From Abhimanyu to Kashmir
The Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, is primarily the story of the great war fought between the two branches of a family—the Pandavas and the Kauravas. It highlights many great heroes and provides many teaching moments. One such hero is Abhimanyu, the son of Arjuna, the middle Pandava brother. I find in Abhimanyu's story an allegory for many everyday occurrences; it explains what happens when we do not learn about opposing perspectives to an issue.
This failure is exemplified by an upcoming panel titled Kashmir: The Case for Freedom, organized by the Asia Society, a "leading global and pan-Asian organization working to strengthen relationships and promote understanding among the people, leaders and institutions of the United States and Asia." Activist/author Arundhati Roy and writer Pankaj Mishra—two people who have consistently targeted the Indian government and the Indian army, and who have blithely ignored the ethnic cleansing of Hindus from Kashmir—have been invited by the Asia Society "to examine the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people," and to present only one side of the Kashmiri Hindu story. Following such a path, we, like Abhimanyu, may arrive at a tragic ending.
While in the womb, Abhimanyu learned about the military formation known as a Padmavyuham—unfortunately, he only hears how to get in to this circular array of troops, but does not learn the way out. As he grew up, Abhimanyu learned the art of war and is much loved and admired. On the thirteenth day of the great battle where his father and uncles are defending the right to their share of the kingdom, his eldest uncle sent him into battle against an elder from the other side. The 16-year-old was asked because only he and his father knew how to break into the complex formation of the enemy lines. Abhimanyu's willingness to go into battle is obviously symbolic of his valor and humility, but for me it holds another dimension. If we only know the way in, we leave ourselves no way out. Abhimanyu's life ended on that day—once he entered the formation, he moved deeper and deeper in, and was completely lost.
As a Hindu in America, I often hear stories about Kashmir, Sri Lanka, and other parts of the world that are often one-sided and one dimensional. From scholars to elected officials to people on the street, there is a tendency to move deeper and deeper into a one-dimensional understanding of the complexity of relationships in areas where the broader Hindu community lives. Asia Society's panelists, like many others, focus on alleged abuses by the Indian army and ignores the realities on the ground in Kashmir: nearly 400,000 Hindus driven out of their ancestral homes, the violence orchestrated by paid agents of the Inter Services Intelligence (the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence agency), and the terrorist violence in the region carried out by radical Islamic groups based in Pakistan. The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has a democratically elected government with record voter turnout in the past few elections. While human rights violations have occurred in the region, a biased panel is a sure way to avoid solving the issues that still exist. After all, the right to vote comes after the Kashmiri Pandits' right to live in humanitarian conditions in their homeland, not in miserable refugee camps where the birth rate is lower than the death rate.
Padma Kuppa is a writer, IT professional, community activist, wife, and mother working to build a more pluralistic society within a Hindu and interfaith framework. You can also read her blog A Balancing Act, at padmakuppa.blogspot.com. The views represented in this column are not a reflection of the views of any organization of which she is a part.