Indo-Pak Conundrum: On Ultranationalism, War Mongering, And The Love For Flaunting Nukes

As the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan have nosedived to their lowest since Independence, the hardliners across both sides of the border have once again brought the fear of nuclear war at the doorstep of the world in general, and South Asia in particular.

The flashpoint for the escalation was provided by Pulwama attack, in 2019, which killed forty CRPF personnel. According to India, this was orchestrated by terrorists nurtured and upbrought in Pakistani soil. The Indian government saw this as part of Pakistan’s policy of “bleeding India to death by thousand cuts” as Shashi Tharoor called it in his book “Pax Indica”. Interestingly, this came at a time when India was heading towards general elections. So, a firm and uncompromising response was expected from the Indian government rather than absorbing it as one more painful pinch by our thorny neighbour.

India retaliated with a first of its kind airstrike targeting the terrorist camps well inside the Pakistani territory. As per the official announcement by GOI, this killed around 300–400 terrorists, which was vehemently denied by the Pakistani side. Following this, Indian and Pakistani air forces faced each other tête-à-tête which was their first direct confrontation since Kargil. This also rang the alarm bells in the international community of the potential war between the two nuclear-armed traditional rivals.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan with PM Narendra Modi.

Since then, the rather verbose ongoing debate in the media and among leaders is holding the world’s peace hostage. The recent flare-up was provided by India’s decision to alter Jammu and Kashmir’s special status by revoking Article 370. Pakistan couldn’t digest the move which India considers as purely an internal matter, ruling out any scope for any kind of external interference. Interestingly, the Pakistani concerns only highlight its diabolical habit of speaking from both sides of the mouth. Pakistan earlier cleared its intent of declaring the Pakistani occupied territory of Gilgit-Baltistan as its fifth province which goes against the Shimla agreement.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan—who initially tried to present himself as the champion of peace by offering talks to India—recently threatened of a nuclear war though in a veiled reference. Apart from him, the other high-level functionaries, including one of their minister even fixed the time frame within which the war would take place.

War: A Distant Reality

India and Pakistan have fought four bitter wars (1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999) with the same outcome all the time. But in the 21st century, a conventional and full-fledged war between the two countries is unlikely, especially if the rivals are nuclear-powered. But ultra-nationalism and hardening of public opinions on both sides constantly call for the same. And any government not living up to their expectations is considered as “impotent” and weak.

Before looking into where the war would lead us, I must highlight the military capabilities of Indian and Pakistani state to clear the fog for a better picture.

Both countries have spent lavishly to enhance their defense capabilities. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), both India and Pakistan possess around 140–150 nuclear arsenals. In terms of armies, India is far better equipped to fight a conventional war. But this has come at a great cost. The imaginary “Indian threat” in Pakistan has made its military a dominant force—where it not only defends but also rules the country.

India is also tagged with the status of the world’s second-largest arms importer. In both cases, the cost burdens the citizens who deserve better. But there is a great dissimilarity between India and Pakistan. The former being the largest democracy, fastest-growing economy and a considerable force in the global arena, and the latter mired in radicalism, a faltering economy, orthodoxy and, of course, an authoritarian “militablishment”.

War: A Mutual Devastation

It is always easy to advocate war than to fight it. It feeds the aroused sentiments, the domestic political considerations and muscular foreign policy requirements. But its proponents think little about the consequences. A nuclear war would engulf the whole of Pakistan and half of India. The destruction would be unparalleled in the history of the whole world. And the generations for the next two hundred years to come would curse us for their fate.

While talking to one of my friends—at the time when Indian and Pakistani air forces were in direct confrontation—she told me that she didn’t want war and was praying day and night for the same. I was perplexed when she explained the reason to me. Her father serves in the Indian army and war would have thrown him in the battlefield. Though it’s a blessing to have the opportunity to live and die for one’s nation, the situation was completely avoidable. She further remarked, “the civilians of both countries want peace, but the warring and hawkish sentiments are forced upon us from the above. The least affected (or to say the most benefitted) from wars are those who trigger it.” Of course, she was referring to military generals in Pakistan and politicians in India.

Way Forward

At the time of heightened tensions, any advocacy of peace and restraint is seen with suspicion. And those calling for it are branded anti-nationalists and disloyal elements. But such section of civil society must not be deterred and should continue to lobby for peace in every nook and corner of the world.

Simultaneously, the regimes on both sides should also make the idea of war as dead as a doornail. It would benefit none and the history will never pardon them for bleeding it with millions’ deaths.

One of my dreams while being alive is to see South Asia as one of the most prosperous region from being the most disturbed one and the key for it lies with our “brother enemy”.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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