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Noor's cure: A contrast in views

By Arindam Banerji
July 16, 2003 16:09 IST
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Friday evening was a washout for me -- cancelled dinner, no alternate plans, so I settled comfortably to reach out through the Web. Finally, it did turn out to be an interesting evening for me, but not in the way I'd thought it would be.

The thaw in relations was there for all to see -- the bus from Lahore had just arrived in India, and tearful snapshots and good intentions filled the columns of the dailies.

Almost every daily (July 11, 12, 2003), carried the delectable story of Noor Fatima, which gave me the warm fuzzies and I am sure I was not alone in this. Noor, you see is a Pakistani child who was about to undergo medical surgery in Bangalore. The Indian Express describes this happy gesture, adequately as ( 'Noor was born with a hole in her heart and doctors at Lahore had advised them to get the surgery done in India. Nadeem, a marketing executive, is quick to clarify that though medical treatment in Pakistan is fine, it's not as good or cost-effective as in India. Which is why he even tried to take the air route to India via Dubai. "Unfortunately for us, there were no tickets available via the Dubai route. We'd just begin to think of an alternative when the bus service was revived." Now Noor will be treated by Dr Rajesh Sharma in Bangalore. "The operation will set us back by around Rs 3 lakh but it's worth the cost," beams the father.'

Other dailies were not far behind and the Deccan Herald gives us more of those details that we all look for, in such human interest stories: 'Dr Rajesh Sharma, a pediatric cardiac surgeon, who has already treated over 50 Pakistani children in the past six years, would perform surgery on Noor along with his expert team. "The doctors in Pakistan, who have advised us to go to India, have assured us of 95 per cent success in the surgery and we are here with lots of hope," said Tayyaba Nadeem, Noor's mother.'

Thanks to the now resurrected bus trips, this terminally sick Pakistani girl is getting a second chance at life. I like most other Indians, am absolutely delighted to see this child get life-saving care, irrespective of what happens in the political debate between the two countries.

Across the Border

So, I thought I'd look for any news on this new openness -- this new thaw -- amongst writers and leaders across the border. I looked around a little at the usual suspects, Dawn and some other Pakistani sites -- could not really find much on the travails of Noor and the new future that hopefully awaits her. So I kept looking. I do not know about the rest of you out there, but what I found was more than a little disturbing.

Dawn was reporting about five young Indian schoolgirls who were horrifically injured in a bomb blast in Bandipora. It seems on July 11, a bomb, which I guess was placed in a school bus by some Pakistani terrorists, had gone off, grievously injuring these school kids. The daily did not carry the names of these girls.

The problem wasn't just that some low-life actually put a bomb in a school bus, with the direct intention of killing Indian children, but none of the Pakistani newspapers seemed to think this was condemnable -- not one line anywhere, criticizing this brave action by Pakistani freedom fighters. How does something like that happen?

So I decided to keep looking and see what the other Pakistanis were saying. The editor of Pak Observer was breathing fire about these same Indians that were now welcoming their children into their country for life-saving care. He reveals his feelings as in 'The fact is that India was never serious or sincere in its offer of dialogue and friendship. We have no illusion about Indian cunningness, hypocrisy and somersaults, as this is what it has comprehensively demonstrated over the past half a century. India has not responded to Pakistan's peace initiatives and is deliberately resorting to delaying tactics with the motive to undermine the peace process.' No word on Noor or Rajesh Sharma yet, but I'll keep looking for some genuine goodwill, anyway.

Ignoring the trade discussions, medical facilitation or the goodwill slowly being created across the border, another Pakistani columnist expresses his opinions about Indian intentions and Indians, including our leaders, with a little more bile in 'The obduracy and duplicity of Indian leadership is self-exident (sic). In order to exploit the world scenario after 9/11, India stage-managed some acts of terrorism, to cook up excuse to adopt policy of coercive diplomacy and brinkmanship by bringing its armed forces on Pakistan's border. When this aggressive policy also failed, Indian inter-acted with USA, which again came to India's rescue and arranged withdrawal of troops by its diplomatic efforts... India's mockery, chicanery and bad faith know no bounds.'

But I thought that these must be the fire-breathers -- the Pakistani leaders who had recently received Vajpayee's acceptance of the invitation to attend the SAARC summit at Islamabad, must be more conciliatory.

Riaz Khokar, the Pakistani foreign secretary, it seems, however, is not yet happy with the peace initiatives India has taken in spite of the continuing Pakistani killings of Indian civilians. The Telegraph's report about the press conference he held probably does more justice than my words: 'Pakistan is yet to make up its mind whether or not it will be happy to see India participate in the SAARC summit to be held in early January next year in Islamabad. Less than 24 hours after Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal joined other members of the South Asian group in accepting Pakistan's proposed dates for the summit, his Pakistani counterpart Riaz Khokar made it clear Delhi was not doing anybody a favor by accepting the dates.'

