By Rakesh Mani
PERHAPS the root cause of the decline and subordination of the Orient can be traced back to the 1450s when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. In those days, the Ottoman and Mughal Empires enjoyed unmatched wealth and power and their monarchs ruled over pretty much half the world.
Curiously, however, they never imported the printing press to produce and distribute bulletins of the state, religious texts, literature and poetry.
In Europe, on the other hand, the printing press was adopted almost instantly by educational institutions and indeed, the Church – and so Western ideas were more broadly disseminated. Soon enough, as one thing led to another, people read, were educated, trained to think and spurred into action which resulted in many movements and eventually, the Industrial Revolution.
The tragedy of the East was that we were afraid of change. The printing press was never brought in because it was thought we had a better system with mukhatibs and their art of calligraphy. And surely, the political pressure exerted by these influential men of letters in the courts and durbars of yore had a role to play as well.
It was partly a question of receding power and also partly, a fundamental fear of change. But even until now, we haven’t yet learned this lesson. And yes, not much has changed.
Speaking to a middle-aged Pakistani industrialist in Abu Dhabi a few years ago, I expressed my frustration that the Pakistani government had not done enough to liberalize the economy and be more engaging of India. I was thinking of businesses without borders, universities with satellite campuses and routine literary festivals.
The man replied sharply, “Allowing the level of co-operation you are talking about will make us an extension of India, they will take over Pakistan.”
Sixty years on, the fear that India will seek to take over Pakistan at every opportunity and revert to pre-Partition borders still exists. In India, on the other hand, the fear is that extending cooperation will embolden Pakistan, which will exert its influence to covertly foster discontent in the Indian Union, end the economic party and try to break the country.
Why? Because when thinking of Partition, it is only the Pakistanis who feel they gained a country. Most Indians still feel that they lost a third of theirs.
Nowhere is this mutual fear and distrust more palpable than in the media.
Most headlines and news articles in the mainstream Indian press paint a highly distorted view of Pakistan. It is a Pakistan of trigger-happy mullahs trying to come to power, and gain control of Pakistan’s seventy-odd N-bombs to use in their religious battles.
It is always the differences between the two countries that are focused on instead of the many similarities.
And Pakistan’s media too is guilty of demonizing India – especially in the vernacular Urdu language publications. You’d have to be nuts to print some of the garbage that passes for opinion journalism in some of these papers. And they trumpet that every atrocity in Pakistan has an Indian hand – the Lahore attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team being a case in point.
The only way for people to understand these similarities and to break down the mistrust that has been built over years of demonization is for India and Pakistan to make each other’s newspapers and news channels freely and widely available in their respective countries. This would do more for building understanding in the long-run than anything else and is something the foreign ministries of both countries should be working towards.
Media freedoms can take us a long way. And we need to get to the point where Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper is widely read in India and Pakistanis can easily switch to NDTV for their news broadcast. This cross-pollination will broaden minds to assimilate many-sided truths that we have thus far ignored.
India and Pakistan are more alike than the people of these countries believe, and more similar than the respective establishments will readily acknowledge. The hackneyed plot that casts India as an incredibly wealthy power and Pakistan as its struggling sibling is a blatant half-truth.
Both countries have been repeatedly ravaged by apocalyptic outfits. Both have serious problems with education and have dramatically failed their poor and disenfranchised segments.
But like most problems in the world today – global warming, the economy, trade – the Subcontinent’s battles against extremism and educational inequity are pan-national. Poverty, suffering and rampant extremism tie India and Pakistan together. But India cannot prosper while Pakistan crumbles, and Pakistan cannot progress if it blocks India’s rise.
Our shared problems and solutions stretch across our borders – as do our markets, languages, history, literature and poetry. We may be separate nations, but our people share the same dreams. Like it or not, we’re all in this together.
We can’t be afraid of changing the mindsets and functioning of staid, old bureaucracies. The sooner we start thinking of working together, like Europe, towards common goals and progress by pooling our energies and resources, the better we’ll all be for it.
Published in Dawn Newspaper (Pakistan) – 9th September, 2009
Rakesh Mani is a 2009 Teach For India fellow working in Mumbai. Prior to joining Teach For India, he worked in the fixed income practice at JPMorgan in New York. Heholds a BS degree in Actuarial Science & Finance from New York University.