Will the Covid crisis and shared misery bring India and Pakistan together?

The two countries are unable to cope with Covid. Saadia Ahmed, a Pakistani blogger settled in Australia wonders if the pandemic can bring the two countries closer and reflects on their shared past

Will the Covid crisis and shared misery
bring India and Pakistan together?

Saadia Ahmed

I have spent the major chunk of my life (so far in these thirty-five years) in Pakistan. Growing up as a 90s kid in a post-colonial state that was struggling to establish a ‘national' identity independent of the country (read: India) it had been a part of for thousands of years, the narrative around me was shaped mostly by the moral and religious superiority of Pakistani Muslims. Since I grew up in urban Punjab and Kashmir which was predominantly Muslim, I did not really come across religious and ethnic minorities around me.

Except Christians, of course, who were restricted to menial jobs like cleaning or teaching in convent schools which functioned as an ode to our colonial past. I had little or no idea of people who were not Muslims. It was, therefore, easier for the state narrative to shape up young minds, making them believe that everything that even slightly showed a connection to our Indian/ Indus Valley civilisation past was sinfully anti-national. Needless to mention, we the 90s kids grew up with an unreal notion of India and the people who inhabited the state. My maternal grandmother had migrated from a small town named Jhajjar near Rohtak and was still alive.

My paternal grandmother who spent her growing years among Hindus and Sikhs, who later migrated to India after the Partition, was also living and thriving. Like most grandmothers around the globe, both of the silver-haired ladies in my family were fond of telling stories from their past with a twinkle in their eyes.

Nani would often tell us stories of Diwali when she and her siblings would look forward to the animal-shaped mithai from their Hindu neighbours. She was 22 at the time of Partition when she hustled with a six-month-old child to Pakistan, leaving her home of centuries behind. Nani clearly remembered every detail of her home in Jhajjar.

My father also loved striking jolly conversations with the Sikh pilgrims who travelled to Pakistan every year to visit their sacred monuments and took their time off to stroll around the streets of Anarkali Bazar in Lahore, shopping for their families back home. Every Pakistani child of my age in Lahore was eager to watch the daily ceremony before the gates were closed for the day at the Wagha border and ‘see’ the Indians.

We thus grew up between the conflicting pulls of the state-sponsored narrative of national identity that needed the fuel of hate and the memories of the shared past which never let the generation that moved to Pakistan forget them. Despite the state sponsored narrative, therefore, people still felt a strong connection with people across the border.

Since moving out of Pakistan, I have had the opportunity to interact and be friends with Indians. Many of them had moved outside India the first time just like me and looked at me with the same amazement as I did. Together we were able to break the mental barriers and stereotypes, celebrating the similarities and commonalities. We would often laugh over the divisive politics that had enabled us to create a grotesque image of each other inside our heads but we had smashed it right away while gorging on biryani together.

I understand I should not have taken this long to build the background to this narrative. It is the age of microblogging where no one has the time to listen to or read long stories. But probably this is my survival technique, an attempt to escape the lump in my throat and the tears that will soon start flooding my eyes.

India is probably going through one of the most testing times of its being. The Indian social media present a sight of utter despair and helplessness with every other person asking for leads either to get oxygen or a hospital bed, begging to buy just a little more time from the Universe and to breathe a little longer.

Pakistan, on the other hand, is probably lagging a few months behind but considering the graveness of the situation and the complete lack of an effective healthcare system, that time is apparently not too far. Pakistan’s situation is probably not as horrifying as India’s at the moment but the hospitals are already nearing their full capacity. The oxygen shortage is due anytime soon. And yeah, so far there is no sign of any vaccine for the entire population.

Pakistani social media these days is filled not only with the horrors of this pandemic but also with messages of solidarity for Indians. From #PakistanstandswithIndia to #IndiaNeedsOxygen, Pakistanis irrespective of religion or political inclination have been urging their government to stand by India at this hour of need.

Edhi Foundation offered a fleet of 50 ambulances along with staff for India and sought permission to cross the borders. Many Indians have also welcomed and cherished the common Pakistanis’ response to their pain. Hence, at the moment one can see people across the borders united and appreciating the solidarity they feel for each other.

Unfortunately, neither India nor Pakistan are in any position to help each other as these ‘nuclear powers’ have missiles but not basic healthcare for their population. The animosity projected by the establishment on both sides has fooled people for nearly 74 years into believing that defence and hyper-nationalism should be prioritised over health and education.

I, like many other Pakistanis and Indians who aspire to create a peaceful future for our future generations, will probably always be sulking over the trauma forced on us over these decades. Probably the ruling elite will never care because all these dying people are just numbers to them, and love does not fit their agenda which harbours hate to generate political gains. Probably we will continue transmitting this trauma to our future generations because we refuse to learn and refuse to heal.

But I also hope that we the common people pick our lessons from this dreaded pandemic and allow our shared misery to bring all of us together, questioning our governments if we need more nukes or more oxygen. It is about time we heal from the generational trauma and create a world that lets everyone breathe in peace and harmony. Shall we?

(Saadia Ahmed is a Pakistani writer and blogger settled in Australia. Views are personal)

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