KARACHI -- Calling the nuclear bomb the most “anti-democratic” thing, eminent
social activist and Brooker prize-winning author of The God of Small Things, Arundhati
Roy said here on Sunday that war was the agenda of governments but the common
man suffered from it.
“Instead of fighting for some abandoned glacier we should fight for our rights
and to end social injustices,” she remarked obviously referring to the Siachin
Glacier that has kept the Pakistani and Indian armies engaged for a long time.
Ms Roy was speaking at a seminar on “Peace and Freedom in South Asia,”
organized by Daily Times, Lahore. Earlier she spoke at Daily Times seminars in
Lahore and the capital Islamabad.
There was some appeal to emotion but more emphasis on the “small, practical
things” that could be done to end the historical legacy of hostility between India
People from different walks of life heard prize-winning Indian writer and social
activist Arundhati Roy and other prominent speakers from India and Pakistan express
ideas on ways to bring the peoples of the two countries together, even as the
respective governments pursue policies of continuing tension.
“We should set our sights on the small practical things,” Ms Roy said, such
as intensive cultural contacts and artistic contacts and free travel across the
border. “Open the gates,” said the winner of the 1997 Booker Prize for her novel
The God of Small Things.
Rejecting the idea that globalization could somehow prevent wars, Ms Roy said,
“It’s not McDonalds that’s going to bring peace (between India and Pakistan),
“it’s our stories, our sorrows our jokes…” which will make their way into the
other country once travel from Amritsar to Lahore and Karachi to Bombay becomes
But, she said, “as I watch, bigots in both countries up the antes,” making
normalization impossible and keep war looming over the Subcontinent.
Mr Roy, who read out her celebrated essay, “The
End of Imagination,” which she had written after India’s explosion of the
nuclear bomb in May 1998, said the very existence of nuclear weapons, not only
the threat of their use at some point, was a matter of grave concern. She said
it was unfortunate that the people on either side were unaware of the actual dangers
of the weapons whose possession they found a source of national pride.
The bomb “isn’t (just) in your backyard,” she remarked, “It’s in your body
“It’s far easier to make a bomb than to educate (hundreds of millions of) people,”
She declared, to prolonged applause from an estimated audience of 2,000 people,
that while she could do nothing to stop the Indian government from doing so, “if
I had prior information that India was going to send nuclear missiles (into Pakistan),
I would be here to receive them.”
Repeatedly returning to the subject of contacts and dialogue between the two
peoples, such as Sunday’s event and similar Daily Times seminars she has addressed
in Islamabad and Lahore, she emphasized the need for an end to the war talk between
the two nations.
“If you want peace, you have to stop talking about war,” she said. Ultimately,
the governments—“and the religious bigots…(who are) more interested in bigotry
than religion”—“cannot prevent us talking to each other, listening to each other,
loving each other.”
And “people don’t know how much affection (Indians and Pakistanis) have for
each other,” she commented.
Denouncing the massacre of Indian Muslims in Gujarat state and the jingoism
of Pakistani rulers, she asked what right the Pakistani government had to say
that it wanted freedom in Kashmir when it could not give freedom to its people.
“We need to fight day-to-day injustices,” she said.
Ms Roy received a standing ovation at the end of her 35-minute speech.
Speaking on the occasion, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary Sheheryar Khan
said it was the legacy of history that paved the way for war. “The way to break
this vicious circle is to have peace on our borders,” he remarked. He said both
Pakistan and India needed “sustained peace”, which meant opening up diplomatic
relations, cultural exchanges and trade between the two countries.
Najam Sethi, Editor of Daily Times, said in his welcome address that editors
of papers were not “neutral” because they would uphold certain values and reject
certain others. “We have a commitment to rationality.” He said like many others,
they took to heart the first speech by President Gen Pervez Musharraf, but the
essence was “short lived.”
He said the State may regulate the economy but should not “manage” it. He said
there were signs of deterioration in the relationship between Pakistan and India
but he had absolutely no doubt that peace would prevail in South Asia.
President of All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) and chief executive of
the Dawn Group of newspapers, Hameed Haroon said although peace activists in Pakistan
and India were not as strong as they should be, but consciousness was rising on
N Ram, editor The Indian Express, said the experience of the last four years
shows that a “great deal of uncertainty has been injected” on both sides of the
border which was a tremendous loss for democracy. He said bilateral dialogue between
the two countries could “lower the risk.”
He said he saw lack of clarity from the Indian government on the Kashmir issue,
adding the special status of Kashmir had been eroded over the decades.
He said Kashmir had to be brought on ‘the agenda’ but bilateral relations should
not suffer, while the Kargil skirmishes contributed to the strengthening of the
Hindu right and did tremendous damage to democracy. Responding to a question,
he said it was folly to think that nuclear weapons ensured security. Communalism
and hawkishness were the major issues in the two countries and these needed to
be addressed, he said.
Salman Taseer, publisher of Daily Times, said only third world countries “fight
He said third world countries were obsessed with territory, adding Pakistan
had spent over a billion dollars over 10 years over Siachin, which was a piece
Shehkar Gupta, editor of Frontline, said peace and freedom were linked, adding
democracies don’t go to war with each other. He said in democracy people talk
to each other but unfortunately, this was not happening between India and Pakistan.
He said India was an “imperfect democracy” while Pakistan was an “imperfect
dictatorship.” Pakistan needs to have “more democracy” and India needs to have
“better democracy,’ he remarked.
Jugno Mohsin conducted the seminar. Prominent amongst those who were present
were Sindh Finance Minister Dr Hafeez Shaikh, eminent psychiatrist Prof Haroon
Ahmed, Prof Adeeb-ul-Hasan Rizvi, editor of Dawn Saleem Asmi, Hameeda Khoro, vice
chancellor of NED University of Engineering and Technology Abul Kalam, sportsmen
Jehangir Khan, Islahuddin and Iqbal Qasim and politician Ghinva Bhutto.
Copyright 2002 Daily Times