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“Is it true what they show on Indian dramas about children going for parties alone? Do you go for birthday parties alone?” a student from Pakistan asked his counter parts in India. The question was interesting. The Indian friend in response confirmed that this teenage trend in India is in fact true.
These dialogues were being exchanged at an Indo-Pak Class Room Connect by Aaghaz-e-Dosti. Questioning and challenging the stringent borders, the online people to people interaction was conducted by Aaghaz-e-Dosti on Wednesday, March 29, 2017.
The session was coordinated by Raza Khan, Coordinator Lahore Chapter of Aaghaz-e-Dosti. On the other side of the border were Tulika Bathija, teacher at Ecole Mondiale World School, and Chintan Girish Modi of Friendships Across Borders – Aao Dosti Karen.
Prior to the session, young people from both sides of the border prepared a list of questions with the guidance of their teachers and moderators. The students had received advanced guidance on framing meaningful, constructive and open-ended question allowing the other person to think, reflect and respond in a sensitive manner. The students and teachers braved power failure, technical glitches and managed to communicate their message of peace, love, and people to people contact.
This is how the grade 8 students of Ecole Mondiale World School, Mumbai finally met their friends from Ghouri Wisdom School, Lahore on Skype. Exactly a year ago on March 27, 2016 when the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park targeting the Christian community of Pakistan on Easter, the students (then in Grade 7) has sent had written letters of solidarity and friendship to students of Ghouri Wisdom School sharing their pain and extending a hand of friendship.
In return, at the end of the year and past the pain the grief, the students from Ghouri Wisdom sent colorful, Christmas cards to their friends in India wishing them best and offering their gratitude for offering solidarity.
The Skype talk was an extension to a long lasting friendship forged between children of Mumbai and Lahore. Indian students from Mumbai, true to their spirit sang a Bollywood song, ‘Meri Laundry ka Ek Bill.’ In the background, of course many songs were practiced and rehearsed for the entertainment of Pakistani children.
Questions were asked related to tourism, hobbies, cricket, and ban on Pakistani artists in Bollywood extending to topics of significance to both countries – child safety and gender equality. It was fascinating to see children of different backgrounds across the border bond with each other on issues that mattered to them as teenagers.
As educators, we reflected on these questions, their sincerity, and the compelling nature of inquiry. Is it possible that children think of their public safety in ways we cannot understand? Can Indian and Pakistani children create a safe bubble for themselves in which they can express to each other their anxieties, fears, apprehensions, their joy and giggle over stuff that is mundane and trivial to the disconnected adult? If yes, then this could be the beginning.
When we were unable to find signal and hear each other’s voices, Indian students showed them a sign ‘Wherever you are, we will support you.’ This thoughtful gesture was reciprocated with claps, with excited hand waving and big, bright smiles. What transpired in two microcosms across the border is messages that if India and Pakistan really want they can find ways to connect, love, talk, chat and start a dialogue by overcoming obstacles.
Report by Tulika Bathija and compiled to be published by Aliya Harir and Devika Mittal.
When Aaghaz-e-Dosti’s 11th Indo-Pak Classroom Connect, brought together students of National School and College of Modern Sciences (Mandi Faizabad, Nankana Sahib in Punjab, the birth place of Guru Nanak) and Ecole Mondiale World School, Mumbai, we found ourselves struggling with the same old questions.
With deep fissures of distrust between two neighbors in conflict, it only takes discussions around bollywood, TV shows, food, visa issues, festivals, cricket, Urdu-Hindi, and social media (for people on both sides of the border) to move through the connecting back process. These discussions not only help heal divides, give the people common grounds, but also serve as platforms enabling “people” to come back together as friends, when “governments” are uncertain and unwilling. This all too much of discussion required of us skype connection on both sides.
The session was organized and coordinated by Raza Khan, Lahore Chapter Head of Aaghaz-e-Dosti on April 4, 2017 who travelled from Lahore to Nankana Sahib struggling with limited ground resources. Aroon Arthur and Farooq Ishraq facilitated in putting the event together. The other side was being facilitated by Tulika Bathija, educator and teacher at Ecole Mondiale World School, Mumbai.
The students from India sang ‘Channa Mereya’ from the Bollywood movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. Pakistani children discussed about all kinds of Indian TV shows and films that they have watched: Salman and Tiger Shroff being their hot favourites. Fawad Khan, the Indian students said, was their heartthrob. They both agreed that ban on cross border cinema is absolutely ridiculous and they cannot imagine living in a world where they cannot see each other’s films and TV shows. Were our governments listening?
It is very hard not to be overwhelmed by conversations like this that foster dialog and try to bring people together. When Indian children asked what you like about India, interestingly Pakistanis named all Hindu festivals (Holi, Diwali, Raksha Bandhan) that they love to celebrate as well — Holi being their absolute favorite.
