Role of People in Improving Indo-Pak Relations


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While British India became independent and was divided into India and Pakistan for a more peaceful and saner future, we know that this is yet to be realized. Since separation, there has largely been a culture of war and extreme hatred. In these 67 years, there have been 4 major wars, countless ceasefire violations and indirect clashes suffered by divided families, prisoners and fishermen.

Yet, there exists a very pessimistic attitude towards peace. It has also been reduced to an issue of mockery. Working to improve relations is seen as passive and futile. Also, these views emanate not from the stakeholders but from the common masses in both countries. There is
not just a pessimistic attitude but also a severe questioning of it, especially on times of a clash. During any disturbance, the peace groups and activists are targeted. They are rendered accountable. Their loyalty towards their country is questioned. They are asked to prove their love for their country by condemning the other. Their efforts are regarded to be futile and showy.

In general, there exists a view that war and peace are in the hands of those who have political power. What can you and me do about it? The conflict is regarded to be a conflict between the state heads, between New Delhi and Islamabad. Is this true? Do people have no role to play?

What is then the purpose of interactive sessions, seminars, public demonstrations and student exchanges?

Another view that anyone who advocates for peace witnesses is that there can be no peace unless we solve the core issue, the Kashmir or the K-issue. Is this the only way to establish peace?

While the two views regarding the state’s role and the need to resolve core issue are not wrong, they are narrow and insufficient. We use the term “peace process”. The word “process” signifies that peace, like any process, will come under certain conditions and through a systematic way. It will come under a certain culture. While peace and conflict definitely depends on the political head, the decision or the official policy is never in isolation with the views of the people. The states manufacture consent. There is a certain ideological culture that it manufactured to create as well as sustain the official policy. In our context, hatred for India/Pakistan has been manufactured and sustained. There exists a culture of hatred and suspicion on both sides of the border. Both sides have constructed their own stereotypes and misconceptions. These have been aggravated, if not carefully constructed, by the lack of communication and by miscommunication. Both sides believe that they are right and the other is wrong. Both sides think the other does not want peace, the other is unjust and cruel.

These misconceptions are used to justify clashes. The state and public opinion cannot be said to be in isolation with each other. Both affect and influence each other. It was the public anger that killed Sarabjit Singh and Sanaullah Ranjay. It is public opinion that determines the action and ‘reaction’ on the borders. If we talk about issues of prisoners and fishermen, it is not just the state but the people’s biases (as prison guards, advocates and judges) that aggravate their sufferings. Thus, it is essential that a culture of peace, respect and understanding is established. People need to become sensitive and need to realize the importance of peace for a better future. They need to realize that the other, like them, wants peace and friendship. It is also this culture that will contribute to resolving of core issues. In the present scenario of jingoism, opinions are only classified as “pro-Indian” and “anti-Indian” or “pro-Pakistani” and “anti-Pakistani”, not in a rational way. They are not seen from a human perspective. It is the culture of peace that will motivate them to think rationally and in a just manner. Peace needs to be created before being established.

Thus, people cannot be regarded to be passive agents. The people of both countries need to take charge for a better future. 

This article got published on The Pakistan Today and CSS Current Affairs Pakistan website

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Some thoughts on the “royal” Rajasthan

These are based on my recent short trip to Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan. The trip was not an academic venture. I had gone for some personal reasons so it will be a reflection based entirely on observations.

An economy of forts



Rajasthan makes up to be one of the most historically-conscious, as one may put it, state in India. The pink city is famous and known for its forts. Infact, one of the most obvious images that conjures up when one thinks of Rajasthan is that of the innumerable forts and not to forget, “tradition”. The desert, women in lehenga, the traditional rajasthani turban, katputli, bajre ki khichdi…Rajasthan, to an outsider, is synonymous with the traditional Rajasthan. There is also a haunted side to Rajasthan with legends and haunted stories weaved around medieval forts, the best known being that of Bhangarh. Rajasthan is a much-glorified place but what is interesting, but not new, is how the glorification is encashed. It will not be anything new to mention how forts are being converted into hotels, or how hotels have tried to ape the architecture of forts, the most-famous chowkidhaani that promises you a glimpse into the “traditional” village and the over-priced rajasthani food. What I intend to do in this write-up is to reflect on the glorification of tradition.

