Event: On Women’s Day, Indian and Pakistani youth discuss women leadership and peace-building
On the occasion of International Women’s Day on 8th March 2016, Aaghaz-e-Dosti collaborated with the Pakistan US Alumni Network (PUAN) – Karachi to organize a virtual cross border socializing session between young minds from Karachi and New Delhi.
The session involved the participation of students as well as young professionals on both sides. The participants from India were Akash Singh, Amrita Middey, Nigar Khan, Neelanjan Chakraborty, Madhulika Narasimhan, Sampa Arya and Sarral Sharma and from Pakistan, Azima Dhanjee, Mariam Batool Qazi, Naureen Khalfan, Khadijah Siddiq, Alishah Dhanjee, Irfan Chourbati, Faraz Liaquat and Afzal Amin Shivji, most of whom are associated with PUAN.
It was a session meant primarily for people who did not have any previous or less experience of interacting with people across the border. Madhulika Narasimhan, Core Member of Aaghaz-e-Dosti said, “This virtual session was an introductory session but with some specific objectives. It was designed to not just connect people but initiate them for critical thinking. It had the youth to explore the country across the border as it encouraged them to talk about women leaders from across the border who inspire them, to clear their stereotypes and also steered the dialogue towards the ways in which the youth can contribute to building peace between the two nations.”
The session was moderated by Azima Dhanjee from Pakistan and Amrita Middey from India.
The session began with the discussion on women leadership. The youth from both countries talked about a woman leader/personality from across the border that inspired them. They talked about women personalities from diverse backgrounds like theatre/drama, travel/automobiles, art, politics, literature and activism. Some of the names included Amna Mawaz Khan, Asma Jahangir, Benazir Bhutto and Zenith Irfan from Pakistan and Indira Gandhi, Kiran Bedi and Arundhati Roy from India. They also reflected on the situation of women, the existing stereotypes and problems that women face in both countries.
The participants also took turns to share their thoughts about the other country, and what they particularly liked about it. Some of the common themes that fascinated the participants about the other country revolved around food, music and cricket.
Further, there was a discussion on the kind of role that the youth can play as peace ambassadors to bridge the gap between the two countries, and some key methods through which peace can be achieved. The suggestions ranged from encouraging young individuals to engage with those across the border, be it virtually, to try and bust stereotypes and go beyond simplistic understandings of what Pakistani or Indian culture entails, which are often misrepresented by mainstream media; initiating student exchange programmes; and as Azima Dhanjee, from PUAN Karachi suggested, “organizing interactions between an individual and a family from across the border over a sustained period of time”.
Some emotional chords were touched when an English Lecturer, Sampa Arya, expressed her gratitude to Pakistan for helping rescue her husband who was stuck in Somalia during the conflict, and further shared a poem she had penned on the need to forget the past and focus on peace and love between the two nations.
The participants in New Delhi also included two students from Sindh, Pakistan, pursuing their Masters at South Asian University – Bharat Makwana and Suneel Nand – who shared their experiences of being a Pakistani in India, confessed to feeling welcome and at home in their host country, and were of the opinion that it was an experience that their fellow Pakistanis must have.
Another special guest in New Delhi was Mr. Ram Mohan Rai – a senior Gandhian, peace activist and a close associate of the late Nirmala Deshpande ji – who has been to Pakistan many times in the past, and spoke about the tremendous hospitality of the common folk there towards Indians.
Sarral Sharma, an M.Phil Student at the University of Delhi, on speaking about the session, stressed on the need to “figure out the way forward, first by educating ourselves and then by spreading the message among those who may not necessarily be involved in peace initiatives, in order to take this initiative to a logical conclusion.”
The participants appreciated the session and found it thought-provoking. Azima Dhanjee, youth activist and active member of PUAN remarked, “The beautiful exchange of words and love really showed me that borders can’t stop us from being one. We are way beyond grieving about the past; it’s time to create bridges OVER the borders and impact each other’s life peacefully.”
Mariam Batool Qazi, General Secretary of PUAN, said “From talking about cricket to women activists to cultural/educational exchanges and visa policies, we had a great time with our neighbors. I believe if we keep organizing such exchanges, it will help both the countries in eradicating stereotypes and in strengthening people to people ties between both the countries.”
Aaghaz-e-Dosti and PUAN – Karachi are planning to organise such sessions more regularly and to follow up this one with sessions on more specific issues related to Indo-Pak relations.
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