There were also discussions on food, biryani, streets, and least expected — pets and animals! When Pakistani kids shared that they had goats and rabbits for pets, there was a wild cooing and mooing on the Indian side. The Indian students might apply for a VISA to Pakistan for the sole purpose of pet-patting. What do you like about Pakistan? “We like Pakistani rabbits!”, they said.
While Indian kids stumbled and fumbled with Urdu, they were sporting and confident. Pakistani kids responded kindly. The students from Pakistan shared that the Muhammad Iqbal, author of ‘Saare Jahan se Accha Hindustan Hamara’ is the national poet of Pakistan, also known as poet of the east.
As the session was winding down, the students expressed they would love to reconnect and asked Raza Khan when he would be back. One of them said, “Raza Sir, none of them resembled the stereotypes I were taught”.
It was a two-way learning process for the students as well as the mentors of the session. Raza said, “For the students, it was an emotional end of a Skype conversation. I have asked the students to put into words, what impact the connection had on their day. For I know, their response had a greater impact on mine.”
Report by: Tulika Bathija and Aliya Harir
Discussion on “Role of Children in Peacebuilding” with Fr. Joseph Kalathil and Fr. John Chathanatt from India
On 18 March, Aaghaz-e-Dosti Lahore chapter conducted a peace discussion with honorable guests from India, Mr. Joseph Kalathil and Mr. John Chathanatt. The discussion was a gathering of about 15 people who were members and supporters of Aaghaz-e-Dosti.
The objective of this discussion was to share thoughts, ideas and visions for peace between India and Pakistan as both the Indian guests and the organisers and audience were actively involved in peacebuilding. Infact, the working style of the guest speakers and Aaghaz-e-Dosti was same as both are actively involved in peace education in schools and had initiated letter exchange programs. The guest speakers had brought with them a bunch of letters from Indian students that they were to share with Pakistani students. There was a discussion around these letters, the thoughts, dreams and visions that the young minds had shared. This paved the way for a discussion on the role that children and youths can play in peacebuilding between India and Pakistan.
Through the interaction, it was discussed how the mindsets need to be changed from an early age. The children of both countries needs to be heavily involved in the peace projects. This is not just because they are the future but also because they are not aloof from the conflict. The children in both countries grow up in an environment of hatred. They grow up hating each other. Besides other forces, the textbooks have been a fundamental cause for this hatred. It is, thus, important that we work in schools.
The discussion also highlighted the link between Indo-Pak peace building and inter-religious harmony. In South Asia, there is not just aggressive nationalism but religious fundamentalism and communalism and they are also linked closely. It is, thus, important to keep this aspect in mind and work to address both of them.
Rev. Fr. Joseph Kalathil also stated an important aspect to this project which is the need to be patient and understand that peace is a process. He said, “70 years’ rivalry cannot be diminished in one day. It needs a startup and could lead from less time to 25 years or more. But never give up.”
He and Rev. Fr. John Chathanatt emphasized on the need to initiate. They said that individual effort is crucial. We all have to think about what we can do at an individual level.
The discussion ended with ideas to move ahead together in the path towards peace for a better tomorrow.
Report written by
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In Aaghaz-e-Dosti’s 8th Indo-Pak Classroom Connect, two organisations – Project KHEL (Lucknow, India) and Zindagi Trust (Karachi) striving for quality education for underprivileged students connected to facilitate children or leaders of tomorrow in an environment which is beyond the borders of mistrust, miscommunication and hatred.
These sessions called Indo-Pak Classroom Connects are one of the unique peace education initiative of Aaghaz-e-Dosti to utilize ICT, the virtual world where there are no visa restriction to overcome the barriers of lack of communication and understanding. We, at Aaghaz-e-Dosti, believe that it is the lack of communication as well as a lot of miscommunication that sustains the Indo-Pak conflict. In these sessions, we connect students of Indian and Pakistani schools, educational institutions through video conferencing and facilitate an interaction, an environment wherein they can understand life, culture and people across the border and dispel stereotypes.
For 8th Indo-Pak Classroom connect, Aaghaz-e-Dosti joined hands with two education organisations – Project KHEL and Zindagi Trust. Project KHEL (KHEL is an acronym for Kids Holistic Education and Life-Skills) is a lucknow based non-profit, that uses play and outdoor activities to take education outside the classroom for children from low income backgrounds in and around Lucknow city. Zindagi Trust is a non profit organization working on reforms in two Government schools in Pakistan- SMB Fatima Jinnah and Khatoone Pakistan School. It has brought infra structural and academic changes and through co curricular activities has made these schools as model for public as well as private schools. The founding president of this school is Shehzad Roy, a nationally known singer.
The interaction was conducted on 27 February 2017. Project Khel had conducted the session in Modern Madrasa in Bhikampur while the Karachi session by Zindagi Trust was conducted in one of its adopted government schools – SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls Secondary School.
Angana Prasad, one of the co-ordinators of the session from Project KHEL, stated that while this session was planned and organized on a very short notice but when they shared that a session with Pakistani students has been scheduled, it was not just students who were enthusiastic to interact.
