Death of a Dog

Incidents of hostility and persistent warmongering by leaders have been the reality of relations between India and Pakistan since Partition, writes Xenia Rasul Khan Mahsud

Death of a Dog
Men have created impenetrable borders between themselves; barriers and walls built on foundations of difference in religion, culture, and more recently nation – shaping identity through demarcated lines and barbed wires. For India and Pakistan, this schism has extended to the animal kingdom where birds are rendered flightless and confined to the shackles of prejudice and strife.

Indian authorities arrested a spy pigeon suspected of being part of an espionage attempt by Pakistan; a cage has been arranged for its sentence. While many are left snickering at the nonsensical nature of the news, what it reveals is the contours of the relationship of fanaticism and animosity shared between the two neighbours ending in countless tragedies ever since they parted ways.

This mindless antagonism was the catalyst for Saadat Hasan Manto’s ‘The Dog of Tithwal,’ which gives a microcosmic view of the bitter confrontations between the two countries. The story is about a friendly dog looking for companionship, moving back and forth between Indian and Pakistani camps, and finds itself in the middle of a struggle that it is oblivious to.
This mindless antagonism was the catalyst for Saadat Hasan Manto’s ‘The Dog of Tithwal,’ which gives a microcosmic view of the bitter confrontations between the two countries

In Manto’s story, national identity is determined by geographical boundaries and by extension the identity of those living within these boundaries. For India and Pakistan the idea of a separate state is a new phenomenon, prior to partition both sides belonged to the same country with a common culture going back hundreds of years. However, geographic divisions changed this with each side now warring over the superiority of its identity, sanctioned by the state machinery. In his story, he sees this sense of nationhood and identity, bordering on fanaticism, extending to the animal kingdom as well.

The dog that drifts into the Indian camp is given a Hindustani name, conveyed by the label put around its neck signalling that it’s a Hindustani dog. A sense of anxiety spreads in the camp as a soldier points out that the dog could possibly be a Pakistani. “Now even dogs will have to be either Hindustani or Pakistani,” another soldier expresses his frustration over the political decisions separating the people. Unaware of the fact that there is bad blood between the two sides, the dog later strays into the Pakistani camp looking for food and is met with alarm. In retaliation, the Pakistani camp rewrites the identity of the dog, and directs it towards the Indian side as a Pakistani. With the dog running around in circles, caught in this feud, he is later shot at mercilessly by one side and dies on no man’s land. For one side, he dies a ‘dog’s death,’ while for the other he is a ‘martyr’.

The story offers a commentary on the irrationality and dehumanising effects of violence, victimisation at the hands of those that are trusted, and the payoff of jingoism and hostility: irrational sadism. While Manto uses the dog as an allegory for the people of Kashmir, and the refugees who saw their identities change overnight after partition, it is also symbolic of all those who fall prey to the trappings of war. While both Indian and Pakistani camps jostle for control over the identity of Kashmiris, Kashmiris conception of their own identity and future remain missing from state-centric approaches to identity formation and writing history. Indigenous narratives and aspirations are drowned out in the noise of political squabbling.

Incidents of hostility, and persistent warmongering by leaders have been the reality of relations between India and Pakistan since partition, leading many to take threats from either end for granted. Stuck in the middle are helpless Kashmiris whose fate is now in limbo as both sides take turns to tighten the labels of identity around their necks. And while political leaders on both ends claim to do so as a way to empower the people of Kashmir, occupied and free - depending on whose side you’re on - the truth is that their fate, if written by self-serving political leaders spreading the politics of hate, is no different than that of Manto’s dog who was initially cuddled by the soldiers and later killed in a senseless rage.

The body politic on both ends, soldiers and civilians, are victims of the evil designs of the system that nurtures violence based on difference as a means to accumulate power. It is this system, led by the power centres of both countries as a means to secure their geo-strategic and class interests, that leads to a build up of hatred, suspicion and fear – often led by the well-oiled media machinery. While Indian atrocities in Kashmir and against Muslims in India cannot be overlooked, Imran Khan’s concern for the Kashmiris reeks of hypocrisy, political point scoring, and opportunism, considering the fate of Pashtuns and Baloch in Pakistan.

It is true that nations simply do not exist without undergoing innumerable social processes that will it into existence, often deliberately created by the elites by evoking sentiments of nationalism and national security. Much has been done in the name of nationalism, and most of it wasn’t needed; nationalist rhetoric in the case of India and Pakistan has worked as a unifying force to achieve nothing but disastrous ends. 60 years ago Saadat Hasan Manto was aware of this. Through his literature he revealed to society its own misgivings by speaking truth to power, and it is his understanding of the reality of India and Pakistan that still rings true:

“Hindustan had become free. Pakistan had become independent soon after its inception but man was still slave in both these countries - slave of prejudice… slave of religious fanaticism … slave of barbarity and inhumanity.”