Viva Activism: One people divided by an imaginary line on the Grand Chessboard

Sunday, June 27, 2010
The following missive of a Pakistani homemaker of Indian-Kashmir origin appeared in a letter to Editor, The News, Tuesday, June 22, 2010:
I was born in Srinagar and have lived the first half of my life in the same city in very peaceful times. I got married to a Pakistani and I have been living in Islamabad for the last twenty-two years. I have been following the remarkable effort by the two leading newspapers of Pakistan and India which offers a ray of hope for people like me. Though I am a Pakistani national now, every time I have applied for visa for Jammu and Kashmir, it has been a marathon and with each passing mile the intricacies of the procedure have increased. My father is a retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer. When he was in good health he used to go himself to the secretariat to facilitate my visa. But now he is old and cannot do so. Nobody can realise the plight of women like me who are divided from their families. It's very difficult for them to acquire visa and many years elapse before they get to meet their families. Most of the time it is nirasha rather than asha for us.

I can go to the Indian High Commission even twice a day if I have to as I live in Islamabad. But what about the people who come from far off places? For these poor people even the cheapest fare is too much at times. The embassies of both countries try to give visa on humanitarian grounds on death of a relative depending on the visa officer in charge. But what good is a dead body if we are not able to see the same person alive? What does one have to do to be an active member of the Aman ki Asha? I am not a journalist or a singer or a musician. I am a homemaker whose parents and relatives live on the other side of the Line of Control. And there are many like me, separated from our loved ones by solid, imaginary lines drawn at the cost of our peace of mind. I hope that the leaders and politicians of both countries understand the aman ki bhasha and make this initiative a reality.

