Prisoners of Past

Sarabjit, Sanaullah episodes stirred a familiar crucible of hate



The entire past two weeks India and Pakistan were at it again. While the debate over Chinese incursion played inconspicuously in the background, national media was holding Pakistan by the collar over the attack on Sarabjit Singh in Pakistan’s Kot Lakhpat jail and his subsequent death. It was once again the time to give vent to their mutual hatred, revive and bring into play their historical animosity. The incident made for a riveting television where debates went on an overdrive to satisfy the collective moral outrage of the nation, much of it deliberately orchestrated. The shows played to a rapt viewership. For  well over a week we were witness to an angry, high decibal  television, screaming headlines and a load of dramatic opinion in print which meant more readership, more viewership and more TRPs.
As is often the case, this persuades the political class also to play to the gallery. What follows is a series of competing statements, threats that further stir the crucible of hate. And it was this stirring that led to the brutal attack on Pakistan prisoner Sanaullah in Jammu jail, a day after Sarabjit died and his body was flown back to India.
One could certainly understand, if all this hysterical chest-beating was a genuine expression of grief. But the fact is that it isn’t. There is something deeply pathological about it. It is raked up to address, reinforce and encash the deep reservoir of hate  that exists in the two countries for each other. So, any incident, no matter, how small or big is pounced upon as an opportunity to instil life in dull media routine, tired of reporting complicated multi-crore scams which people now take for granted. This creates a large constituency of hate which, in turn, serves as a trigger for the political parties always on the lookout for issues with a ready audience and the potential for loose rhetoric. 
In both countries, it is not actually about the incident or the victim, say Sarabjit or Sanaullah, that make the story. It is the name India and Pakistan that makes it so. In India, the media that ignores uncounted gross wrongs within the country or pays little attention to them goes ballistic once Pakistan’s name comes into play. This is not about taking Islamabad’s side in the matter. It is about being concerned about the lingering bitterness that has now acquired economic utility for the media and the electoral spin-offs for the political parties. So, this is a legacy that is not to be fought but cultivated and then frequently harvested for its fruits. This approach is not limited to India alone. Sections in Pakistani media and society can also be accused of being complicit in this.
As it is, none of the two countries can claim moral high-ground. Both inherit a society and culture that originate from the same historical roots, memory and baggage. Both are capable of same level of susceptibility and the same forms of depravity.   Both countries can hardly claim an edge over the other in terms in the implementation of rule of law. Both have been witness to or complicit in the worst forms of institutional breakdown or bias, more so, with respect to their minorities. Pakistan's problem is more in the rampant militancy and the consequent lawlessness in the country. India’s bane is growing rightward movement of its political discourse which particularly thrives on an antagonistic approach towards Pakistan. And over the past few years, and backed by the country’s shrill media, this discourse has influenced a large swathe of public opinion, forcing even the secular parties to follow the public mood. Now, with Pakistan witnessing a historic democratic transition and electing a new leader with proven India-friendly credentials, it is time that the two countries as a first step try to redeem themselves of the growing pathological obsession with each other. Under the circumstances, if nothing else, the primary need is to at least improve the atmospherics between the two countries.

Lastupdate on : Tue, 14 May 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 14 May 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 15 May 2013 00:00:00 IST

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