Let’s get one thing clear.
By training our guns against actress-turned politician Ramya, for her views on the people of Pakistan, we’re making fools of ourselves. This is akin to giving Pakistan and its media an opportunity to question the fundamental freedom our democracy offers to its citizens to express their views. More critically, if we don’t stop doing this, we’ll be giving the neighborhood’s politicians a chance to to probe where the real ‘hell’ is.
Now, just what are these “pro-Pakistan” comments Ramya made?
By beating our head on this non-issue, we have actually given an opportunity to Pakistan to twist the story. Let’s look at this episode in bit detail. “Pakistan isn’t a ‘hell’ and people there are just like us. They treated us very well,” she said. The context in which these statements were made was her recent visit to Pakistan (as part of a Saarc delegation of young lawmakers). Now, let’s ask ourselves a simple question. Is there any serious issue here, at all? Ramya has every right to express her opinion as long as it doesn’t go against the Constitution and law of the land.
And what she said was absolutely right.
Pakistan is not ‘hell’, in fact, no country is. Also, “the people there are just like us” is another statement that isn't an issue. Every individual in Pakistan doesn’t wake up in the morning thinking “How do I find stuff today to make a bomb to use against India?" or "How will I manage my daily quota of killing 10 Indians each day?”
Most of them are just like us, Indians. They wake up in the morning worrying about things not very different from those that worry us. They too think about their day’s work, about sending their children to schools or finding money to buy stuff for that day. Not all of them are terrorists, ISI agents or probationary officers of the Taliban. The common man of Pakistan too wonders, I’m sure, about why politicians and religious fanatics make speeches of hate and as a result, make their lives difficult and unsafe.
In short, the people in Pakistan aren’t aliens from a hostile planet. The country is not 'hell' and the people aren’t the devil’s offspring. In fact, the people of Pakistan deserve as much mercy as the poor in our country. The economy of Pakistan is in much worse shape than ours, with no food, basic education and shelter for a significant chunk of its population. According to reports that quote Pakistan’s first-ever official report on multidimensional poverty, four out of every 10 Pakistanis are living in acute poverty with the people in the Balochistan area suffering the most. The report states that 38.8 percent of Pakistan’s population lives in poverty. It further says a majority of the rural population (54.6 pe cent) lives in acute poverty while this ratio is only 9.4 percent in urban areas.
This is certainly worse than the state of the poor in India (although the poverty estimates vary between official and private estimates, India's numbers are still much lower than those of Pakistan).
But, one needn’t be surprised if the governments and the politicians of both countries engage in a war of words calling each other names. That’s what politicians do. ‘Hell’ is one such word. Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s comment on Pakistan can be seen in that context. Indeed, Pakistan’s political ideology and its covert support to export terrorism to India have always carried devilish designs, and deserve contempt.
There can be no argument on the fact that ISI’s strategy of using militant elements to disturb our piece and provoke conflict needs to be handled with an iron hand, and not kid gloves, especially considering that Pakistan remains a weak state, controlled more by the military and the idea of religious fundamentalism than principles of democracy. But, the point here is India isn’t like Pakistan.
We are a strong democracy and a secular one
Our citizens do not need to fear being beheaded or caned for expressing their opinions. That’s the fundamental strength and beauty of democracy. By training our guns at one of our citizens who made her observation on what she thinks about a foreign country, we are making ourselves vulnerable to questions about the very strength of the democratic establishment of which we always boast. If we start doing this, there isn’t any difference between us and an illiberal, narrow-minded political establishment that Pakistan's leadership represents.
Also, there is a lack of logic in the BJP leaders questioning Ramya’s comments. Let’s not forget that some of or top leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have been to this “hell” and back not so long back. Why did they choose to go if the government had this belief that that country is indeed ‘hell’? The best thing our politicians could have done on Ramya episode was to simply ignore it.
Bottom line: Do Ramya's comments amount to an act of sedition? Certainly not. To be sure, at the time of writing, no court has ruled against her accusing her of this. Let's be honest, anyone can take anyone to court with accusations. By making an issue out of a non-issue — an individual’s view on a neighboring country — we are making nothing but fools of the highest order out of ourselves.