The rising tension between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, and the attendant, incessant war of words between the two in the media is spilling over to other fields too – as it was inevitably going too. Indian ultra nationalists and jingoistic media groups looked for newer avenues to continue their virtual war and before long their malevolent eye settled on the most visible representation of Pakistan in India – Pakistani artists.

First Pakistani artists were urged to “go back” by disparate individuals, then Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) threatened Pakistani actors and Indian filmmakers who collaborated with them with violence and finally the Mumbai based Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association (IMPPA) passed a resolution banning Pakistani artists from working in India. Concerts were hastily cancelled, movie shoots were scraped and other artistic ventures put on hold.

It is important to note here – as many in India have done – that none of these artists had anything to do with the terse political situation in between the two neighbours. They did not contribute, directly or indirectly, to any decision taken by the governments of the two nations, remained pointedly apolitical in their statements and in fact advocated improved relations between the two peoples. Most importantly, none were terrorists and their enforced deportation did nothing to stop terrorism or halt cross border skirmishes. Their only crime was being Pakistani and they were punished for this fact.

It is this kind of broad brush, hate based politics that has made reconciliation between the two nations highly improbable, and India seems to be taking this to new heights. With implicit support from a hawkish state, the virtues of the “non-violent, spiritual” India are well and truly forgotten.

Pakistan, so far has resisted the temptation to respond in kind – at least officially. Private movie theatres are taking the initiative to ban the screening of Indian movies and considering the presence of ultra nationalists on this side of the border too it won’t be surprising if this trickle turns into a full throated cry for a complete ban.

This petty tit-for-tat may assuage nationalistic pride, but the ultimate cost is a great one on both sides of the border. Cultural exchange between India and Pakistan was producing commendable art, and for that reason alone its loss should be mourned. However it performed a more important and subtle function too – un-demonising the other and increasing goodwill between the peoples of both country, a slow and steady process.

Indian and Pakistani actors appearing together may not solve the underlying political problems between the two nations, but it brings the people together and lessens the hate – now that progress has been set back by a decade.