Article: Breaking Pakistani Stereotypes…
by Sakshi Mittal
What we learn in our school textbooks at primary level lays a foundation of our future perceptions. One of the important and most interesting studied subject is ‘History’. The study of our ancient, medieval and modern past makes history a fascinating subject. But what if two groups of children are being grown with different ideas about a shared past? Yes, that is the scenario between India and Pakistan.
An example of how two different versions of a single event, partition of 1947, is taught on each sides is as follows:
One: After winning their freedom, they (Muslims) wanted to establish a government in which they could live in accordance with Islam, where every law would be in accordance to Quran. But they knew that Hindus were in majority in India. They would establish a rule of the Hindu law rather than that of the law of the God. In this law, Muslims would be treated as untouchables. They feared that after getting rid of the slavery of the British, they would become slave of the Hindus.
Two: Initially even Muslim leaders did not seriously raise demand for Pakistan as a sovereign state. In the beginning, Jinnah himself may have seen the Pakistan idea as a bargaining counter, useful for blocking possible British concessions to the congress and gaining additional favors for the Muslims.
The first one is a version from a Pakistani history textbook, and the other one is from an Indian history textbook. And similar contradicting verses could be compared on topics like 1947 partition riots, the war of 1965, the war of 1971, and the list goes on.
History is never called a scoring subject unlike maths, because two plus two will yield a four all over the world, but history is subjective. It is written by people and people are subjective too. Be it the media, teachers, textbooks, or even family, all connive to poison young minds.
Again thanks to those subjective people that Pakistan is portrayed as a nation full of bearded men, who run around brandishing swords. The bearded ‘Shareef Maulvis ‘are never highlighted. The Islamic state is portrayed as a nation where women wear only and only ‘Burqa‘ and those with western attire being censored. Women like Malala Yousafzai are never highlighted, who is one of the most prominent advocates for education in the world today. Further, to add to the list of such typical stereotypes, Pakistanis are thought of as extremists, narrow minded people who hate Hindus and Indians and Pakistan is portrayed as a land of suicide bombers and the epicentre of Islamic extremism. Undoubtedly, because of similar subjective people of Pakistan, Pakistani people too have a long list of stereotypes for the Indians.
Being an Indian, I studied the same textbooks. I was also brought up in the society entangled between the shackles of above mentioned stereotypes. ‘Terrorism’ was the first word which came to my mind whenever I thought of Pakistan. And according to many Indians like me, Pakistan is not only plagued by terrorism, but also is considered to be a religiously extremist country. What I heard most of the times and always felt bad about is that Pakistani Hindus are not safe in Pakistan. But then, despite all these notions, I always had curiosity to know what life is like, and what people are like on the other side of Indus!
We people are very happy watching movies of Pakistani actors like Fawad Khan, we are very happy listening to the soothing voice of Pakistani singers like Atif Aslam, we love to watch Pakistani TV serials, we prefer to buy Pakistani suits instead of Indian ones from trade fairs. But why this stereotypic barrier comes in between when it comes to making friends with the local residents of the same nation. Why do we see each other with hatred?
Luckily, I got an opportunity to get my stereotypes broken and have a totally new perception of Pakistan. The opportunity was given by a global youth conference where Pakistani delegates were also present. They looked no different than us. Girls were in as comfortable clothes as Indian girls. No a single girl wore burqa, trust me? When asked if they wear it back home, none of them said yes. The guys were also no different. After spending four good days with all those people, what I could make out was that we are just the same people separated by media and politicians.
‘We girls are also allowed to step out and work and that is why we are here!’ replied Aliya Harir, to my question about gender equality in Pakistan. ’Though the girls of rural areas are not given much liberty’, she added. No denying of the same fact in Indian context.
No less were they sweet from their hearts just as their language ‘Urdu’, of which I was already familiar with some words like ‘Shukriya’, ’Salam’, ‘Mohtarma’, ‘Insha Allah’ and the credit for this goes to my Muslim friends in India. They came from different cities of Pakistan – Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Hyderabad which, they told, were just like our Indian cities with shopping malls, expensive cars, and a booming fashion industry. They could see the glimpses of one of the markets of Lahore in the famous Sector 17 market of Chandigarh. Also we got to know about each other’s cultures more during the cultural night. Not only this, I was lucky enough to receive a special gift from Vishal Anand, a Sindhi Ajrak (a kind of scarf).
I had never tried to google images for Pakistan because of my lack of interest in knowing about the state. But when I was told about the beauty of Islamabad, Muree hills by Raj Kumar and about the famous Anarkali Bazaar of Lahore by Umar and a few other places too, I surfed through the internet and looked at many pictures of those places and to my astonishment, I found them far more beautiful than I expected.
The most interesting part was to know about the actual condition of Pakistani Hindus, after interacting with three of the delegates of the team who were Hindus and were living very happily with their families with same rights as those of Muslims in the state. ‘We are not treated as second class citizens. We enjoy all the rights as other people. We live without any fear’, told me Dr. Rajesh Kumar, a Pakistani Hindu.
And not only my perception for Pakistan changed, but also a strong friendship was developed with a few of them I would like to name – Aliya, Ayesham, Saadia, Umar, Vishal, Irfan, Zeeshan, Rajesh Kumar, Raj Kumar and Raza Khan. I am sure my Pakistani friends would also cherish this friendship beyond borders and I would be welcomed in their homes with their friends and families, whenever I visit Pakistan.
India and Pakistan are constructed as evil and primordial enemies of each other by our textbooks, media, and the government. But my experience says, unless and until you interact in person with the local people themselves, none should see other as an enemy. My bucket list now has another addition and that is to travel to Pakistan and explore more about it. I feel it is high time now to break the stereotypes and see Pakistan from all the angles, the good, the bad and everything in between just like any other country of the world. What do you say?
Sakshi Mittal is a Biotechnologist. She is a black belt holder in Taekwondo, has played many state and national level championships and has also trained other girls. She worked with AIESEC in past and is currently doing internship with a government run institute for youth development. Besides this, she also runs a home based business of hand made things. Her areas of interest include peace-building and gender equality. She tweets @SakshiMittal07