Monday, January 21, 2013

The Border clash and Jingoism: We don't have to pacify ourselves but realise

It was a happy day for some of us who had gone to kotla stadium on the last match of the T20 series between India and Pakistan with our face painted in flag colours of both countries, displaying poster and distributing pamphlets with messages of peace and friendship to the cricket fans of both countries. We were moved by the appreciation that we got, especially from people from Pakistan. Some of them had themselves came to us, introduced and asked for the pamphlet. Our event, under the initiative of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, turned out to be a huge success even on social networking sites and was picked up by some major news portals.

It was deeply satisfying and paid off our labour as we thought that we have started on our journey to move for a better future together. But two or three days later, the media reported the border clash but initially, I had not imagined how it would change things overnight. The social networking sites became another battlefield. Status messages and comment thread, the “shared photo culture” developed by Facebook pages and new pages devoted to questioning peace initiatives, digging old graves, debating if India is a “soft” state or if India always stabs Pakistan(by the Pakistan side) and poems dedicated to soldiers and the army.

It was and is all over – on the news channels ofcourse, endless news debates but almost all debating if we should continue the ties or not, on Facebook posts, in Facebook pages and ofcourse in the tea-time discussions. Following the clash, there have also been innumerable articles challenging and finding the loopholes in all the claims starting from the report of beheading to the role of a third party to manipulate the politics in its own favour.

But the question no longer is about who started it and did it involve beheading or not because the damage has already been done. What has sadly come out of this is the notion that it’s only “we” who want peace and that “they” have always stabbed “us”. This notion exists on both sides of the border.

And this notion is enough to persist another decade of hatred and suspicion. People on both sides have sided with the army that have otherwise, accounted for human rights’ violations and with the politicians whom we refuse to accept as our representatives. They refuse to see any “anti-nation” sentiment. And once again, the “nation” as an identity has become important surpassing the individual and the individual opinion and desire. The peace activists or anyone with a voice of dissent are once again seen as not only “anti-nation” but as passive, ideal and those who have not seen the “reality”. This article is not to pacify anyone or to convince. It is only to bring out some “realities” which cannot be challenged.

This is based on my own personal observations and on the articles that I have come across. If I talk about the articles, I have read many articles which have brought out the loopholes in the theories put forward by both the countries. There have been questioning of the hazy and inconsistent reporting by the army on both sides, loopholes in the reports and questions for media to have covered issues which have shown India or Pakistan only in a bad light. This brings us to one fact that the truth is partial. None of us can claim to know the truth. There is a need to establish a neutral news source accepted by both countries.

For those who feel that peace is only the desire of one side is mistaken. To begin with, if this was true, Aman ki Asha would not have received equal appreciation on the other side of the border. Coming to my personal observations, I have been following the posts and tweets of people of across the border (Pakistan) and have some interesting revelations. It is true that some of them, like some of us, have tagged peace initiatives as bogus and indulge in a sort-of “godification” of army generals and soldiers. But it is also true that many have also condemned this incident. I have some friends there and there has been no change in the nature of our interaction. I also came across a facebook post today by someone asking if peace should be continued with India? I found the very status very interesting as the same question is posed by most of us as in this status, there is an assumption that “we” are peaceful. Most of the comments favoured yes. There was a comment that said that we should, if they also do the same. Those who said no had also added reasons stating how India has often stabbed back or because they do not want peace. It was essential to give this “private” post as it reveals some facts and demands an action.

We and here I mean the people or anyone who likes to have an opinion should be critical of our own Government, media and army. On both sides, we need to accept that there are people who do not want peace, for their own motives. But more importantly, we need to accept that humanity is beyond boundaries. On both sides, there are humans and human lives. Those who want war or can even think of it should imagine what it is like to live in the bordered state. Or even ask an average soldier if he wants war. A soldier has seen a war and knows what it involves. But he takes part because he has to. A famous Bollywood movie, Heroes, puts it beautifully, “hum hamara kaam kar rahe hai aur wo wahan apna” (We are doing our work and they are doing theirs).Their duty is to defend their respective motherlands and they do that. And no-one thinks about them because if they did, they wouldn’t have asked for more hatred. War is not the solution to anyone, never has it been and will never be. It is true that “we” must not sit back if the “other” retaliates but we must do that in a constructive way because the fire will not just burn them.

