Love your neighbour!

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:37 pm by Pirate Praveen

John Samuel shared his Pakistan experience with Fourth Estate Critique group (needs membership to view archives).

Dear Friends,

Here are my Pakistan notes- for those who are interested.( others please press the delete button- as it is long!)

I just got back from Pakistan. In fact, visiting our neighbor is something I always cherish. After each visit I come back with a sense of nostalgia- still feeling the flavor of excellent food at Food street in Lahore or having a pani-puri at the Karachi beach. Those wide streets and bungalows in Islamabad or the brick-kiln workers at Toba-tak Sing. Pakistan never looked like an alien country to me. People there make you feel at home.

1) It is almost like a visiting the house of a cousin or a close relative in a distant land. Or it could be visiting your neighbor once in a year.Though I travel to so many places, visiting Pakistan is different. It is a peculiar feeling. People are so happy to welcome the “mehman’ from India- always animated discussions about democracy, militarization, communalism and the problems of India and Pakistan. And of course, everyone wants to call you for lunch or dinner. There is a genuine affection in their hug. People do not send their driver to receive you. They would find time to receive you at the airport and see off you.

2) At the airport, the moment they see the blue Indian passport, one could see the new alertness- checking every page and visas in the passport. So the only place, one feels like the “other” and alien is the immigration( I am sure that Pakistani citizen may feel the same in India as well). This time it was easier, as there was a protocol officer to receive and help me to get through a rather difficult immigration procedure. But once you get out, the situation is different. Driver talks about the latest bollywood, or cricket or about “our mulk”. Obviously, this time the topic was Mumbai terror attack. Whomever I met( from all walks of life) conveyed a deep sense of sorrow, anguish and a sense of frustration. The only one preoccupation in the media and social talk last week was “Mumbai and the aftermath”

3) But once you get in to TV and media, it is a different story. There is a whole range of discussion- about India’s “aggressive stand” , how India “won’ in the UN, and whole range of discussion ranging from “jingoism” to grudge, “don’t trust them” to “why’ they” keep blaming us. I noticed that while academics, poets and activists are more balanced-stressing the responsibility of the government of Pakistan to address the “terror” in the backyard, some of the former generals, ambassadors, bureaucrats and the usual media commentators- seemed like various versions of Arnab Gosami and the jingoist types in India. In spite of all the “anti” India sentiments by those in the shadows of the power-cartel, there are so many sensible voices among the media commentators, intellectuals and activists.

3) So in one channel you find all the “sound and fury’ about India- and the in the next channel one can watch an item number from the Bollywood. During the adbreak, Amirkhan fills the screen- announcing “Titan watch is now in Pakistan”!. If you are bored with all the news and talk shows- then one can watch the a whole range of bollywood films or the latest Ekta kapoor serial. So it is a strange feeling. India is all over the TV and the news channels and talk show give a different story of the “other” India.

4) I always wondered about this neighbor-syndrome- very interesting sense of social and psychological obsession with India- at various levels. It is a peculiar kind of preoccupation with the neighbor- a mix of love, grudging admiration, simple grudges, a bit of irritation, a sense of cynicism and sometime bordering hate( of mixed with “love”).At one level, people do admire- democracy and freedom, space etc. At another it is a deep rooted cultivated sense of comparison( after all ‘they’ are not that great as they look!)- a grudging feeling( hum kisi se kum nahi! or who cares about the ‘big” brother!). This strange mix is partly due to the whole range of ‘manufactured” history, school curriculum and the media mediation. The K word- Kashmir- is driven in to the social and political perspective from the school days. So while most of the ordinary people love to travel to India, watch bollywood, or to enjoy Cricket, the Establishment “construct” the “other” India- arrogant, insincere, Hindu, ‘occupied” Kashmir , “marginalized” Muslims etc etc. These two contradictory images and constructs compete each other to find space in the public perception and social psychology. These contradictory trends are so evident at various levels of media, civil society and the ordinary middle class.

5) This constant sense of comparison and competition make the place in many ways a mirror image.

