Arundhati ‘Pakistani’ and Ram Sene ‘Patriotic’
"Shouldn't Arundhati Roy come from Pakistan?" sarcastically asked a freelance journalist in Delhi, commenting on a panel discussion, Does Media Jingoism Fan India-Pakistan Tensions? The jibe stemmed from his annoyance at Roy's consistent exposure of India's 'warts'.
Besides Arundhati, the panel, organised by the recently formed Forum of Media Professionals (www.fmp.org) at the India International Centre (IIC) on April 15, included four journalists from India. I was among the four from Pakistan in addition to The Hindu's Islamabad correspondent, Nirupama Subramanian, who was also billed as coming from Pakistan.
The dig at Arundhati set me thinking that Delhi may be cleaner and greener since I was last here five years ago, but another kind of pollution lingers, reminiscent of a phenomenon we face in Pakistan: Rightwing jingoism fuelled by emotional appeals to religion and nationalism. It feeds the bigoted competitiveness of many Indians and Pakistanis who are gleeful and self-congratulatory when they can point out how much worse off and 'different' the other is.
If Arundhati Roy should represent Pakistan because she critiques what's wrong in India, those who fight for justice - a struggle that necessitates 'washing dirty linen in public' - in Pakistan should represent India!
When I write or make a documentary film about gender violence in Pakistan, people sometimes ask why I don't expose such wrongdoings in India. "Women there are much worse off!" they argue.
Many refuse to take this myopic view. In Allahabad, at a crowded meeting of the Pakistan-India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), there was no one-upmanship or finger pointing. The audience immediately saw the commonalities of the issues raised in the films I showed (on Pakistan's discriminatory 'Hudood Laws', and rape survivor Mukhtiar Mai's struggle for justice).
The phenomenon of Taliban 'punishing' women for alleged transgressions is not very different from those who rape, kill or lynch women and eloping couples for the sake of 'honour' in traditional communities across the region. Both engage in extra-judicial, vigilante actions. However, the 'honour crimes' are mostly committed by the women's relatives, whereas the Taliban try to enforce their writ on the general populace.
Also, the family in India who hanged their daughter and the man she eloped with (in their own home) will be charged, tried and probably convicted. In Pakistan, laws imposed by a military dictator in the name of Islam allow the victim's family to 'forgive' the perpetrators - often their own relatives.
In Allahabad, senior advocate Ravi Kiran Jain, who heads the PIPFPD chapter there, stressed the dual need for a stable government in Pakistan and to remove misunderstandings between our countries. His words reminded me of Nirupama Subramanian's appeal at the IIC when she urged Indians to show empathy, "be sensitive to Pakistan as a country that has problems, show moderation in how we respond to these problems."
Many Indians understand this, but we don't often hear their voices in the media. What gets more attention is incidents like the minor disruption at the IIC when one man at the back of the auditorium stood up and shouted anti-Pakistan, pro-war slogans. The organisers threw him out. Television cameramen and photographers rushed to capture the scuffle. The incident was sensationalised and misreported.
The heckler turned out to be from the Sri Ram Sene (SRS), one of the faces of India's Rightwing and the recipient of thousands of pink 'chaddis' on Valentine's Day. The organisers had stopped three or four other men from entering the auditorium when they refused to sign the register. The SRS, which otherwise has little or no presence in Delhi, later claimed it had sent 30 men to disrupt the meeting.
The publicity gave them the oxygen they craved. It also gave Rightwing forces in Pakistan the opportunity to condemn the "anti-Pakistan feelings in India". It should serve as an eye-opener to those who talk of friendship with India, proclaimed Jamaat-e-Islami chief, Munawwar Hasan. "They should refrain from visiting India" ("ba'az ajana chahiye").
And so, the anti-Pakistan slogans raised by one miscreant hogged the media limelight rather than those who filled the auditorium, heard the speakers respectfully and engaged in dialogue later. This is the nature of the media beast. Who is going to tame it?