By Tarun Basu*
In the late eighties, with the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) mired in an unwinnable mission in Sri Lanka that was in the grip of heightened anti-India sentiments fanned by the ruling establishment in Colombo, I happened to be there on a short holiday with my wife and young daughter. Many had advised us against going at this time but since the hotels gave huge discounts to encourage the intrepid traveller, we went ahead and never regretted it. We, however, did get accosted by people on the road, asking us if we were Indians; but none was hostile with some even going to the extent of telling us that their “fight was only against the Indian government, and it had nothing against Indian people.”
This subtle distinction made by the man on the street in Sri Lanka was quite revealing, until someone pointed out that a nation that enjoyed 98% literacy had the intellectual ability to be able to make that subtle distinction between a government and people and could not hold people liable for any omissions or commissions of any government.
With Pakphobia gripping a section of the film industry and cultural establishment, with call for boycott of Pakistani artistes and their TV serials, this little vignette from the past came to mind.
Is literacy – India’s literacy rate is below 75% – then the differentiator of rational and irrational judgement? If people in Sri Lanka, a much smaller nation. are able to make the distinction between a government and its people, and not hold the latter liable for any sins of the former, why is that people in India, a much larger nation and a regional superpower with one of the world’s fastest growing economies, target and demonise common citizens – and artistes at that – of Pakistan for sins they are not remotely responsible for?
Its not only Pakistanis who are being targeted by people who should know better than identify a community with their government. Even Kashmiris are becoming victims of discrimination and stereoptying, including in some campuses. A young Kashmiri journalist, trying to move away from the recurrent unrest in Kashmir with his wife, child and aged parents, failed to find accomodation in the National Capital Region for months as each prospective landlord expressed regret after getting to know that they were from Srinagar and hence, in their eyes, could be potential “troublemakers”.
So it was heartening to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi make the distinction between the Pakistani ‘rogue’ state and its common citizens, when he addressed an appeal directly to the latter that “you are rulers are misleading you” and virtually inciting them to go against their leadership “to fight against terrorism” He was for launching a joint “war” on poverty, illiteracy, unemployment – and then “see who wins”.
It was a clever ploy to make people of Pakistan think about what their government is doing and question their actions and justifications. Some people have actually started doing so. Former Pakistani ambassador to China, India and the US, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, in a recent in article in The Dawn, said bluntly that “Pakistan’s reliance on jihadi ‘assets’ has resulted in a comprehensive jihadi ‘blowback’. Its foreign policy is determined by unelected and incompetent decision-makers who largely operate from behind security screens.” This, he said, has “significantly disabled Pakistan’s diplomacy”.
Sensible people of Pakistan, like Qazi, need to speak up. But not speaking up doesnt mean they support their establishment’s action and hence should be targeted by sections of Indians.
*Tarun Basu can be contacted at [email protected]