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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

View From The Neighbourhood: Build bridges

A weekly look at the public conversations shaping ideas beyond borders — in the Subcontinent.

Updated: January 13, 2020 2:40:35 am
The tech-savvy Modi machine has indeed tapped into this demographic, as have regressive forces in Pakistan.

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, who teaches at the Qaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, has dealt with the “alter-ego of Pakistan” — the idea of India — in an article that is mature, reflective and without rancour. As such, he deserves to be listened to, across South Asia and beyond.

He assumes, writing in Dawn on January 10, that “India is burning”. But also that it is at a crossroads: “In contrast to Pakistan, the modern Indian polity has been formally structured around the notion that the subcontinent is a rainbow of infinite colours, all of which are equal to any other. However contradicted it may have been, the idea of India as a secular republic has remained dominant for decades, both within officialdom and society at large.”

Akhtar does not then delve into the many alleged attacks on the secular fabric by Hindutva forces, both formally and through their varied proxies. Instead, he outlines in these polarised times the ways in which Indians and Pakistanis can “make common cause together”. For this, he writes, Pakistanis (and presumably Indians) must transcend the narrow, sectarian nationalism of their government(s).

He asserts that both India and Pakistan are in “the throes of a demographic revolution” — the youth are more numerous and expressive than ever before. They are on social media, and they are looking to be heard.

The tech-savvy Modi machine has indeed tapped into this demographic, as have regressive forces in Pakistan. Yet, there is also hope in the youth. This hope, Akhtar says, was seen in the millions on the street that have faced down the government in India, reminiscent on the 1960s and 1970s.

He ends the article on the following note: “Rather than look on with glee at India’s interrnal strife, fall into a typical lament for the plight of Muslims, or adopt any other passive-aggressive position, the situation across the border should compel us to action, to build bridges. If this emergent generation of young progressives in India, Pakistan and beyond come together, there is a chance yet that the universal principles they espouse can become a practicable, political reality, that future generations can save themselves and the planet from hate, war and, ultimately, total destruction.”

Justice in Nepal

The central government in Nepal has announced that it will revive the dormant “transitional justice” process by consulting all stakeholders, leading to the tabling of the Transitional Justice Act. Simply put, transitional justice refers to the process by which country would face up to and provide justice for the crimes and human rights violations that took place during its long civil war.
In its January 7 editorial, The Kathmandu Post is cautiously optimistic about the government’s move: “On paper, this seems like positive news. Though already late, by nearly five full years, it is imperative that the two transitional justice bodies — the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) — satisfactorily complete their task. And for the commissions to work acceptably, the laws governing them must be amended to align with international practices and the Supreme Court ruling of 2015. But such promises have been announced before, only to be left unfulfilled.”

The editorial reminds the government and society at large of the deep scars left by the conflict, and the need for the victims to find closure. It has already faced flak in the UN Human Rights Council — of which it currently a member — and must ensure the transitional justice process is completed in line with the principles the country stands for.

Narrowing anthem

On January 9, The Island takes exception to a decision by the Gotabaya government that is bound feed into fears that the new president will not be mindful of the concerns and rights of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority. It has decided to cease the practice of the national anthem being sung in both Sinhala and Tamil.

The article says: “What we wish to point out is that the cancellation of the Tamil Language National Anthem is not a mere procedural adjustment. It involves an important policy change carrying serious repercussions Among other risks, the proposed wrong step will impinge seriously on the ongoing reconciliation effort which is something closely watched by the International Community. This, of course, will be fully exploited by the country’s enemies, further weakening our stand at the next UNHRC sessions in Geneva.” —Curated by Aakash Joshi 

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