Whose tradition?

We were near Rajasthan, not sure if we were in Rajasthan, when I, through the window of cafe coffee day, saw a camel. I also saw a man wearing the traditional rajasthani turban. I was a bit shocked with the contrasting images. I would notice the dress of women as our car passed by villages. It was nothing like the glamorised ethnic wear. They wore bright-colored but simple lehenga with a tight-fitting blouse (that we (should i say delhites?) wear with a saree) with a bare midriff. All throughout my journey, I saw this style and needless to mention, I only saw women of not from a very high economic background opting for this dress. The men who would wear the turban would also be generally from a modest economic background. It was not that I was expecting everyone in Rajasthan to be dolled-up in ethnic wear but I found this interesting. All the tradition seems to be now carried off by people who live at the margins.

What about the people of the middle and elite classes? Well, they hop in western clothes or in kurta-pyjama to the malls and the World Trade Park. The World Trade Park, is a mall with no place to sit but to roam about, admiring the expensive shops, the chandeliers and the egyptian, chinese and other unnamed but “foreign” (and that is enough!) statues. Out of the four restaurants that I visited, only the one of the hotel included a rajasthani dish in its menu. As about shopping in a regular place, not the famous jowhri bazaar, there was also nothing “rajasthani”. The point is… the traditional seems to be the burden of the underprivileged.

Chowkidhaani – The glamorised village

You go to Jaipur and you don’t visit chowkidhaani, that’s not possible! I have been to Jaipur many times and each time, I have been there, I have visited chowkidhaani to get the “rajasthani” feel. Chowkidhaani promises a “glimpse” into the traditional village. But you will be disappointed if you think through because the glamorised replica does not talk anything about the farmer suicides and the social evils that exists. It reminded me of the ideal image of the self-sustaining and peaceful village that many western thinkers including marx had hold onto.

I remember that last time, we were welcomed by a group of ladies dressed in traditional clothes, a smiling face who would put teeka on our forehead. This time, it was just a young girl who was severely disinterested. She had left the lot before us as she didn’t want to waster her energy calling out to them. Nevertheless, she had put the teeka on our forehead like a machine stamping a barcode on a product. I wasn’t disappointed seeing the prospering business until I saw three varying prices – 500, 600 and 700. I thought it was the ticket but it was actually the price for the food per head. The highest was for the traditional Rajasthani thali.

It was fun to be in the ideal and dream-like village (a dream especially for those who actually live in villages). It was “exciting” to be in the line to hurt a camel (read camel ride). But the genuinely exciting part was the rajasthani thali. Drenched in rain, with our wet and mud-soaked clothes, we dined on the feast that was once only the right of the “royal”. While we feasted on bajre ki kheechdi which was swimming in ghee, the ghee-soaked daal baati churma and many other dishes, a guy was singing the ethnic songs. I do remember his face and the songs that he played. It is a daily ritual for him. However, then and now a thought that crops up in my mind is that has things changed for him? Then and now, he played for the privileged. Then and now, he doesn’t have an option. He is sticking on to the tradition.

The forts and the farce of blue-bloodedness


Coming back to forts. As I saw the forts, especially the amber fort with the long-running ramparts, I was lost trying to imagine the past. But not “my” past. If I were what I am today, in terms of my economic status, in those centuries, I wouldn’t have been even allowed to enter the forts with respect. Being a woman, my status would have been even lower. So how is this a past that  I should be expected to be proud of? We went to the Albert museum and were expected to be in awe of the “royal” items of daily use. Yes, I was in awe of the fact that they sucked money from the commoners and created a nice royal world for themselves while the commoners suffered during a famine.

But one definite thing that I was happy to realise is that how this farce of blue-bloodedness has been shunned by the recent trend of marrying in forts. Today, it is common for the economically privileged to realise this “dream”. Ofcourse, it is still extended only to a few. But I feel happy imagining how the souls and ghosts? of the royalty would react when people of non-rajput or “high” blood share the same privilege.

