Pulwama Attack: When Did Peace Become Such a Loaded, Dirty Word?


Pulwama Attack: When Did Peace Become Such a Loaded, Dirty Word?

Illustration: Akshita Monga


What’s the dirtiest five-letter word you can think of that starts with the letter P? (Hint: It’s not penis.) The answer, especially in the five days since the ghastly terror attack in Pulwama that martyred 40 CRPF jawans, is “peace”. It’s ironic, but even the mention of the word peace elicits a violent response in India’s present political climate. The prevailing sentiment is that when it comes to India and Pakistan, there can be no peaceful co-existence, only the total triumph of one over the other. And if you feel differently, you’d best beware.

While our political and military leadership tries its best to figure out how to handle the Pakistani question in the international arena, regular Indian citizens have taken it upon themselves to ensure that domestic public opinion remains confrontational and not conversational. Adding fuel to the fire are our celebrities, who normally avoid making any statement of a political nature, but are currently piling onto the easiest target as a means to win over the nationalist crowd.

It’s this zero-sum game approach that has led to Indian citizens turning on each other, at a time when tensions are already running high. Mobs, both virtual and real, have started hunting down anyone they judge to be “anti-national”. In West Bengal, a crowd barged into the home of a man named Anik Das and forcefully dragged him out onto the street over some supposedly offensive posts he had made on social media. On Facebook, groups like “Clean the Nation” cropped up overnight, with a mission to identify and prosecute those they suspect of disrespecting our armed forces, by doxxing them and calling up their places of work to report them as traitors.

Celebrating the Pulwama attack is undoubtedly a heinous thing to do, but there is a difference between sympathising with terrorists and hoping that peace will prevail. Unfortunately, it’s a distinction that has become increasingly blurry for those infected with a taste for vengeful retribution against Pakistan. Asking legitimate questions about what we could have done to avert the tragedy is seen as disrespecting the soldiers’ sacrifice, but even that isn’t as bad as wishing that the situation doesn’t escalate to all-out war. At this point, someone could advocate nuclear war and they’d receive a warmer reception than a person calling for peace.

Mobs, both virtual and real, have started hunting down anyone they judge to be “anti-national”.

For proof that peace has become a dirty word, all you need to do is scan the news. You’ll find people like Kangana Ranaut, who believe anyone speaking about peace should be painted black, tied to a donkey, and slapped by everyone on the street, showing us that her conflict-resolution skills are as subtle as her performance in Fashion. In the “Clean the Nation” Facebook group, even people who were simply offering solidarity to Kashmiris in their city were targeted as problematic individuals. The mind-set is easy to discern from the statement the group posted on its page, saying, “We ensure you, that if our esteemed Army is doing an external surgical strike in our neighbouring enemy, we will bloody well do an internal one against these enemies within the nation.”

But are these internal enemies real, or imagined? Does hoping for peace instead of war automatically make somebody an enemy of the state? Because as we’ve seen in the past, India and Pakistan have displayed a capacity to peacefully coexist — through government initiatives and diplomacy. Yup, the same government that “Clean the Nation” and other supposedly nationalistic groups claim to be supporting. Just last year, the opening of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor between the two countries was hailed as a great step forward in the march toward peace. Attacks like the one which took place in Pulwama undo all the progress these peaceful initiatives make, sending us back to square one, where Pakistan is only our enemy, and not our neighbour. Of course, there must be redressal for these acts of terrorism, but that does not mean that the two countries can never live side-by-side in peace.

In an opinion piece about the Israel-Palestine conflict in The New York Times, columnist Shmuel Rosner says, “It’s one thing to realistically assess that peace is not coming anytime soon, and quite another to forgo the ideal of peace.” It’s a sentiment that’s equally applicable to India and Pakistan. In our context, the former is something that we must make peace with, given the present political scenario — while the latter is to allow the hate which has driven the conflict that has divided one people into two nations since 1947 to win.

In times like these, when violence and war feel like the most emotionally satisfying responses, we should ask ourselves what it was for that our soldiers in Pulwama died. They, like every other soldier, signed up to join the forces so that their countrymen could live in peace. So that everyone — including the Kashmiri students now being targeted in different parts of the country — could lead safe, secure lives. Let’s not disrespect their sacrifice by spitting on that ideal.