The session was conducted in Hindi/Urdu. The students talked about culture, food, festivals and popular culture. They rejoiced at the similarities as well as used this platform to build an understanding about any difference.
Angana Prasad shared that during a discussion on festivals, a student explained to her peers in Pakistan about Maha Shivratri and while doing so, drew analogy between vrat and roza.
The students played a concentration game. They sang songs together. The Pakistan side sang their national song “Dil Dil Pakistan, Jan Jan Pakistan”.
Angana Prasad said, “The students spoke about culture, food, played games, sang songs and more importantly, understood how across the borders, we’re still the same people crushing on Hrithik Roshan and Shahid Afridi.”
On both sides, reports Angana Prasad and Shahnaz Hunzai, the students thoroughly enjoyed interacting with each other, discovering a country beyond the borders which is just like their own.
Report written by
Devika Mittal based on inputs by Angana Prasad (Project Khel) and Shahnaz Hunzai (Zindagi Trust)
In Aaghaz-e-Dosti’s 7th Indo-Pak Classroom Connect, two organisations – Pathshala NGO (Surat, Gujarat) and Street to School (Karachi) striving for quality education for underprivileged students connects and explores similarities in terms of culture, language and their mutual quest for a better education for a better future.
The 7th Indo-Pak Classroom connect session conducted on 18 February 2017 was co-ordinated by Devika Mittal and Madhulika Narasimhan from Aaghaz-e-Dosti India. The session was moderated by Adnan Kudiya from Street to School and Sagar Papneja from Pathshala NGO. The session connected students of Navnirman Vidyalaya (Surat, Gujarat) and Street to School Organisation. The following report has been made from the inputs provided by the two organisations.
On the Indian side, reports Sagar Papneja, the session began by understanding what students from this side think about the neighbour country. He writes, “We were horrified when all of them used the word – Dushman (enemy). When asked about the source of the same they said, TV and movies. We asked them about the questions they would ask if they get to talk to the kids from the other side and we made a list which included – school life, culture, songs, cricket, and many other innocent questions. We shared with them a beautiful coincident. The moderator from here was I and my forefathers come from Layalpur which is now known as Faisalabad in Pakistan whereas coordinator from the other side – Adnan Kudiya his forefathers come from Gujarat, India.”
At 10:00 AM IST (9:30 AM PST), the schools were connected through video conferencing.
The session began with all the kids singing their national anthems. When Adnan asked that who should start first, the Indian side replied that 14th August comes first and on this fun note, the session was initiated.
The students asked questions to their peers across the border related to their schooling experiences – the subjects they study, the amount of home work, the kind of punishments they get, the scope of bunking! They explored the mutual craze for the unofficial national sport of both countries – cricket and discussed their favourite players. They discussed about food, music and movies. From Rahat Fateh Ali Khan to Akshay kumar, the students were amazed to explore how similar they are. Both the sides sang songs like – ye dosti hum nahi chhodenge. The students were extremely enthusiastic to talk to each other and ask questions.
The teachers also got to interact with each other and realized that both the sides teach kids about Malala. The session ended with a promise to meet someday, share peace and work towards the betterment of our relations and society. One of the kids, on behalf of India, expressed the togetherness of nations in the time of grief as Sindh had bomb blasts a day before.
The language connect was also explored. While the classroom sessions are conducted in Hindi/Urdu, here the language explored was also gujarati. It was heartening to see the moderators converse in Gujarati with each other. Adnan thanked the Indian side in Gujarati, “Tamari Bohot Merhebani Che” which made the Indian side students beam with joy.
At the end of the session, when the Indian side asked the kids again what they think about Pakistan now. The answer was – dost (friend). They said that they never knew both the sides are so same. The food we eat, the way we celebrate, the subjects we study, the actors we love, the songs we sing, everything was same, said Sagar Papneja. He also shared the students asked to have more of these sessions in future.
Report made by Devika Mittal, based on inputs by Adnan Kudiya and Sagar Papneja.
Chandigarh, India: Aaghaz-e-Dosti, a voluntary and non-political Indo-Pak cross border friendship initiative launched its 5th Indo-Pak Peace Calendar in Chandigarh on 18 February at St’ Stephens School.
The calendar was launched by Smt. Asha Jaswal, Mayor, Municipal Corporation, Chandigarh; Dr. DNV Kumara Guru, Director – External Relations and Human Resources at Indian School of Business, Mohali, Punjab; Mr. Sandeep Joshi, Cartoonist, The Tribune Group; Mr. Avtar Singh, Director – People’s Convention Centre; Mr. Louis Lopez, Principal, St. Stephen’s School, Chandigarh; Mr. Pramod Sharma, Director – Yuvsatta and Shruti Achesh, member Aaghaz-e-dosti.
The Launch program was organised at St. Stephen’s School by Yuvsatta, a Chandigarh based youth empowering NGO, who is also one of the collaborators of the Aaghaz-e-dosti Indo-Pak Peace Calendar this year. The program was attended by majority of the students of the school along with the school Principal, Vice Principal, teachers and the staff members.
