and Indians explain other complicated things to Americans.

In wanting to assist others, Indians and Pakistanis may perhaps find one another, may get closer, and rediscover what they have in common.

Another truth may be less pleasant for our pride. Today persons of Indian and Pakistani origin may feel more confident regarding their fundamental human rights if they live in the US, Canada, and UK, rather than in their home countries.

I will conclude with a reflection on Gandhi, to whom Ambassador Ahmed referred, and also on Lord Ram, to whom the ambassador also referred. The Ram of whom Gandhi so often spoke is not identical with the prince born, according to believers, in the Ayodhya of remote antiquity.

To Gandhi, and to many like him in India and beyond, Ram or Rama was a loved name for the unborn, undying, and all-merciful Almighty, called by different names by anxious human beings all over the world.

To this all-compassionate and supreme Almighty, to this Ram, this Ishwar, this Shiva, this Khuda, this Allah, I pray that wisdom, peace, courage, and sanity may descend on the people and leaders of India, Pakistan, and the world.

Rajmohan Gandhi made these comments in response to the lecture delivered by Dr Akbar S Ahmed at ISSI, Islamabad on 6 August 2020

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1 Comment

  1. Donna Mason August 15, 2020

    At this time of the crisis of the coronavirus and the chaos of the election it is good to read of pasi and future of Pakistan and Inda. To be inroduced to another part of the world expands my worldview in a way that is helpful. So much to learn! Thank you for incisghts into the many ways it is helpful to get to know one another better — knowing another’s language is one way. We need ways of listening to each other in the same language so that we can understand each other better as we seek more effective ways to live into justice and equality.

    I am in a book group where people are trying to discern what action is possible in light of the many issues in our nation today. At the same time we are remaining cautious about being out and about with interactions with groups of people. It has been a stressful time. I have not been able to visit my children since the “staying home” restrictions in March. I am grateful for “facetime” phone calla with grandchildren.

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