|Aman Chaupal with Saeeda Diep ji|
"Do Hindus live in Pakistan?", asked a young girl to Ms. Saeeda Diep, a Peace activist from Pakistan.
With a smile, she replied, "Yes, my dear. Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and people of many other religious faiths live in Pakistan".
"How are they treated?"
"Why doesn't the Pakistan Government control terrorism?"
"Why did the army behead Indian soldiers?"
These were some of the many questions that students of a school in Delhi had asked the peace activist during an interactive session called Aman Chaupal, an initiative of Aaghaz-e-Dosti aimed towards Indo-Pak friendship. It was a small room with about 50 students heavily-equipped with questions and a lady with a serene and smiling face. She answered all the questions with an unchanging expression of calmness and with a warm smile. This was because she was on a mission. She was out to face the weapon of miscommunication. "We have about 20 Indian channels but you people do not have a single channel so you know nothing about Pakistan. We have not been able to present ourselves to you." So after each question, she would say, "please ask more questions".
Having some level of communication with people from Pakistan, I could not help laughing when the politically-charged questions didn't stop. But I was not surprised at those questions. Infact, I, like Saeeda ji, was happy that they asked these questions because then they won't think that we were there to "pacify" or "convince" them. Yet, I must admit that I was surprised to see that she had a calm and beaming face throughout the session.
Her words as well as those questions have stayed with me. She had emphasised on the lack of communication and the hawkish media that our Indian democracy has granted us. I would completely agree with her on this. The media is the fourth pillar of democracy yet in our country, it is not independent and is biased. It carries the burden of invoking nationalist fervor and in doing so, it often ends up with arousing jingoistic sentiments.
The media was at its worst best during the case of Sarabjit Singh when Sarabjit was made a "national martyr" and the attack on Sanaullah Ranjay was seen as a "reaction". The same can be said for the border clash of January. There was no reporting at that time. The news channels were busy running documentaries. I often find it a little surprising that the media which is desperate to do something 'innovative" does not ever attempt to consult the "other" side. There is a clear divide between what the major newspapers of both the sides report. Yet, no attempt is made by either sides to come up with a neutral source. No-one ever gets to know the "truth" and actually, it seems that no side is even interested to know. Why? There are reasons and the reasons are political.
This is a weapon and a far lethal one. The military clashes are short-lived. There is a ceasefire but this weapon is not short-lived. It is a slower process but much more effective. It allows for the proliferation of hatred to people beyond the direct sufferers. It is effective enough to make peace, a fantasy of the "liberal". A resource for many, it helps to create an unchallenged "need" for war, for hatred. The war mandate rests on the unchallenged assumption that the "other" hates us. Thus, it is an important raw material for what Saeeda ji had said, a "war industry". This also explains why there are attempts to disrupt any efforts to enhance people-to-people communication between the countries. Miscommunication is essential for hatred and suspicion.
In contrast to this is communication. It would be hard to find someone who has been to the other side of the border or has had some level of communication, with a negative opinion about them. With so much to talk about, share, in one's own language (Hindi for us, urdu for them), it becomes difficult at ground level to find differences. Infact, when one meets someone from Pakistan, one is pleasantly disappointed because the image of a different "other" is shattered. Communication is the key to all our problems and so Saeeda ji had concluded the session with the statement,
"We will make efforts to connect you with children of your age so that you can see Pakistan from our eyes, not from your media's eyes."