Kannada actor-turned-politician Ramya, who is also known as Divya Spandana, has been under fire for the last couple of days for disagreeing with Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar's comment that going to Pakistan is like going to hell.
Not only has she been attacked by trolls online, there has also been a backlash against her offline. Posters of her were burnt and slippers were thrown at them. The last straw was a case of sedition filed against her by a lawyer in Kodagu, Karnataka.
The Congress politician has, however, stood up against her bullies with dignity. "I stand by my remarks that Pakistan is not hell and I see no reason to withdraw or apologise for it," she wrote in a statement yesterday in The Indian Express. "It's ironical that in a country where people get away with crimes such as a murder, those that seek peace are targeted."
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Ramya spoke at length about her visit to Pakistan, nationalism and the way forward, according to her, for India and its neighbour. Edited excerpts below:
Did you anticipate trouble when you made the statement about Pakistan?
Honestly, no, because I was only speaking about my own experience.
When I was invited to the SAARC Youth Parliamentarians' Conference in Islamabad, which was attended by young politicians from different parties across South Asia, I was somewhat apprehensive. We keep hearing about the violence that goes on there and that often makes us wary of Pakistan. But I was asked to speak on "Peace, Harmony and Unity in Diversity". I thought there was no better time to do this. So I accepted the offer.
What was your visit to Islamabad like?
People were warm and hospitable to me at the conference and outside of it. My bags hadn't reached with the flight, so I had to go shopping for essential items. When some of the shopkeepers heard I was from India, they got sweets for me. A lady told me about her relatives across the border. I went to a temple in Saidpur as well. Not for a moment did I feel I was far from home in an alien place or sense any animosity from the people there.
A BJP politician said yesterday on TV that the timing of your comment was wrong.
Let's take a moment here to think of our founding fathers, Mahatma Gandhi for instance, who wanted to build this country on the basis of peace. If we start believing in tit for tat, we become like the very people we so strongly condemn.
We are living in a time of curbs on all sorts of fundamental freedoms. Dalits in Gujarat are revolting against caste-based discrimination, cow vigilantism has become so aggressive that a BJP worker was killed by VHP goons, the other day, in Mangalore. There's an upheaval going on in Assam. Let's look around and introspect on how different we are.
How do you feel about the current emphasis on nationalism?
For me, nationalism is not about what a country can do by exercising brute force, but about what it can do for others through peace and love. India is such a diverse nation, with so many differences among its people. Think of the caste system, for instance, and how it divides us. Yet, we can still manage to be one through some form of compassion for one another.
As an individual, I don't think it's important for me to prove my credentials as a nationalist through my speech as long as the intention is there in my heart and is expressed in my actions.
How do you react to the relentless trolling that you face online and offline?
I'm not at all affected by it. People do get very personal on social media, but they are entitled to their views. Most of them are naïve and expose their ignorance through their comments. What else is there for them to do anyway?
I feel India is going through an identity crisis at the moment. The education system is undergoing a churn, there's unemployment, agriculture is no longer a sustainable means of income. So when people decide to jump on a bandwagon and defend an ideology, it gives them something to do with their lives. At least they are spending their time creatively by morphing my images!
What do you think is the way ahead for Indo-Pak politics? What was your takeaway from the Islamabad conclave?
When I sat down with delegates from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Nepal, the common concern around the table was extremism. The only way we can work on this is by standing firm together, keeping our egos aside and engaging in dialogue.
When we look around the world today, there's so much unrest everywhere. There seems to be an undercurrent that a third world war is waiting to happen — and we must do what we can, in our own capacities, to stop it.
So far all the solutions we have come up with have been based on research data and knowledge of hard facts. Why not, for a change, take a humanistic approach? At the end of the day, we can't be getting to a harmonious solution through technology and weapons. So why not take the conversation to a human level?
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