Last night I had dinner at the elite Islamabad Club- which in many ways is a mirror image of IIC- of course with a little more feudal and elite touch. President of the country is the patron( that is the tradition from 1957). And the entry is strictly regulated!( and like IIC – no phone inside the dining hall etc). The key difference between India and Pakistan in this regard is that India has now an entrenched pan-Indian middle class. Such middle class are actually the defining character of India- in many ways the cohesive force- spread across all cities and towns- so intermingled. In Pakistan, it is still the feudal class that define the socio-political and economic character of power. So , in spite of being elite, India International Centre is middle-class. But Islamabad club is feudal and aristocratic to the core. There is an unmistakable Punjabi touch to it. Though in Karachi- the Gymkhana- the only place where the drinks are served- there is a Sindhi touch.

6) The fact of the matter is that 75% of the land is under the control of 15 percent of the feudal-ruling elite. The rest of the people 85% got 25% of land. But even among them majority do not have any land- most of the people are tenants. The problem is that even the liberal voices are often informed or supported by a deeper feudal character and attitude. Even among the ruling elites, there is another level of identity- based on the language and regions- such kinship and networks are much stronger than that of India.In such a sense of a deeply divided class character, poor and marginalized become easy targets for the fundamentalists and those terror organizations who spend money to recruit and brainwash the poor uneducated men in the heartland of Pakistan. This is actually at the core of the issue- the entrenched inequality and a large number of poor people who do not have any stake in the governance or the resources of the country.

7) Though I was reluctant, I had to give a public lecture on Sustainable Development and Peace and South Asia. The SDPI auditorium was packed and as expected it was followed by an intense discussion on the aftermath of Mumbai, India’s “attitude” etc etc. But the interesting thing was I could here so many sane and sensible voices. That still makes me optimistic enough to imagine a New South Asia- in the years to come.

8) I also had to appear on a Prime TV talk show( I think the first Indian to be on the show- after Mumabi) – as my journalist friends insisted that it would help to give different perspective. Prof. Nayyer( a well know Physicist and a peace activist) who was on the show was fantastic , spot on and I was amazed to find so many people like Prof. Nayyer- now a fellow at the SDPI- who are honest, forthright and balanced in their analysis. He is a fan of Kerala, friend of KN Pannicker, and he told me that he missed an opportunity to visit Kerala for the International Education Seminar last week- due to clash of dates.

9) During the discussions, I focused on failure of governance and its impact on security of people in Pakistan ,India and elsewhere in South Asia. The need for the citizens of Pakistan to ask hard questions to the government and leaders- instead of falling in the trap “externalizing the problem” or “blaming the “other”. A sense of “perpetual self-denials’ do not help anyone. And this is also true for the citizens of India- we need to ask why there was security lapse and ask accountability from those who are supposed to serve us- living on our tax-money. As so long as citizens of Pakistan are mislead by the powerful establishment and power-cartel by “externalizing” the problem- denying the demons growing right in the midst of the society, the same forces will eat up the society, institutions and even the state like termites. So it is time to look at the future and act now.

10) It is important to make a difference between people and governments. Governments are often controlled by power-cartels- of bureaucrats, various institutional interests- and they construct public perceptions using a whole range of methods- from curriculum, to media, to academic discourse. But ordinary people- a vast majority- of them want to live a happy life, want job, want peace and want a sense of security. So there is hardly any difference between the people of Pakistan and India.

They are like twins who got separated at birth. They look the same, speak the more or less the same language, exhibit similar social attitude- share a historical and civilizational space. If it all anyone can transform the situation, it is those hundreds of millions of ordinary people who can transform the entrenched and constructed “mistrust” and “animosity” between “India” and “Pakistan”. The question is whose India and whose Pakistan? That of the elite power-cartel or that of more than a billion ordinary people?.

I am more optimist about “aam admi” in both countries. The problem is the self-serving and corrupt political class- and a whole range of parasites of the power-cartel- particularly the entrenched class of status-quoist and self-preserving bureaucrats( and in Pakistan’s case the all powerful military). Ultimately, the only force that can transform the relationship between India and Pakistan are millions of people who would like a better future in South Asia- who would like to see more children in schools, and less money spent on bombs and arms- supplied by the rich countries. They would like to travel and discover the shared sense of heritage. They can eventually make change happen.

As I was returning, I told my friends how it is not easy to live up to the ideal “Love your neighbor as thyself”. But it is indeed worth an ideal that can transform boarders in to bridges, and battles in to bonding! It is a dream that is still worth dreaming!


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