"Nobody is born with hatred. Hatred is something which is taught" - An Interview with Gurmehar Kaur.

In the times of war-mongering, a message of peace and humanity from a D.U student

May this year, the internet was taken by storm when an eighteen year old girl decided to speak her mind out. Gurmehar is the daughter of Martyr Captain Mandeep Singh , and she is a soldier determined to fight. In collaboration with the Voice of Ram community, she uploaded a four minute video asking the governments of both the countries, India and Pakistan, to 'stop pretending and start working towards peace' . Without even uttering a single word , Gurmehar gave a strong message to the people of both the countries. In the video, she is seen holding placards that are narrating her life story . She was merely two years old when her father was martyred in the 1999 Kargil war.

A girl who has felt the horribleness of a war and has lived through the vacuum which it created in her life , Gurmehar says that she hasn’t got much memories of her father but she has more memories of not having a father to live with. At the age of six, she tried stabbing a woman in a burkha because she thought that this woman belonged to Pakistan, the country that killed her father. That is when her mother sat her down and explained that it isn't a country that kills people, but it is the wars.

Gurmehar took time but realised that her mother was right. And now she is doing the same, passing this message to as many people as she can.

Gurmehar Kaur , is a daughter with a message. A message to those who run the business of hatred. A message you cannot afford to ignore. She is currently a first year English Honours student at Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi. DU News caught up with her for an interview . Here is an excerpt from the same:

As a 6 year old child, you had attempted to stab a woman in burkha, which shows that you had some sort of hatred inside you for the Muslims and the Pakistanis. What changed the old Islamophobic Gurmehar into the messenger of peace that she is right now?

There was no old Gurmehar or a new Gurmehar. I was just a 6 year old kid with a lot of negative feelings towards particular terms like Pakistanis and Muslims, towards sights like burkhas or skull caps. I feel it is such a funny thing to call me a hater. As a 6 year old child, I did not have the logic or rationality to understand the concept of hate or love, life or death. A 6 year old kid cannot put feelings or emotions into compartment and label them as love or hatred. My emotions at that stage came from what was being told to me and from what was being shown on TV, back when I was witnessing the tragedy that had happened to me. After that incident (stabbing the woman) my mother realised that I am being negatively influenced, she felt that no kid should feel this way. Kids should be playing with balls, dolls and toys instead of having thoughts of killing people. She conditioned me in a way which says “Love over hatred’ more than anything else. Now when I have grown up, I only have this perspective of peace in my mind.

After the Uri Attack, the social media was buzzing with all sorts of posts demanding breakdown/dissolution of all cultural and commercial ties with Pakistan, Many even demanded nuclear war. What according to you is fuelling this hatred among the people of India & Pakistan?

Nobody is born with hatred, hatred is something that you are taught. Do you remember being a 3 year old and thinking “I hate Pakistan”? It is not until someone tells you that you are supposed to hate that country or their people, or you watch a movie which tells you that Pakistan is the evil that you need to get rid of. These people have been made to think in a certain way. These feelings have always existed in the minds of our people since partition. Ours is a generation which has not witnessed the horrors of partition but nevertheless we have grown up with these feelings of enmity in our minds. Even the countries like France and Germany, USA & Japan, who fought two most horrific wars in the history of humanity, have joined hands to strive for progress of their people. Of course, there are reasons behind this hatred which dwell in the dark episodes of the partition and the four wars which our countries have fought with each other.

But it’s about time that we let go ourselves of this hatred. India and Pakistan are considerably very young countries and in this short span of life that we have lived as independent nations, we have fought four bloody-terrifying wars, where thousands of innocent humans were killed and thousands of Gurmehars got orphaned.

If we want to grow as beautiful human societies or good nations, this needs to stop somewhere. I know it sounds like a very romantic idea that one day there will be peace but if I and you don’t start talking about peace then we might never know what may happen tomorrow or whether there will be a tomorrow or not, considering all this hate which is brewing in the two neighbouring nations.

The major obstacle is the hatred which is being passed over generations.It is such a simple concept, For us- They are the enemies, for them –We are, but I am still a teenager studying in a college and perhaps the person who thinks I am the enemy is also one such student, we are both doing the same thing. It is just the hatred which has been planted inside us that makes us think we are enemies.

