I was already perturbed after the hostage situation in Sydney on Monday, December 15. But nothing could have prepared me for the horrendous act of brutality perpetrated in Peshawar the very next day. It has taken me a while to collect my thoughts and assemble them with enough coherence so that I could express them in the written form.
Last week I had started to draft a post on this year’s Nobel Peace Prize awardees. Here’s what I had saved,
There is immense power in One. I come from a land of a more than a billion Ones and we are here and free because of One Mahatma who inspired our collective intelligentsia to peacefully assert our identity. Yesterday saw the amazing testament to the Power of One in Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai winning the Nobel Peace Prize to bring the plight of children in South Asia in world’s view again, to reintroduce it into the limelight. I absolutely loved their Nobel lectures.
The speech for the awardees was flawless and incredibly moving,
While it is in the nature of extremism to create enemies and frightening images, and to divide the world into us and them, the laureates show us something else: A young girl and a somewhat older man, one from Pakistan and one from India, one Muslim, the other Hindu; both symbols of what the world needs: more unity.
Fraternity between the nations!
This is exactly what the world needs right now. I am so thrilled to see the Nobel committee press upon this while the entire world watches. We, in South Asia, take tremendous pride in our ‘golden stars’; our blazing thinkers and doers who have shined on the world stage. We are young democracies that seem to be still battling for freedom. There are, after all, different sorts of freedom. So, it gives our collective ego a huge boost to see one of our own shining above the people of the so-called ‘developed’ part of the world. With such glory at hand, for Indians to see that it must be shared with a young Pakistani woman is a much-needed lesson in distinguishing humanity from politics.
I leave you with Malala’s thoughts that shook my core,
I had two options.
One was to remain silent and wait to be killed. And the second was to speak up and then be killed.
I chose the second one. I decided to speak up.
We could not just stand by and see those injustices of the terrorists denying our rights, ruthlessly killing people and misusing the name of Islam.
We decided to raise our voice and tell them: Have you not learnt, have you not learnt that in the Holy Quran Allah says: if you kill one person it is as if you kill the whole humanity?
I never published this post. I never got to it. The terrorists did their needful first. I re-read this yesterday and I was in tears. Is there any good in people?
After following #sydneysiege on Monday on Twitter my husband and I discussed it in the evening over dinner. We were talking about Taliban, Islamic State (IS) and the Islam religion. I realised that growing up in India had given me a tremendous advantage: to understand and interact with people from different religious and cultural backgrounds. I definitely had more personal anecdotes to share than him. The great part about growing up in secular India is that you have days off school for special days of all religions. So as a child you inevitably like all religions and unintentionally learn about them (since they get you off from doing schoolwork!).
I was born a Hindu but suffice to say, for the time being, that I am not a religious Hindu but a philosophical one. I have had Muslim friends growing up; many actually. We have wished each other on our respective religious holidays. I have been invited to Ramadan feasts. In our cities, in India, we have the ‘Muslim quarter’ where the best tea is served and also the best food. There is discrimination and it works against them. They suffer the plight that any minority suffers and probably the worst of them all due to our troubled history.
I have heard bigoted remarks by own family members that I have borne in silence because ‘one must not speak against elders’. It is not the right way to behave to go against the grain. I wonder when it became right to judge a person’s integrity based on their religion. I have also heard the most amazing story of public display of kindness – shown to one of my family members in her time of great need – by a young Muslim who was a complete stranger, who was poor and who also went on to call her ‘Mother’ when addressing her. He stands for what Islam truly is about, as is any religion at its core – compassion and kindness to all living things. I have immense respect for all my Muslim friends. It also extends to the Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, Jewish, Afro-Cubano, Athiest, Agnostic friends I have made in my life. This has nothing to do with me being born a Hindu but has everything to do with me being willing to understand and learn from people different from me.
What happened this week is not about Islam, that much is obvious to me. I am going to have to disagree with Richard Dawkins.
This is not about faith. I am a scientist but I know that one’s belief in one’s own ability or another ‘power’ can help sustain us. It is naïve to think that this attack was a cause of faith and rather glib to say so. These acts came out of fanaticism, ideological extremism and irrational anger at the world.This was Faith Delusion, Mr. Dawkins.
For everybody who takes a moral high ground claiming their religion is superior to Islam because it doesn’t condone violence I say read your history books and then dump those and read others’ history books. Everybody has a different version of the events. I recently visited Andalucia, Spain and saw the beautiful ‘fusion’ architecture – combining Moorish and Christian styles. The cathedrals are amazing but, stand on Mosques long gone. I admired the beauty of the place but it didn’t escape me that we were standing on lands that have soaked blood. It’s been so long that we see only the red rust of the sand and think it is the iron content but maybe it is not.
Everything goes both ways. It needs to – in order to survive the oscillating nature of history. In India I have seen monuments for Islam built over ancient Hindu ruins and vice versa. Everyone has suffered. Alas, suffering cannot be tallied neatly and neither can emotions; hence it is only our emotions that have always caused the greatest catastrophes. They cannot be reasoned with and cannot be questioned.
