"It's such a pity, you could be (and should be) kind neighbours appreciating one another and you are not," wrote Michel, a Frenchman, referring to India and Pakistan in response to my article 'But you speak such good Hindi' (The News International Aman ki Asha page, Mar 31, 2010). He is familiar with our part the world and problems we face, having worked here.
I wonder how we can change this perception. I guess the first thing would be to agree that this can be achieved.
The responses I received on my last article indicate that we have already started moving towards this goal. People are thinking about this issue. The first step towards fixing a problem is to acknowledge that we have a problem. Then we can move on to identify the causes and hopefully resolve things.
One Indian reader disagreed with the contention that "Pakistan and India share a cultural heritage". Everyone has a right to their opinion. I happen to strongly believe that the peoples of both India and Pakistan share a number of cultural, moral and social values. We should appreciate this bond and work to make it stronger. To move forward we have to engage in meaningful dialogue. We need to realise that it is possible to retain your identity, yet coexist in peace.
Clearly, it is easier to see similarities between the two nations on 'neutral ground' such as the US or Australia (where I live). The fact that we can do it on neutral territory gives me hope that we can do the same in our homelands. We just need to listen with our hearts and be open to new ideas. We need to trust each other.
The Indian students we befriended at Indiana University are still part of our family. We share the same hopes for our children's future and strive to give them a better world to live in. We share the same respect for our elders, the same love for our fellow humans. Yes, there are differences, but we have learned to respect them and not let them stand in the way of friendship. Manu, Vicky and Shrikant are now in different parts of the world but we know that we have a home where we will be welcomed whenever we visit that part of the world. The same is true for them whenever they choose to visit us, wherever we may be.
It is important to share the positive interactions between the peoples of the two countries. We are lucky to be blessed with friends from both countries who form a cherished circle for us. We celebrate happy occasions with each other and are there for each other through hard times.
As a parent the hardest thing for me is to let anyone mind my children. Four years back I was hospitalised, my husband couldn't get time off from work. An Indian friend, came to our rescue. I was worried about leaving three little ones, ranging from one to six years old, with him. Not only did he take care of them really well but the kids absolutely adored him. Now Viddy is back in India but we keep in touch regularly.
Rohit in Mumbai wrote that peace can be achieved through "exchange of thoughts" and ideas "which can help bridge our gaps". Today the world has become smaller and it is much easier to maintain regular contact through technologies such as e-mail and Facebook. These allow us to sustain relationships and share our thoughts and lives with each other.
But nothing can replace face to face interaction. The actual presence of a loved one at an important occasion makes a world of difference. The visa restrictions on both sides make this difficult, as another Indian reader Krish wrote, talking about "the kind of difficulties one has to put up with to visit his/her ancestral land on the other side of the border".
I really wish that both countries would ease the visa restrictions. It is heartbreaking when relatives from across the border are unable to be with loved ones. My aunt in Aligarh could not join us in Karachi for a wedding when her visa was refused. There have been many other such occasions. If it were easier for the common people to travel to India and Pakistan they would see how similar we are and how easy it is to take the road of peace and friendship.
We cannot change history but we can certainly learn from it. And the lesson it seems to offer is that nations thrive during peace and when everyone works together. It is possible to set aside our differences, bury the past and move ahead. Other nations have done it so why can't we?
Michel gave the example of Germany and France, bitter enemies during the Second World War. Over time, they worked through their differences and joined hands to work together to advance Europe. Today they are friends and as Michel put it the French are happy to have the Germans besides them "in difficult times, our kids befriend theirs, we have so tight contacts as countries and as individuals, citizens of the same world; and (unlike you and Hindi speakers) we do not even have the same language!"
The media can play an important role in carrying forward this message of peace and hope for a better future. Meena, a reader from Karachi, sums it up really nicely: "It is really important not to inculcate and not to breed the values of hatred."
The media can break or make relations between nations. They can choose to highlight positive things or as Faryal writing from the US, puts it, it can continue to feed the people on both sides of the border "a daily diet of suspicion and hostility."
Reconciliation and cooperation will lead us to peace in our region. We have played long enough in the hands of people who stoke the fires of enmity to generate votes. Now it is time to focus on our problems and fight together against them - poverty, lack of education, empowering women etc. Wars only cause destruction and create further divides.
Our message for the future generations must be one of hope, peace and tolerance. Here in Australia, our children are learning to be friends, they see things in the same way, play the same games and enjoy doing things together. Let us really strive to make a positive difference for our region. As Rohit put it, "it should indeed be an endeavour for all of us to try to contribute whatever we can for this cause -- we owe it to our nations."
A reader, from Pakistan brought up disputed issues like Kashmir that we "need to resolve before they become friends". Certainly, a political solution is needed. But the peoples of the two countries could work together to ensure that it is a solution based on mutual respect and peace.
What can we do to achieve this objective of peace? Greater communication, discussion and resolution of mutual issues is necessary. We could share our best solutions and help each other out with domestic problems -- honestly and without any ulterior motives. We have travelled far too long on the road paved with enmity, hatred and distrust. Let us try the road not taken, that of friendship, hope and trust.
The writer is a teacher based in Sydney, Australia -firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
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We probably didn't need to do this Special Report. Newspaper stories don't matter when it comes to Indians in Pakistani jails and vice versa. In fact, 'vice versa' sums it up. We do to them what they do to us.
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