Given the negative impacts of “negative narratives” the question arises how these can be replaced, transformed or contested?
During her recent visit to the United States of America (USA), Pakistan’s foreign minister Ms Hina Rabbani Khar in her talk to a prominent American think tank said that there was a need to change “mind set” and “negative narratives” to resolve bilateral problems between India and Pakistan.
This sounds encouraging and is positive gesture by a cabinet minister who is at the helm of foreign affairs in Pakistan. She is actively engaged with her Indian counterpart, Mr. S.M. Krishana, to improve bilateral relationship between the two arch-rivals from South Asia.
Academically, the issue of construction of “negative narratives” and dissemination of these for indoctrination and infusion of hatred among the people of India and Pakistan has been discussed by many scholars, from both sides of the borders. Zia Mian, for instance, talks about how text books in Pakistan indoctrinate the school children with anti-India sentiments. Aparna Pande in her latest book ‘Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Escaping India’ has taken stock of the process of the cultivation of anti-“Hindu” and anti-India imagination in Pakistan. On the other side of border, the right-wing groups have carried out their missionary duty by successfully injecting anti-Pakistan feelings through populist literatures.
This author in his articles and research papers have talked about how negative narratives have helped in generating chauvinistic nationalism that has successfully derailed all the efforts for peace building between the two countries.
Given the negative impacts of “negative narratives” the question arises how these can be replaced, transformed or contested? No matter how many sections of border are opened for trade or bilateral treaties are signed between the two countries, peace between the two countries is impossible without addressing this serious question. India and Pakistan have taken many steps to settle their conflicting issues peacefully since the 1950s. Previously, they had signed treaties and mutually agreed many times not to engage in war and stay peaceful. Despite all these efforts, the result is before us and it needs no elaboration.
To replace, change or contest against the embedded “negative narratives” first thing we have to do is to popularize people’s version of partition instead of institutional or interest-based versions. Genocide carried out during partition had its impact on common people, whose only fault was that they were from certain religious group and compelled to chose one out of two countries in 1947. For that barbaric event, all of us should be collectively ashamed because we are leading our lives with shameful legacy. The genocide and partition had not affected religion because even after death of millions of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs their religion is still intact.
Even the perpetrators had nothing to do with religion. They were criminals who used religion as a tool to fulfill their nefarious agendas because, as far as I can understand, no religion preaches killing of the innocent and helpless people. Those who promoted the patriarchal values by engaging in inhuman activities, like rapping of the women from other communities, were male chauvinists and barbaric. Unfortunately, the acts carried out by the criminals have been glorified by the ring leaders of communities. Later on same groups presented themselves as “victims” to justify their actions against the “others”. Since then the poison of hatred have been imbibed by the one who gained a lot from popularizing victimhood syndrome in the group.
Amidst the dark clouds of hate based narratives the silver linings of partition related narration have been ignored. Real stories of people, who saved the lives of people from other communities, have not been popularized by the votaries of hatred. Also the painful experience of someone like Gulam Ali, who was a soldier in British Army and after partition became unwanted in his parent country India, and also in his forcefully adopted country of Pakistan has never been publicly discussed. His and painful stories of many other victims have been well depicted by Vazira Zamindar in her book ‘The long Partition of India and Pakistan.’
In conclusion it can be said that as a prisoner of history Indians and Pakistanis still live their lives in the shadow of the popular and dominant “negative narratives”. Unless these narratives change, peace between the two countries will remain a distant dream. The policy makers from both countries are fully aware about this fact. In order to resolve their bilateral conflicts, compromises and adjustments have to be made, but they do not want to take political risks by getting rid of this popular mindset that feed on negative narratives. In case people from two countries want to have good relationship, they have to start with a new “imagination” about each other. This is easy because they share similar cultural, behavioral traits and aesthetics. Of course this process will take its own time to graduate, but this is only way to improve decades old negative perception about each other.