Besides the Launch, the esteemed guests also presented their views regarding Indo-Pak issues and the value of developing friendly relations with the neighbouring countries.
The Aaghaz-e-dosti Indo Pak peace calendar features selected paintings (6 paintings from India and 6 from Pakistan) from schools students (Grade 8 to 12) of India and Pakistan. These Paintings depict an innocent and apolitical horizon of peace.
This year, we received thought-provoking expressions from students of several cities in India (Bulandshahr, Cuttack, Dehradun, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, Surat and Vadodara) and in Pakistan (Karachi, Lahore, Swabi and Toba Tek Singh). Along with the paintings, peace calendar includes messages from peace activists and renowned intellectuals. This year, Peace calendar includes messages of Dr. Salima Hashmi, Dr I A Rehman, Prof. Ishtiaq Ahmed, Lt. General (Retd) Muhammad Masood Aslam from Pakistan and Dr Shashi Tharoor, Col (retd) Virender Sahai, Major General (retd) Ashok Mehta, Sudheendra Kulkarni , Dr Syeda Hameed from India.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Louis Lopez, Principal St. Stephen’s School congratulated Aaghaz-e-dosti for taking this thought forward to initiate Peace between the two nations. He talked about the role of students in peacebuilding and how the noble values of peace and non violence can lead our country and can contribute in developing a peaceful and more humane environment in the world.
Shruti Achesh, who is a member of the Aaghaz-e-Dosti team, Delhi, gave an introduction on the vision and mission of the initiative and, how this peace calendar is helping to bridge distances between the people of India and Pakistan. She said that both countries have a history and geography shared together and in no way both can even think about being a rival of each other. She described how common people as well as children of both the countries are eager to develop friendly relations and are doing efforts to achieve that. She recited examples when during classroom connects of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, students from both sides became so happy while talking to each other and started inviting each other to their home immediately.
Chief Guest Smt. Asha Jaswal said that Indo-Pak relations is one area where we need more and more people to work for.. And the best people who can contribute towards this initiative is the youth of both the nations and everyone should support them. She also congratulated Aaghaz-e-Dosti for initiating this process of people to people contact and emphasized on the point that no one wants war, everyone wants to live in peace with each other and, if Aaghaz-e-dosti has taken this initiative to bring this forward, then everyone should encourage them by themselves being a part of this process. She also told that there are lot of efforts being done to normalise the relations through increased role of people to people communication and it needs to be developed more and more.
Mr. DNV Kumara Guru who is the Director – External Relations and Human Resources at Indian School of Business said, there are much deeper bonds of love and friendship between the people of India and Pakistan and we should continue making efforts to strengthen these bonds, to build bridges and to remove all kinds of barriers that divide us. He said we all are peace loving human beings and it is our responsibility to break this rhetoric to foster harmony, love and the importance of togetherness.
Mr. Sandeep Joshi, who is a cartoonist with the Tribune Group stressed on the importance of art in bridging the gap between the two nations. He further added that art accepts no boundries and can be one of the ways in which we can create a momentum for peace between India and Pakistan.
Pramod Sharma, Director and Coordinator – Yuvsatta told that he has had many experiences through his travel to Pakistan and he has found that people on both sides of the border are same. He also talked about the Global Youth Peace Festival that is organised by his esteemed organisation every year in Chandigarh, and where they are trying to promote the process of building peaceful ties by inviting and encouraging the youth from different parts of the world.
Running since last 5 years and, presently with a vibrant team of youth coordinators along with more than 15 chapters in both Pakistan and India, Aaghaz-e-Dosti aims to create unwavering bonds of Peace and friendship between these two nations by strengthening people to people contact. Aaghaz-e-Dosti is heading towards its objective through various activities such as Aman Chaupals, Peace Workshops, Classroom to Classroom connects, Indo-Pak Peace Calendar, Discussions and Seminars and others. Aaghaz-e-Dosti is one of the most prominent voice on Indo-Pak issues and has been recognized for its voluntary efforts by people, media and governments on both sides of the border along with many awards from organizations and peace institutions.
This year, calendar has been launched in presence of various dignitaries in Lahore (1 Jan), Toba Tek Singh (8 Jan), Peshawar (9 Jan), Karachi (29 Jan) in Pakistan and New Delhi (14 Jan) Mumbai (30 Jan), Dehradun (5th Feb), Panipat (11th Feb) and Kolkata (5 March) in India. The Calendar has also been launched in Kyrgz Republic.
Press Release by
Aaghaz-e-Dosti is an Indo-Pak Friendship Initiative that aims to strengthen the process of peace building between the two neighbours that have much more in common than the differences that separate them. Aaghaz-e-Dosti strives to work in the area of citizen diplomacy to facilitate peace education in the public sphere.
