The actor-politician is being tainted as unpatriotic because she stated the obvious—Indians and Pakistanis have much in common
By Usha Rani Das
Just days after Karnataka Government filed sedition charges against Amnesty International’s India chapter, the state is again embroiled in a controversy under the sedition law. This time a lawyer has filed a case against actor-turned politician Divya Spandana alias Ramya for praising the people of Pakistan and their hospitality. Her remarks came in response to Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar’s comments in Haryana’s Rewari district on August 16 when he said that going to hell and going to Pakistan was the same. To which Ramya, who has recently been to Pakistan for SAARC summit for young parliamentarians responded: “I respectfully disagree, Pakistan is not hell, people there are just like us.”
Lawyer Katnamane Vittal Gowda who moved a court in Somwarpet, Karnataka, said he was “appalled” by her comments. Ramya has said she will not apologize. Media reports quoted her saying: “I don’t think I am wrong. It’s freedom of speech and also our duty to speak on inclusiveness and peace. Curbing freedoms is wrong in democracy…Everybody is entitled to their views and that is what democracy is about, you can’t force your ideology on anyone. It is really sad but such is the situation in the country today.”
Mani Shankar Aiyar, Rajya Sabha MP of the Congress supports Ramya’s stand. He told India Legal: “If the tragedy of Partition hadn’t happened, Pakistanis would have been our fellow citizens. If we can’t respect them, the fault must lie within us. I therefore am horrified that Ramya should be persecuted in such manner. It reflects the fundamental fascist attitude of the Hindus.”
A Karachi based journalist and blogger, Syed Jafar Askari, who also pursued a course in journalism couldn’t help but disagree with Manohar Parrikar’s comment: “This is really an irresponsible comment from a higher official of the Indian government to equate visiting Pakistan with visiting hell. In any country government officials and politicians own enormous responsibility in terms of expressing their political views. The diplomatic relations of the two neighboring countries are already under fire since Modi became PM of India. I think I should stand with Kannada actress and Congress member Ramya who tried to compensate by saying ‘Pakistan is not hell’. This sedition charges against her is nothing but a drama.”
No one can deny cross-border tensions and distrust exists between the two countries. But to quote Mohsin Raza Khan, assistant director of centre for a new south Asia, Jindal School of International Affairs: “There are no physical barriers like rivers or mountains. There were only lush green fields of Punjab on both sides. We could see that it was only a man-made border.” Mohsin took 20 students from his college on a short tour to Pakistan. He said the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) received those 20 students from India warmly. They hosted dinner for them. They visited the historical sites and the Lahore museum.
Recalls Mohsin: “I wanted to show them (students) what is Pakistan. It was an emotional moment when we crossed the border. There was a girl with us whose forefathers were originally from Pakistan. Partition separated them. At the Lahore museum they kept family trees of all the families who had land in Pakistan. She showed me her family tree and it contained the name of her whole family till her father, though after Partition they became Indians. Pakistanis do not differentiate between Indians and Pakistanis.”
Pakistanis too feel India and Pakistan are two similar countries separated by a man-made border. Jafar said:“I have spent three months in India in 2014 when I was pursuing a course in journalism in Chennai. I lived with more than 150 students from different parts of India. Although India is also facing the dilemma of extremism by Hindu extremist parties, I got love and affection from fellow Indians. India and Pakistan share the same history and similar culture. People also speak the same language. As a Pakistani I think this (Parrikar’s) statement may derail the peace process between two nuclear states.”
While journalist and author Aatish Taseer said Pakistan can certainly be hellish, he added that so can any other country. He told India Legal: “Pakistan certainly can be hellish but no one should be charged for sedition for saying it isn’t; they should instead be given a medal for their incurable optimism. I, for my part, have always had a good time in Pakistan. It’s a violent terrible place, but big-hearted. The people are extraordinarily gracious, and if it wasn’t for the Faustian pact they made with Islam, they would be alright. But it’s really shameful for us to be carrying on like this. Ramya’s right: both countries are far too shitty — vahi nange gande bhuke jahil log — for us to be arguing about which is worse.”
Aatish’s statement is true to every word. To quote Faisal Zaidi, a Pakistani student’s horrifying experience in India: “I was ill-treated but I ignored it. Some students asked me if I was from the ISI others wondered if have bomb or know how to make suicide bomb. That’s why I was very depressed and tense and couldn’t give attention to my studies.” But when asked how he finds India as a country he says: “The world was black and white and then God created India.”
Mani Shankar Aiyar served as India’s first consul general in Karachi from 1978 to 1982. It’s been 35 years since he has been back to India. He has been to Pakistan nearly 35 times hence. “I still have friends there.” Remarking about the hospitality of the Pakistanis he reminisces: “When my daughter got married almost a quarter century after I came back to India, 46 Pakistani guests came for her wedding. When any Indian meets a Pakistani, there is an immediate rapport among them. In several countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, UK and the US, millions of Indians and Pakistanis work together with no tensions among them.”
One of India’s leading stage actresses, Jalabala Vaidya’s Akshara Theatre hosted a Pakistani play in 2013 when the government refused to host it at a theatre festival due to tensions along the border. The Pakistani theatre group, Ajoka Productions was to perform in Delhi but their show was cancelled but Jalabala helped stage its performance.
She has her own take on freedom of expression and sedition laws: “Our country needs individual independent free institutions, particularly in Indian arts which do not have to follow government policies. Artists have expressed their sense of national identity through centuries of art. Artists have written and conquered their minds. Artists should never be charged with sedition. Artists are the creators of our national identity, not the government,” Jalabala told India Legal.
Ramya, in her own way, proved that artists know no man-made boundaries.
Lead picture: (L-R) actor-turned politician Ramya; BJP workers protesting against Ramya’s remark on Pakistan and Amnesty International. Photo: manglorean.com