Khokar also hoped that India would not "sabotage" the summit. He urged the other members to ensure that India does not blackmail the rest by again postponing the summit. He also stressed that India should not be allowed to dictate the pace of reforms on the trade and economic front within SAARC. "There is absolutely no terrorism from Pakistan in Kashmir or elsewhere in India," Khokar said. "It is the country which accuses us of terrorism which is known to have exported terrorism to Sri Lanka and other parts of South Asia in the past." After indulging in anti-India remarks for most part of the press meet, Khokar said that as a "general rule" Islamabad had decided to cut down its rhetoric against Delhi.'

None, however, talked about stopping the daily beheading and butchery that is being perpetrated by Pakistani terrorists in India. I guess I can ignore some of the fire-breathing speeches, especially in short bursts; after all, we have our own fire-breathers, who do just as well. What I did not and do not, understand is the desire to, open justification of, blatant facilitation of and refusal to stop the, killing of our children by Pakistanis -- why were the lives of those five Indian girls in Bandipora, not considered as precious as Noor's? I am sure there's a justification somewhere for it, but it's missing me at this point.

Thanks from Pakistan

Not ready to go to sleep yet, I kept looking for some grand gesture, perhaps a kind word or two about the thaw; maybe a write-up denigrating the constant killing of Indian women and children by the Pakistani ISI and Jaish-e-Mohammed types.

I did end-up finding a 'kind' professor from Pakistan who was willing to help India out, by building a large port in Orissa, but only after reshaping the map of South Asia a little. He says in 'India is indeed a state with a great social and political chaos that has been triggered by freedom movements in some areas resulting in the loss of a large number of lives. I would suggest that a plebiscite be held in Kashmir and, if decided by its people, it may be included in Pakistan. Similarly, Khalistan is a genuine movement of the Sikhs who have been struggling to achieve their right to self-determination for a long time. The Bangla language is one of the 13 major languages out of about 3,000 spoken all over the world. As such, West Bengal should unite with Bangladesh to form a separate state, (Bangla is already the national language of one sovereign state). The rest of the Indian Union may well remain united as I am no ill-wisher of India.'

Wonder what the Pakistanis, who do actually wish India ill, would really do to us. So, generosity Pakistani style it seems, is 'I'll keep what is mine and take much of what is yours,' all in the name of peace and friendship in South Asia, of course.

A clear difference in intentions

What is quite clear to most of us now is that there is an unmistakable difference in the way the two sides view the peace gestures and Indian goodwill. This contrast in intentions is visible not just in the media or in the political leadership; you'll see it amongst professionals and every day people, just as much.

After all, what makes Dr Rajesh Sharma from Bangalore, not think twice about saving the lives of dozens of Pakistani children, while a professor from Lahore willingly directs the butchering of hundreds of Indian children every year? The professor from Lahore, blinded by his hate, recently declared 'killing Hindus is the way forward' -- in effect, he would have no compunctions in beheading the very same Dr Sharma.

This difference is perhaps more easily seen in the younger generation. In one case, we have Palak Muchhal, an 11-year-old singer from Indore, who is ready to raise money to help save Noor's life -- to give the Pakistani child a fresh lease on life.'s description of her thoughts: 'An Indian singing prodigy offered Saturday to help raise funds for a two-year-old Pakistani girl with a hole in the heart who traveled here for treatment in the first bus from Pakistan in 18 months. Eleven-year-old Palak Muchhal along with Indian doctor Vinod Bhandari asked baby Noor Fatima's parents to come to their hometown Indore in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh for the surgery. "Palak and the hospital would bear the entire expense needed for plugging the hole in Fatima's heart, as we have successfully done so in a number of cases earlier," Bhandari told the Press Trust of India news agency.

On the other hand, a young Pakistani man not much older than Palak, quoted in the Friday Times, says 'When I kill the Hindus, I feel as if the blood of Mohammad bin Qasim is running through my veins and I have come closer to Allah.'

Why does Palak, a young Indian girl, naturally feel the need to raise money to save a Pakistani child's life, but the young Pakistani man feels the needs to slaughter Indians, to achieve religious satisfaction?

After all, till fifty years ago, we were the same people. Right?

How did we get to be so different?

A few days ago, a Bengali friend of mine sent me excerpts from the Nayyar report -- a scathing analysis of the state of Pakistan's government approved text-books. I had not paid much attention to it, but it now started to provide much of the explanations, for this difference that I was beginning to see. Perhaps, the conclusions of the report are most enlightening:

'Four themes emerge most strongly as constituting the bulk of the curricula and textbooks of the three compulsory subjects.