On February 16, 2017, Aaghaz-e-Dosti in collaboration with India International Centre organized a Peace Exhibition and a discussion on the theme- Revitalising Indo-Pak Peace Building Efforts. We were honoured to have a distinguished panel of speakers, comprising of personalities with unmatched experience on the subject in question. The panelists included- Former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Dr. TCA Raghavan, Major General (Retd.) of the Indian Army and Convener (India Pakistan Peace Process), Mr. Ashok K. Mehta, Air Vice Marshal (Retd.) of the Indian Air Force, Mr. Kapil Kak, and Senior Journalist and Former President of the Press Club of India, Mr. Rahul Jalali. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Medha Bisht, faculty, Department of International Relations, South Asian University.
The programme began with the inauguration of the Peace Exhibition by the Director, India International Centre (IIC), Air Marshal (Retd.) Naresh Verma. Peace Exhibition displayed the many paintings, greeting cards, letters and peace messages of school students from India and Pakistan. It was more than mere pieces of papers displayed together at one place, it represented much more. It was the reflection of a gesture, a desire for peace, friendship and neighbourly bonds.
In his address to the gathering, Mr. Verma highlighted the significance of peacebuilding efforts and the need to strengthen the process of peace to further progress in the two countries. He lamented that despite an existing acknowledgement of commonalities and a genuine desire for peace, the two neighbours remain short of being friends due to an uncanny reluctance at some levels. He referred to the hostile relations between France and Germany in the early 20th century, which were finally improved after years of peace negotiations. He wondered why couldn’t India and Pakistan shed all inhibitions and hostilities toward each other.
Speaking of the desire for the idea of a South Asian Union/ Federation, he shared that this idea may or may not be feasible at the ground level, but now showed hope as an idea, which had been unthinkable for a long time. Expressing hope in the efforts of Aaghaz-E-Dosti towards peace, he wished that the initiative grows further and evolves into ‘Gulshan-E-Dosti’ someday.
Taking the event forward, Devika Mittal, National Convener of the initiative spoke about the various activities Aaghaz-e-Dosti has been undertaking in its endeavor towards peace and in doing away with various prejudices that hamper the peace process between India and Pakistan. She talked of Aman Chaupal, Classroom Connect Programme between the two nations, Annual Peace Calendar Launch and various talks and discussions the initiative organizes in its efforts towards providing a platform for the people to engage with those on the other side of the fence.
The discussion began with Dr. Bisht highlighting the importance of the small, seemingly insignificant efforts for peace by the citizens on both sides of the divide with the maxim- ‘little drops make the mighty ocean’.
The first panelist, Dr. TCA Raghavan began by congratulating Aaghaz-E-Dosti on its efforts and the spirit of contrarian thinking in the times when the mainstream narrative is largely dominated by a single narrative of intolerance and hatred. Giving the example of Ram Manohar Lohia and his socialist engagements, he pointed out that the Indo-Pak issues have dominated the principal political space and leadership since independence and such engagements continue even today. He spoke of the origins of the idea of citizens for peace, which emanated as a result of increased politicization of society, beginning especially from late 1980s and 1990s. Describing it as the tipping point in the relations between the two neighbours, he said it was at that time, the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy emerged, that saw the engagement of top political and bureaucratic brass, example- Nirmal Kumar Mukarji, last member of the India Civil Service to serve, to strengthen the peace process.
He also spoke of the importance of the virtual space that to a large extent has rendered meaningless the various barriers to culture and literature of the two countries that come to exist time and again. Presenting examples of increased engagements between the two neighbours via multilateral mediums like cricket, travel for friends’ marriages etc. he reiterated that these work slowly but have a cumulative impact in mending the strained bonds between the two neighbours.
The next panelist was Mr. Ashok K. Mehta. Calling himself a great believer and supporter of improved Indo-Pak relations, he congratulated Aaghaz-E-Dosti for its work. Reiterating the significance of engagement between the two neighbours, he stated that often the problem is that the two countries and their people do not understand what the problem really is. In such a scenario he highlighted the importance of an “uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue”, however harsh the situations are. Highlighting the important role diplomacy plays, he showed confidence in the belief that Track II diplomacy must continue, when there is a rupture in Track I diplomatic efforts. He held that there is no dearth of ideas on improving the engagements between the two nations; the problem exists with respect to the implementation part of the process.
Lamenting that the mood for reconciliation between the two neighbours dwindled after the Pathankot base attack, Uri attack and the retaliatory Surgical Strikes from India, he said that often with respect to the resumption of dialogue, the ultimate question is “how to break the ice”? In the end, to those involved in the peace efforts between the two neighbours, he had the message- “Bada Lamba Safar Hai, Par Chalte Rehna Hai”.
