As I sat in the spacious new classroom of my university listening to Indian journalist Revati Laul talk about her upcoming book, The Anatomy of Hate, on the perpetrators of the 2002 Gujarat riots, I couldn't help but draw parallels with the culture of hate that exists between my Pakistani countrypeople and those across the border in India. Where does this passionate hatred between crores of people on either side of the 3323km-long border come from? What drives these people to spew vitriol against each other, especially on social media?
When I first came to India, I realised that not many people know about what goes on across the border except for what they are told by the media—which is, more or less, centred on the negative aspects of Pakistan. For the majority of Indians, Pakistanis are the "other" and vice versa even though 70 years ago, we were all the same. We still are but the sad truth is that the people across the Radcliffe Line are oblivious of that!
A large number of Indians and Pakistanis seem to hate each other even though they have never spoken to or known someone from across the border.
During her talk, Revati Laul narrated the story of a young Hindu upper caste man who was part of the Gujarat riots and later went through a metamorphosis, realising that not all Muslims in India were radicalised jihadis. Because he had never needed to talk to a Muslim in his life, he never knew what they were actually like. At this point, I remember thinking that the same is perhaps true for the people of India and Pakistan.
Pratyush, a really close friend of mine in India once told me, how he, too, had a metamorphosis of sorts when it came to Pakistan. This is what he said:
"Having been brought up in the era of the first televised war—Kargil—I became very anti-Pakistan. I remember, on Orkut, I used to very often engage in fights with Pakistanis. I was even blocked from a group. But slowly I realised that I had a very narrow view of things."
When he realised that his hatred for Pakistan may be unfounded, Pratyush read and researched on the neighbouring country quite a lot. He also made a couple of Pakistani friends in the process and the subsequent change in him was immense. He said:
"The people across the border are just like us. They have the same dreams, same aspirations, same worries, same hesitations and face the similar propaganda from some sections of society. We realised how we have been misguided by media, politicians and history books."
A large number of Indians and Pakistanis seem to hate each other even though they have never spoken to or known someone from across the border. Their fears and suspicions about each other have been fed by the media and governments of their respective nations and they have never sought out the "other" as a result.
Their fears and suspicions about each other have been fed by the media and governments of their respective nations and they have never sought out the "other" as a result.
The governments and armies of both the countries have been supporting this generational hatred since Partition. It seems like they have signalled to their respective populations that they know why they hate the people across the border, hence fuelling the collective amnesia surrounding the cultural similarities between both the people of Pakistan and India. The restrictions on cultural and people exchange between the two countries and the ongoing political and media warmongering have further contributed to the villainising of the "other."
Of course, narratives about the Partition of 1947 have fuelled this mutual hostility. When many of us have grown up hearing stories of the immense bloodshed that followed the Partition, a sense of resentment for the "other" has unfortunately kept brewing within us. But the "other" is not always the way we think of them—we are the ones that have made them the "other."
Even though it has been 70 years, we have not been able to put our hatred aside and move on. The current rise in animosity and antagonism between India and Pakistan is particularly worrisome for many who do want peace between the two nations. Deeply concerned by this, prominent "peacemongers" in India and Pakistan as well as across the world launched the Peace Now and Forever campaign on 1 July, 2017. Beena Sarwar, who started the online petition that outlines a joint resolution for peace, says, "While the move is unlikely to lead to any great policy change, it is time the citizens of both countries came together to encourage the resolution of all bilateral issues through dialogue."
The people of both India and Pakistan need to join hands to inspire love and peace between the two nations, but to truly embrace each other I also believe that we need to understand where this hatred from both sides comes from. Perhaps alongside it is also a place of love.