Friday, April 08, 2005

PoK peace bus

Peace, isnt it what we all want? The domain differs from person to person but it is essentially the same want. A little peace of mind or a pleasant afternoon without any noise to put your leg up and relax or a world without violence and injustice. But when you wake up one morning and on the front page of the newspaper there is a picture of a building ablaze, you wonder why there is a picture of a burning building on the front page but you look closer and you see that the picture clearly shows the words "Tourist Reception Center" and you know that all is not well in the world, and that the "peace process" is creating more un-peace than peace.
The TRC (as I will refer to it in short) was the place where the bus passenegrs were accomodated and where the visitors from PoK would be hosted. Needless to say, it was "heavily guraded" or it was just thought to be for the two suicidal terrorists, apprently, managed not only to get through the highly secure gate but were also able to torch the building! The building, like all buildings, was combustible and this one was highly so as nobody could stop it from burning up. Whether the building still exists today or it doesnt is a mystery but the blaze captured by the photographer did not look like one that would have been easy to contain. Is this the state of security in Srinagar, one of the most heavily guarded places in the world, and at a place where a deserate effort to derail the peace process was expected? What does it show? Does it reveal the desperate and unstoppable nature of fiyadeen squads or the incompetence of our armed forces?
I have pretty critical of our armed forces in the past. But there was this one time when a friend of mine, whose father is a Major in the army, told me how over-worked the sepoys of the army are. According to him, there is a huge manpower shortage in the army, which means the men who are already there in the ranks do a lot more work than humanly possible. Such overworked people working in sensitive areas are bound to nervy, jumpy and followers of "shoot first, ask later." For this reason, the level of stress is high in the army and the reason for the rape of local women by the army men. For this reason, he asked me not to chastise the Indian army but the Indian state that creates such working condition for its men. I suppose there is a shortage of manpower in the army. A indication of this is the innumerable advertisements and signboards inviting people to join the army and "be a winner for life." The fact that armymen are working under extreme conditions is a troublesome one and one that should not be ignored but what is the solution to this problem? Increase the strength of the army? But according to my friend, there is a shortage of equipment too. Armymen working in difficult weather conditions do not even have appropriate and essential gear for living there. Plus, inducting more men means more defence expenditure that already is bulging at over Rs. 80,000 crores per annum! Thats Rs 80 per capita per year! Doesnt seem like much does it? Compare it to the average per capita income of an Indian - Rs 11,799 per year. Notice that it is per year, which means that it is less than 1000 per month! Also no that this is the average. Given the huge economic differences between the rich and the poor (I read somewhere that such a huge disparity in income is unhealthy for a country but sadly as always, I do not remember where I read it... I need to record my readings), what this means that a great amount of the population subsist on much, much less income per year. For them, 80 rupees per year will be quite a big deal. Also, defence spending is the largest share of the yearly budget. And actual development spending is much lower. In addition to all this, we pay a 2 percent educational cess that is supposed to fund new schools and improve the facilities of government-run schools.

Seeing the ease with which the terrorists were able to get past a heavily guarded place in Srinagar, I suppose it would be easier to hit places which are not so well guarded... So, is the fear of terrorism that is bred in the whole country in excess? Is our society paranoid?
In spite of this strike, Manmohan Singh says undeterred, "the bus will roll on." I get a feeling that security and safety of the passengers is being compromised for petty political gains. There has been a lot of security provided for the buses yesterday but is it really feasible to provide such extensive security for all such future journeys? And who are these nameless. faceless passengers? Are they anonymous because revealing their identity is quivalent to passing their death sentences? If this bus journey was a true indicator of peace measure, there would not be so much fear and security. The fear and extensive security suggest that this is a forced peace and not a genuine one.
This bus has been called a great CBM and has been looked by the media as a step towrds peace. I wonder... Look at the Lahore-Delhi bus. How much has it really contributed to peace? Has it brought the people of the two countries closer? Has it been able to bring strangers from the two countries in contact? Has it been able to reduce the hatred that the citizens of the two countries have for each other?
Quite frankly, the answer is no. The situation is no different from what it was before the bus diplomacy. One gets the feeling that the passengers on the bus are mostly people who are going to meet their relatives they have lost contact with because of partition. Or is just because the stories in the media is mostly of people reunited with relations after fifty years. There are no stories of people travelling for a visit to the Lahore fort or the Red fort. There are no stories of people meeting strangers in the other country and making new friends forgetting the enimity between the two countries. Is the absence of these stories indicate the absence of such people?
Peace is a tangible possibility if and only if the politicians do some genuine CBMs and not just shows for the media. But when there are parties that feed and promote the fear of this particular neighbour for their political survival, is my dream of peace between the two countries a dream? Perhaps, there is another way. And that is by a grass-root movement that involves the people of both countries, which is a difficult one to achieve but not impossible.

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