It’s about time we begin to re-humanise the past 

Both Indian & Pakistani intellectuals failed to tell masses truth - the tales of bonhomie. In absence of such narratives, people were forced to believe state-sponsored narrative on both sides

 Photo courtesy: Vandana Shukla
Photo courtesy: Vandana Shukla
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Vandana Shukla

Zubair Ahmad, a young Pakistani of 17 discovered the story of Bhagat Singh way back in 1975, which led to a chain of events culminating in gathering of the secular, democratic and progressive forces in Lahore, who demanded  renaming of Shadman chowk, in the heart of the city, after Bhagat Singh. This was the spot where the three young nationalist leaders—Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were hanged by the British in 1931. A kind of cultural activism began in 1999,  gathering several voices, shades and contexts to reclaim the communal harmony of the pre- Partition days, in Pakistan. The third generation after the partition wanted to liberate the history of its monochromatic narrative.

“I had heard from my grandmothers— from both maternal and paternal sides— the tales of bonhomie between Hindu and Muslim families— they missed that period left behind in India.  Both Indian and Pakistani intellectuals failed the masses in telling the truth; they are responsible for what we became," says Abdur Rauf Yousafzai, 30, Peshawar based journalist, who coordinated Aaghaz- e- dosti, a joint peace initiative, for three years before launching the Citizen Diplomacy, a programme built to foster people -to- people contact.

In the absence of interventions from the intelligentsia, he says, people were forced to believe the narrative of state sponsored vested interests on both sides. Fortunately, communication technologies opened many more channels for the young, which made them demand even the antics displayed at Wagah border to be sobered. “The youth doesn’t vote on anti-Indian sentiments anymore,” says Rauf.

Many realised, the Pakistani narrative on partition doesn't take into account the reality of killings and other abuses inflicted by the Muslims against Hindus and Sikhs. This denial is constantly reproduced in the media, politics, and textbooks as a hegemonic narrative where the Muslims are shown as victims while Hindus and Sikhs being the perpetrators. This biased state narratives does not tolerate any alternative; all alternative narratives are suppressed, monitored and controlled by state institutions, says another young peace volunteer.

 Photo courtesy: Vandana Shukla
Photo courtesy: Vandana Shukla
March for Peace organised by both Indian and Pakistani volunteer in Chandigarh in 2013

But the state sponsored, narrow perceptions are challenged with global exposure among the youth. Aliya Harir, 25, a student of peace and conflict studies at National Defence University, Islamabad, realised, to her surprise that Indians were just like her. On her first visit to the USA, she befriended an Indian teenager, and was astonished to find out, “they were more similar than any other person that I had met. In a matter of more interactions with them, I encountered their view of Pakistan framed around a country trying to destabilise India by supporting separatist movement. I was palpably surprised because I grew up learning the versa-version of it in Pakistan.”

On realising the folly, she engaged in discussions with her Indian friends on their mindsets that were framed many years ago and served well through generations.

Aliya now leads delegations of young people from Pakistan to India for Yuvsatta's annual Global Youth Peace Festival, held around Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, in Chandigarh.  As a volunteer she is involved in connecting students from Pakistan and India with each other over skype, which is followed by  exchange of letters and greeting cards. She is also part of a Track-II group (comprising people from India and Pakistan) that meets twice a year in a third country to create a common and inclusive platform for a continuous process of deliberation and to work towards a new narrative, explaining why change is needed and how it can be brought about.

Partition, she says, is a thorn that continues to make both countries feel the prick. “On the 70th anniversary of the partition, both the countries need to articulate a common narrative of how the countries were born, how the per-partition era was like for all the communities living in India, and come to a common understanding of what partition was like. We cannot keep living in denial about partition, else the roots of pain related to partition will continue to grow and flourish in both the countries.”

The history of Partition got more distortions after the 1971 war, says Sanna Ejaz, 33, Peshawar based socio-political activist, who has been part of Cultural Peace Seeds Community, that works for peace-building programme between India and Pakistan. “Our history books deny shared cultural heritage, even though you would find more and more youth following Baacha Khan( Abdul Gaffar Khan) and donning Bhagat Singh T shirts, the state is twisting, deleting and manipulating history, they are reinventing the partition history by omission and selective contractions. But civil society is very active in Pakistan and it wants the history books re-examined.”

On the 70th anniversary of the Partition, Sanna says, “ Both India and Pakistan can pick the common issues listed in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and can find ways to work together for achieving these goals for mutual good, instead of showing hateful “Nationalism” or “Patriotism” standing on the pillars denying shared culture, war glorification, and hateful stories from the history of partition.”

Rauf suggests, it would be fine if countrymen on both sides of the border could sing two national anthems “at the stroke of the midnight” this year to re-humanise the Partition.

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Published: 14 Aug 2017, 1:32 PM