To write about human rights in South Asia is not easy. The manner in which human rights issues are discussed and solutions are sought, adds to the problem. The region suffers from what can roughly be called iatrogenesis- expert induced problems. What we get to see and hear in governmental discourses are official text piling on forgotten memories like an epidemic archive.
The south Asia, in a sense, is a problem haunted by the memory of problem solving. What is noticeable is the deep sense of victimhood present all over the region. This victimhood is multiple in its manifestation and not easily contained within one category. It is not a lens to read one form of ethnic, religious or political rule but a kaleidoscope which reflects the cross-currents of pain in a society, argues sociologist Shiv Visvanathan. In a recently published piece on the issues related to human rights in India, he notes-‘Victimhood is an unhappy state between personhood and citizenship. A victim needs a voice and voice can be dangerous thing. A victim is a survivor who waits for justice. He or she is haunted by events or the repetition of certain events. A victim is an object of violence seeking to become a subject of peace. A victim is a being who has been denied a true place in the narrative of history. Victimhood is a state of being, a liminal identity for waiting. A victim is a person suspended between an old normalcy from which he is disembeded and waiting for a return to rehabilitation.’
What are stories to everyone else is actually a reality for those who live it. In the recently held south Asian youth leadership meet ‘Young Connectors of the Future’ in Stockholm, young citizens from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India discussed the problem and issue that affect them as youth in the south Asian region that has witnessed a lot of upheaval in the past few decades. Their stories indicate that victimhood is no longer a homogeneous or a narrow category. Victimhood needs a mouthpiece, a biography, expression and history, given its multitude of experience. They call for a cross-border platform that chronicles the narratives of victimhood before they end up being frozen memories in the official discussion. They feel that oppression and violence should not become a captive text repeating itself in various forms. To imagine a common future one has to experiment and allow for the sensitivity of legality and the sensibility of social action, feels women right activists Somaya Rezai from Afghanistan. What facilitates violence is the tendency of alienation and its approval — the unattended grievance. There is a need to bridge the gap between people and legal provisions through existing mechanisms and using innovative means, says Waqqas Mir, a lawyer and human rights expert from Pakistan. A blend of legal practitioners, students and new professionals can counsel individuals and enable them to exercise their rights in a more informed manner within individual space, organizations and communities.
The anatomy of unrest, victimhood and marginality is a multilayered one. To the structured conflict of regions, one has to link the voices and feelings of groups, particularly youth and women, argues Towfique Ahmad Khan, a social activist from Bangladesh. The cost of conflict becomes particularly relevant for these groups. In their accounts, pain of oppression emerges as two separate dramas. One that is plucked out as a part of the political ritual of healing. The other is the scream of dissent, despair, aspirations, little hopes and the loneliness of long distance runners that often pops out as poem, folktale, sigh or a tear.
These voices have its oddities. You may agree or disagree. They seem banal like a lullaby from past. But we require it badly, for these are notes that remind us that we have not lost our music. We have to discover them, capture them and explore them through extending social media technologies, reminds Mark Commerford, Journalist and social media activist. It is difficult being a social activist today. Every act of whistle blowing is frowned upon and scrutinized to its authenticity. However, no one asks why one citizen can not be a mouthpiece for others. Modern regimes have made voicing opinions a difficult task. However modern technologies have made it easier.
Counselling, listening and the act of mapping grievances are important steps before we pave road for peace. A recovery of story building as a mirror for realities becomes a critical need today. Tolstoy’s remarked in Anna Karenina about families which can be applied to communities and region- ‘Happy families are all alike but unhappy families are different, each in their own way.’ It is this difference of grievances one has to list and listen to carefully. Justice and change is not just an act of definitive languages left to courts and governance systems. It is also one of re-inventing, of carving new spaces, combining action and thought which break the old cynical stereotypes. One has to move from grand narratives to tap the everydayness of social life to critically examine the political sentiments of South Asia.
The author is a PhD scholar at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy in Jawaharlal Nehru University and works with the organization Delhi Greens.