Conflicts between people do not last. Sooner or later, they are resolved. Time and people move on. But while a conflict lasts it exacts its toll, disfiguring those feuding from within. When it extends over a prolonged period — and the burden passes through generations, without the subsequent generations being a part of the original feud — a people have been deeply poisoned in their souls, because it means the prejudices have been bequeathed unexamined.

The Indo-Pak feud, now simmering on the back-burner, now boiling and bubbling furiously in open view, has implicated generations of South Asians without their choice. Left unresolved this inheritance will continue to burden those who will come after us. Perhaps they will prove better than our generation at finding ways of resolving it; children today are smarter. But unless we begin to put a premium on the dignity of human life as a people, it will not allow even the consciousness to develop to make it happen, or allow us to comprehend what needs to be fixed when we look at the issue itself. Although it will play a small part, the issue will not be addressed through better economic relations between the two countries: the demands of global commerce will soon force trade through the common border. At issue is how we exist as members of a common society.

That dignity of human life does not cover merely the sanctity of human life, but spans over all that gives meaning to our existence, including our civilization, our culture, our language, our Past—all that connects us to others, both the living and the dead. It is from this set that our values grow; values which make us conscious beings, and gives worth to our lives as spiritual beings. There is an inherent sanctity in what lies outside us which connects us to other humans. We trample upon it at the peril of our own humanity. Given that, the cavalier manner in which we often dispose of our Past to the altar of muscular nationalism could perhaps only be a symptom of the carelessness with which we view ourselves and our place in the world, and the links which bind us to all that gives us meaning.

The notions of nation-based societies must needs assert their existence by undermining those of human society. Whether or not the former exist in the distant or near future, we should make it our job that they do not undermine the shared society on which these impermanent edifices have been erected, because someone found them convenient at one time. If history is any guide, human convenience changes, from one time to another, in remarkable and surprising ways.

We also need to reflect if what passes for human resilience in our part of the world is a disease. We remain unmoved and impassive in the wake of the most horrific events. It is true that we are capable of reacting energetically, and both nobly and selflessly, to the immediate tragedy itself when it hits. But merely the evidence of our public policies tell us that often this reaction creates no institution of memory in which the tragedy is recalled as it is merited.

The heart-rending events of the Partition are not tragic merely in the huge loss of human lives and the devastation of our society, but in that even today we continue to observe them with national celebrations. Marking the political event of the British ceding political control has somehow remained to us more important than commemorating our holocaust at our own hands.

(The writer is an author, novelist and translator. He can be reached through his website and on Twitter at @microMAF.)


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