The modern day media is one of the most powerful institutions of the world, it has made the circulation of information so rapid that it hardly takes seconds for the information to cover the globe.  Do you feel that the negative role of the modern day media also contributes towards the growth of this ‘plant of hatred’ and what could be the role of social media towards establishing peace, in this era of hate mongering news channels?

Media, especially in this age has immense potential & powers which can be used to connect hearts across our troublesome borders, but unfortunately many media houses are making negative use of this power.

I also feel that depiction of violence in movies or on television is a matter of concern for us. When little kids are exposed to that sort of violence at such a tender age it affects their impression able minds and subsequently their thought process is influenced a lot too.

I believe that the advent of social media as a platform to connect people has removed all the barriers of communication. The only reason that we went to social media with the video is that it is so accessible to all of us. In fact it is so accessible to the common people that it has revolutionised the world of communication.

I believe in the power of person to person communication as it helps you express yourself to the other person in a much better way than through television or newspaper and that’s the reason why all my videos and profile for peace campaigns are circulated and organised through social media.

When person-to-person communication happens, then you realise that the person living across the international border is not someone with a knife to be afraid of, as it was shown in the movie , he or she is just another person like you or me, who wears the same brand of Kurta and perhaps has the same taste in music. When this basic understanding develops, then only we can grow as a society.

An extreme wave of nationalism is in the air these days. For you as a common student of the largest university of the country, what is nationalism?

I have this one question to whosoever is reading this : If our country is hyper nationalist and if their country is hyper nationalist too and they both go on to kill each other then What are we going to do with this nationalism when our countries themselves aren’t there ? What are you going to do with your nationalism when you won’t even have a country to live in? We only have this one planet to live on and we cannot share it with nuclear weapons. You cannot blow the world up in the name of fighting terrorism and then simply move to mars.

Although I am an ‘Army bachcha’ , I had never heard of this term ‘nationalism’  before . I heard it around a few months ago for the first time and it baffled me why there was so much of talk about it.I live in India, I was born here, I have studied here, and my family is here. This is my home. Of course I love it, we all love our homes but we don’t keep yelling that this is my house, I love my house, I want to protect my house etc… etc...

We all love our homes, but we also need to look at the world around us,we have to underline the concept of peace as something that the world urgently needs to talk about. Whenever I just sit and think about the world, the world with all these nukes and weaponries around us, I don’t really see a world after a certain point of time. It would be too late if we don’t start talking about peace right now, because we don’t have any other planet to live upon.

 In the recent times, a new term called Islamophobia has come in to existence. This term is not only sending out a negative image of a particular community but it is also acting as a catalyst towards the growing hatred for the followers of Islam. What are views on this?

Terrorism doesn’t belong to any particular religion. If those terrorists understood religion even a bit then they won’t be fighting. Islamophobia comes from the increasing number of terror attacks happening around us and just because a large number of terrorists relate themselves to a particular religion, the whole religion is being scarred.

When it comes to religions, there is nothing right or wrong, it is all about perceptions, Prophet Mohammed prohibits alcohol and Jesus Christ turned water into wine.

ISIS is recruiting French people and many of them are not even Muslims. I feel that religion is not about power but it is just a way of life or a lifestyle.

Almost all religions say that God is one; all religions teach us to love humanity and our fellow living beings. When all religions say that God is one, is there even any religion?

When I was a kid, the only thing I knew about religion was that I am a Sikh, I go to Gurudwara and sometimes on Diwali I go to temple. I have some wonderful friends who are Muslims and they are just amazing people. They cook amazing biryanis, they are in the services, they serve the forces, their daughters are making the nation proud indifferent fields, they are such wonderful people with wonderful thoughts, they are wonderful human beings and they are wonderful Indians too. So how come a religion is bad?

It is just the people who are bad and bad people aren’t exclusive to any religion. An attack on a gay club took place in USA, the guy who did it was not a Muslim, but he was bad, that was a horrible thing to do.I feel Islamophobia is just another term to mess things up for humanity, just another term to defame a particular community.

There is a huge gap of intellect which exists between the ‘educated and the ‘literate’ people. We see a lot of highly qualified people, equipped with all sorts of sophisticated degrees, mongering hate among their fellow human beings. Do you feel that a ray of hope can be given to humanity if we bridge this gap, if we have more number of educated people than merely literate ones?

Yes, of course. The video we did with ‘Voice of Ram’ and Ram Subramaniam, was our effort to educate, that was our goal – to educate them about the virtues of peace, and imparting education on this particular topic is the whole idea behind ‘Profile for Peace’ and ‘ Voice of Ram’ too.