The discussion proceeded with the next panelist, Mr. Kapil Kak. He talked of importance of asking “what is the way forward in the relations between India and Pakistan?” Talking of the 2015 Pakistan visit of the present Indian Prime Minister on 25th of December, on the occasion of the birth anniversary of the Pakistani Prime Minister, he said it was a highly positive gesture. But this was followed by the 2016 Pathankot base attack. He asked in such a scenario, where a step forward is met with two steps back, should the peace efforts be stalled? He answered this by stating that in such strained times, the peace process becomes even more important and must be strengthened further. He asked the people on the two sides to be conscious of the fact that even if there are peace processes, there would be spoilers; they are a part and parcel of the same process. Putting the onus of being unable to put up a strong and sustained peace process, on both the nations, Mr. Kak highlighted the significance of the need of deep commitment from the side of the political leadership to move forward in its attempts to mend the relations between the two neighbours. Highlighting the initiatives taken during Atal Bihari Vajpayees’s time, he said such efforts are needed to be revitalized. More of socio-economic Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) are the need of the hour for the two vital neighbours.
Talking of the various uncertainties at the global level, he expressed concern with the new emerging Security challenges. In such uncertain times, he said immense importance is needed to be given to the idea of regional connectivity, which he saw as the common destiny of the South Asian region. He lamented at the failure of the two nations in dealing with the Kashmir question that has aggravated the already grave situation in Kashmir, with the children as young as seven years of age, seen participating in the protests and stone pelting against the Indian Armed Forces. He highlighted the need to tend to the aspirations of the young Kashmiris to assuage any fears of alienation. For this, he said it was important to deal with political questions politically rather than by using the security forces.
In the end, he talked of the significance of efforts civil society organisations, like Aaghaz-E-Dosti, that put pressure from within and from below for the political leadership to act and to initiate a dialogue.
Panelist Mr. Jalali began by what he felt was the major issue crippling the people to people peace process. He lamented that often these people to people initiatives, instead of acting as a pressure group for the two governments to talk and engage with each other, start to talk among themselves across the border, hence hardly bringing about any substantial ground level changes. This he said was their main weakness. It is here he held, lies the importance of Aaghaz-E-Dosti, a peace initiative of the young, by the young, who can set the agenda for the times to come.
He talked of the role the mainstream media has come to play in setting the agenda for the two countries. The unnecessary sensationalisation of news, he held was dangerous as the general public on both the sides gets influenced. Talking also of the social media, he said the dominant voice had come to be the ‘organized trolls’ that create an agenda of hate at both the places. Citing the Right Wing resurgence globally, he stated that today as the world had become more globalized, it also had turned more localized, and media too has not been left untouched by these global events. Mr. Jalali said that in such times, when initiatives like- Aaghaz-E-Dosti try and engage with schools, colleges, with the citizenry of the two countries at large, they play the role of building institutions. This he held was very important as the generation of today gets greatly affected by what is in the mainstream. Hence, he said it was the responsibility of such initiatives to take it up upon themselves as a mission to tweak the prevalent narrative for the better as far as the media is concerned. Mr. Jalali ended his speech by highlighting the significance of a new alternative thinking to emerge and sustain.
After the four panelists enriched the gathering with their views on the subject, gathered over years of unmatched experience, the discussion was summarized by the moderator for the day, Dr. Medha Bisht. She reiterated how reconciling the different narratives becomes difficult as these often get politicized in between. She highlighted the importance of a ‘grand strategy’ in dealing with the two neighbours, India and Pakistan. In this grand strategy, she said the engagement of multiple actors, including- the political leadership, armed forces, the civil society organisations and the awaam, of the two countries was important.
After the discussion the house was opened for the audience to ask their doubts and express their views. The mixed gathering had different views to share. While a gentleman from the audience expressed his desire for a ‘Common Television’ on the lines of initiatives, like the Indo-Pak Peace Bus, to bring to the people of the two countries the “right kind of feelings and emotions the awaam of the two countries share”, another gentleman expressed doubts over the engagements only at the level of the people, without any efforts from the political leadership, to bring about any substantial transformation in the relations between the two nations. To this point, another gentleman from the audience had a counter, who said- “Naummeedee Iss Kadar Badh Gayi Hai, ki Aarzoo ki Aarzoo Ho Gayi Hai”. A young gentleman from the audience expressed hope in the initiatives like Aaghaz-E-Dosti and emphasized that ‘peace is a process, not a goal’. A beautiful thought indeed, for a goal suffers from time boundations, but a process reflects a lifelong engagement and efforts.
Overall, a thoughtful and fruitful discussion that brought a plethora of crucial issues concerning India and Pakistan, the two vital neighbours who share much in common in terms of history, culture, languages, festivals, religions and much more, but have been marred by the agenda of hatred and intolerance, to the table. Highlighting that there are no easy answers or no single silver bullet that could iron out the differences that have been made to exacerbate to a great level, the panelists put forward the need and necessity of dialogue, engagement and an uninterrupted and uninterruptible peace process. Aaghaz-e-Dosti is a humble attempt in facilitating and being part of this peace process.
