Tokenism won't stop terror attacks

Last Updated: Tue, Feb 26, 2019 13:43 hrs
Pakistan protest

It has been more than ten years since the Bombay terror attacks.

There are still no Pakistani players in the Indian Premier League.

There are no cricket tours between India and Pakistan.

The “Milne do” movement of a few years ago has petered out.

Sania Mirza gets trolled every time there is a terror attack.

It has become increasingly difficult for artists to cross the border for cultural events, let alone work in each other’s industries.

India-Pakistan diplomatic, sporting, cultural, and intellectual ties are arguably at the lowest they have been in a long, long time.

And yet, the terror continues.

A couple of months ago, I was sharing the dais with a Pakistani writer at a literature festival. When we were asked about the hatred for the other which is instilled into Indian and Pakistani children, and is often retained through life, I began to speak about three of my dearest friends, who are Pakistani. I often forget that I have never met one of them in person. I have met the others a handful of times, mostly in countries that are foreign to both of us. Our passports only matter when we’re trying to meet each other.

The easiest way to ensure that we remain alien to each other, that we focus on the differences, that we become symbols of hatred and reduced to our nationalities, is to indulge the tokenism that is currently being embraced by our artists and cricketers.

Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi were hailed as heroes for choosing not to attend a literary event in Pakistan. The decision may have been a personal one, but when the maker of the decision is a celebrity, the personal becomes political.

Even as the government introduces new barriers to diplomatic channels of communication with Pakistan, there is a parallel movement in a field that has traditionally transcended geographical boundaries – art.

The book Liberty or Death by Patrick French elucidates the multiple ego clashes and impulsive decisions that made Partition the mess it was. It continues to be a mess, tearing open old wounds before they have had the time to heal.

No terrorist is heartbroken that sporting, cultural, or intellectual ties between India and Pakistan have been cut off.

No government could care less for cultural or sporting events, unless they will serve to raise the country’s profile in some manner.

The loss is entirely that of those people who would choose peace over hatred.

The win is entirely that of the hate-mongers.

As uncomfortable questions are being raised about whether the government failed to act on prior intelligence about the attacks, and whether the government refused to provide air transport for the troops, a convenient distraction is being created by the film industry.

Bollywood directors have announced that they will no longer be casting Pakistani talent.

Lyricists and actors have announced that they will no longer visit the “enemy”.

The cricketers – several of whom regularly shoot off their mouths on Twitter and other forums – have joined the chorus.

Handily, a villain is available – Pakistan.

Forgotten in the din is the fact that CRPF personnel are regularly attacked in other parts of India – in the North East by separatist militants; in central India by Maoists.

Also forgotten is the fact that the person who carried out the suicide attack is an Indian citizen.

The tired phrase “brainwashing” cannot be used in isolation. In order for one’s brain to be pliable to washing, the conditions must be conducive to the festering of hatred.

The failure, then, is also that of successive governments.

Terror is a legacy of the Cold War era, and the entire world is trying and failing to contain the many Frankenstein’s monsters that have emerged from that fraught period.

Governments can put up all the walls they like, but terrorists do find their ways to climb over them.

A case in point was the Bombay terror attack, whose key planner was – for all appearance – just another tourist, with no apparent tie to any “enemy nation”.

Whom, then, do we seek to serve by such tokenism as the cutting of friendly ties?

It took decades of negotiation for visa rules to be relaxed to allow the movement of artists between India and Pakistan.

The reason for this movement was that art reminds us of all that unites us. In the presence of art, we are no longer our nationalities or religions or –isms; we are humans, and we are thinkers. We are admirers of a singer, of a writer, of an actor, of a sportsperson.

And when we cut off these ties, we are reduced to the labels that make us hate each other, we are reduced to the hatred that fuels terror.

More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:

Pulwama attack: When humans become symbols


The legislative dangers of election year

Priyanka and the inheritance of power

The G.O.A.T vote: When opinion offends

The hooligans in our homes

Why the Ambanis should rule India

Five statues the government should build


Killing Nature: Where science and religion collude


Why bother saving the tiger? 

Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com