1. that Pakistan is for Muslims alone;
2. that Islamiat is to be forcibly taught to all the students, whatever their faith, including a compulsory reading of Qur'an;
3. that Ideology of Pakistan is to be internalized as faith, and hate be created against Hindus and India;
4. and students are to be urged to take the path of Jehad and Shahadat.'

This, as we learn is not the analysis of the medieval madrassas that dot the Pakistani countryside, but rather the goals of approved school text by a body, quite akin to our own NCERT. Key learning objectives for Pakistani children are defined as:

  • 'The child should be able to understand Hindu-Muslim differences and the resultant need for Pakistan'
  • 'Hindu-Muslim differences in culture – India's evil designs on Pakistan (the three wars with India)'

And naturally, in the texts, you end up with things like 'Hindu has always been an enemy of Islam.' The conclusions of the report are quite explicit:

'The subject of hate in Pakistani educational material is Hindu and India, reflecting both the perceived sense of insecurity from an "enemy" country, and an attempt to define one's national identity in relation to the "other." The first serves the military and the second the political Islamists.'

The wonderful nuggets of hatred which get hammered into the brains of little kids, year after year, generation after generation are simply astounding. I know that my left-leaning, anti-Hindutva friends and family will immediately point me to the 'saffronized distortions' in NCERT books, but believe me, they are practically harmless compared to what exists in Pakistani government approved curricula. Feel free to read the report yourself, but here are a few rancid excerpts:

On the killings during Partition

'While Muslims provided all types of help to those wishing to leave Pakistan, the people of India committed cruelties against the Muslims. They were murdered and looted' -- Civics of Pakistan, Intermediate classes

On Hindus in general

  •   'Hindus worship in temples which are narrow and dark places, where they worship idols. Only one person can  enter the temple at a time. In mosques, on the other hand, all Muslims can say their prayers together.'
  • 'The religion of the Hindus did not teach them good things -- Hindus did not respect women.'

On the great genocide of Bangladeshis where millions were exterminated by a rampaging, rapine Pakistani army: 'The Hindus and Sikhs started a properly planned campaign of exploiting the Muslims in East Pakistan. As a result, Hindu and Sikh enemies of mankind killed and dishonored thousands, nay hundreds of thousands of women, children, old and young with extreme cruelty and heartlessness. In the 1971 India-Pakistan war, the Pakistan armed forces created new records of bravery and the Indian forces were defeated everywhere.'

Now we begin to understand, why the professor from Lahore and the young man from Pakistan differ in their life views from Dr Sharma and Palak. We understand, why we are no longer the same people on either side of the border.

Page 202-203 of K K Aziz (1993), The Murder of History in Pakistan: A critique of history textbooks used in Pakistan, Vanguard Books Pvt Ltd, Lahore (editor: Najam Sethi), in a section [Sridhar, BRF provided quotes] is titled 'Tell Lies,' talking about the delusional indoctrination, says, 'These are not distortions or slants or misconstructions or exaggerations or other venial faults. They are untruths, invented deliberately to deceive, cheat and misguide the students who attend school.'

Perhaps, Aziz's words best describe the differences on the two sides of the border, and why peace is at best, a shimmering chimera: 'In 45 years, the education system has made every Pakistani a hypocrite and a liar. The habit of not telling the truth has entered the mind of the student, the psyche of the individual, and the character of the nation. The textbook has done its duty well. The education of the people is complete.'

I guess now we understand why Pakistanis were busy placing a bomb in an Indian school bus meant to carry children of Bandipora just about the same time as Noor was entering India from Pakistan to get life-saving heart surgery.

Where next?

Friday night's sleep and the weekend ultimately washed away the specifics of the reports in the dailies; but the contrasts in intent and emerging cultures on either sides of the border, have not left me.

The fruits of the Pakistani education err, indoctrination system, dim the possibilities of peace and also, the future of the Pakistani people. It is not a coincidence that Pakistan gets linked somehow or the other to almost every international terrorist act in the world today; neither is it a coincidence that (US Attorney General John) Ashcroft and officials of various other countries are often inclined to deport Pakistanis for high crimes nearly as innocuous as wearing the wrong deodorant. Nor is it a surprise that GM, GE, IBM and Microsoft are not exactly beating down doors, to invest in Pakistan. Ultimately, the people of Pakistan lose, lose and lose again. The problem is that along with them, the school girls from Bandipora and 4-year-old Mallu of Nadimarg will continue to be helpless Indian victims of Pakistani education.

I wish Noor Fatima the best in life. Hope she learns in life to be more like Dr Rajesh Sharma and less like the professor from Lahore. Unfortunately, if she grows up in Pakistan, the prognosis for her does not look very good.


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Arindam Banerji