By Kalpana Sharma
12 September, 2003
you tell people in India that you are travelling to Pakistan, the instant
response is "be careful." Last week, when I travelled back
by bus from Lahore to Delhi, one of the passengers was a young businessman
from Karachi. He was travelling with his wife, mother and 10-month-old
son, Saad. He has never been to India before. He had to undertake this
journey because his son was scheduled to have a heart operation in Bangalore,
much like the well-publicised case of Noor Fatima from Lahore. The question
this young man asked me was, "Will it be safe for us in India?"
Why do we have this
perception about each other's countries, that they are not safe for
ordinary people? After a week in Pakistan, I am convinced that the media
has played a big role in creating these perceptions. For instance, on
any given day, in any of the leading newspapers in Pakistan, the main,
and usually only, news about India consists of items on Kashmir, statements
about Kashmir and statements about Pakistan made by Indian leaders.
The situation is not very different at this end. Scan any of the newspapers
and the only news you get of Pakistan is extreme statements by some
leaders, what President Pervez Musharraf says or does, any new arms
sales to Pakistan and sectarian violence in Karachi or other places.
People in Karachi's
sister city, Mumbai, are unlikely to read reports about the devastating
oil spill that has long-term environmental and health consequences.
When an oil tanker, the Tasman Spirit, struck rock off the coast of
Karachi, it spilled 30,000 tonnes of crude oil. Not only has this destroyed
a popular beach and common open space of the city, akin to Chowpatty
in Mumbai, but the gases released from the spilled oil have seeped into
homes, schools and offices located near the beach. People have sore
throats, children feel nauseous and parents worry about the long-term
health consequences. Environmentalists are equally worried about the
impact on mangroves and nearby turtle hatcheries. Lakhs of fishermen
have been rendered unemployed as they cannot fish in the coastal waters.
Such news hardly finds space in our papers.
I spoke to in Karachi journalists, drivers, workers, trade unionists
and politicians had little knowledge of developments in India
apart from the political. They did not know about drought and floods
in India, about the recent Supreme Court ruling that affected the rights
of trade unions, about civil society groups that were challenging the
Government at every step on issues such as rewriting textbooks, about
the dozens of independent reports on last year's Gujarat carnage, about
the National Human Rights Commission's petition to the Supreme Court
to reopen the Best Bakery Case, about Hindus and Muslims helping each
other after the recent bomb blasts in Mumbai. What they did know was
that the Archaeological Survey of India had claimed that a temple lay
beneath the destroyed Babri Masjid, that Narendra Modi was being projected
as a future Prime Minister of India, that perpetrators of the Gujarat
violence had not been prosecuted, that there was daily violence in Kashmir,
and that Bal Thackeray was against Pakistan and Pakistanis.
media on both sides of the border does its job by reporting only the
most sensational news. As a result, it fails to play a role in building
greater understanding and nurturing a constituency for peace in both
countries. By confining itself to reporting events, and not bothering
to report a whole range of other issues that would interest the readers,
it projects a partial and one-sided image of the other country.
We, in India, are
led to believe that Pakistanis hate India, that they want to wage war
against India openly or covertly and that increasingly,
the majority of them are Islamic fundamentalists. They, in Pakistan,
believe that India is becoming a Hindu fundamentalist country where
Muslims are not safe, where Kashmiris are being butchered, where the
press cannot report freely about the other side of the story in Kashmir
or about what Indian Muslims feel, and where the majority of Indians
would like to see an end to Pakistan.
In fact, Hindi films
have also played a role in projecting this exaggerated image. Although
Hindi cinema is popular in Pakistan and even in restaurants local
musicians playing Punjabi folk music, for instance, will burst into
"Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" many Pakistanis you speak to ask
why Hindi films continue to project Pakistanis as villains and murderers.
"The only Pakistani you see in a Hindi film is a bad Pakistani,"
a driver said. "Why do you rake up so much hatred for us? We are
ordinary people like you, we like the same music, the same food. Our
Governments might fight but why should Hindi films, which could be a
uniting factor between us, project all of us as bad?"
of the media from India and Pakistan meet frequently. Many of them know
each other well, are even friends. However, there has to be a deeper
introspection about the focus of reporting from both our countries and
a real attempt made to present a fuller picture a picture that
reveals the shared concerns, the common problems faced by ordinary people,
the challenges of dealing with poverty, illiteracy and social backwardness.
Only when people on both sides understand these parallels, and accept
that neither country is full of ogres and hostile hordes, can we ensure
that a climate for peace is created.