Concluding with an epic statement

I would just like to end with what a man who sells chunni/gudiya ke baal (candyfloss in english) had said to two people who were debating about what to call the item that he sold. He said, “Haan, chunni ke baal hi kehte hai par kuch vilayati bandar ise candy floss keh gaye”. (Yes, it is called chunni ke baal but some foreign monkeys gave it the name of candy floss.) I think his statement sums it up well.



Confession pages and the power of Anonymity

The Mumbai Mirror reads “FB’s confession pages become a headache for colleges and cops”. According to the Report published today i.e. 31st March 2013, several college authorities have lodged complaints to trace the author of anonymous posts who have been posting obscene remarks against female students, against the teachers and the administration. 
Confession pages are the new trend on facebook. There are confession pages for schools, colleges, offices and even for Delhi metro. I am not sure if there is one for DTC buses. They are a huge hit. On Delhi Metro Confession page, one of the post read that the confessor is more attentive in metro now so that he/she can get something to post as a confession! 
A careful look at the content of these pages would tell you that they are actually a repository. Ofcourse, many confession pages are also working like the pigeon transport system to deliver love messages, but confession pages are also full of reflections, suggestions and most importantly, frustrations. I have seen confessions by victims of sexual harassment. 
The confession pages of schools and colleges can also give a peek view into their environment.The confessions on the pages tell you what the students are thinking about.  In the LSR confession page, most confessions are a debate on feminism. I feel that in many ways, these pages are also contributing to the environment of the college. As a personal example, the confessions posted on the page are discussed on the page as well as in the college. 
But i propose to give a serious look at the critical comments. According to the report, there is a serious attempt to control this important aspect of the page. While obscene remarks should come under the radar, I cannot make up my mind if the latter deserves censorship.
As I said earlier, confession pages are also becoming another source to vent out frustrations. I have read many confessions against the administration or about how things work in the college. To me, these should be seen as a feedback form. 
One of the confessions that i read was against a teacher. Somebody had commented that the page should not support anti-administration or anti-faculty posts. This person had also said that the confessor should have the guts to go and tell the problem directly, to which somebody commented that it is not possible for a student to go and tell the teacher directly. This is really a fact. Not only do many universities despise self-criticism, it is even worse in the case of a teacher. Not many teachers can take self-criticism, something that is unhealthy. In such a scenario, these confessions should be taken as a feedback and not as an offence. If a University bans a confession page, I feel that it is banning these voices and any university which is not self-critical cannot ever be successful. 
There is, ofcourse, another side to it. The question comes, “what if the person is trying to defame the university or a particular teacher?” I have a solution to check this. If there is a wrong post, people usually react to it and point it out. But in cases when it is true, it does not meet with any opposition.
So if these posts are true and there is really a problem with a teacher or the way university is working, instead of finding out the confessor, the university should look into the matter. Though I myself do not appreciate anonymity to a great extent but in cases where we are dealing with careers, we must understand the importance of anonymity. 
Banning these pages will not solve any solution. It will be even more unhealthy. Ideally speaking, the administration should not try to intervene in this as this is off the campus but if it has to, I think that the Universities should take these pages seriously and treat them as feedback forms. 

What democracy means to me

In our part of the world, democracy is a matter of pride. The transition to the notion of having a Government based on regular elections makes us feel ‘elated’. This ‘fancy’ notion of rule by people is seen as “progressive”.  So we had the Bhutanese King himself introducing democracy on his land.

In South Asian, India comes closest to being what is called a ‘democracy’. We are the World’s largest democracy, a matter of pride which is often re-iterated but more often in not so ‘proudest’ of the moments. This road of democracy has not been a smooth one. There have been major ruptures like the emergency of 1975 and many minor ruptures.

Infact, the concept of “fractured democracy” has more buyers today. Rule of the ‘people’ is one myth rejected by everyone on this land of mythical stories. Today, people ask rule of which people? In the people’s rule, people have no faith in their political representatives. The very idea of joining politics is seen as a forbidden sin by many. Politics is ‘dirty’, they argue.

