When I got off the plane I realised that my bags had been misplaced by the airline. Except for the Madhubani painting I had brought for the Speaker, my luggage had gone to some other place. Telling me not to worry, Pakistani Parliamentarians sent me with a theatreperson there. She took me to shops where I could get essentials. When the shop owner realised I was from India, she sent for fruit juice, sweets and what not from a shop next door. Her hospitality – the sort one showed to a guest who had come home – made me forget that I was anywhere outside; the atmosphere was of such friendship. This was my experience when I recently visited Islamabad for the first SAARC Youth Parliamentarians conference.
Comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation began to hold summits from December 8, 1985. Starting out with the objective of fostering economic cooperation and trade relations, SAARC summits in subsequent years began to discuss more burning issues with a view to solve them through cooperation. In the 12th and 13 summits, it was decided to tackle terrorism through cooperation and joint efforts. In the first youth Parliamentarians’ conference, we discussed that it was only possible to strongly tackle terrorism – which affects us all strongly and equally – if we united and worked through mutual cooperation. Along with me at the conference were an MP from the BJP, one from SP and another from the BJD. There were MPs from other countries too. We discussed how we could solve the problems of our respective countries. We all felt that we should do everything necessary to establish peace in our own countries as well as among our neighbours.
At the conference, I spoke about peace and harmony and diversity in unity. Several people who liked what I said came up to me spoke to me, some told me about the friendship, respect and hospitality they had received in India. Some even asked me about my hometown Mandya. After my speech that day, they took us to Syedpur. After visiting a temple that is more than 85 years old, we all went to have lunch together. As we had lunch, I talked about my encounter with the shopkeeper who showed me great hospitality on my first day there. At that, Pakistani MP Rasheed Godil said that when he visited India, his friends took him to a famous dhaba in Delhi for lunch. When the dhaba owner learned that he was from Pakistan, Rasheed said the man refused to take money saying ‘Bhai se koi paise leta hai kya?’ (Does anyone take money from a brother?). That evening, I thought that we might have mutual differences in language, facial features, and dress, but are all ultimately human beings and the only monster we have to fight against is terrorism. At that moment I remembered a tenet of Advaita philosophy that I had read about: the soul is god, and everyone in front of me has the same brahmatma (ಆತ್ಮನೇ ಬ್ರಹ್ಮ ಮತ್ತು ನನ್ನ ಎದುರುಇರುವವರಲ್ಲಿಯೂ ಅದೇ ಬ್ರಹ್ಮಾತ್ಮವಿದೆ) When we begin to think of other people as having the brahmatma just like us, how is it possible to not love them? There is no scope then, for hate.
The day I returned to India, I attended an event in Mandya, where journalists asked me about my Pakistan trip. As I narrated my experiences, I said that going to Pakistan was not hell as union Minister Manohar Parrikar said. People there are just like us. They looked after us very well. We all discussed that we would work together on issues such as border disputes and terrorism. But since then, the coverage has been misconstrued. It is being reported with sensational titles such as ‘Ramya is batting for Pakistan’ for the sake of increasing TRPs. People on social media too are making comments that lessen my dignity. I am pained by the ignorance of people who make such statements, with no thought for its consequences. Our politicians and pseudo-nationalists are taking advantage of the ignorance and innocence of such people to further their own interests.
Why does such uncalled for hatred for a neighbouring country arise in us? It is a tragedy that this hatred has a long history. This hatred is not just directed outside our country, but within it too, and divides society along religious and caste lines.
By continuing this mudslinging of misconceptions, by telling our children that a country neighbouring ours is a naraka (hell), that all its people are bad, do we want to develop in them a culture of hatred that has no cause? Or do we want to teach our children that all the people in our society are human – just like us and just as much as us – and with as many feelings as us, and thereby create a society of tolerance, empathy and humaneness? It is our responsibility to make a decision. Life is uncertain. As long as I live, I will fearlessly do everything I can to sow seeds of tolerance and humanity, and make every attempt to create an atmosphere of peaceful co-existence for future generations. I hope to die peacefully, with the knowledge that I have done everything in my power to achieve this.
(Ramya is a Congress leader and former MP from Mandya. This article was originally published in Kannada daily Kannada Prabha on Tuesday, and has been translated from the Kannada with permission from the author.)
Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.