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INDIA’s “surgical” strikes against Pakistan may not have stopped cross-border terrorism, but the events leading to the Sept. 29 attacks may succeed in putting an end to cultural exchanges between the two countries. This will be unfortunate.
In the past, there used to be unofficial bans in some parts of India against cricketers and ghazal singers from Pakistan playing or performing on Indian soil. Now the scope of the ban has been widened to include Pakistani actors, filmmakers and technicians.
The film producers’ association doesn’t want filmmakers to cast Pakistanis in Indian films, or to employ Pakistani technicians. The film theater owners’ and exhibitors’ association is against its members screening films with Pakistani stars. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a regional party based in Maharashtra, called for a ban on director Karan Johar’s film “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”, because the cast includes Pakistani actor Fawad Khan. The party wanted Johar to apologize for making such a film, though it was shot last year when there was no tension on the border and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was chummy with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif. Shockingly, the Maharashtra authorities behaved as though threatening to prevent the release of a film made in compliance with Indian laws is fair and just.
Any way, after remaining silent for some time, Johar last week declared that he would no longer work with talents from “neighboring countries.” After Johar went through the standard, ritualistic condemnation of terrorism, expressed his love for India and accepted some conditions laid down by the MNS, the ban has been lifted.
MNS is a splinter group of Shiv Sena, both known for strong-arm tactics and anti-Pakistan rhetoric. Sena used to terrorize Maharashtra, especially its capital Mumbai which houses Bollywood, even when the Congress was in power in the state. While Congress governments in Maharashtra and at the center had to put up with Sena’s intimidating tactics out of sheer helplessness, the present ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), considers both Sena and MNS its ideological cousins. The BJP is in broad agreement with all that groups like MNS do and say.
MNS and Shiv Sena are not the only groups that openly challenge and work against the Indian tradition of liberalism and pluralism. Nor are Pakistani actors the only victims of their intolerance and hatred. There have been calls on Urdu writers in India to sign an undertaking that they will not write anything “anti-national.”
But the present culture war in the subcontinent (Pakistan has taken some retaliatory steps including banning of all Indian content on television and radio channels) will have long-term consequences, because the only hope of mutual goodwill and ultimate peace depends on keeping alive the common heritage binding the two countries.
While abroad, Indians and Pakistanis are amazed to find how much they have in common despite apparently hostile political situation back home. Other than Bangladesh which itself shares strong cultural ties with India’s West Bengal state, there is no other country with which the majority of Pakistanis share such strong cultural similarities. Hindi films are very popular in Pakistan. Pakistani TV programs have also grown in popularity in India in recent years. Hindi-language speakers can understand Urdu, and vice versa. In this commonality that transcends ethnic and religious differences lies any hope of peace in South Asia.
To allow the present situation to sink into culture-war vitriol and stop all people-to-people contacts will be going against the sentiments expressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Kozhikode (Kerala) speech last month. In his address, the Indian leader called on the people of Pakistan to come forward, (to) fight a war on unemployment, poverty, illiteracy bedeviling the two countries. This means India and Pakistan need to engage with people on the other side of the border if they want to strengthen those forces and sections of society which seek normal ties and peace.
This article was originally published on http://saudigazette.com.sa/opinion/editorial/culture-war-subcontinent/