Democracy has led to the propagation of communal ideas. It has lead to communal clashes. Casteism and politics of ethnicity has also managed a space in the World’s largest ‘democracy’. Ofcourse, it has to be noted that these ideas of identity politics are not alien to people’s mindsets.

There have also been contradictions in this democracy. So, on one hand, we have a bunch who propagate all kinds of myths which promised to unleash hell and on the other, there have been people like Irom Sharmila, whose voice has been suppressed for 11 years now. On one hand, the voices which have challenged the very base of the democracy, the constitution have been allowed but on the other, this woman’s voice has been suppressed even though she is only demanding the revival of the constitution to save the World’s largest ‘democracy’.

So it is quite clear that democracy in India has faced as well led to major challenges. But does this call for a search for an alternative system? Some moderate voices have asked for a modified democracy with a bi-party system, instead of a multi-party system or a federal system. While these are still within the sphere of a democracy, there have also been voices to do away with democracy and settle for an army rule.

However much fractured our democracy may be but the voices for an army rule gives me Goosebumps. So what does democracy means to me?

Democracy for me is a hope. The contemporary emperors, popularly known as politicians, may not be representing me. They may be the cause for corruption, poverty and communal and ethnic clashes but democracy is still the reason why I can still hope to breath. I can live under the illusion that things will change if the ‘right’ people get selected. And I can also imagine that illusion turning into a reality.

Democracy allows for a room for ‘change’ by holding regular elections. It paints an illusion. Democracy may be autocratic in reality, but it can promise an unautocratic and fair rule.

There may be thousands of instances to be disillusioned but the election time does manage to re-enchant us. Democracy does create, to an extent, fear amongst the politicians and keeps a check on them. The power to ‘change’ does, to an extent, haunt them and forces them to do atleast one good deed with their thousand bad deeds.

Democracy may allow proliferation of dangerous ideas but what is to be noted, is this freedom to proliferate all kinds of ‘nonsense’. Democracy gives us the hope of having different voices. Like Irom Sharmila, our voice may be suppressed. But because this is a democracy, the Government’s negligent attitude towards her is now being challenged. A more popular example is the online uproar against the attempts by the Government to moderate our virtual lives. The netizens had unanimously protested against this attack on our ‘democracy’.

It is democracy which allows us to dissent. It allows us the mechanism to raise our voice in protest. No other system can vouch for this. In pre-French revolution France, you would have been guillotined. In Taliban regime, you would be stoned to death.

There have been voices which have suggested the adoption a bi-party system, instead of a multi-party system. But the opponents have argued that a multi-party system allows more democratic voices. A multi-party system accommodates diverse voices. It makes the democracy stronger.

The notion of democracy is something which comes almost naturally to us now. We use it to guard our personal and sometimes conservative beliefs. It is hard, atleast for me, to even imagine an alternative order where there will be no dissent.

Democracy is a power, though unrealised to a great extent, in the hands of the people. So while democracy has amounted to a lot of hardships, I feel that it still remains to be the only ship to sail across and reach the island of ‘liberation’.

The agony of an auto-rickshaw wala

They are a notorious bunch… known for demanding arbitrary prices (50 rupees for south-ex from LSR), having a faulty meter (if they agree to use it) or finding excuses to charge extra. These little tanashahis(dictators) on wheels are a part of the everyday lives of the middle class. Yet, the middle class know (and care) so little of their grievances. Auto-hartals yields attention but not sympathy.

I had also belonged to the same “it’s his problem” attitude, until yesterday when I had an unusual auto ride yesterday where I was turned a mute listener. I had been advised to hire an auto from the prepaid system. It is easy and hassle-free but the auto drivers are not in favour of it (afterall, it kills their hope to ‘loot’ the ‘poor’ customers) so they try to convince you against it. But I had it my way. The traffic policeman then helped me find an auto. The auto driver that he had chosen tried to refuse as he had to go in the opposite direction for some work. But the traffic policeman did not listen. I felt a little bad for him but I couldn’t do anything (you don’t really argue with a policeman in Delhi).

Since I was coming from the station, he thought I was new to delhi so he started telling me the important places. He then told me how he had to report to his owner immediately. I told him that he should have told the policeman the same. I think that had pinched him. He then started off telling me how everyone- the policeman, the prepaid system, the government and even the trade union members are betrayers (he used “Harami” for each group).

