Let Us Not Forget – South Asia Solidarity Initiative

Statement by the South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI) at ‘After Mumbai, Which Way Forward? A Public Dialogue’, City University of New York Graduate Center, New York, December 15th, 2008. Co-sponsored by The Center for Place, Culture and Politics, The Brecht Forum and SALAAM Theatre.

Let Us Not Forget

Like many in South Asia, we watched with anguish as nearly 180 people of different castes, classes, religions and nationalities lost their lives in the events in Mumbai that unfolded over several days. We mourn their loss in this large tragedy and condemn the perpetration of such terrible violence. We also express solidarity with those intrepid groups and individuals who have tirelessly sought to build deep-roots of social, political, economic and cultural understanding for peace and justice in South Asia.  At this moment, we call for reflection on recent histories of South Asia and the world.  Hence lessons may be drawn, collective action contemplated and spaces of hope created from the debris of despondency.

In that spirit – even as we express grief about tragic events of November 26 in Mumbai, we remember other events that are imprinted on the collective memories of the South Asian people. We recall the shreds to which many other lives have been reduced across the subcontinent: From Guwahati to Delhi, from Gujarat to Orissa and Malegaon. And let us not forget Kashmir and Afghanistan on a continual basis, Peshawar on December 5, 2008 and Islamabad of just a few months ago. We mourned and anguished then too wondering why such a thing could be allowed to happen.

This shared violent present reminds us that the people of India and Pakistan also share a very long past. The two countries emerged together in an instance of troubled freedom; their futures are just as entangled as their present and their pasts. So let us make sure that Mumbai is not used as a pretext to escalate tensions between the two countries; let us rather rejuvenate people’s efforts for peaceful co-existence. The recent efforts to normalize relations between India and Pakistan in the sphere of cultural interaction and trade, diplomacy and border agreements must proceed.

Today Pakistan is increasingly vilified as the Islamic other. But let us not forget the long years of US intervention in the region primarily for its own geo-political and economic gains. These strategic interventions have also contributed to political destabilization in Pakistan at the expense of the aspirations of the Pakistani people. Let us remember that the only defense against terrorism is a prosperous democracy.

Some in India who habitually buy private security for their hotels and homes are now wishing new draconian laws akin to the Patriot Act upon the rest. Let us remember that 9/11 has been used by the US government to justify the repression and racial profiling of countless of South Asians, Arabs and Muslims in the United States. We have experienced what it means to be labeled as the ‘enemy within.’ We have also collectively resisted those repressive laws. So, let us not allow the same to happen within India.

Let us not allow such laws as Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act and Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act that in practice destroyed rights of all citizens to be repeated. Just as they did in the US, such laws will unfairly target many to produce a veneer of safety for few. Let us not forget that repressive security regimes cannot protect those who are the most vulnerable, marked, stigmatized and easily brutalized. Governance without democratic rights only means a further death of ethical and humanist politics that foregrounds the building of peace from social justice.

Let us not forget pogroms against Muslims in Gujarat took place only six years ago. Today, Indian Muslims are compelled to condemn events in Mumbai in the loudest voice lest they be deemed its perpetrators. And they have done so in no uncertain terms. But why must they be asked to continually demonstrate that they too belong to the nation?

So let us call upon both, India and Pakistan to look within.
Let us call for democratic forces to be strengthened within both nations.
Large minorities have been under siege in both nations since their very birth. They have borne the brunt of the state in all those places where exceptional laws have been enacted and exceptional police practices adapted.

Let us boldly call for the rights and pain of victims of all violence to be acknowledged and addressed be it state violence or that perpetrated by groups like Bajrang Dal, Lakshar-e-Toiba or their ilk.

And let us above all remember that no amount of policemen and army personnel can substitute the well being and security that is generated through employment assurance for all, education and health for all, and a socio-political environment which is free of fear and truly equal and just – in South Asia as a whole.

Let us at this critical moment consolidate the gains of the many social movements that seek justice, peace and reconciliation, and affirm the vision for coexistence in South Asia. We call upon all to support and strengthen those forces within Pakistan and India that continue to struggle against all odds for democratic rights; groups that stand for human rights, civil liberties and due process under the law for all; groups that oppose all forms of oppression within their own communities, fight religious bigotry and seek to build inclusive communities of dignity.

South Asia Solidarity Initiative
15 December 2008

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