I propose logic and reason.
Please think, think deeply about why this has happened, I try to tell myself. Man Haron Monis was mentally unstable, a self-styled clergy and was well known to the Australian police (read here). The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that claimed responsibility for the massacre at the Army Public School in Peshawar said that they had targeted the schools because “nearly all the students are children of Army personnel.” Read article here. A survivor of the attack said that the gunmen played ‘sadistic games’ with them and said this to a teacher who was asked to watch his students being shot, ‘Watch as your loved ones die. Ours are also being killed in the same way.’ Read article here.
This is not about Islam. Violence always begets violence. When, as an impressionable youth, you see your friends and family being murdered and then you see and hear nothing but hate for the killers, you then do go on to kill their children and loved ones. You can no longer empathise. It was destroyed the day you saw the first act of violence. I have witnessed this, at much milder tone, in my own life. I have lived in Delhi for many years and have heard from Sikhs about how it was for them after Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. They were not harmed themselves but their community was butchered and that was enough for them to be scarred for life. I have heard from a daughter for an Indian army official who has seen loss in her life and in her friends’ lives because of the ‘Kashmir issue’ and she openly speaks about how she will never forgive Pakistan. These people have been directly affected but I have been fortunate enough to witness it from the sidelines. That gives me the opportunity to be objective and at the same time, however, doesn’t give me a right to judge their feelings, precisely because ‘feelings’ cannot be adequately judged and should not be either.
If you want to learn more about Islam’s history there’s a great series ongoing on Lex Solo’s blog. You can find it here.
Of history, politics and society
I had my own misconceptions about what had happened and who’s to blame for the events that have led to the rift between India and Pakistan. My ideas were coloured by my surroundings. I had never hated Pakistan. I disliked their cricket team but I had nothing against the country. When I witnessed hatred amongst my people I was ambivalent at best (or worst). Then I read ‘India After Gandhi’ by Ramachandra Guha and I realised that I had been so wrong about so many things. I shouldn’t have been ambivalent. We are two nations despite being the same people. We hate because we tell different versions of the same events. It’s a marriage undergoing a divorce that’ll never be settled since we need to live together despite our differences and we are also continuously fighting for custody of our beautiful heavenly baby – Kashmir – with eyes of blue, skin of green and hair of white. The process has ravaged both the ex-partners and has left Kashmir hollowed, shell-shocked and abandoned to its own devices. Why won’t hate breed there? What’s there to stop it?
If there ever could be a personification of evil we all saw it this week. There are so many horrifying images of blood soaked auditoriums, shoes, books, bullet-ridden classrooms, tiny coffins, waling family and friends that I wouldn’t even know which one I should try to reconcile with first. The truth is none of it will be erased from my memory.
The only thing that brought some consolation was the solidarity of people this week seen over social media with #illridewithyou (where Muslim women were offered escorts in Sydney so that they feel safe) and #IndiawithPakistan (where Indians showed their empathy for Pakistan’s tragedy) trending. We seemed to all bear the burden for the loss of humanity. It was all too perfect.
Then I see a newsclip where Mr. Pervez Musharaff is blaming India for supporting terrorist factions,
I decided not to indulge in this nonsensical war-mongering. Then this morning I see this,
26/11 2009 saw the terror attack in Mumbai orchestrated by the Lashker-e-Taiba based in Pakistan and Lakhvi is said to be the commander of the operation.
The hate is back again. I don’t know how many people actually took the time to hear the news report before putting up banners detailing the cross-border atrocities in the past 6 decades. His bail is not politically motivated. It is a judicial decision. When there is not enough proof, as judged in an impartial court of law, then there is nothing that can be done. I don’t think Pakistanis are rejoicing right now knowing that a terrorist is out on the loose. I just have to read the comments’ thread here, running into 100s, to know how deeply entrenched this hatred is.
Am I absolved of being part of this hatred completely? I can’t even say that. A family member a while back, when choosing a restaurant for lunch, saw that the cuisine was described as North Indian and Pakistani at which point they went on to make out as if they were going to throw up and said , ‘No! I will never go there!’ I didn’t say anything. I wish I had. I have wished every day since then that I had said something. Is it ignorance that makes seemingly educated people speak this way? If it is then it is certainly not the proverbial blissful ignorance. It is such ignorance that has led to violence. It is people like me, who don’t speak up against such ignorance that also share the burden. We must be held responsible.
Of the future
I am writing this today because I wanted to record my thoughts, so that I can revisit them whenever I choose: as a reminder to think before judging, before saying and definitely before acting; as a reminder that there is still great power in One and there are people like Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai in this world; to know that I can choose my humanity. I hope that the children who have survived the massacre, and have seen horrors I can scarcely imagine, grow up in a loving world. I hope they don’t see and hear hate alone. I hope we don’t ask them to kill but instead ask them to distill the true meaning of religion. I hope we teach our histories in a more balanced way and keep our politics out of the way of innocence. I would one day like to share this with my own children, for them to see what had happened on December 16, 2014 through my eyes, not shadowed by hate. I hope that they will be living in a better world.