By Anita Krishan
History is replete with violent human migrations, tragedies rooted in individual ambitions, greed or misuse of power.
A huge migration crisis has engulfed the world yet again, with nearly four million Syrians having fled home since the eruption of the civil war nearly five years ago, mostly to the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan. The estimated figure of people killed in the ensuing war is around 250,000. Thousands of refugees have attempted the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Greece in their flimsy overloaded boats, running away from becoming fatalities and hoping to find stable life in Europe. In this frantic attempt for survival, many boats have capsized in the turbulent sea, killing countless people.
Those who do make it to safer areas face steep challenges — resources are strained by the influx of refugees, and services are minimal. The risks of the journey to the border can be as high as staying in their war ravaged land. Families walk for miles through the night to avoid being shot at by snipers, or being caught by soldiers who will kidnap young men to fight for the regime. Those who have escaped live under inhuman conditions, with a serious lack of food, clean water and hygiene. It is turning out to be the worst current humanitarian disaster.
Their neighbours have opened their doors and hearts in varying degrees, but for how long? They have apparently started to feel economic pressure, and are already showing signs of reluctance. Some have begun to put barriers to the migrant tide. The misery and rejection that the displaced people have to endure is unfathomable, and their basic right to live with dignity is breached in conflicts which start with a minor spark and soon grow out of proportion.
Looking back at history, each political upheaval has caused unspeakable suffering for the common man, uprooting him and rendering him homeless and poverty stricken overnight. Yet, violence and conflicts have continued unabated. We hardly ever learn from our past mistakes; history remains only to be taught as a subject or discussed at dinner tables.
Talking of discussions that we humans are so adept at, this topic of ‘violent displacement’ had come up for the panel discussion during my book release, whose narrative dealt with human sufferings in the face of political upheaval in another conflict bogged region; Kashmir.
The special guest for the day, Anupam Kher, also a Kashmiri Pandit, spoke about the recent dark times for the Kashmiri Pandits starting 1989, when hundreds of them were murdered in cold blood and the rest were made to flee the valley, leaving behind all their lifetime assets. He went on to narrate a personal family tragedy, where his aunt had refused to abandon the house the family had built with their lifelong savings, till a chopped head of their Pandit neighbour was thrown into their courtyard. Not only was it a successful move in dislodging this family from its centuries old roots, but it rendered the lady mentally unstable for the rest of her life. She lived, traumatised, for barely a few more years before dying dejected.
This is just one instance of brutality. The wounds of the ghastly acts of terrorism do not heal so easily. Although there have been invitations for their rehabilitation, the once bitten Pandit populace is extremely reluctant to go back to where their trust was so ruthlessly breached.
The world’s history is loaded with violent displacements initiated by aggressions for power and dominance. People are rendered homeless as they are engulfed in the waves of violence perpetrated either by the misguided mobs or military stratocracy. There are always shrewd brains and vested interests behind these moves. Consequently, people lose homes, homelands, families, life-long savings to the political fancies of some powerful individuals.
Adolf Hitler’s name instantly pops up the moment one thinks of over-ambitious powerful leaders who in their contemptuous aspirations, cause colossal devastation. In his tenure of authority, Hitler misled his country to a prolonged destructive World War. Although he fell short of using nuclear weapons, (fortunately his country hadn’t been able to make the nuclear break-through at that time), it was in the Second World War that atom bombs were ruthlessly tested on defenceless humanity.
The rise of anti-Semitism in Germany and the subsequent Holocaust still send shudders down the spine. Much has been said, written and shown in movies about the displacement and genocide of the Jews by the Nazi forces at Hitler’s behest. The world media has kept the memory of the Holocaust alive and pervasive. The infamous concentration camps, the gas chambers, the nauseating medical experiments on living human guinea pigs evokes a natural abhorrence for the one responsible. By the time the Second World War had ended, and Hitler had chosen to end his life rather than to face the evident arrest and trial for his horrific war crimes, 150,000 Jews had been exterminated.
The brutal genocide of 1947 in the Indian subcontinent is another haunting episode of history. The unspeakable suffering and violent migration of people has been instilled into the next generations as a narration of the horrific suffering of their ancestors through history books.
Months before the partition of India was officially declared, people were set upon each other by political hawks, with the excuse of “ethnic cleansing”. Commoners, especially in the Muslim dominated West Punjab, were instigated to turn against others by inciting their religious sentiments. The violence soon spread like wild fire to other Northern states of the country. These dark times of partition caused retributive genocide in Punjab, Bengal and Bihar, in which millions of people were killed. It is estimated that 14 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were displaced during the mass migration, presumably the largest mass migration in human history. The ethnic cleaning entailed the murder of 500,000 to 800,000 men, women and children. The stories of how the bellies of pregnant women were split open and unborn foetuses slaughtered, makes one wonder why such instigated insane frenzies occur, and why people lose all sense and turn into beasts?
My mother lived through those horrors. She was stuck in Amritsar, where she had gone to meet her brother in winters of 1947, and riots had broken out in the city. She would narrate how the family had to run and find shelter in the Golden Temple area, and how the war hollers, pitiful screams and fear of death so close kept them shuddering and sleepless for many successive nights.
The trauma of the gruesome destruction is still deeply entrenched in the minds of people of both countries, the gory tales having been passed on by those who survived the macabre dance of death to successive generations. The horrors of the partition have figured extensively in short stories, novels, poetry, TV serials, cinemas of the subcontinent, but the rest of the world remains largely unmindful of this colossal catastrophe.
This tragedy did not die with time. The bitterness of the partition has snowballed into perpetual enmity between India and Pakistan, which hasn’t seen any end even after 68 years of their creation. The consecutive wars fought between the two rival nations, the rise of militancy in the region and the nuclear quests, are results of this enmity between the two parts of a once united country.
When looked at in retrospect, this displacement, like all the others, seems so utterly meaningless.
Thus, in recent history alone, people of different conflict zones have been repeatedly rendered homeless as they get engulfed in the waves of violence that decimate. They lose homes, homelands, their families, their lives. The exodus of people from their homelands results in traumatised lives and a directionless generation of children.
Going back to the current Syrian crisis, the violence initiated as the government’s effort to curb an anti-government uprising sees no immediate end. Is violence necessary to wipe out violence? What happened to the negotiating tables?
Is there no way to end such dastardly provocations? Is there a solution towards establishing permanent peace in the world? The common man surely craves for it. At the moment it seems a very difficult proposal, when mass destructive revolts occur at the behest of a few individuals with self-vested interests.
The violation of human rights must stop. The world urgently needs to come to a common civil code against violence. The United Nations needs to become a more powerful peace keeping body, whose directives must be conformed by the rest of the world. A strong peace keeping force, controlled by the U.N., should be generated to keep the citizens safe and the over-ambitious under control.
I believe the world’s relationship needs overhauling. Weapons of mass destruction, being amassed with an excuse of them being deterrents, must be systematically eliminated from the face of our planet before they cause annihilation of all life. Or what we need today is another Moses, a world leader who can lead people through and away from turbulent waters.
Anita Krishan chose superannuation, after a tenure of 25 years as the teacher of English, to confer time to her passion of writing. She is a published author of the fictional and autobiographical works: ‘Tears of Jhelum’ and ‘Running up the Hill’. Also an ardent poet, educationist, and environmentalist, her humanitarian side is well revealed in her literary works. She has extensively travelled around the world. She holds degrees in Bachelor of Life Sciences, Bachelor of Education and Masters of English Literature.