Saturday, May 17, 2014

India, Pakistan share a culture, language - and the same evils

"Pakistan ke log bhi ladai se utni hi nafrat karte hai jitni ki hum" (Pakistanis condemn war as much as we do)
"Pakistan mein bhi kuch log dharm ke naam pe ladai karte hai par ye ger-kanooni hai" (In Pakistan also, some people fight in the name of religion but this is illegal)
These were the thoughts expressed by Indian students when asked to write something about Pakistan, at the end of an Aman chaupal session, an initiative of an India-Pakistan friendship platform named Aaghaz-e-Dosti. As part of the initiative students are told about the other side of the border which their biased and political media will never tell. Though generally the students are not told but are encouraged to ask questions from someone who is from or has been to the other side of the border. In this session, students in a Delhi school were told about Pakistan - its geography, politics, culture and people. They were told about Pakistan's rich diversity in terms of language, religion and culture, a reality contrary to the popular conception of Pakistan in India. In order to address the misconceptions that students had about Pakistan, they were also told about religious minorities, religious fundamentalism in Pakistan. They were told that like in India, there are problems in Pakistan. Like in India, there are people who use religion for their own interests, and that the people of Pakistan condemn violence like we do.

The students who were hardly 15 years of age understood this and wrote this when they were asked to write a message for Indo-Pak peace. They could have written something more common and moderate, but this is what they wrote; they shared their solidarity with the people of Pakistan. But it surprises me that people much older and much 'wiser' have not understood this. People in both countries use the other country as their measuring rod. Their view about themselves is shaped by the condition in the other country. One of the most famous examples would be the discussion on religious minorities. Any talk on religious minorities in India would mean a comparison with treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan. And the same goes in Pakistan. This tendency of comparison holds true for many issues. But the fact is that in all this comparison politics, we must know who is suffering. We must know that this comparison is against progress, against humanity. If the other country is treating a certain community badly, it doesn't give us the legitimacy to treat ours horribly too.
This comparison politics has other vices. Recently, I read a news item in India about the unfair treatment meted out to Hindus in Pakistan forcing their migration to India. However, the news report was silent on their struggle within India, their demands from the Government of India. Similarly, a news item in Pakistan stated that Muslims and Dalits are not allowed education in India. It was a clear exaggeration. While it had happened only in a particular case the heading seemed to suggest that all Muslims and Dalits in India are denied education. This was a clear exaggeration and miscommunication but this is what frames the popular mindset. I must state that here too, the students turned out to be smarter than these older and "wiser" people as they themselves said that media exaggerates for the sake of TRPs. But the older and "wiser" people do not understand this. They fail to see the politics within. They get trapped in this half knowledge and miscommunication which is then used by religious fundamentalists for their own motives. The religious fundamentalists will use this hatred for legitimizing their own evil. This happens in Pakistan, just like in India. This is also used by the state to divert attention from more important concerns in both countries. 

We need to realise that both India and Pakistan are diverse countries. We cannot form a homogeneous picture. It is diverse not only in terms of culture, religion but also in terms of people's thoughts and opinions. True, that in some parts of India or in Pakistan, something wrong and condemnable may be happening; but that may not represent the view of the entire population. There are contrasting voices in both countries. There is religious fundamentalism, sectarianism, conservatism in both countries. Social, political and economic problems exist in both countries. But more importantly, we need to realise that this comparison politics will not lead us anywhere. If the feeling of humanity calls Indians talk about the rights for Pakistani Hindus, then the same humanity should also call them to care about the religious minorities in their own country. Humanity should also call them to reach out to those who are suffering irrespective of their religion. We need to be a bit more bothered about our own domestic politics before intervening into what is happening on the other side. We need to be a bit more wiser to understand this conspiracy that is being played out. 

Both India and Pakistan are developing countries. They are both lagging behind. Both have failed to give basic rights to their citizens. Both countries have communal politics. Both have marginalised several sections of the society. Both are also diverse countries. Let's spare each other for our own good. The students realised it and its time that the older and "wiser" do as well.

This article was published on South Asia Monitor

Monday, May 12, 2014

We all should be out and proud

The Supreme Court of India has recently recognised transgenders to be the third gender. They have been recognised as full citizens of the country who will be entitled to equal rights. This decision has been warmly welcomed by not just people of LGBTQ community but also by many amongst the heterosexual community. It is being seen as the realisation of a true and just democracy. It is being hailed as a progressive move.

However, I think that there is much more that the heterosexuals should derive out of this commendable judgement and the larger LGBTQ movement. This decision and the struggle for the equal rights should not just be seen and labelled as 'liberal' or 'progressive' by the heterosexuals. I always feel that the LGBTQ movement is a liberating experience not just for the people of non-heteronormative or diverse sexualities but for all genders. 

I consider it important to state that I claim no expertise in this matter. My understanding over the issue is based on basic scholarly literature and the little experience that I have had. In this article, I attempt to share the lessons that I derive from the LGBTQ movement. What it means to me.

The most basic lesson that I derive from the movement is in its very nature. The LGBTQ movement, as the name suggests, is not a homogeneous movement. There are many sub-groups within and they vary greatly in terms of their issues. The LGBTQ community represents and celebrates the diversity that nature has shown in everything including sexuality. Contrary to popular misconception, diverse forms of sexuality are natural. There are several forms of evidence available including the fact that diverse sexualities is present both in plant and animal kingdom. Theorists like Foucault have discussed how heteronormatity has come in a certain historical time in Europe. There are others who have shown how this was disseminated in different societies through colonialism. Other factors like religion, over-emphasis on fertility and several other social factors led to non-heteronormative sexualities being regarded as a deviant. The LGBTQ movement challenges this and brings to light the truth about the extent of diversity that nature has shown. The nature loves diversity in every aspect including sexuality. Heteorsexualty may appear more prominent but it is just one form of the diverse sexualities that are present in the nature. 

The LGBTQ movement is a movement of liberation for all. The LGBTQ movement not only challenges the heteronormative society but also the patriarchal society. This is because it challenges the notion of gender as determinants of behaviour. It challenges the gender-based roles and stereotypes. It challenges that sex and gender are natural. It proves that they are social constructions. While we are born with a particular genital, our behaviour, preferences has been constructed by the society. The society makes a man or a woman. It is the society that expects a person with a vagina to take care of the household. The LGBTQ movement disrupts all binary and opposing notions. It does so in several ways.

A homosexual person often challenges the stereotypes conforming to their gender. However, it must be noted that not all homosexuals will do so. A transgender female may be born with a penis but does not feel or consider herself to be a man. Then there is also the case of inter-sex people. They clearly transcend the binary notion of gender.

Another fundamental essence of the LGBTQ movement is the emphasis on individual agency. Who gets the right to decide whether a person is a man or a woman? They would say that the person himself/herself. I find it empowering and extend it beyond this. I see it as this beautiful idea of “I am what I think I am”. It talks about the self breaking the constructed barriers. It celebrates the individual that challenges the biased and discriminatory notions, norms constructed by the society. It gives importance to the individual’s perspective. It celebrates the voice against injustice and inequality.

To conclude, I think that the LGBTQ movement should be seen as the liberation of us all. It is a movement tied not just to the issue of sexuality. It is waging battles far beyond. It exposes the society and its norms that we take as “primordial” and “natural” as a construct. It encourages us to come out and speak against the injustice. It encourages us to be ourselves, to respect ourselves.

This article was published on Countercurrents