“At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”
With these words, Jawaharlal Nehru made a promise to his people. But more than half a century later, on Republic Day, India and the world were reminded that this promise remains unfulfilled.
This year’s annual Republic Day parade in New Delhi was, in many respects, nothing out of the ordinary. Tens of thousands of Delhi police patrolled the area where Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his cabinet ministers appeared to salute the soldiers and the crowd. Anti-terrorist squads searched the area for explosives. And special commando squads guarded important government and cultural centers.
But at 8:46 in the morning on the very day the Indian government was to celebrate its republic, disaster struck. Spreading from an epicenter at Rann of Kutch near the Pakistani border, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake shook up the Gujarat state of India. Hundreds were killed, thousands hurt, and entire villages were destroyed.
In all its indiscriminate destruction of human life and property, the earthquake came as a reminder to the governments of India and Pakistan that there are threats to security of their citizens beyond the national security policies of militarization, nuclearization and endless border confrontation.
Today, two months after the devastating earthquake, efforts are underway to rebuild human security in the region. One such attempt is former President Bill Clinton’s visit to India to raise funds for rebuilding villages in the Gujarat state. Another is a meeting taking place at Yale University this weekend. In order to foster peace between India and Pakistan, one must go beyond the official diplomatic track and bring together individuals who have the minds and hearts capable of envisioning solutions to what seems like an inescapable conflict between the two states.
Pakistani dancer and human rights activist Sheem Kermani promises to bring to Yale a fresh perspective on approaching the meaning of human security in the India-Pakistan conflict. Kermani has openly criticized her government for discrimination against women, while using art performances both in India and Pakistan to promote women’s basic human rights as an area of common concern for both nations.
Former Vice President of the World Bank Javed Burki will bring the perspective of a person who has spent his entire career battling poverty and economic underdevelopment. Together with Indian information technology businessmen, Burki can work to foster closer economic ties between India and Pakistan. If at the core of every conflict is some form of struggle for resources, targeted economic development can bring peace to the subcontinent.
Ultimately, no dialogue on India and Pakistan can be complete without serious discussion of Kashmir. Last month, South Asian students in the Boston area came together to organize what was perhaps the largest meeting ever of scholars and politicians to discuss the status and the future of the disputed territories of Kashmir and Jammu.
This weekend, their efforts will continue as Kashmiri freedom advocate Muhammad Yasin Malik, veteran Kashmiri educator Agha Shraf Ali, Gandhi’s grandson Rajmohan Gandhi and others gather at Yale to discuss the role of Indian and Pakistani governments in solving the conflict in Kashmir.
A portion of Jawaharlal Nehru’s 1947 prophecy has come true. Today, the people of India and Pakistan alike are free from British oppression. But they are not free from the scourge of ethnic and religious conflict, from poverty and disease, from bondage and misery.
For the people of India and Pakistan, the first and most immediate step towards the promise of freedom is achieving a strong and long-lasting peace. Nuclear proliferation, the continuing ethnic violence in Kashmir, the interruption of democracy in Pakistan and the spread of corruption in the Indian government all continue to threaten the slow and gradual progress the two societies have made in the past half century.
Today, the path to peace in South Asia may not pass through official governmental channels. Instead, Yale this weekend joins in an effort to reach beyond the limitations of the Indian and Pakistani governments, the fissures of ethnic and religious hatred and our own American prejudice and ignorance.
This weekend’s meeting of experts and political activists can be the beginning of empowering the forces of peace within Indian and Pakistani communities, traditions and governments. It is only these forces that can lead the people of the subcontinent to achieve the freedom that independence had promised.
Milan Milenkovic is a senior in Trumbull College. His columns appear on alternate Thursdays.