Monday, December 05, 2005

Are we ready for reconciliation?

The regular Dateline New Dehli in Dawn this week commented on the myopic cultural exchanges that have taken place between India and Pakistan. The author cites two incidents - one the poetess Fahmida Riaz who had attempted to read a peace poem after the Kargil episode in New Dehli. The reception she received has been described as such by the author:
To be fair to Indian audiences, even in those troubled times Ms. Riaz was able to successfully recite the same poem earlier in the week in Delhi that year, and to a wider group of more discerning listeners; but she was unlucky the second time.

“Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle abtak kahaan chhupe thay bhai? (You Indians have turned out to be as bigoted as us in Pakistan. Where have you been hiding all this while brother?) went the opening lines of her poem that mocked religious narrow-mindedness in both countries.

Almost on cue, a certain Major Sharma had whipped out his pistol. As he threatened to stall the Mushaira, the army man and two of his equally viciously hostile aides were overpowered by the largely secular audience. They were packed off to a hospital in a hapless state.

The entire Vajpayee government and the ever so fickle media came down like a ton of bricks on Ms. Riaz and JNU’s leftist students’ union, her hosts.
And then he narrates the recent incident of WIPSA play being stopped from being staged in certain Indian cities:
However, when Sheema Kirmani and her troupe of young and talented actors were stopped by their hosts in Lucknow last week from going ahead with an anti-war play they were invited to stage, some of her Indian friends were shocked.

Ms Kirmani and her Tehreek-i-Niswan group have been actively involved since 1980s in the promotion of liberal ideals to receptive Pakistani audiences who have ranged from rural schoolchildren in Sindh to urban women’s groups across the country. The play — Zikr-i-Nashunida — that was to be staged in Lucknow, Varanasi and Bhubaneshwar presents women’s perspective against war in which American misadventures in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan are effectively highlighted as examples of contemporary violence that dog the world.

Ms. Kirmani’s hosts in India were a group called Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA). The group boasts of a formidable patronage that includes India’s ace peace activists such as Nirmala Deshpande. How could such a group take a narrow-minded stand so as to block a play simply because it was critical of American militarism?

Although the first incident took place in the background of the Kargil War, so that particular response can be excused to a particular extent. But the second incident just baffles all senses. Somehow it seems that public is not ready for peace with Pakistan. Or was it a mere political issue? If it was - what were the motivations? A power display by the Hindutva lobby? Another thing that struck me early this year was crowd response to the visiting Pakistani cricket team. I wouldn't want to attribute too much to it - but still at times it does come back to haunt you. You do get wondering about the fragility of the peace process- about the will of the masses to bury the demons? I guess we would need sometime to overcome the hard feelings of the past 60 years - but are we taking two steps backward for every forward step?