Peace cannot be achieved by simple writing, one needs to listen to others: Nandita Haksar

In its 13th edition, Tata Literature Live joined hands with Rotary District 3141 Mumbai to award human rights lawyer and author Nandita Haksar the first ever ‘Rotary Writing For Peace Award’

Nandita Haksar
Nandita Haksar

Ashlin Mathew

In its 13th edition, Tata Literature Live joined hands with Rotary District 3141 Mumbai to award human rights lawyer and author Nandita Haksar the first ever ‘Rotary Writing For Peace Award’ in recognition of “those who spread the message of peace in their writing”.

With 19 published books on various aspects of nationalism and human rights over the years, Haksar said she was in equal measure honoured to win this award and surprised too because her books touch “politically sensitive” subjects. She reiterated that this award was recognition of the need for conversations especially in literary societies which don’t acknowledge the need for such political writing.

Agreeing with her opinion is the avenue chair for Peace at the Rotary District 3141 Mumbai, Rajiv Punater, who stressed that peace is truly the need of the hour in this world of increasing chaos and discord. Haksar has always championed the message of peace.

“Whether it is the Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism, or the Kuknalim—Naga Armed Resistance (with Sebastian Hongray), they are extremely politically sensitive. In times like these, to recognise such writings is much more than just the recognition of just one author. It’s recognition of the need for such conversations,” underscored Haksar in an exclusive interview to National Herald.

For the author it is about the voices of the people she has documented as she believes most people don’t hear about people from the troubled spots of the country – whether it is from the North-East or Kashmir.

Speaking about the decision to award Haksar, the director of Literature Live Amy Fernandes said, “To try and bring about peace and conflict resolution requires a public-spirited and indefatigable personality. We have always stood for civil discourse and the amicable resolution of disagreements, so it is most fitting that this prize is being awarded on our platform”.

Haksar’s Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism traces the history of Kashmiri nationalism through the lives of Kashmiri Pandit and Communist trade union leader Sampat Prakash, and Mohammad Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri Muslim who became active in the early days of the Kashmir insurgency. The stories of other leaders are woven into this narrative. In her Framing Geelani Hanging Afzal: Patriotism in the Time of Terror, Haksar narrates lives of Kashmiris who inevitably get tangled with the law and their identity remains imprisoned with that of terrorism.

In Kuknalim—Naga Armed Resistance, 10 Naga tribe leaders of India and Myanmar are interviewed where they are hoping for a political resolution of the 60-year-old Naga insurgent movement.

“My intent was to write honestly about what these people believe in the hope that they can have a dialogue. It is not necessarily that I support their views. I’m only trying to convey their grievances in the hope of engaging with the problems they are raising. It is about the voices of the people I have documented. We don’t hear them and if we don’t hear them from the troubled spots of India, what chance does the country stand?” asked Haksar.

Normally, peace awards are structured differently, and Haksar was surprised that political writing has been recognised as a way of achieving peace because peace cannot be achieved by only simplistic peace writing. “Somewhere, someone has recognised the need to listen to other people,” she added.

“Whether it is communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims or harmony between the government and us or wherever all the troubled spots are, the first thing we need to do is listen and understand,” asserted Haksar.

In her latest Forgotten Refugees- Two Iraqi Brothers in India, Haksar foregrounds the lives of these two brothers who have become the ‘nowhere people’, but are constantly in the search of a permanent home. It’s not too much to ask, writes Haksar, while throwing the spotlight on the complex issue of India’s stand on refugees.

The author, who is the daughter of the famed bureaucrat PN Haksar, explained that as a lawyer and activist, it is difficult to represent those whom she doesn’t agree with and those whom she strongly disagrees with. “But, to represent people is a huge responsibility. It’s extremely difficult to convey details of very different cultures. I feel it is an achievement when I write on Kashmiri issues as I have a background as a Kashmiri Pandit. Despite that there were no protests either by the Kashmiri Pandits or the Kashmiri Muslims, both of whose politics I have been critical of. People are willing to hear a critique of themselves as long as they feel it has been done honestly,” added Haksar.

For the author, the state has always been an instrument of repression, maybe more so now. “My issue is that here is a country that I love, but can we build a peaceful country where the Nagas, Kashmiris and the tribals in Chhattisgarh are ignored? Can we do it?” asked Haksar.

Pointedly, she asked if in these 75 years, how many of us knew our country. “That book I wrote- Flavours of Nationalism- showed that we don’t even know each other’s cuisine. We don’t even explore our country. We should face up to the challenge of knowing each other,” observed Haksar. This book, which was published in 2018, dwells on food and the politics surrounding it.

Speaking about shrinking freedoms, Haksar poignantly pointed out that it’s not just a phenomenon in our country. “It should not be seen in isolation. All across the world there has been a rise of fascist right-wing popular leaders. The media, journalists, lawyers and people are all responsible. It didn’t start now, it began in the 80s. How much have we done to stop this tide of fascism?” she queried.

Locating India’s situation where the right-wing elements are growing, Haksar quietly states that “democracy doesn’t stand very well in the country today; it is in fact sitting with its head down”. She underscored that there was a democracy in India, but it was always a few activists or journalists or lawyers who fought for the democratic space to flourish.

“In that democratic space, only a few publishers would publish my books. Whatever I may do or not do, if a publisher doesn’t publish my books, I can’t do anything. There are publishers who are already self-censoring, many people aren’t writing,” Haksar signed off on a moving note.

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