Report made by
Delhi Team Member
Aaghaz-e-Dosti Kyrgyz Chapter created history by launching 5th Indo-Pak Peace Calendar internationally on Saturday February 18, 2017 at Unum Cultural Centre in Bishkek. The calendar launch was followed by a discussion titled “Sharing of Hopes for a Peaceful Co-existence”. Kayemba Nicholas was a guest speaker in the discussion. He is from Uganda and a student at International Ataturk-Alatoo University in Bishkek.
These peace calendars have 12 selected paintings (6 from India and Pakistan each) which were selected from hundreds of paintings received by Aaghaz-e-Dosti this year. Every year, Aaghaz-e-Dosti announce to invite paintings from school students in India and Pakistan on ‘Indo-Pak Friendship’ theme. The team also invites messages from 12 (6 from India and 6 from Pakistan) eminent persons working on Indo-Pak peace. After selection of paintings by jury, Indian painting with message of Pakistani peace activist and vise-versa get form of a calendar by 12 such pages i.e. one for each month and these calendars are released with a discussion ‘Sharing of Hopes for Peaceful Co-existence’ in India and Pakistan every year.
This year, we had got tremendous participation in our competition for paintings from youths of both the countries. From Pakistan, we received paintings from Balochistan, Karachi, Lahore, Rahim Yar Khan and Toba Tek Singh district. From India, we received paintings from Anupshehr (UP), Cuttack (Orissa), Dehradun (Uttarakhand), Delhi, Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir), Kolkata (West Bengal), Lucknow (UP), Mumbai (Maharashtra), Surat (Gujarat) and Vadodara (Gujarat). We also received a painting from an Indian student studying in Oman.
This year’s calendar has already been launched in different cities in India: Dehradun, Delhi, Mumbai and Panipat and in Pakistan: Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Toba Tek Singh. The Calendar is also scheduled to be launched in three other cities in India – Chandigarh, Jalandhar and Kolkata.
The event in Kyrgyz was the first launch of this calendar outside India and Pakistan.
The event was attended by children of different age groups, students, young professionals and parents from India, Pakistan, Uganda and Kyrgyz Republic.
Infact, the Peace Calendar was launched by future leaders i.e. our children. The children, Nasim Karim, the Kyrgyz Co-ordinator shared, took great interest in going through the pictures in the calendar drawn by students of India and Pakistan. They were very excited for the next year calendar launch as they want to participate in the competition and want to get their voices for peace published.
Nasima Karim had briefed about activities and mission of Aaghaz-e-Dosti through presentation and images. The event was wrapped up by brainstorming and networking activity to further promote friendship, peace and co-existence.
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Pakistan is a land of Diversity: Pakistani students dispel stereotypes during Aman Chaupal in a Delhi School
Aaghaz-e-Dosti conducts Aman Chaupal sessions in schools in India and Pakistan where a Pakistani guest (usually an activist, artiste, academician or journalist) interacts with Indian students and vice versa and answers their questions, dispels stereotypes and give them the “other” narrative. Aman Chaupal, a unique initiative of Aaghaz-e-Dosti was started in 2013. Since then, Aaghaz-e-Dosti has conducted 20 sessions in schools and colleges in India and Pakistan.
On 14th February 2017, Aaghaz-e-Dosti India conducted the 20th Aman Chaupal in KIIT World School in Pitampura in Delhi. The guests from Pakistan were Bharat Makwana and Suneel Nand. Both are pursuing masters in Sociology from South Asian University in Delhi. The session was moderated and co-ordinated by Aaghaz-e-Dosti team members – Devika Mittal and Madhulika Narasimhan. The teacher co-ordinator was Ms. Sheetal.
The Pakistani guests were warmly welcomed by the school in a traditional way by applying chandan tika on their foreheads and with garlands. The school administration, including the principal was very encouraging towards this effort of Aaghaz-e-Dosti and highlighted its importance in adding to the goal of schooling.
The Aman Chaupal session was conducted with students of a mixed group – grades 5th to 9th. The students were very enthusiastic. Bharat Makwana and Suneel Nand initiated the interaction by sharing their experience of being in India. Bharat shared that his experience in India has been overwhelming. He always wanted to visit India and when he got the opportunity to study in India, he was very happy and excited. But when he came here, his happiness was much more, the reason being, that the people turned out to be far nicer than he imagined. He shared that he has interacted with people from diverse backgrounds, of different socio economic backgrounds, but all have been nice to him, and have expressed desire for peace, just like Pakistanis do.
Suneel added to this and shared that since Pakistanis have for long had access to Indian movies and culture, are keen on visiting India and the places they have seen in Indian movies and tele-serials. He is often flooded with questions when he goes back to Pakistan. One of his friends expressed his disappointment over the fact that while he (Suneel) has been to India, he hasn’t yet met Salman Khan.
During the session, the students asked questions around the culture of Pakistan, the everyday life, the perception of Pakistanis towards India and Indians. One student asked, “what do you like most about India?”. Suneel answered, the diversity of India.
