Building Bridges with the Other(ed)
Revisiting the Founding Fathers
As I read the news today, I am disturbed by rampant violence against minorities around the world, particularly in India and Pakistan. The grim event of a dairy farmer accused of being a cow smuggler and beaten to death by cow vigilante fills my mind with bleak and horrid images. The massacre of Christian minorities in Pakistan on Easter Sunday, taking the lives of over seventy innocent people, frightens me. Atrocious attacks like a Muslim bodybuilder in India beaten to death leave a ghastly memory. This has encouraged me, as an Indian-American student studying in the West, to search for my intellectual and moral inheritance.
I embarked on this quest for knowledge after enrolling in a class on the World of Islam taught by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University. Through Ambassador Ahmed’s teaching, I realized that despite having lived in India, a country with a major Muslim population, I knew little about Muslims. After reading his works on Jinnah and having many spirited discussions with him, I came to recognize the importance of my own nation's founding fathers more than ever before. From him I learned this: To understand what we have inherited as nations, we must understand the people from whom we have inherited. We must understand our own founding fathers.
This journey of discovering and understanding the ideas that our founding fathers so strongly adhered too has been a personal challenge for me. Through our interactions and working on Ambassador Ahmed’s research team, I learned the importance of bringing out the moral and intellectual principles that have been subsumed in the story of our nation. His work taught me that through the act of reasoning about history, we all can begin to detest communal violence in the way Gandhi and Jinnah had done.
The Founding Fathers
Undoubtedly, there were many figures central to the making of modern India and Pakistan. I would be remiss to accredit everything to only two individuals. Nevertheless, two men specifically infused the hearts of millions with their spirit for freedom like no others. Therefore, they are regarded as the fathers of their respective nations, India and Pakistan. Formally, they were born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, but fondly people call them Bapu (father) and Quaid-i-Azam (the great leader). Jinnah and Gandhi are tremendously important, foundational figures for our nations, but their overriding importance for us is not their obvious historical significance in their countries’ national stories; rather, it lies in their understanding in their struggles, not always successful, to help people realize the moral high ground and the importance of respecting minority rights.
Today, the successor nation states of India and Pakistan have begun to ask quite curious questions: Why does Jinnah matter?Why does Gandhi matter? For many Indians and Pakistanis they have become obsolete. The representations of Jinnah and Gandhi most readily found are the ones on the five thousand rupee and two thousand rupee notes in Pakistan and India. They are immortalized figures but unfortunately, that leads them to be blamed for every crisis, past and present. The distorted perceptions about Jinnah and Gandhi are used to encourage communal tensions.
Vital Lessons from the Founding Fathers
As mob lynching and vigilante justice become increasingly prevalent in India and Pakistan, it is time the citizens of these nations ask themselves: is this the nation they envision? Most importantly, we must acknowledge that if we are to stop this communal crisis, we must look to the past and learn vital lessons from the founding fathers about respecting minorities. It is our intellectual responsibility to retain the validity and force of their understanding that emphasised protecting minorities. We can certainly have a spirited debate about the shortcomings of our founding fathers also but, first, we must start the conversation. It is for these reasons that Gandhi and Jinnah still matter.
So when I ask myself about my inheritance, my mind fills with the gallery of events and stories about the heroism of the men who led India and Pakistan to freedom, especially, Jinnah and Gandhi. Both were staunch believers in protecting the rights of minorities. Take, for example, Gandhi’s decision to fast until death during the massacre of Muslims in Delhi and Sikhs in the Punjab region during the riots in 1948. One of his main motivations was to stop the inhumane treatment and savage killings taking place in the subcontinent. Also, he demanded that the mosque in Mehrauli, the shrine of Qutubuddin that had been seized, should be returned to the Muslim community. Similarly, Jinnah confronted a mob of Muslims who were attacking Hindus during partition and declared himself “protector general of the Hindus”. He also made sure to spend Christmas with the Christian community and appointed a Hindu as the law minister. Undoubtedly, it is a reassuring feeling to recall such principled men, since such bravery among leaders has become a rare occurrence.
It is equally important to remember the price they paid for their love for humanity. Gandhi was attacked and killed by a Hindu who believed him to be too pro-Muslim. Similarly, Jinnah was attacked but survived an attempted assassination by a Muslim, who accused him of being a kafir (infidel), because he spoke of rights for women and minorities. It is unfortunate that Gandhi was killed by one of his own, but perhaps more distressing is hearing about the predicament of many men and women in their countries today. For example, recently, in a movie theatre in Gandhinagar, the audience erupted into applause after viewing a scene of Gandhi’s assassination, an incident picked up from Incarnations: India in 50 Lives. Similar communal tensions are resurfacing in both nations and it has become increasingly common among politicians seeking to win elections to heavily negate the importance of the founding fathers. Clearly, as nations we are failing to understand not only the other(ed) minorities but our very own founding fathers.
On occasions even today we can find examples of outstanding compassion and courage in the face of bigotry and hatred. One such example is Sheik Salim, a bus driver on route with Hindu pilgrims to Amarnath, a famous Hindu shrine in Jammu and Kashmir, when his bus was attacked by militants who killed seven pilgrims. Heroically putting his own life in danger, Sheik Salim managed to protect over fifty people. His courage in saving the lives of the people from another faith is testament to the common humanity and compassion that we all possess. Despite the effort of intolerant groups that espouse a struggle between the minority and the majority, an examination of the founding fathers’ vision allows us to understand that even insurmountable differences can be bridged through understanding, finding common ground, and rediscovering the humanity within us all.
Upholding these ideals and with the guidance of Ambassador Ahmed, I have dedicated my time as a student and a researcher to building bridges that will allow for a more united subcontinent. With these values in mind, I have involved myself in a project with Ambassador Ahmed on India and Pakistan that seeks to highlight the lesser known or forgotten facts about our founding fathers and bring them to people through popular media. In order to forge ahead harmoniously in the seventh decade of our independence, we must re-discover compassion for the other(ed) that our founding fathers exemplified. We must learn in our respective countries also to treat minorities with respect. It is in this highest ideal that our inheritance rests, and to this value I am an heir.
(Sushmita Kamboj is a senior in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, DC and a research assistant to Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University)
A Uniform Law for the Rich and the Poor
By Shahryar Khan Baseer
I would like to request the Chief Justice of Pakistan to quickly end the wrong notion that has developed among the people of Pakistan during the Panama Case hearings: rich Pakistanis are free to submit fake documents to courts, drive around in unregistered BMW’s, and retract their confessions on the plea that it was taken under duress.
If the court does not want to act on all these illegal and punishable activities because the culprits are rich or belong to political families, then I would suggest that the Parliament should be asked to include this provision in the Constitution of Pakistan. That way, our future generations will not suffer the pain every common Pakistani doestoday on seeing culprits go scot-free to give anti-state and anti-judiciary statements in the media.
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