After Mumbai, the raw emotions underlying relations between India and Pakistan are on public display. It is not a pretty picture. What can one make of it?
India-Pakistan relations can be analyzed at two levels: the political and the psychological. At the political level, the argument is simple and familiar. It is argued that governing groups in the two countries have vested interests, to differing degrees, in maintaining the status quo and therefore a breakthrough is unlikely unless some dramatic change occurs in either the external environment or the cost-benefit calculus of the key players. Just the boldness of one leader or the sincerity of another is not sufficient to overcome the deep-rooted vested interests. Kargil goes a long way to support this argument.
However, can a political position exist in a vacuum? Can it be completely out of tune with the underlying psychology of the people? Can ‘Mumbai” help us understand what lies at the deepest roots of the emotional being of Indian and Pakistani citizens?
We had begun to explore these issues before Mumbai in two posts. In the first (Who Wants Peace in the Subcontinent?) we asked if the absence of political parties advocating peace in the two countries was an accurate indicator of the fact that citizens were not in favor of peace. In the second (Why are Political Parties Not Issue Oriented?) we answered the question by making the case that the political process in the two countries was such that political parties were not responsive to the wishes of the majority of their citizens. Surely, the mass of citizens desired clean water but that too was not on the agenda of any political party.
So the fact that the majority of citizens may not seem to want peace could be a deceptive conclusion and, even if true, may not suggest that they want war — whenever the two countries have been ‘eyeball to eyeball’ the general feeling has been a fear of war breaking out.
We can get a better sense of this puzzle if we look separately at different segments of the population. We have already addressed the political imperatives of the ruling groups. Their emotions are derivative in support of, and as a rationalization for, their political interests.
We have also spoken of the fact that the voice of the poor (who in both countries constitute more that two-thirds of the population) is seldom heard and whose true feelings are little known. It is a fact that virtually all Indian visitors to Pakistan who write about their experiences make it a point to comment, with surprise, on the overwhelming love with which they are received by the person in the street – the taxi driver refuses to accept his fare, the shopkeeper is indignant at being forced to accept a price for his goods. This is anecdotal but the best indicator we have of the sentiments of the mass of citizens. At the very least, we have no basis to generalize about how this group feels about the ‘other’.
The educated urban middle class and the professionals of all types (doctors, engineers, accountants, lawyers, teachers, journalists, etc.) are another story. This is where we find the concentrations of hatred and bigotry that we have witnessed again spewing out of television sets, newspaper columns, and blog commentary. In this group, the voices of sanity are drowned out by the screams of those who wish to bomb the ‘enemy’ into the Stone Age.
This is the segment that Ashis Nandy holds responsible for the tragedy of Gujarat. And this is the segment whose bigotry Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer attributes to their education.
It is a fact that the majority of our educational institutions have become factories producing very highly trained professionals with equally closed minds. As the age of information and technology has overwhelmed us and as the job market has become fiercely competitive, liberal arts and social sciences have become luxuries to be dispensed with. And yet these were the only subjects that taught us there could be more than one answer to a given question, that there could be more than one way to look at any given issue.
This growing segment of the population does not portend well for the future of peace in South Asia. We have explored the issue in a guest post on this blog (Why is Pakistan Half Illiterate?). The conclusion is that we need to focus our attention on the content of early childhood education. At the same time, after Mumbai, we have realized the importance of finding ways of linking school-age students in South Asia with each other. The other side of the technological revolution provides us the opportunity to do so via social networking vehicles like Facebook. This is an opportunity we would squander at a very great cost to our society.