The right-wing Shiv Sena’s recent vigilante actions targeting Pakistani musicians, sportspeople, and diplomats in Mumbai have led to embarrassment and widespread condemnation in India, and of course to the right-wing in Pakistan gleefully pointing fingers at India.
There have also been compassionate and creative responses from Pakistanis, who have all too often suffered the poison of bigotry and injection of religion into politics. After a Pakistani family had to spend the night on the footpath in Mumbai because they lacked the requisite papers (Form C) allowing them to stay in a hotel, Pakistani entrepreneur Iqbal Latif responded by offering free meals to Indians visiting Pakistan at his Dunkin’ Donuts franchises. His gesture was widely reported and drew a massive response in India.
A friend in India points out that the hyped up anti-Pakistan protests are a predictable forerunner to the upcoming state elections in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh that are critical for the ruling coalition in particular. That may well be the case, but meanwhile, Indians are also finding ways to creatively and peacefully express their distaste for bigotry and hooliganism. After the Sena successful blocked respected Pakistani musician Ghulam Ali’s concert in Mumbai, one Indian made a painting that he tweeted:
My Canvas painting on India Pakistan Music Controversy. Let the music Play. pic.twitter.com/rd2rDoZVUa
— Commitment Chikna (@Madan_Chikna) October 21, 2015
Media on both sides in generally hype up the sensationalist attacks which are precisely geared towards garnering media attention. However, there are journalists who try to keep a perspective, as some Mumbai and Karachi journalists did in a joint statement of Oct 20, saying they “see each other as colleagues”.
“We in Mumbai would like to assert that this behaviour does not represent the average Mumbaikar,” wrote the signatories. “…The successful book launch of former Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri’s book shows that the people of Mumbai do not share the bigotry of the Shiv Sena.”
Salute also to those journalists who counter the bigotry in others ways, as the editors of Sakal Times, Pune, intelligently did on Oct 20. The newspaper’s front page exposes Shiv Sena’s hooliganism and pride in their misdeeds, juxtaposed with news of Pakistani wrestlers winning hearts and medals in Pune.
Thanks to Jatin Desai, a journalist/activist friend in Mumbai, who drew attention to this. “Sakal Times of Pune has carried an interesting story in their front page today,” he wrote in an email. “It is about how a team of four wrestlers from Pakistan came to Pune, participated in a tournament and won hearts, while all this noise was happening in Mumbai.. The Pune unit of Shiv Sena was not even aware of this India-Pakistan tournament.. It’s an exclusive with Sakal Times.” See my writeup in Aman ki Asha.
The Indian Express sought out Pakistani squash players participating in a tournament in Chennai for their views and carried the report prominently. Two women the reporter spoke to said they had no problems and felt quite safe in India. Sadia Gul, 18, and Sammer Anjum, 21, said they expected to be back in India for the South Asian Games at Guwahati and Shillong.
Meanwhile, other Indians are also speaking out, frustrated at how the actions of a violent fringe are being seen to represent them.
Following up from his earlier ‘peace velfie’ movement, filmmaker Ram Subramanian’s new #ProfileForPeace initiative is catching on over social media. “This is the idea,” he posted on Facebook. “Do join in if you believe in peace being the way forward. write this message on a post it note, take a selfie and make it your profile picture #ProfileForPeace No more artists being banned. This is my voice. This is our voice for our Mumbai, our India. Enough of hate politics. #SpeakUp”
The initiative is gathering momentum. Let’s lift it.