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Some words of solace

"I think citizenry must become a civilisational concept and not be tied to territorial boundaries."



Professor Mushirul Hasan at the SAARC Writers' Conference in New Delhi. Photo: S. Subramanium.

`I THINK peace has been realised today as an existential reality,' says Professor Mushirul Hasan, Vice Chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia. "Peace and war in the past was in the hands of the government. Today the initiative has been wrested by civil society, which is decidedly for peace and against war."

It is this conviction that causes him to expect results from initiatives such as the SAARC Writers' Conference organised by the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature under the stewardship of Ajeet Cour. Sharing a cup of tea with the delegates, exchanging notes with his myriad acquaintances, the amiable smile of the mild-mannered professor belies his strength - a strength that has shaken various sections of the intellectual community at times and now is showing itself in the welcome changes people are raving about after his taking up his tenure as VC of Jamia.

One of the key themes of the SAARC writers' conference was the role of literature in unlearning hatred. Some may dismiss such activities as so many straws in the wind that will get blown away quickly enough as soon as tensions between India and Pakistan hot up again following some gory Kashmir-related incident or the other. But when a historian and educationist like Mushirul Hasan expresses the opinion that the present mood of burying the hatchet is likely to stay, it is heartening.

Author of books like "Legacy of a Divided Nation: India's Muslims Since Independence", "Nationalism and Communal Politics in India, 1885-1930", "A Nationalist Conscience", "M.A. Ansari, The Congress and the Raj" and "Mohammed Ali: Ideology and Politics", he says, "I think we are moving towards an era of reconciliation, having gone through the process of healing, and I think it will stay that way." Indeed, over the half-century that has elapsed since Partition, both nations have had time to heal the scars and have moved on with their own preoccupations, even if the process has been marred by wars in word and deed. But there is no gainsaying that the general public, whether directly affected or not by the violence, is tired of confrontation.

Debates over the two-nation theory are no longer relevant. "What we need to do is to acknowledge the notion of a South Asian citizen. I think citizenry must become a civilisational concept and not be tied to territorial boundaries," says the professor. He brings into relief the vital role of education when he adds, "And I think that is something our textbooks can reflect. Like the idea of a European identity," and takes a dig at the media's lack of conscience when he laughs, "You'll only publish one line of this anyway!"

As the delegates - writers and intellectuals - from SAARC countries, milling around the lawns of New Delhi's India International Centre, hug each other with cries of recognition, enquiring about families and exchanging jokes in Hindi, English, Bengali and other languages, the "civilisational concept" comes to vivid life.

A South Asian identity is natural he says, "Because there is a common cultural and civilisational heritage, which the politicians have not been able to destroy. They have been able to create great gulfs, but not to destroy it."

The survival of these cultural bonds is significant. "What this reveals," smiles the professor, "is the inability of the politicians to destruct, and the effectiveness of civil society to be creative in construction and recovery of a common historical heritage."

ANJANA RAJAN

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