How many more need to be hung at the altar of hostility!

Kashmir Times


How many more need to be hung at the altar of hostility!

By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal

The increase in civilian casualties amidst intensified mortar shelling and firing attacks on the India-Pakistan borders, spreading fear and panic among the border villagers as well as triggering their hasty flight for safe refuge, inspires horror, shock and concern. The most troubling thing is that this horror emanates from the ignorance about the permanence of such incidents in their lives. These incidents are not aberrations. Panic, fear, uncertainty and insecurity are unwanted but consistent companions of the border villagers who were pushed to a life of abnormality 70 years ago after the territorial division of India and Pakistan and the consequent carving of the new boundaries. This abnormality of the situation is realized only when the machismo of militarism and spiral of violence reaches its crescendo and invites public attention to their plight, which otherwise remains in oblivion. But this attention evaporates as soon as the media glare shifts away after comparative lull sets in. It re-ignites only with fresh spiral of deaths, selectively with a count of what happens in one’s courtyard while being dismissive of the other side.

In the last fortnight about a dozen people including a soldier and an infant have died on the Indian side of the border and four civilians on the other side. Both sides blame each other and count their own dead or track the massive displacements triggered on either side as they turn each other’s civilians into cannon fodder that must be fed for the benefit of heroism of war and weaponry. What machismo is served when life is snuffed out of an eight month old infant sleeping in the compound of his house? What victory in war is accomplished by leaving ordinary and hapless men, women and children in pools of blood; pock-marking their homes with bullets and digging up the floors with shells, devastating all signs of life and impacting them in a myriad ways even if they manage to survive the repeated ordeal – hampering economy, health, education and much more.

The occasionally glimpsed vulnerable lives of the border villagers pave way for formation of one popular perception that there is one Enemy that lives across the border. These mirror-image ideas exist on both sides of the borders. So, one ‘Enemy’ is actually two enemies – ours and theirs – facing each other; eyeball to eyeball, breathing down each other’s neck with fingers pressed on the trigger or taking a break. Like Newton’s third law of motion, every action is followed by an equal and opposite reaction, usually so. Lull for lull! Eyeball to eyeball! Killing for killing! Soldier for soldier! Civilian for civilian! The obsession with the ‘Enemy’ pales the lives of the border villagers into insignificance. The latter along with soldiers become the collateral damage that can be forgotten about or propped up for convenience of vilifying an enemy. They are disposable and discard-able, at least forgettable. Popular jingoism and war jargon adds muscle to military actions on the borders and vice versa. But what does this achieve? Nothing, but ends up in loss of precious lives and squandering of public money on building up huge military infrastructure and stock-piling of arms and ammunition. War preparedness is fine but is there even a thought about averting war through strengthening of diplomatic offensives.

Seven decades of hostility and wars have served no purpose. A counter argument to this from hawks is that peace processes have been tried in the past but have served no purpose either. That discourse allows a dominant discourse of dismissing peace process not grappling with the structural and implementation flaws of such processes. Just as the construction of a building takes years to build but few moments to destroy, peace takes years to build. It requires patience, consistency and compassion and the ability to deal with all the structural incompatibilities and at the same time to be innovative. Wars engendered by their inherent destructive nature are easy to make but cause endless devastation and must be avoided so that the two neighbours can live in peace and move towards progress in areas they are lagging behind.

India and Pakistan today are in dire need of restructuring a peace process that is not just built on goodwill gestures but begins with a fresh attempt to understand the very genesis of this mutual animosity, which is fuelled by long cherished and nurtured prejudices. The historic journey goes far back to partition and even further back to the birth of the very psyche that created partition. It goes back to the days of the rivalry between Congress and Muslim League. The journey from then to now has brought the huge transition to dominant discourse of like of Talibans and Hafiz Saeed, patronised by some of the power centres, on Pakistani side and Hindu right wing lumpen lynching mobs patronised by the government of the day on the Indian side. The Siamese twins that were surgically separated in 1947 to build their dreams of secular and theocratic state respectively have ended up looking strikingly similar as they continue to cling on to their prejudices obsessively. Obsession stems from historic reasons and is fuelled by the genetic disorder of mistrust, insecurities and mutual animosities, neglected and virtually untreated for the last seven decades.

Mistake of the past cannot be undone. But lessons can be learnt. The way forward does not lie in living in the past or in continuing with the tradition of animosity which has almost become a nationalist emblem – the measure of patriotism gauged by the barometric levels of anti-Pakistan and anti-India sentiments on respective sides. Past is a guide to understand the complexities and contradictions in India-Pakistan relations and the way forward is in resolving and reconciling. It will enable an informed understanding of how during the creation of the two nation-states, religious divisions were legitimised and the concept of a dominant nation state were built on the colonial hangover. Consequently, concept of territoriality and religion and thus communities were sealed in what Ranabir Samadar calls ‘dimensions of territoriality’ not ‘essential politics’. Such concept of nation-states, militarised the political space with discourse that seeks to justify ruthless brute force to crush peoples’ rebellions and legitimize military methods and military metaphors as ‘necessary evils’ if not reflections of ‘valour’. There is need to redefine this sense of nationhood – shift from machismo and masculinity to humanity.

Secondly, there is need to alter the military doctrine and democratize the military and make it more accountable. In Pakistan, army is the virtual power centre and often in control of political space, dictating foreign policy. However, subtle nuances of power are also enjoyed by the Indian army, which may be subservient to political control but continues to be a holy cow that cannot be held accountable.

Thirdly, peace process needs to be understood as a continuing project. Peace cannot be achieved overnight. It needs constant talking and negotiating. It requires talks without setting preconditions. There is need to gradually work for a shift from mutual distrust and hostility to mutual trust and friendship with a holistic approach. Given that hostilities between the two countries are based on enmasse de-humanisation of the other, the peace process must look at a process of humanisation that is decentralized, people based and people oriented. People should be central to peace process which needs to be made more inclusive for its longevity and sustainability.

One set of people central to this humanisation project should be the border people who bear the direct consequence of hostility, war or no war, escalation of violence or comparative calm. They were pushed to the margins not by accident of geography but by the accident of history that carved new cartographies bringing margins closer to them. There were upheavals in 1947 when peoples on the two sides were distributed their territories like spoils and maximum brunt continues to be borne by those who live on the fringes of these territories. Their yearning and desire for peace must be heeded as this human cost of war is becoming too unbearable. As Nobel laureate Bob Dylan wrote and sang: How many deaths will it take till he knows too many people have died.

News Updated at : Sunday, May 27, 2018