Thursday, October 4, 2012

There are more things that unite the humans than separate …

Prof T. K. John SJ

There are more things that unite the humans than separate, tells Prof T. K. John SJ reflecting on his association with Pakistan India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy to Victor Edwin SJ.

Edwin: Tell us about Pakistan – India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy?

T.K. John: The Forum is a typical sub-continental peace initiative. The Forum is addressing some of the issues that block our good neighbourly relationship with Pakistan, keeping always in our mind that we all were one country one people years ago. Untruth divided us and still keeps us snarling at each other as wolves do at potential prey. Can we engage in civilizing exercise and keep moving in a direction that will lead us all to justice truth and peace -- that is the question.     

“Defy the Divide – Unite for Peace’, “Meeting across Borders, Talking beyond Differences, Working to deepen Relationships, Peace building on shared Concerns, Reaching out against all Odds, Dreaming together of a Common Future,’ ‘Surely  We Can Talk Again’ – have been among the slogans raised on the occasion of the eight joint conventions of a very interesting peace initiative called Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy. These will already tell us about the nature goals and objectives of the Forum. The movement was born in 1994.

To get to the goals and objective of the Forum we have to dig deep into the history of a development that generates hatred of each other. It is called communal divide on grounds of religion. Several layers of encrusted divisive ideology of hatred have to be peeled off to come to discover the truth which should eventually rebind a divided people that we were once.

The first layer was laid when some Muslim scholars led by Shah Wali Ulla  began to voice the view that we in India are two different communities and cultures, namely, Hindus and Muslims. From the Hindu side Savarkar responded by singing the same song: ours is a Hind country and we must restore it to its original status. The second was the much-heightened tension at the political level between Congress and Muslim League regarding Partition of the Motherland on the basis of religion. It happened, unfortunately. The third was laid when the dry land in the north-west India was soaked with blood of the cris-crossing divided peoples that killed each other in thousands. The fourth we have in the ‘victory-defeat’ salt that is periodically being rubbed into the wounded memory of Pakistanis after two wars. And the ever-hot Kashmir issue stood in between, all along. The situation in the subcontinent was deteriorating. The economic, foreign, military and other policies of the two nations were dictated by the divide policy. Finances required to eliminate the abject poverty, stark illiteracy, the scarce health and medical care systems, impassable rural transport, drinking water and electricity for far of rural population etc,--- all basic needs of the two nascent democracies, were diverted to arms build up, military research, nuclear weapons development and such unproductive anti-civilizational projects. Can this process be halted and sanity restored, asked many in both the countries. 

It was then that Mr.Nirmal Mukerjee a former cabinet secretary and governor of Punjab and about ten scholars and human rights activists from India and a dozen similar men and women from Pakistan, led by Dr.Mubashir Hassan, a member of Mr. Bhutto’s cabinet, met in Lahore and shared their concerns. In 1994 they met again and decided on a larger convention of people of similar concerns from both sides. Accordingly a major convention was held in New Delhi February 24-25, 1995.

The Plenum at that first joint convention, attended by a hundred people from India and Pakistan, adopted a consensus document known as the Delhi Declaration. War, Demilitarization, Peace and Democracy in both the countries were the main themes of the statement with appeals to both governments and to the people that elect their leaders. Resort to war to resolve dispute should be avoided, both countries should reduce military build up, and a democratic solution to Kashmir dispute should be aimed at. This was the beginning of the great peace movement or people across borders. Just peace can be availed if sanity is allowed to have its way.

Edwin: What are the issues that find a prominent place in PIPFPD discussions and deliberations?

T.K. John: The objective of founding the Forum was civilizational in intent.  People to people exchange can create friendship and confidence, give priority in governance to the basic needs of the people, and maintain peace needed for constructive programmes at the national and regional level, all of which are blocked by constantly raked sense of hostility, and war hysteria. Military and industrial hawks, both at the national and international level, always prefer tension between countries, for their good.