The prepaid system has an in-built commission in the name of service tax. He told me the importance of that 5 rupees per ride. He argued that the policeman chooses the passing-by autos rather than the ones which are standing there as he takes money from the latter (they still have the hope to ‘loot’).

The government is a pain for everyone. But with the recent law, it has stung the auto drivers most bitterly. According to the new law, the autos will have a GPRS system and will have a machine which would calculate the fare and give a receipt. It will help exercise a lot of check on the drivers-turned-monsters and make the rides safe. It seems to be pro-customers (I don’t know if it means an increase in the fare). But one’s boon always turns out to be bane for another. The government expects the auto drivers to pay for this new facility. The original demand was of 50,000. After a hartal, it was pushed down to 14,000. But this is unacceptable and illogical. Why do they have to incur the cost? They will not be getting anything out of this unprofitable investment.

Auto driving is also not a very lucrative career option. How much can an auto wala earn each day? They also have to pay 250 or 300 rupees to the owner every day. CNG cost is also incurred by them. They work day and night to earn a few hundreds. Like their customers, they also have a family to support. I asked him about his family. He had two kids and a sister for whose marriage he had to save 5 lakhs.

I enquired about the auto trade union. I realized I had touched another nerve. He told me how they were all betrayers. Some would see the hartal as an opportunity for earning more. He had idealized the auto trade union of Maharashtra. The Delhi auto union, in contrast, is not well-organised and is divided on the lines of regional identities (He considered people from a certain state the worst of the betrayers).

This auto driver, whom I happened to meet, was not extraordinary. He was a simple man who just spoke his heart out. And by doing that, I saw the real face of an auto-wala…Another victim of this oppressive Govt. I am not justifying the harassment by most auto drivers. Cheating is unfair but they are also helpless, to a large extent. The new GPRS law is even more unfair. In their struggle against the Government, we can atleast sympathise with them, if nothing more.

Aam Insaan – frozen in time and space

I live in the city of Qilas and Makbaras. For Dilliwalas, and especially Purani-dilliwalas, Lal Qila is the most important monument. It stands as the symbol of a romanticized imperial past. It was, after all, the residence of their beloved emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and also of their culture. Whenever I look at the Lal Qila, its beautifully-carved halls, the jharokas, the massive Darwaza and the moat outside the Qila, which in its heyday had water with crocodiles, I try to go back in time, trying to imagine how life must have been in those days. While scenes from Jodha Akbar and Mughal-e-Azam would help me in my quest, a smile would flash across my face and I’ll lament, “wo bhi kya din hote honge…” I would imagine if Bahadur Shah would have never been defeated, how things would have been so different.

No, wait! DIFFERENT… Really?

Even during the time of Mughals, if I was what I am now, would the Lal Qila be mine? The grandeur attached with it and with the Emperor, the merrymaking, the glitter or chaka-chownd, in short, the romanticized past – would I have had a stake in it? No, because I am just an Aam Insaam. Whether it is Bahadur Shah or Manmohan Singh, whether it is Lal Qila or the Rashtrapati Bhawan, I am nothing but the common citizen of this great nation. I was suppressed in the 18th century and still am. Whether it is for their Mahals or their Swiss bank accounts, it is I who suffers the burden of heavy taxation. I am the pawn in their political games. In their fights, it is I who pays. I am the one who dies when there is a ‘disagreement’ between two rulers.

There have been movements and revolutions which are attributed to the ‘will of the people’. French Revolution, America’s war of Independence and Russian Revolution; they all boast about the support of the masses. But little did the masses actually achieve. Even Russian Revolution ultimately led to the dictatorship of the rich and the powerful. In fact, when Lenin claimed to established the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, the rural proletariat referred to him as the new Tsar! Today, the general political form of existence is democracy or rule by the people (demos) but we know the reality. Our ‘representatives’ have even now established dynastic rule. Their posts are also becoming hereditary.

So why should it matter to me if it is Shah Jahan or Vajpayee on the throne? They are the rulers and I am the one who is always the ruled.

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