I feel education is about developing rationality,I was educated by my mother to not let hatred breed inside me; she educated me not to hate any particular section or community of people. This education came from the lady who had lost her husband -her future, only when she was 27 years young. If she has the rationality to forgive, to see a bigger picture then why should we,who haven’t seen any big tragedy, hang on to the hatred associated with it?

Education matters, it is everything; it is where the change will come from. The role of every student should not only be limited to studying but it is also his or her responsibility to teach her younger brothers and sisters the importance of peace. I often see my cousins playing with star-war-swords and hitting each other with those ‘weapons’. I feel this is where the violence comes from. It is our duty to tell the younger ones that violence is not the right thing to do and killing is not victory. We belong to the largest university of the country, we are in the process of becoming the most educated person  of this country and it is our utmost duty to teach our following generation what is good and bad, to influence them with right knowledge. I feel peace is not something which can be instantaneously achieved; you will have to plant the seeds of peace in a child’s brain. Today I am a teenager and if my video is able to plant the seed of peace in another teenager’s mind, he or she won’t teach his or her children to hate, because back in his college days he had seen a video which deeply affected him. If the same person grows up to become a leader, he will plant the seeds of peace in our hearts of thousands of his followers and that’s where we are going with the profile for peace. That’s my, yours and everyone’s job, to plant the seeds of peace and social media is serving as our best gardening tool.

What do you think should be the role of common people and especially that of the student community towards creating a peaceful world?

I feel that we are a very privileged generation, we are the first generation to be exposed to social media, the first generation which has access to first hand information. We don’t need to exclusively resort to newspapers or TV channels to feed us second or third hand information. Right now we are in touch with almost everybody in the world, I can name friends from almost all major countries, and this is a person to person contact which the world has never seen before.

We as students need to start raising our voice. We should start speaking up with people about the ideas we believe in,about the ideas of education and a peaceful world. A student’s job is to be rational and sensible in all walks of life,a student’s job is to introspect about the society, introspect about the problems it faces and to question the evils that pose a threat to our existence. When you speak your heart out through mediums like social media, you are there for everyone, everyone sees you. When I speak about peace, it is pretty sure that it makes you think about peace too, and when you will do it. It will make other people think about peace too, and when they do it too, a beautiful chain reaction will be initiated which will increase the number of peace lovers exponentially. When people can spread hatred this way, you can always propagate peace. How hard it is? It is just the thought which needs to be changed. What I did with my video, anybody can. Students should come up in front and creatively fight for peace. Profile for peace is not a political fight; it is a humanitarian fight. And all of us can conduct this humanitarian fight at our own levels.

On one hand we talk of establishing peace, of not having wars and on the other hand we have a version of patriotism being promoted where people are encouraged to become soldiers and fight wars for the nation. How do you see the role of Armed forces in the present scenario?

See,the people in Army or the defence forces are not the bad people.Believe me, a soldier is the last person who wishes to see a war or to fight one. When a war becomes inevitable or when their duty tells them to, they fight it to the last drop of their blood. When a soldier goes to a war, he leaves behind a child, a wife, a mother, a father and entire family. Nobody wants to leave their entire family and risk their life.

This is why wars are so terrible; this is why we are so much against the blood-shed which isn’t required at all.

Soldiers are normal people like anybody else; it is just their job which is different, a job not everyone can do. They are not bad people; their job is just to protect their people.

Till the time peace is established, if we bring down or abolish our armed forces, I don’t think the nation will survive for even a few days.

What are the responses that you have gathered so far with your video and profile for peace?

The responses we have gathered are very positive. We had more than a million hits on the video which was in English, We had another 3 lakh hits on the video in Hindi and our Urdu video has gathered around 8 lakh hits too. This makes our collective score as 2 million hits on Facebook. The video was widely circulated on Whatsapp and other messengers too. Our video was made at one place and it has reached two million hearts. The widespread circulation of our video also shows that the people who read and write Urdu also want the same thing as Hindi and English speakers and that is peace. I feel that language should not be a barrier for a message, when my video was being circulated on Whatsapp in Hindi and Urdu, it reached people who didn’t had profiles on Facebook and to those who cannot read English, and it really touched them.

Below is the video which has touched millions of hearts across India and Pakistan through its message :

Interview Conducted By : Utkarsh Bhardwaj & Richa Sharma