Being Human

Pooja Meghwal of Rajasthan is too young to know that across the international border, dwells the ‘enemy’. In fact, this seven year old (just like the cattle she was grazing when she strayed across), probably doesn’t even know that a thing like ‘international border’ even exists. And this is perhaps why she strayed across into ‘enemy’ territory last Friday. But it turned out that the ‘enemy’ on the other side of the border was not the ‘fiend’ it was believed to be; for on Tuesday, Pooja was returned safe and sound by the Pakistani Rangers. That she had been treated well during her short stay on the other side of the international border was evident from the fact that she was seen smiling while the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) and the Pakistani Rangers went through the formalities of her return.

What was even more touching was that at the time of her return, Pooja not only sported a new dress and shoes but tightly clutched in her tiny hand, were candies- all given to her by the ‘enemy’ into whose territory she had inadvertently strayed. Enquiries regarding the treatment meted out to her while in the custody of Pakistani Rangers revealed that not only was Pooja well cared for and provided timely meals, but also that a woman officer had been deputed to look after her. The possibility that the Rangers could have ‘put up their best’ for publicity purposes is negated by the fact that there was no media present when Pooja was ‘handed- over’ to the Indian Border Security Force (BSF). So, could it be that the Pakistani Rangers, separated from their families due to their border guarding duties may have seen the image of their own daughters in Pooja! Whatever be the reasons, it is undoubtedly a laudable act of humanity!

While the BSF personnel were receiving Pooja from the Pakistani Rangers in a Flag Meeting, their comrades were holding another Flag Meeting for handing over a Pakistani national to the Rangers. Belonging to Gujarwala district, the 45-year-old Azam had by mistake strayed across the international border in Sri Ganganagar district on March 10 and he could have easily been booked for being a spy or a smuggler. Even if there was no evidence to prove the same, he could have conveniently been charged for ‘entering India without valid travel documents’ under the provisions of the Indian Passport (Entry in India) Act, 1920. And as we all know, imprisoning those who stray across the Indo - Pak border is not uncommon and there are hundreds of such people languishing in jails on trumped - up charges in both countries. However, on this occasion, the BSF authorities chose to be more humane than officious and decided to allow Azam to return home once it was confirmed that this was a genuine case of an inadvertent crossing.

Even along the Line of Control (LoC) in J&K, which recently witnessed unprecedented tension between the Indian and Pakistan armies, a ray of hope has emerged that the acrimony of the past has atleast been reduced, if not entirely forgotten. Instances of firing along the LoC have drastically reduced and the hawks on both sides have fallen silent. And, the most encouraging sign is that humanitarian considerations have once again been revived. On March 24, the Indian Army repatriated two minors named Rehmatullah, 15 and Inayatullah, 12, belonging to Kotli in Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) who, in search of employment, had crossed over the LoC two days earlier. While skeptics, may dismiss this as an insignificant event, but then, even the longest journey has to commence with the first step. And this ‘first step’ is indeed most welcome as it will help salvage the derailed process of normalising Indo - Pak relations. For the people of Kashmir, easing of tensions along the LoC has come as a big relief, as everyone knows that normalisation of relations between the two countries is an inexorable pre-requisite for resolution of the Kashmir problem!

Musical concerts and civil society interaction between India and Pakistan conducted as part of the much touted ‘confidence building measures’  like ‘Aman ki Asha’ receive immense publicity. However, it is rather unfortunate that genuine acts of human kindness like the repatriation of Pooja, Azam and the two minors from PaK to their respective countries are perfunctorily reported and just find place in some insignificant corner of newspapers. Such cases are also considered too mundane for TV discussions, as they don’t appeal to our depraved and violence- afflicted psyche which finds solace only when there is a display of brash and aggressive behaviour or ‘enemy- bashing’ through provocative rhetoric on the TV screens! No one really cares to highlight the humanitarian aspects of such incidents on the Indo - Pak border and there are none cite these laudable examples of compassion, which if emulated across the board, could well prove to be a more enduring in restoring sanity amongst two people baying for each other’s blood, than the much hyped ‘confidence building measures’.

As time goes by and Pooja grows up, she may continue to have pleasant memories of her brief sojourn on Pakistani soil. But she will grow up in an environment that will teach her that a ‘cruel enemy’ resides on the other side of the border and so, she would certainly never dare to go across again, the pleasant memories of the new dress, shoes and candies notwithstanding. The same would be case of Azam and the two minors from PaK. Though they may be impressed by the good treatment meted out to them while in Indian custody and be grateful to the Indian authorities for having released them so quickly, stories of Indian ‘barbarity’ will soon catch up with them and these would certainly keep them miles away from the border.

And this brings us to the larger question – how is it that two people who co-existed harmoniously till as late as 1947, could have developed such intense animosity towards each other? When Ajmal Kasab involved in the Mumbai attacks was hanged, voices in Pakistan demanded the immediate execution of Sarabjeet Singh. Had this demand come from the radicals, it could have been ignored. But the fact that it was the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party headed by Imran Khan which made this weird demand is certainly worrisome, as is the statement of Sushma Swaraj, a senior member of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) wanting the heads of ten Pakistani soldiers as retribution for the beheading of an Indian soldier on the LoC! When will we start behaving like humans?

Tailpiece: Mahatma Gandhi had once said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” While I cannot speak for the world, but of one thing I am sure – it has certainly made the ‘powers- that- be’, both India and Pakistan, blind!

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