For 2009: we refuse to be enemies?

What an annus horribilis 2008 was. Clinical depression of every kind: economic, political, personal. India was bombed repeatedly – and with precise geographical equity: north, south, east, west. I was in both Bangalore and Delhi over the summer, and missed the bombing of N block market by a couple of hours. Similar just-misses reported in from friends in Bombay, but the overall horror of it all goes far beyond close encounters of the worst kind. Between the escalation of rhetoric on the India-Pakistan front, and the egregious escalation of far more than rhetoric on the Israel-Palestine front, the new year feels shop-soiled and already ready for return. But since I have been accused of growing tendrils of Pollyanna-like optimism in the midst of utter despair, I leave you with an image from an India-Pakistan peace vigil I attended early last month, and a poem inspired by that, and this week’s protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza.


We refuse to be enemies.
We refuse to use your words, claim your politics,
accept your versions of history.

We will wear our anger like a shroud,
we will hold our defiance like a shield,
we will carry our compassion like a sword.

We refuse to be enemies.
We refuse to believe that hate is justified,
that peace is weak, that conflict is endless.

We will sing across the borders,
we will march across the divisions,
we will fly our peace like a flag.
We refuse to be enemies.

8 thoughts on “For 2009: we refuse to be enemies?”

  1. Just read the poem, well written and expressed as always… but as far as choosing to be enemies goes, the views and actions of individuals do not matter. We judge a country by that country’s policies and by the systematic actions taken by the governmental organisations and agencies. India-pak peace rallies/vigils can go on and on, but till the ISI and the government of pakistan do not stop sponsoring terrorism, they will always be enemies of the Indian state.

  2. …and that is precisely how we end up justifying endless conflict. Governments do not base their policies necessarily on what is generally good for their citizens – and for peace and prosperity, thereby – but on a complicated calculation of political power. I sympathise with the exigencies of everyday state-hood, and understand the gray areas (having done the dance myself), but I also know there are very few statesmen (and stateswomen) left amongst our politicians. I am more inspired by the ordinary citizen on the street, who has the courage to be in rallies of peace, than in many members of governments.

    And yes, the Pakistani state’s actions have not been beyond censure, but neither have the Indian state’s. Again, it’s what histories you choose to believe; for me, I understand that governmental actions on both sides have been deeply problematic at different times in history. And ordinary people – including soldiers – on both sides, bear the scars of those histories.

  3. Alo,
    was kind of hoping to see a post from you on Aurndhati Roy’s write up of 9 is not 11 etc. and more importantly on the reactions around it 🙂

  4. Sanhita, thanks very much. I think it’s true to the extent that we allow it to be. Of course, geo-political contexts and histories are complicated, but it’s up to us to question the narratives and stereotypes that are sometimes created and fed to us as ‘truth’.

    Sona di, oooooh yes. :-)) I did think about it all a lot – as you can well imagine – and then gave it up as a bad case of too many words, and too little substance on most fronts. I agreed with a lot of what she said in principle, but then Arundhati has this strange ability to decry stereotypes and binaries and then descend into using them herself. I’ve also never been sure if a tone of overwhelming self-righteousness is an effective strategy for advocacy. I’m sure I sound stridently self-righteous myself on occasion, but I do try and catch myself at it… Anyhow, now I’m clearly being heretical! We should definitely continue this conversation – offline if I don’t manage it online. 🙂

  5. Hi Anasuya,

    Great stuff, as always. I love the juxtaposition of the peace motif with the strident tones expressed in the poem through the co-opting of war-like lingo to express a fervent desire for peace.

    I recently observed a heated debate on a friend’s facebook page following the posting of a cartoon that lampooned the Israelis by drawing a parallel between the treatment of Native Americans by the government of the United States. In the interest of full disclosure, I fall on neither side on that debate – I see both sides holding shamefaced mea culpas.

    Leaving aside the details of the discussion, what struck me was the vitriol that seemed to flow copiously amongst the various participants in the discussion. I wouldn’t be going out on a limb if I were to guess that none of these people are currently in Israel or Palestine. In fact, I know that most of these were people in plum jobs in the relative safety of NYC. Observing the back and forth, I had a depressing epiphany that if these people so far removed from the actual conflict couldn’t agree on a starting point to resolve the problem and resorted to touting their versions of history as the truth, what hope is there to ever solve this problem (and many similar ones)? I find it increasingly hard to believe that folks who are getting their homes blown to smithereens or worse will ever find it possible to overlook the differences, when those to whom the discussion is merely an intellectual exercise cannot. I just hope my Cassandra-like pessimism is misplaced and your Pollyanna-like optimism triumphs – in my lifetime.

  6. I had printed this and stuck it on my office cubicle. I found it inspiring to look at while writing about Emissions Reduction.

    [A source of conflict too… just not involving guns and blood! 😉 ]

    Not too surprisingly, my colleagues spent more time looking at the picture of my favourite drag queen (also on my cubicle wall) instead of this.

    Alo, I found your words moving. (Forgive the Inanity of the abovementioned statement)

    But more importantly, this is so easily transported to any conflict of any nature.

    I now have dreams of proclaiming “We Refuse to be Enemies” outside Singapore’s parliament house, or at least outside my mum’s kitchen (after she’s yelled at me for something).

    However, common sense and a healthy fear of being arrested (and yelled at) holds me back.



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