Nazima Babar Reshi

Islamabad
Ms. Reshi, unwilling to remain a silent bystander when both her ailing parents needed her urgent presence with them in Kashmir, followed up her letter to editor with the following online petition to the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan on behalf of the divided families of the two countries:
The Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan
Mr. Manmohan Singh and Mr Yusuf Raza Gilani
Sirs,
We, the undersigned, are sending this petition to you on behalf of the divided families of the two countries.
Here are some facts about our mutual visa regimes that leave much to be desired:
It takes too much time.
* For a Pakistani, a normal visa to any city in India takes three to four weeks to process. But visas for the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir take a year to process. The clearance has to come from J&K state police and IB department in Srinagar. Then it goes to Delhi IB and to the Kashmir desk (North block, New Delhi). It is forwarded to Ministry of Home Affairs, (MHA) Foreigners section. And then it is conveyed to Indian High Commission in Pakistan. It is almost the same for Indians applying for Pakistan. Please do something to reduce this excruciating time frame.
There is too much paperwork involved in applying for a visa.
* We need an affidavit, valid only for forty five days, which has to be obtained from the city to be visited.
* We need any two current [utility] bills.
* An English translation of the NADRA ID card, and
* Finally, a no objection from the organisation you are working for or if self employed then your business registration letter.
We are positive something can be done to reduce the paperwork and make things easier for people. Some points are listed below.
* Infants and children under thirteen should be exempted from police reporting.
* There should be Indian and Pakistani consulates in other cities besides Delhi and Islamabad only.
* The visa fees are only about fifteen rupees on both sides. But getting to the respective embassies costs many times more. If one piece of paper is incorrect or missing, applicants have to come again and again, which is particularly disheartening for the poor and unlettered.
* India has introduced a condition that restricts foreigners from returning to India for sixty days unless they visit a neighbouring country and have a valid ticket back to India. There is no concept of re-entry to India otherwise.
* In both countries, visa extensions and long term visas are very difficult to obtain. This makes life particularly difficult for married women with families across the border.
* If a mother has Indian or Pakistani nationality, her children should be given visas to her home country without any obstacles no matter what their nationality.
* Visas of Pakistani and Indian nationals married to each other should be made easier. The requirement of getting names of spouses added to the respective passports is another tough task.
* Pakistani nationals living in other countries, even if they have citizenship of another country and are living abroad, find it very difficult to obtain visas for India, and vice versa.
* Exit and entry points are fixed. These are changed with great difficulty. If the places to be added or visited not in the order that is on the visa, that is another ordeal. Please make travel more flexible as upheavals of nature can strike any time any place.
* Functioning of embassies and consulates should be like well oiled machines which are regularly updated. Clerical errors which cause undue problems to the applicant should be rechecked and avoided. There should be a 24-hour helpline to give information as required.
These are some totally avoidable obstacles faced by the people who live on the opposite sides of the fence. We request the leaders and those at the helm of affairs to step into our shoes and feel the pain of the divide. Only by empathising can these shortfalls be corrected.
In anticipation of redress for these easily rectifiable problems, we thank you.
(SIGNED/Endorsed)
When Ms. Reshi sent me a copy of her petition, I was both pleasantly surprised and incredibly impressed that an ordinary Pakistani housewife had chosen this extraordinary path of activism while realizing fully well the tortuous ground realities between India and Pakistan. Instead of the usual influence peddling – which is the norm in Pakistani society – she had chosen to address the problem for the benefit of all peoples sharing in that similar predicament. When I initially reminded her of the lack of efficacy of any petition-writing, and especially of one addressed to Pakistan's Prime Minister by coldly suggesting:
A problem that has lingered for sexagenarian years isn't going to be solved by petitions – and at this stage in Pakistan's dismemberment on the Grand Chessboard. Visiting India is the least of Pakistanis' problems today. A more daring petition-letter might be addressed to Obama instead of Gilani – for that would at least indicate that you know who is running Pakistan”,
Ms. Reshi immediately responded:
“Who other than I would know the futility of this petition. There is no solution for this problem because both the nations will never compromise their national security for few thousand people. And imagine if there is permeable border. What chaos for ISI and RAW. Any solution, if at all possible, is if America intervenes. And that is possible only if we strike oil the size of Saudi Arabia in the whole region of Jammu and Kashmir in India and Pakistan. My family [also] keeps telling me that visas are not given to peace activists. Inspite of that I am willing to take the risk and have started the awareness among peoples of the world.” --- Nazima Babar Reshi
Despite cognitively knowing that no change may materialize by the mere petition-writing of the ordinary homemaker, Nazima Babar Reshi still went ahead with it! She took that plebeian's first incorrigible baby-step to stop being a silent spectator waiting for Allah, to stop being an idle bystander looking from the side with the oft recited proclamation 'what can I do!', and took a public position to boldly seek her problem resolution from the very mercurial rulers who whimsically decide the fate of nations! Viva Activism!
Foreign ministers to consider petitions against visa restrictions - Pakistani housewife Nazima Reshi, author of petition Milne Do (Image via Aman Ki Asha)
Appreciating this extraordinarily bold and rational step by an ordinary and traditional Pakistani homemaker, Project Humanbeingsfirst has decided to support her petition. One envisions for the peoples of the sub-continent – victims of divide et impera of yesteryear – the Milne Do:
Pakistani school children with flags of India and Pakistan overcoming the imperial 'divide and conquer' at the Friends Without Borders function in Lahore, 2006 (Photographer Zahir Ebrahim)
Imagine if a million such ordinary peoples got out of their shells of apathy and began to take extraordinary public stances on their daily troubles, hopes, and aspirations!
Imagine that they not only rationally articulated the problem domain as Nazima Babar Reshi has done above, but also outlined sensible resolutions to those problems just as she has done?
Imagine that they followed up with the next baby-step of forming public-interest organizations capable of pushing those solution-spaces nationally and internationally?
Imagine that they purchased media time and brought their conversations to the forefront of public discussions?
Imagine that they took the next baby-step of mobilizing both peoples and financial resources to drive the issues to the point that the politicians who turn on a dime could not ignore them?
Imagine that they learned to harness the same courts used by the state-actors for legalizing their oppression of the peoples?
Even the all powerful history's actors – expert at pitting nations against nations and peoples against peoples in world wars by diabolically sewing Machiavellianly constructed revolutionary times with fabricated enemies, artificial threats, contrived dangers, and of course the shock and awe visitations by both the emperor's pirates and his imperial storm-troopers as the Hegelian pretexts for justifying Global Governance in baby-steps designed to culminate in a one-World Government – surely could not withstand such a determined onslaught by a million resolute homemakers in the United States of America!
And ten million homemakers worldwide getting out of their kitchens of apathy and onto the trail of activism, well, might just change the world!


Link fix November 16, 2016

Viva Activism: One people divided by an imaginary line on the Grand Chessboard