We need to reflect on the 'why' of the Kashmiri students' display of emotions in Meerut rather than overstate the 'what' of it
So cheering for Pakistan against India constitutes sedition? More so if you are from a State whose citizens have genuinely felt short-changed ever since it decided to accede to India?
Sample this: more than 15 years ago, at the end of an Indio-Pak cricket test match in Chennai, India stood outplayed, outmaneuvered and outclassed. Despite a gritty knock — amid excruciating back pain — by Sachin Tendulkar, India lost by 12 runs. This came at the end of five days of entertaining test cricket.
When the winning cricket team — quite enigmatic for a match between the arch-rivals — took a victory lap, those of us sitting in our drawing rooms witnessed a fascinating display of sportsmanship, though off the field: the crowd in Chennai gave the Pakistani team a standing ovation. The security and the press struggled to keep pace with the winning team as they took their gentle but firm victory steps forward. The team didn't need any security to acknowledge the cheers it received from the crowd.
Let us rewind our international cricket clock by three years to 1996. The scene is of India-Pakistan World Cup ODI in Bangalore. In the course of the match, there were chants of Pakistan hai hai. That India won the match by 39 runs only added to the jingoism in the air.
Had the situation experienced a paradigm shift in a matter three years? Or was it the simple fact of thaw in political relations getting reflected in thaw in the cricketing field? I believe it was neither.
For, in February 1999, just about a month after the Chennai match, another test match the two teams played, this time in Calcutta,witnessed the ugly jingoism we have always come to associated with such encounters. So much so that, on the final day, we could only see empty seats staring at a winning Pakistani cricket team, the security having had to intervene to evacuate the unruly crowd en masse.
In retrospect, does the act of the crowd in Chennai, by today's definition, constitute sedition? By the same logic, is the act of the crowd in Calcutta a display of fierce patriotism? This leads a more uncomfortable question: What is the definition of 'patriotism'?
Let's assume that someone who swears by our Constitution is to be called a patriot. Does that leave out someone who vouches for an opponent team's victory in a game? Doesn't one of our fundamental duties say that we as citizens need to make attempts to inculcate a 'scientific temper, a spirit of inquiry and reform'? Shouldn't it follow that we should introspect on the why of the Kashmiri students' display of support for a Pakistani cricket team rather than label them 'traitors' because of the what of it?
A Kashmiri friend of mine, who does not always cheer for the Pakistani team, says that the Meerut incident is but a tiny example of the discrimination Kashmiri Muslims face during an Indo-Pak match. It gets worse if Pakistan wins the match, which has happened more often than not as the records show. Throw of stones at windows of their Kashmiri neighbours and jeers of 'go back you Pakistanis' are commonplace.
What happens when India wins the match. The situation is no different for him with friends throwing jibes as if it was a personal loss for him.
Well, in case we wonder if they consider him their sworn enemy, their relationship comes back to the ground level after sometime. However, when it comes to an Indo-Pak match it is always at an excited level. It is as if someone who, at other times, is one of them, becomes the 'other' when such a match occurs.
The worst part of it is such emotions are displayed even by children. As if we come into this world with labels of 'patriot'’ and 'traitor'.
Wouldn't such acts reinforce prejudices already inherent in the minds of us, the Indians, and of our Pakistani friends? If yes, what progress have we, as nations, made through our Samjhauta expresses and Lahore bus yatras over the last 67 years? In this Post World War II phase, East and West Germanies have united; formation of the European Union (EU) has made sure that Germany and France would never go to war again; and creation of the Schengen Area has made seamless navigation among 26 European nations possible. What progress have we made in healing the wounds of partition?
Also, if Japan can overcome the scars of Hiroshima to emerge as an economic superpower, Germany can shed the baggage of being the nation of the Fuehrer to become a benign, de facto, powerhouse in Europe and China can make attempts to emerge from the darkness of its cultural revolution, why can't we do away with with the ghosts of partition?
Nation for citizens or citizens for nation?
Now, let me reflect on the political part of it. What is a nation? Should political boundaries be treated as sacrosanct or should they be considered as mere tools for administrative convenience? As Javed Akhtar expressed through this song, the invisible winds that bring optimism along with them as they seamlessly navigate the air are apathetic toward political boundaries. The rivers that chuckle at our political naivete as they seamlessly cross countries are emblematic of the utter indifference Mother Nature shows toward politics. Our avian friends who display amazing perseverance and grace while flying over boundaries don't need a passport or a visa to migrate. Political limits are defined by humans and for humans. But when we canonise these very limits, doesn't our very purpose of being human gets challenged?
As this piece points out, with Russia's de facto annexation of a largely Russian-speaking Crimea, the line between self rule and sovereignty is getting blurred. Further, the Westphalian Peace theory which gave us the concept of political nation state, as it is know today, and which gave “general recognition of the exclusive sovereignty of each party over its lands, people, and agents abroad”, is becoming outdated.
Political boundaries have started losing their meaning even as nations become more and more aggressive to defend them. It is obvious even to a lay observer that the definition of nation state needs suitable amendments to make political boundaries largely irrelevant in so far as people-to-people ties are concerned.
Redefining 'nation state'
Advanced nations are, however grudgingly, recognising this. As given in the NYT piece quoted above, Scotland is to hold a referendum on whether to remain part of the United Kingdom in September while Catalonia plans to hold its own referendum in November. Quebec has already had two unsuccessful ones, in 1980 and 1995, on remaining part of Canada with a discussion on a third one taking place. Provided there is a withdrawal of troops on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC), is India willing to go the extra mile when it comes to Kashmir?
The concept of civilisation, by a span of millenia, precedes the concept of nation state. In an information age, what we need is a civilised society in continuous pursuit of liberty, equality and fraternity more than a democratic society defined by periodical elections. For this, we need to conjure bridges across nations, not construct walls to reinforce boundaries that are characterised by animosity for the ‘other’. In this, if the ‘other’ at times takes the form of a majority, it is, for the most part, due to our intolerance.
Building bridges requires, first, shedding insecurity toward the ‘other’. This is to be followed up by creating space for the their thoughts, viewpoints and grievances. Charging the ‘other’ with sedition when the countdown to the largest democratic exercise in the world is under way would be giant leap backward, undoing all our efforts to mainstream them.