Suneel and Bharat had made a powerpoint presentation about Pakistan, it’s diversity in terms of language, ethnicity and religion. The presentation also educated the students about the great philanthropist from Pakistan, Abdul Sattar Edhi and his contribution to communal harmony and peace.
There was a discussion around the presentation. Some other questions were around the reasons for hatred and conflict, the role of popular perceptions, the role of people and especially students and youth. A student of grade 5 shared the story of his grandmother who told him about the pre-partition era when there was harmony. His grandmother had migrated from Pakistan. This led to a discussion on how the harmony can be revived and the role that an average citizen can play in the process.
Students also sought clarifications on the knowledge that they had gathered from the popular media. A student asked about the insufficient power supply in Pakistan about which he had learned from news channels. Suneel said that while it is true, the problem is uneven and is being solved. Madhulika Narasimhan added to this discussion by highlighting the fact that this particular issue and uneven development in general is a huge problem for both India and Pakistan.
The session was a learning experience for the students as well as for the guests and the organisers.
Report made by
Devika Mittal and Madhulika Narasimhan
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Aaghaz-e-Dosti, a voluntary and non political cross border initiative of Indo-Pak Friendship has launched its 5th Indo-Pak Peace Calendar in Dehradun at Hotel Aketa. Besides the launch and a panel discussion, a special screening of Toba Tek Singh (Directed by Ketan Mehta) was also done. This film is part of Zeal for Peace initiative by 12 film directors of India and Pakistan. Local hospitality support was provided by Aketa. This Indo Pak peace calendar features selected paintings (6 paintings from India and 6 from Pakistan) from schools students (Grade 8 to 12) of India and Pakistan. These Paintings depict an innocent and apolitical horizon of peace.
This year, we received thought-provoking expressions from students of several cities in India (Bulandshahr, Cuttack, Dehradun, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, Surat and Vadodara) and Pakistan (Karachi, Lahore, Swabi and Toba Tek Singh). Alongside the paintings, peace calendar includes messages from peace activists and renowned intellectuals. This year, Peace calendar includes messages of Dr. Salima Hashmi, Dr I A Rehman, Prof. Ishtiaq Ahmed, Lt. General (Retd) Muhammad Masood Aslam from Pakistan and Dr Shashi Tharoor, Col (retd) Virender Sahai, Major General (retd) Ashok Mehta, Dr Syeda Hameed from India.
During the launch, a discussion on ‘Sharing of hopes for peaceful co-existence’ was also organized where Prof Dhreerendra Sharma, G K Swamy, SP Goel and Lokesh Ohri were present in the panel.
Speaking on the occasion, Prof Dheerendra Sharma, who works on nuclear disarmament, said that the nuclear race in South Asia must be stopped and nuclear disarmament should be a priority for countries of the world, specially India and Pakistan, if we really want to see the development and uplifetment of people.
G K Swamy, who is an economist and educator, said that education is something that provides us a vision for future. Our education, specially in India and Pakistan should be more inclusive and more connected as we share our history and our future as well. Children are the tomorrow’s leaders and such activities that promote peace and humanity among them are definitely for welfare of human being and real objective of education.
Lokesh Ohri, who is an anthropologist said that history and heritage of both countries are closely connected with each other. With the hundreds of years of togetherness, these are only 70 years when we are so disconnected that we started making stereotypes for each other. A better connection of history can build a peaceful future together.
SP Goel, Philantrophist and Founder of Hotel Aketa narrated personal examples of Hindu-Muslim Unity, dispelled stereotypes and talked about the importance of communal harmony.
Vinay Bhardwaj, a film producer whose upcoming movie Dushman is also based on Indo-Pak Friendship, supported the initiative through a video message. The trailer of the movie was shown during the launch program. It was the first public screening of the trailer.
The students whose paintings have been featured – Vikas Pal and Ifrah Naaz from Purkal Youth Development Society (PYDS) Learning Academy were also felicitated. They shared their vision behind the painting. Mr. Harwant Singh, Principal of the School talked about the importance of peace and the need to continue efforts for peace building between India and Pakistan.
Running since last 5 years, Aaghaz-e-Dosti aims to create unwavering bonds between India and Pakistan through people to people network. Aaghaz-e-Dosti is heading towards its objective through various activities such as Aman Chaupals, Peace Workshops, Classroom to Classroom connects, Indo-Pak Peace Calendar, Discussions and Seminars and others. Aaghaz-e-Dosti is one of the most prominent voice on Indo-Pak issues and has been recognized for its voluntary efforts by people, media and governments of both sides along with many awards from organizations and institutions.
This year, calendar has been launched in presence of various dignitaries in Lahore (1 Jan), Toba Tek Singh (8 Jan), Peshawar (9 Jan), Karachi (29 Jan) in Pakistan and New Delhi (14 Jan) and Mumbai (30 Jan). After Dehradun launch on 5th Feb, this calendar launch is scheduled in Panipat on 11th Feb, Chandigarh on 17th Feb, Kolkata on 26th Feb and Ayodhya on 5th March.