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An Open Letter to the Prime Minister of India

Katherine By Katherine Abraham
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An Open Letter to the Prime Minister of India
Source: Tribune

Dear Sir,

I am writing this Open letter to you with the confidence that even a young person can approach you directly. In India, we follow the age-old tradition that if a member of the family errs, it is better to approach the Head of the Family to resolve the matter. As you are the Head of the BJP family I believe it is best to write to you.

Recently, a member of the BJP requested that the erstwhile South Court popularly known as Jinnah House must be brought down because it is a symbol of “Partition.” This has led me to ask a two- fold question. Firstly, why can’t we refurbish the current space as is, given that it is also a symbol of European Style architecture (one which we don’t see any more)? Secondly, what happens to all those monuments which have witnessed these men of history walk down their hallowed halls, like the Bombay High Court where Barrister Jinnah practiced? For that matter even the current Pakistani High Commission in Delhi was once the home of former Pakistani Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan, a fact that none of us can obliterate. I had the privilege of visiting the High commission last December and I must say that the officials were kind enough to take time off their busy schedule to answer a young Indian’s questions very patiently. It was there that I learnt that the current High Commission is the revamped version of their former PM’s house.

Now, the reason I am against the tearing down of any historical monument is that we as a country have always been protectors of heritage and culture. Today, it is one building, so not many are interested. My concern however is that in a few years someone else may say that the Taj Mahal was built by an invader’s protégé and hence it is a symbol of “invasion.” Then despite its popularity we would be forced to consider tearing it down as well. How will we as a nation justify such a thought?

It must be noted that another reason for the proposed demolition is that it must be transformed into a center highlighting the Maratha culture. This statement seems contradictory in itself because the Marathas are extremely protective of their identity. Why would they prefer to demolish a foreigner’s building to build a Maratha center there? We have far too many historical monuments that are living examples of a very glorious Maratha history. Building a Maratha cultural center on Jinnah’s property would be in bad taste for them.

Truth is that try as one may, we cannot evade the fact that modern day Pakistan was once a part of undivided India and we are joined at the hip even though both countries have internal extremist forces trying to brand the other as the enemy country. Why can we not use places like the Jinnah house to bring down the animosity between the two countries? A lot of Pakistanis want to visit the home of their founder, in the same way that we in India want to visit the Katas Raj temple or Frere Hall in Pakistan. Sadly, an obscure understanding of history makes even a historic building, an enemy property. It is terrible that most of us have conveniently forgotten that the Jinnah house was a place where even Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru held discussions. Even S.C Bose visited the place frequently.

Sir, I am aware that my current letter is one that bears a dissenting opinion hence a lot of people will tell me that I am pro- Pakistan and recommend that I settle in Pakistan. I have no issues in relocating to Pakistan if they indeed allow me to but with the caveat that I will not give up my identity of being an Indian. I was, am and will always be an Indian first. A true Indian will always respect history and ensure that we as a country avoid repeating mistakes of the past. Our country has a rich history; one which must be preserved. All this talk of “Go to Pakistan and stay there,” etc., in all honesty doesn’t affect me.

In my individual capacity, I believe that since we (and I speak for all like- minded young Indians) as youngsters have not lived through the Pain of Partition, we do not have to live through a “phase two” either. Political differences must not have its bearing on history. After all, didn’t Lokmanya Tilak one of the foremost fighters for the Independence Movement, work in the Lahore High Court? Did Lala Lajpat Rai not lose his life in Lahore? Did Shaheed Bhagat Singh not leave an imprint in Pakistan as well? It is imperative that we come out of our closet thinking and that cannot be possible unless you as the Leader of the nation give this clarion call.

Politics and History do not gel at all levels, sir, and it is criminal of us to try and ensure that they intermingle every time. I do realize that Pakistan and India are not experiencing the best of relations at this time but I do believe that yesterday’s a closing door and we do not have to live there anymore. This is the only reason that when I started my initiative The Lighthouse Project for Indo- Pak Peace, I took a conscious decision that my initiative would be one that re- introduces the everyday Indian to the everyday Pakistani through Art, Culture, Couture, Cuisine and Photography. We may not be able to change Politicians on both sides, just the way we cannot change the course of history but I am confident that if young people from both sides take the onus of changing the future of our countries, we most definitely will succeed.

Many call me an idealist, but the truth is that for most of History, change makers were mocked first and applauded later. I need no applause because I work with the firm conviction that I can initiate a cycle of change. If I am a promoter of peace between India and Pakistan it is because I am selfish. I do not want to see more soldiers die on the borders, nor do I want to see innocent civilians to lose their lives.

A small way to show the world that we are better and not intolerant is to ensure that monuments of historic importance should be protected by the State and that none of them should be demolished because a politician needed some brownie points.

It is imperative that the heritage and history of our country is adequately protected. And as for those who say it was a Pakistani’s house, it is essential that they take lessons in the untold history of India. The St. John’s College in Agra was built by Rev Thomas Valpy French, who incidentally happens to be the first Bishop of Lahore. The college still has his name on their foundation stone. To those who are dreaming of the Taj don’t miss visiting this architectural beauty in India.  Pune is famous for its “Karachiwala” sweets. Lahore on the other hand still has a Bombay chowpatty. Yes I do wish to travel and visit Pakistan whenever I am given a chance and I reiterate, I believe in an India that has a friendly neighbourhood and I will work for it in my own capacity. Educating and reforming mindsets is the need of the hour because we need a fresh approach if we have to bring down the walls of angst and disharmony between India and Pakistan.

When I was growing up, I read of an 8 year old who wrote to Abraham Lincoln requesting him to grow his beard. It may have been a childish request but it was nonetheless acknowledged and this has inspired me to write to you with the same confidence of that 8yr old child that you too will acknowledge this request. The crux of the issue is not the Jinnah house but the promotion of an intolerant thought. It is that thought which needs to be destroyed instead of the edifice.

It is my sincere plea that as a lover of History, Art and Heritage, and as a true Indian this historic monument must not be destroyed but instead converted into an Indo- Pak Peace museum/ cultural center which will house relics of a forgotten history. I also request you to ensure that all monuments of historic importance should not be destroyed for any purpose; political or otherwise.

With a hope that my letter reaches you, I take this opportunity to thank you for your time in advance.

Warm Regards,

Katherine. Abraham


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