An invitation to peace-mongering

Our sense of patriotism is so official, aggressive, masculine and managerial, that we have no sense of the processes of peace-making, which are muddy, disorderly and plural

Updated - October 31, 2016 01:56 am IST

Published - October 31, 2016 12:02 am IST

161031 -Oped - Peace mongering Illustration: Keshav

161031 -Oped - Peace mongering Illustration: Keshav

One of the problems as one grows older is that the solutions you were proud of or content with do not make sense any more. As you confront them today, you feel you have settled for less, preferred the contentment of the second rate instead of the courage of the more, demanding ethical or aesthetic solution. In fact, by settling for less, we tend to lose more in the long run.

I often think of this when I look at the way we handle problems of war and violence. We prefer the language of stalemate, of security, the quick fix of surgical strike solutions. It is a kind of emotional bloodletting where each side feels its machismo, if not its borders, are intact. The sadness is that when India confronts Pakistan, India ceases facing India. We stop looking at ourselves and prefer to confront an enemy whom we feel morally superior to. After a while, we seem content with a solution, where India succeeds because Pakistan succeeds even less. It is like an abstract game where we score a bit more than our opponents. We seem content with such pyrrhic victories, which postpones or virtually denies a need to confront ourselves.

Challenging the hypocrisy

Oddly, the minute Pakistan looms large, Kashmir, as part of the Indian imagination and everydayness, recedes from the scene. In fact, a couple of months ago, newspapers were at least discussing the havoc pellets had caused and were debating the protests. Kashmir’s cries of pain were lost in the deafness of Delhi, a papering over of situations. Classic was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent comment that the army seeks to help people who want to stone it. It is almost as if the army is turning its other cheek on Kashmir.

Behind the veneer of patriotism and the alleged call to unity, there are several levels of hypocrisy we must challenge. Present in it is a hint that no critique of the army is welcome at this stage. Unity becomes uniformity as we confuse the internal and external roles of the army. We refuse to look at the way the internal involvements of the army have brutalised it. We refuse to look at the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) as a question of ethics and democracy. To allow the army to indulge in rape and torture is to degrade the army and our civilisational self.

Repairing relations

Equally frightening is the way we have put Kashmir on the back-burner thinking it is a Pakistan-generated problem. It is, and it is not. Pakistan as a regime would love trouble in Kashmir. It provides it a reason for being. But this prevents us from looking at the way we have behaved. Our indifference, our deafness to the violence we have inflicted on children and women is covered by the piety of the security syndrome. By reducing protests to a technology of stone throwing and terrorism, we fail to see it as a language of speaking the need for normalcy, sanity and responsibility. We virtually feel that accepting a responsibility for this is a sign of weakness. To care for Kashmir is to own up to our mistakes in Kashmir, not as an act of breast-beating but as a way of ethically repairing relations with communities which have been corroded by violence.

In fact, this raises an even more critical issue. Gopalkrishna Gandhi raised this in a preliminary way when he suggested that we should not only fight the possibilities of war but also openly confront warmongering, the tendency to argue that war is a solution to many of our pending problems. I would add to this gentle wisdom by going one step further. I would claim that as Indians too used to stalemate, security and quick fixes, we have got unused to the language of peace. Tragically, we are losing the imagination of how to think and work for peace.

An overpowering patriotism

For a country that boasts a Gandhi, a Ramana Maharshi, and a Badshah Khan, we have got used to the problem of bloody borders and suppressed people. We alternate between two forms of violence which we officially dub security and development. Caught in the warp of these restricted imaginations, we have forgotten that peace is a language, an ecology, a way of life we have almost lost. To put it almost crudely, we need a bit of peace-mongering rather than the beat of the drums of war. Even the gossip of peace seems restrained, afraid it may sound minoritarian, worried it might be arrested for sedition. Our sense of patriotism is so official, aggressive, masculine and managerial, that we have no sense of the processes of peace making which are muddy, disorderly and plural. Peace demands we empathise with the other, whether a Pakistani, Kashmiri, Manipuri, and have the courage of conversation.

In fact, the two great Satyagrahi movements, the Gandhian and the little appreciated efforts of the Truth Commission in South Africa insisted that peace burrow into the unconscious of a people, be a body ritual so that peace has a sense of embeddedness that goes beyond contract. In that sense, peace is tacit, not fully articulated into the formalism of contracts claiming a plurality and open-endedness security can rarely have. Peace-making needs a sense of humour, the warmth and subversiveness of laughter which can understand the idiocy in us and empathise with the idiocy of the other.

Gandhi and Desmond Tutu had that in great measure where the joke created the tacitness of understanding long before the treaty or an amnesty entered the scene. Frankly, I do not know whether Mr. Modi or Nawaz Sharif, or the fundamentalists have a sense of the comic. They all look so dour, so pained that you wait for peace to relieve their constipation of ideas. Mr. Modi’s jokes have always sounded like threats and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has no idea of the comic. Patriotism and the idea of security always wears a Victorian corset while peace needs a self-confidence of culture and an ease of the body to negotiate uncertainty.

Initiating peace again

Operating with the uncertain and flexible is necessary. My old teacher, the philosopher, Ramchandra Gandhi, would argue that peace needs a sense of the preposterous. Only the preposterous can make the impossible, probable. As a delightful thought experiment, Ramu would suggest an anthology of India-Pakistan jokes. As a people we were once together till we were separated by the genocidal idiocy of Partition. He felt just thinking about such exercises in a collaborative or conversational way broke stereotypes and suspicions, that a new generation, without the mix of old memories, has. It is in this context that he often suggested that the satyagrahi patrols the border, that civil society creates initiatives of peace that challenge the policies of war. In the 1970s and 1980s, one saw such initiatives through the likes of Kuldip Nayar and Rajni Kothari. They displayed a courage, an initiative which civil society, already under suspicion of sedition, lacks. Once, civil society displayed a tradition of hospitality. When one compares it to the decision to exclude Pakistani actors from Indian films, one senses that we as a nation are coercing ourselves, creating uniformity even before we don the uniform. One has to realise that security like sexuality has its repressions and these need to be exorcised by the Shaman and the psychologist. At one level, the ban on Pakistani stars is a small issue, but it reveals a growing mindset one needs to challenge.

The mindsets of peace have to challenge the official and the expert who reduce peace to a regulatory economy of border control and border patrol. One has to realise peace and dissent are creatively tied and one need to try out the more outrageous hypotheses of peace. One does not have to wait for a somnolent Gandhian movement more immersed in the archives to rise again. If democracy, as Gandhi hinted, was a collection of thought experiments, then every citizen is a potential satyagrahi. Peace now needs its start-ups, discourses, inventions at a time when war enforces a predictable greyness of thought. An India where democracy develops without an idea of peace is an amputation of mind we can no longer afford.

Shiv Visvanathan is Director of the Centre for the Study of Knowledge Systems, O.P. Jindal Global University.

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