Battle for Peace
Scholars and practitioners in the area of conflict resolution foreground the need to deconstruct "knowledge" and interrogate "history," while building an ethos of learning that values lived experiences and subaltern discourses. This is immensely significant in the context of the India-Pakistan conflict for the popular imagination in the two countries has been consistently, and powerfully, informed by official history that is passively received and internalized. In this context, Battle for Peace offers valuable insights for understanding the nation-building projects of India and Pakistan, what role each country plays in defining the identity of the other, and what steps may be taken to offset animosity and to further peace-building. It examines perceptions that Indians and Pakistanis hold about each other, and delves into history to examine where stereotypes and imagery emanate, unravelling a complex reality. However, the complexity of the hostile relationship, and the book's aim to foreground its multi-issue and multi-perspective nature, at times, leaves the reader at a loss to decide what the focus of the book really is.
Being an educationist with a special interest in history, the author pays special attention to historical events and processes, particularly how the writing of history and socialization in educational institutions perpetuates prejudices. He brings up questions that have remained unaddressed or have failed to occur in the public consciousness in India. One of the most interesting issues raised in this context is why Rajghat is projected as a place of national importance and is a favourite "'history' picnic spot," (p. 13); while Birla House - where Gandhi was killed, remains little known. Concomitantly, there is little scholarly work on the assassination of Gandhi. Kumar explains why. While a visit to Rajghat is associated with "peace," "tranquility," "patriotism," and "freedom;" Birla House raises disturbing questions such as why the Father of the Nation was killed by a fellow countryman; why did a Hindu pick up the gun to assassinate him?; how was Gandhi's idea of India different from that of Godse?; and, how does this conflict play out in the current context?. Kumar writes, "The symbolic distance between the two monuments is a marker of India's continued ambivalence about what it should do with Gandhi. We cherish having him as a symbol of dedication to the nation, but we hardly own him as a symbol which reminds us of a domestic struggle. That his fight was also for social peace poses a difficult challenge today" (p. 15).
The book seeks to put forth a nuanced understanding of the Partition of the subcontinent. Equal attention needs to be paid to social rifts, political management of emotions, political developments, and fear psychoses. It is often argued that to understand the genesis of the idea of Partition, one needs to go back to the late 1930s. But insecurity amongst the Muslim community had started setting in as early as the late nineteenth century (p. 80-85). The decline of Mughal power brought with it uncertainty. While the Muslim's fear was managed by instruments such as separate electorates under the British, the fear of the establishment of a "Hindu Raj" became palpable amongst the elite and the masses in the 1930s.
Both India and Pakistan have, since Partition, built a national identity in opposition to the other's. This applies more to Pakistan yet holds true for India too. In this context, the conflict in Kashmir is employed successfully as a battleground of nationalist identities and visions. Kumar points out that the symbolic value of Pakistan as a nation state (and thus its reliance on exclusive identity-building) has only been enhanced with the erosion of democratic spaces and civic order in the country.
Kumar at various points in the book refers to incomplete research agendas that should have received more space in scholarly literature. While he refers to N C Saxena's work on how post-colonial history might have looked if the Partition had not occurred, (p. 49-52) he says that the counterfactual research agenda remains largely unaddressed. Another important lacuna that he points to is that in both India and Pakistan there is a dearth of courses, syllabi and research on the other country's politics and culture.
Even while the book weaves together different discourses and strands, there are a few issues that strike one as having been inadequately developed. For instance, while discussing the impact of economic development and bilateral trade in the discussion on prospects for peace, Kumar rejects the link between material prosperity and peace by linking economic growth with the "engineering of war" (p.108). He does not bring to the fore one of the most significant points in this regard, that increased bilateral trade, and interaction between businesses and private corporations across the border, builds stakes in peace. Economic linkages play an important role in building constituencies of peace within the state machinery, amongst powerful corporate lobbies, and amongst the people in general.
Kumar aptly and convincingly places the India-Pakistan conflict within larger debates on the place of religion in modernity; the prevalent definition of "peace" and development," and the need for advances in pedagogy and quality of education. He builds a case for "humanist curricula and practices derived from diverse intellectual resources," (p. 134.) focusing on the importance of "critical appraisal of progressive pedagogies" and the "reorganization of curriculum consistent with them." (p. 139).
The book clearly forms an interesting, though at times tedious, read. It must be recommended for all people who seek to dwell on the history that envelopes India-Pakistan relations and the lines of thought and action that must be interrupted to give peace a chance. The work reinforces the belief that for peace to prevail, the mandate of building a culture of non-violence and inter-state peace must inform the thinking of all individuals and sectors, including the state, the media and education.