Religious Intolerance in both the countries, need for gradual demilitarization and de-nuclearization, Governance that respects the will of the peoples, gender justice, and democratic process in Kashmir, Globalization and impacts nascent democracies, are among the themes discussed. For at the level of culture and religious harmony the Calcutta Declaration “Calls upon the educationalists and the people in general to work towards ways of inculcating values of cooperation, tolerance, harmony, through all possible means, particularly curricula and prescribed textbooks, print and visual media, undertake investigations of incidents of communal violence to bring the findings to the notice of the people, organize exchanges of children and teachers, and to be aware of and monitor possible misuse of places of worship and religious educational institutions for the promotion of preaching and promotion of hatred and intolerance”

There were eight joint conventions, held in New Delhi (twice), Lahore Karachi, Calcutta, Rawalpindi, Bangalore and Allahabad. Besides these, check on communal propaganda, promotion of trade and commerce across border, welcoming writers artists and agents of culture in each country –were among the objectives.

          Friendly exchange at people to people level was considered a very helpful means to the goal realization. Relaxation of visa rules will facilitate this, and be of great help for relations across the border to meet with each other, 

Edwin: Tell us about your involvement in PIPFPD ?
T.K. John: I was associated with the movement fortunately right from the beginning. It was a golden opportunity to meet people of all sections of the people from both the countries. Since it was intended to be a people-to-people dialogue, teachers, artists, peasants, trade union leaders, professors, politicians, human rights activists, lawyers, and traders, --all met and interacted.  The convention normally lasted two-three days with well-chosen cultural programmes. I served as Chair Person of the Delhi Chapter that had hosted the 7th Joint Convention (Feb 25-27, 2005). It was a very good experience to work with people committed to the goal above.

Edwin: Kindly explain for us what happens during a Convention and how does it enhance friendship between India and Pakistan?

T.K. John: Much happens during a convention all of which make you feel: after all we have been one people and we re-live it. For example the Inaugural session. Right at the commencement of the Inaugural session we see spontaneous outbursts of revival and jovial scenes. We see a  couple of people walk to the dais, start dancing, a few more join and for the next forty-five minutes we find many from the audience come and  joining hands and dancing, singing, clapping of hands and embracing each other. Cameras capture these momentous scenes to be taken back to the place from which they hail and share with them the scene. Informal and spontaneous expressions like this really set the tone.

Then there is the address by the two co-chair persons, announcing of the dynamics of the days’ programmers etc. There is the key-note address on the second day, some one is chosen ahead to deliver it. A current issue is often taken for the theme. Reports of the two chapters are presented and discussed. Of course the reading and discussing the final consensus document known as Declaration is on the last day.
I have noticed that in group sessions as well as in general sessions there is a healthy mature and documented critiquing of the trends against peace and democracy in the respective countries. For instance, speakers from Pakistan will present a realistic picture of the issue in Pakistan. There is also the freedom to make observations in the other country too. This is welcomed and not resented. There is no fear of exposing one’s own country to outsiders. The prevailing sentiment is that ‘we should endeavour together’, that truth should make us free and that freedom of thinking and expression is the foundation for any democracy.

Edwin: How youth are involved in PIPFPD?

T.K. John: Youth involvement is considerable. In all the conventions it was the young people that gave extremely well-organized programmes—dramatic or other, depicting the issues.
For both Delhi conventions, that of 1994 and that of 2005 students of Vidyajyoti took part and made their contribution. Students of the colleges of Delhi too did support and collaborate. Youth from Pakistan come in good number and will have good programmes presented
A separate youth chapter was considered and even constituted. It has to grow and play distinct role in the movement.

Edwin: How do official machinery both in India and Pakistan view the activities of PIPFPD?