We need to realise that there are people on both sides, there are “wounds” to be healed on both sides, sufferings, impartial truth and misunderstandings on both sides. People on both sides have their own challenges to meet. To an average Indian and Pakistani, earning their daily bread is much more important than demanding war. We have to realise… not to pacify ourselves but to realise.

published at Countercurrents

Rising Kashmir Newspaper Print edition 23rd January 20113

The samosa

Saturday, January 19, 2013

They Are Mothers, Sisters And Wives: Women Empowerment In India

I remember attending a meeting in which I was addressed as “behn” (sister). I had exchanged looks with the friend I was with and wanted to snigger but had managed to control it. Such a word had come from someone who was much elder to me. I was also a bit stunned as it is definitely not a general practice in Delhi. However, I didn’t exactly mind it as it is nothing to get offended about.

But today as I think about this practice being common in some parts of the country, I see it with the state and nature of women empowerment in our country. In the backdrop of recent reported cases of crime and violence against women in India, from the religious, spiritual and intellectual experts to the common people have raised their opinions about violence and women’s status in general. Even barring the infamous suggestion to address the rapist as “brother”, the propaganda generally addresses women or the potential victims as someone’s sister or mother. So in this way, there is an attempt to reach out to and pacify the potential rapist by telling him about his own “insecurity”. Even in general, women are often identified primarily as someone’s sister, mother or wife. We should respect women because they are mothers and are responsible for our birth. We should respect them as they are sisters and sacrifices for us. We should respect women because they become the wives who are primarily responsible for the nurture of the household and the family. These roles sanctify their identity as women. These roles sanctify the relationships so we often have a man declaring a female friend as a sister or like a sister and vice versa to “sanctify” the relationship.

But these norms and logic have certain problems. What about women who are neither anyone’s sister, mother nor wife? Is it fine to question their character or dishonour them? The society says yes.

Traditionally, women were confined to the domestic sphere and rarely, ventured out in the public sphere. Their relations and interaction were also often confined to the domestic sphere and so primarily with females. So a woman was discouraged to speak in front of not just someone beyond the threshold of the house but even to the male members due to the assumed lack of enough “skills” and “knowledge”. Those women who defied these norms have often been labelled as women with a “loose character”. The definition of the “women with a loose character” has undergone changes but the concept has not been dismissed.

So today, with women venturing out in the shining sun and returning with the moonlight, the definition has changed a bit. So it is ok to not only share the same classroom with boys but also the same workspace. So the interaction has increased. However, the concept of “maryada” and “women with loose character” has not been shunned. They have acquired different meanings in contemporary India. And this is where I talk about the continued obsession with fitting women in the roles of mother, sister and wife. The inter-gender interaction has been allowed but the relationships still have to be sanctified. In a country that boasts of women empowerment and bringing women at par with men, women are still seen only as mothers, sisters and wives. They still struggle for an identity, to be accepted and seen in the role they want to be seen in.

Why can’t we see a co-worker as a co-worker and not always as a female co-worker? Why does a woman with mangalsutra and sindoor is more respected? Why on earth do they anyway need those symbols? Why do we always have to tag a relationship of interaction, why do we always have to specify or justify our relationship with a woman? Why is a sister more respected and accepted than a female friend? What is the fear behind having women as friends?

Because for a woman, morality is still identified with her roles as a mother, sister and wife. Even though some of us have accepted that they should “venture out” in the public sphere, that they have proved their capabilities and they are at par with men, they still should be in their boundaries. And these boundaries of morality have been defined by a restricted and much controlled mobility and interaction. They still have to be weak and dependent on the male members of her kin and to be still protected and guarded. They still need to be tamed.