A pair of teenagers from India and Pakistan talk about a project that began when they realised the commonalities and resolved to work out differences
“We believe peace is possible,” say Arsh Arora and Khushboo Danish when asked about India-Pakistan relations. The two teenage students study at St. Mark’s Senior Secondary Public school in Delhi, India and The City School Bhit Shah (TCSB), Sindh, Pakistan respectively. Having been a part of Aman ki Asha, as their Facebook page notes, they are pioneering collaborators for a new initiative called the Indo-Pak Peace Project (IPP) launched in September 2014 (email: [email protected]). Here, they share their vision for the project and ideas for a peaceful future between India and Pakistan.
How did the Indo-Pak peace project commence? How did you connect with each other?
Arsh Arora (AA): I connected with Khushboo on the Face To Faith online community platform. Initially, we argued more than we chatted. It took time to realize that this was not serving any purpose. Someone had to take the initiative to stop arguing. This is when I thought I should take the lead in talking about promoting peace between the two nations. Khushboo agreed and this is how the Indo-Pak peace project started.
Khushboo Danish (KD): Having started our interaction at an online community platform that had students from across the globe, myself and Arsh discussed issues and crisis faced by both countries. We realised that the issues were common, the thinking process was like-minded. I saw it as a great opportunity to collaborate for peace. I did not wish to let this go as another Indo-Pak argument over who is superior. The project started the moment we paid attention to commonalities and resolved to work out our differences.
Why only India-Pakistan and why peace? What got you motivated?
AA: Whenever I watched news channels, read newspapers and surfed social networking websites, statements like “Ceasefire violations are taking place on the border, India cancels talks with Pakistan, Pakistan warns India of a nuclear war” disturbed me. How can two countries that share much more than a border … share religion, culture, festivals, values and people’s aspirations, not live and let live in peace? I questioned the rationale of connecting with the entire world, while letting hostility flourish with one’s neighbour. That is when I decided to work for peace.
KD: I experienced an inner passion and enthusiasm for peace. Despite the division of the Indian sub-continent into India and Pakistan, look at what we share. So much! Our history, culture and moreover our people! I was amazed to learn from my grandparents how during the partition people helped and saved each other’s lives. I realised peace is still possible. However, much of the young population in both countries is engrossed in negativity and hatred. This negative atmosphere is an obstacle in the way of our progress. I wanted to work with young peace makers because I believe they can change the fate of the two nations. That is why I am in the project.
Tell us about your project activities. How do you manage to work for peace during trying circumstances?
AA: Since the project launch we have been fortunate to receive support from both the schools. We are also being supported by peace organizations such as One Life Alliance, World Peace through Pilgrimages, Life Talkies and Peaceful Earth Foundation. Well-known peace activists like Chintan Girish Modi and Yogesh Ravindra Mathuria have also whole-heartedly supported IPP. After the project launch, we celebrated peace day and UN week. In November 2014, e conducted a video conference between school students from both sides. We also organized an event in remembrance of the victims of Peshawar attack to express our solidarity with Pakistan.
KD: We have organized activities like Pen for Peace, Art for Peace, Music for Peace, slogan competition in our school. During the video conference, we had Pakistani students singing songs and Indian students reciting poems. Our peace events were shortlisted in the category of ‘Best Dialogue With Difference’ in the Peace One Day competition. We remain unshaken during trying circumstances. Our faith in the project and its aims only strengthens with support from those who encourage us.
What are your plans to involve more students and young people from India and Pakistan in the project?
AA: We have an impressive presence on social media (Facebook and Twitter). The Face to Faith online community enables us to connect with students from across the globe. To get more people involved, we aim to network with more schools in both countries and raise awareness about the project through increased on ground activities. We are also looking forward to an exchange visit between students of St. Mark’s and TCSB in the near future to deepen existing bonds of friendship.
KD: Credit for the project’s initial success lies totally with our schools and our teachers … Geeta Rajan and Danish Jatoi. They have led us with immense faith. I also wish to commend the students who enthusiastically participated in our activities. This shows that educational institutions in both countries have potential to promote peace. We plan to build and shape student teams from our schools as well as other schools in India and Pakistan. The idea is to take peace to local communities through education.
Do you visualize the project as part of a larger peace effort?
AA: Definitely. Apart from our respective schools, we have received support letters from many peace organizations. Eventually, I see IPP scaling up to take the shape of a larger peace movement. I feel delighted when students come to me and ask how they can contribute to the project. This is the change that I wish to see.
KD: We are in the process of connecting with peace activists, youth groups and NGOs from both sides. We want to bring India and Pakistan closer and anyone who shares this aspiration is warmly welcome to be a part of IPP.
What difficulties did you encounter while working on the project? Is peace achievable in the near future?
AA: I was advised by many to stall this project as it could be dangerous for me. I was questioned about favouring Pakistan. My only response was that nothing can ever be gained by reinforcing negativity. I am hopeful about peace. I have faith that the youth of both countries will make it easier to achieve peace.
KD: Many times, I have been surrounded by negative and discouraging comments. There have also been concerns of safety due to political issues and constant tensions between the two nations. But that has not stopped me from my work in IPP.
How does your family, school and community view your role as peace makers?
AA: My family is proud of my role as a change maker. When I discuss positive aspects of Indo-Pak relations with them, they beam with hope. In school, my classmates call me the ‘Indo-Pak Peace Agent’. The support from school teachers and the principal throughout has been invaluable. It is something that other schools can emulate.
KD: I am overwhelmed with the support I received from my family, my father and school. My school mates have been extremely cooperative in project events. Their supportive reflections and continued enthusiasm is a major force behind the project’s endeavours.
Your message to peace builders in India and Pakistan
AA: Let’s dream of a world where there is no destruction, no loss of lives and no bloodshed. Let there be prosperity in South Asia. This is possible only through India-Pakistan peace and cooperation.
KD: Do not be scared. Be strong. We have to counter challenges and achieve milestones together. We are together in the long cherished dream of harnessing the talent, intellect, spirit and dedication of the people of India and Pakistan for a peaceful South Asia.
The writer recently submitted a PhD Thesis in Political Science at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. She is a Peace-Building Fellow with The Red Elephant Foundation. Email: [email protected]