T.K. John: Two principles I invoke to answer that question. One: Abraham Lincoln said democracy is the government of the people by the people and for the people. Therefore informed bureaucrats and politicians that man the governments in both the countries do co-operate and offer us support.  Besides, the collective voice of both the countries being made available to the ruling block is a golden opportunity to the rulers. They come to know what the people that elected them think and feel. Taking notice of the collective voice is welcome.

On the other hand there are also some who may forget that they were sent up to govern by the people. They may show less collaboration.
The Forum believes that creating public opinion is a responsible service of the civil society in a democratic country. Indeed, the impact of such public statements is being recognized by the ruling block in both the countries. On the occasion of the joint convention in Bangalore, April 6-8 2000, the Sate government, headed by honorable Sri.S.M.Krishna, currently the foreign minister, hosted a session and a dinner. Prior to that during the Calcutta Joint Convention December 28-31 1996 the late Mr. Jyoti Bosu then chief minister of Bengal invited the delegates for a special session and a dinner in the Assembly garden premises. These are important indicators of the attention the State gives to civil society articulations of the concerns of the country.

Edwin: Are Jesuits sufficiently involved in Civil Society activism?
T.K .John: The question needs to be attended to in a wider perspective. For that the following questions need to be raised.

For instance, is the Christian community involved in civil society initiatives? To what extent Christian community is involved in the political processes of the country? To what extent the Christian community is involved in the many people’s movements of the country? What is the nature of the civic consciousness of the Christian community? How far advocacy of human rights, justice and freedom, highlighted by the U. N. Declaration, is taken seriously and systematically by the Christian community?   
The answers to most of these questions may not be quantitatively high. For a religious programme of the diocese if appeal is made, attendance will be normally good. For funerals and other occasions response is quite good. Jubilee celebrations, of individuals or institutions also response from the community is good.

But in general Christian presence in the civil society affairs is quite dismal. For instance Delhi is a place where there is no scarcity of human rights, people’s movements, and other demonstrations seeking justice rights and freedom, campaigns, candle-light processions, fasts, etc take place. Displaced Adivasis come and register their protests. Gas affected people of Bhopal come, year after year, sometimes walking on foot all the way from Bhopal and make their pleas voiced in the capital. There have been cases of women, especially Dalit women, raped/humiliated in public and a few women’s organization take up their cause and come to Delhi. There was the case of a nun who was raped in Odissa and secular women’s groups organized demonstration in Delhi. People from North East do come to Delhi protesting against demolition of villages, killings by security forces, and some come to Delhi to have their grievances voiced in the national capital. The traumatized people of Kashmir come and demonstrate in many ways.

But the Christian presence and contribution to most civil society initiatives or people’s movements is quite limited, is rather minimum. You find a few here and there walking with them.

We Jesuits are largely in the institutions. Besides democratic culture is not our forte. For that matter Jesuit interest in civil society imitative also is not high. In internal exchanges like homilies, retreats, theology classes and exegesis exercises etc.’ Kingdom of God’ appears vigorously as a theme and as a task. But the gap between the internal exchanges and commitments and the open civil society some times appears as unbridgeable as the hiatus between Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom and the rich man (Lk16:26)!                   
It is gratifying to note after being part of it for the past nearly two decades that genuine democratic culture, non-violence, people’s participation, demilitarization to save money for education of the backward people, etc are the concerns of the Forum.

All these raise a puzzle. Muslims and Christians belong to Abraham’s heritage, yet they seem to stand apart. Mulims Christians and Hindus belong to Asiatic family yet they stand apart.  We have to create a platform where we can sit together dispassionately and look at our common heritage own them and plan a new future. There is plenty of goodwill, openness and freedom generated in the PIPFPD sharing. It can be widened to look beyond.  If people of two supposedly ‘ hostile’ countries can truthfully and objectively as well as honestly talk about our common problems and dream of a different future, the exercise can be repeated at other levels. ‘Aggrieved’ Hindus and Christians can come together, ‘aggrieved’ .Islamic and Christian world can come together.  There are more things that unite the humans than separate.    

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