It has come as a big, big surprise that India and Pakistan have shared a Nobel Prize for Peace. The Nobel committee does have a tradition of springing surprises with its selection of Peace laureates. It can also be hopelessly predictable at times. In 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev won the Prize for his attempts at ‘leading the peace process.’ In 1993, President F W De Klerk and African National Congress President, Nelson Mandela along with Bishop Desmond Tutu won the prize for their talks at ending apartheid in South Africa. In 1994, Presidents Shimon Peres and Bill Clinton of Israel and the US respectively, along with Yasser Arafat of the PLO, won the Peace Prize for their efforts at bringing an elusive peace to Palestine. In 2009, Barack Obama would win the Prize, coming close on the heels of his attempts at rapprochement with Iran. There have been surprises too. In 1991, Ang San Suu Kyi would win the Prize for her efforts at bringing democracy to Burma, now Myanmar. In 2003, Shirin Ebadi would win the prize for her work on human rights in Iran. In 2010, Liu Xiaobo of China would win the prize for his work on human rights and reform in China (He would not be allowed to travel to the Award ceremony).
The award to Malala Yusufzai was in the cards for some time. Her tireless work on girls’ education in Pakistan’s tribal north-west has brought her many awards in the past. She was a victim of an assassination attempt in 2012, when suspected Talibani gunmen brought her out of her school van and shot her in the head. She survived amidst a national outpouring of outrage, prayers and support for her cause. Much as her detractors in Pakistan would hate it to admit it, few people had the courage to come out and speak in the open for the problems of children her age.
The award to Kalyan Satyarthi would come as surprise to many in India, since he was not much known and had stayed out of controversy and politics. At a time when India’s Prime Minister is touring the world like a conqueror, and bringing in much in the way of spoils to the Indian economy, it should come as a rap on the knuckles for India that its sole Nobel Prize for the past 16 years would be for someone working on ‘Gandhian ideals’ for the ‘struggle against the suppression of children.’ It remains a bitter fact that millions of children in India are working as forced labourers, and because of its sheer size, India has the world’s largest out-of-school population of children. India’s only others winner post-Independence would be in Peace, Mother Teresa, in 1977, and Economics, Amartya Sen, 1998, who is a vocal critic of the current Prime Minister of India.
The irony was also not lost on the public in South Asia. At the time the Award was announced, Indian and Pakistani forces were exchanging gunfire across the border in J&K. The firing is still on.
The Nobel laureates were to soon announce that they had invited the Prime Ministers of their respective countries to the Awards ceremony at Oslo, Norway, in December. Would that lead to some sort of meeting between them? It is hard to foretell.
What is not so hard to tell is that the lives of 1.4 billion people in the subcontinent, particularly the 15 million in all of J&K, remain precariously dependent on the actions of a few dozen men. Any mischief-monger with a knife can attack anyone in any part of India, at a time of his choosing, in the name of Pakistan, and at once, the whole of India, along with its jingoistic media, is baying for Pakistani blood. It is as if the entire nation of India has been fed a constant diet of anti-Pakistan rhetoric by its leaders. Pakistan is not to be left behind, save for the fact that its domestic problems have it pre-occupied, and prevent identical bursts of anti-Indianism at times such as these. Witness the current stand-off: while the Indian PM, who is in election mode, has called Pakistan an ‘enemy’ and said that the ‘jawans have shut their mouth,’ the response from the Pakistani side has been patient and focussed, saying, ‘war is not an option,’ while complaining in the UN of Indian ‘aggression.’
In this situation, the sad part is that it is the Kashmiris, who happen to live by the border, who suffer the most. It is Kashmiris who have to leave their homes, livelihoods, and take bullets, on both sides of the border.
Can this Nobel Peace Prize awaken a spirit of humanity?