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Viewpoint: The Middle East and South Asia: Past, Present and Future
Tridivesh Singh Maini, 1/1/2012

Whenever there is a mention of the Middle East in South Asia, it is inevitably linked to defense and strategic issues. In India there is talk of how the former should emulate Israel in the domain of national security, and adopting a hard line on security issues. In Pakistan, especially in the media, there is talk of how Palestinians have got a raw deal and how the Jewish lobby is working overtime to ensure that the former are oppressed.

One area which gets ignored, amidst the myriad discussions of security and strategic issues is the similar issues with regard to the recording of the holocaust and the partition of the sub-continent. For example, survivors of the holocaust who can reveal some interesting facts about the holocaust are few in numbers. Many of them are willing to speak now as it is only now that the wounds have healed to a certain extent. The same is true, even of the Indian sub -continent.

This writer realized this while researching for Humanity Amidst Insanity, of which he was one of the co-editors. The book a collection of interviews with partition survivors from India and Pakistan, focused on the humane dimension of partition and one point which clearly emerged is that there are very few survivors of partition, who can provide an in-depth account. While earlier survivors were not willing to talk, now when they are willing to speak out there are very few left.

However, the clear parallel between the two situations actually struck me when I spoke to members of the Jewish community in North America, especially the U.S. who are keen to record such instances but are not able to as there are very few survivors of the Holocaust. Though the only difference off course is that there are Holocaust Museums in the U.S. and any one keen to speak to a survivor can do so, at one of these. In India, there is no such provision and while there are numerous museums and archives, there is no provision for researchers on partition to speak to survivors and record interviews. While a lot of time has been lost, it is better late than never, and it may be a good idea for museums in South Asia to focus on providing researchers / academics access to partition survivors.

In a world riven in conflict, maybe it is also time to jointly work on such episodes from both the Middle East and South Asia. While there have been some academic endeavors to do the same, it may be constructive to record interviews of survivors from both the holocaust and partition.

Such an endeavor should not be carried out with the mere intention of giving a fillip to peace, but also to unravel layers of history which have been obliterated as a consequence of jingoism, intellectual dogma and the trauma of survivors who have been witness to historical phases. Such endeavors will also help those doing comparative studies between the two regions. Not doing so will mean that generations to come in both South Asia and the Middle East will only be exposed to one facet of history, the dark one.

The other interesting point is that while in both India and Pakistan there is mention of the active role played by the Jewish diaspora in furthering Israel's interests, seldom is any attention given to the role of Jewish initiatives for peace in the Middle East. In India, the Jewish lobby is always put forward as a role model for furthering a country's interests. While in Pakistan, the problems of Palestinians and the Muslim world are attributed to active Jewish lobbying in the Western world, specifically Washington.

But there are groups working for peace and a reasonable two state solution, such as J Street and One Voice. The writer got an opportunity to attend a Washington, D.C. event where there was a constructive debate on issues pertaining to the Middle East, and where two young individuals gave the Israeli and Palestinian perspective. Similarly, many in the Jewish diaspora settled in the U.S. are supporting joint Palestinian-Israeli efforts for cooperation in the realms of education and environment.

Here again, there is space for South Asian diasporic groups trying to push for peace in the sub-continent to learn from Middle Eastern groups and vice-versa. While South Asian diasporic groups working for peace have been able to influence academic debates on the internet, they have not been able to exercise substantial influence on policy makers either at home or in the countries they reside. They need to learn from groups working for peace in the Middle East, by working more in the field and also having an influence on the policy discourse both in the country of their origin and in their adopted lands.

Tridivesh Singh Maini is an Associate Fellow with The Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

 



 
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