As a liberal brown privileged Indian girl living a life celebrating inclusiveness and diversity in the world’s largest democracy, I’ve always made an attempt to understand what ‘the other’ to me might be: who is the polar opposite of who I am?
‘The other’ to me finds its biggest manifestation in the flamboyant dislike for Muslims people around me seem to manifest. The seeds of this dislike were sown in the 1947 Partition of India. The bitterness of the Partition then extended itself to all the Muslim rulers who purportedly came to India to plunder all of India’s wealth. Never mind that the most popular symbol representing India is the radiant beacon of all things Islam – an intricately carved mausoleum built for a deceased wife by a Muslim ruler to remember her by. We love the Taj Mahal and have even named teas after this landmark!
If we go by our history books, we do not see or understand much beyond the obvious: the Partition happened. People were killed on both sides. One side vilifies the other. The Mughals were good and bad. All Muslim rulers earlier than the Mughals looted India.
I had the opportunity to be part of the #RememberingPartition pop-up museum organized by India Cultural Labs today. Clearly, the Partition is a suppressed memory. We do not wish to acknowledge the tragedy – both personal and national. We do not wish to talk about it because we must then talk about our prejudices too. We do not wish to talk about it because we must then begin to respect all the million little moments of kindness showered upon each community, because that’s how the survivors made it to their designated destination. We do wish to talk about it because we must make friends with those to whom we owe our present privileges but we cannot seem to bring ourselves to do it.
The legacy of the Partition, as I learned today, can be classified into 5 parts:
- Sectarian Violence: This started during the Partition and has never really let go of our collective consciousness. 1984, 1992, 2002 – there is graphic evidence we are still divided on the lines of religion.
- Stories of Friendship: This is something that has always been in existence. Mohen-jo-Daro onwards, the area that we call Punjab / Rajasthan / Gujarat / Eastern Pakistan today has always been lived in. We have always been friends. We are even family! And, we have always recognized each other as human beings and helped out. Be it the jinnah caps that were given by each Muslim family to their non-Muslim friends so their non-Muslim friends were not killed by militant political elements enroute their journeys to India or the absolute respect with which women and children were treated by male friends of the family on both sides of the border during the manic days that followed the Partition, most of the personal stories around the Partition zoom in on the loss of dear friends and a sense of never having been able to go back to those we regarded as family, as home.
- Literary and Cinematic Narratives: I have limited knowledge here but I am writing this post after watching ‘Lyari Notes’ on YouTube. Until today, I did not realize I had unique access into the lives of my counterparts in Pakistan. What does a 31-year-old average urban Pakistani think about on a day-to-day basis? What does this person feel about their lives in Pakistan? ‘Lyari Notes’ talks about how a young man uses music as a medium to bring in an ever-expanding perspective to life, religion and sectarian strife in a tempestuous corner of Karachi called Lyari which is constantly riddled with violence. Forget 31-year-olds! A young Pakistani pre-teen wants to become president and speaks out strongly about what it means to be Muslim. She puts her foot down too, “What do you mean Malala didn’t deserve the Nobel Prize? Malala, of course, deserved the Nobel Prize!” YouTube relays stories of Pakistan to us to bring us closer to regular people there. YouTube is banned in Pakistan. What does that mean for us? What does that mean for Pakistan?
- Divided Families: Forget long-lost friends who live only inside our memories, there are families that have gone on with significant parts of each other on the two sides of the border. Where does that leave the present generation of such a family? How do we view this shared heritage? What action should we consciously take to preserve and take forward this shared heritage? Again, I do not have answers but these are questions that need a response in some form or the other.
- Cultural Traditions, Language and Music: That which could not be divided. And the common love of Bollywood.
India and Pakistan could probably never euphorically celebrate Independence. That’s probably because when we celebrate our Independence, we also immediately think about the existence of the other. We never had the chance to look at us as one unified whole after the last Englishman left. Today the concept of a unified whole is a pipe-dream. But we must look for more reasons to come together and find ways to dismiss the reasons that tell us to view each other with wariness.
To do this, we have our work cut out. First, we need to make efforts in our immediate environment. There is a liberal thinking cross-section of the population in both the countries that wants to make this effort a success and chats incessantly with each other. This is the first step and this step has been taken. The legacy of the Partition is layered, complex and affects each of us in many different ways. What we must get started is the ability to raise questions that make us uncomfortable, that make us think, that make us have a dialogue with those who do not share our value-system. This small section of the population in both countries understands each other perfectly. How then can we take our thoughts to a bigger pie of the population? There’s an easy (but not effortless, and certainly not simplistic) answer: We need to look in the eye those who we perceive are different and understand their personal stories. When we understand who they are and all that they represent as an individual and open our individual lives to their scrutiny as well, we first become respectful acquaintances. We go on to understand the underlying notions that define our political views. We start talking about how we can address what bothers us. Usually what bothers us is a set of unconfirmed opinions which might melt away in the face of each of our human connections. We are now looking at each other as human beings. This is the moment we get a fresh start. Individual by individual, house by house, city by city, till the two nations become good friends who have found each other again!