A visit to Pakistan is enough to shatter negative stereotypes, finds a young Indian woman with an inquisitive nature
By Sharmin Eliyas
As an Indian, I feel lucky to have visited Pakistan at least three times so far. In the year 2006 I spent six months based in Karachi, with monthly visits to Lahore. In 2007, I spent ten days in Karachi where I facilitated the National Leadership Conference. And recently, in 2012, I spent 20 days in Islamabad, Murree and Karachi, having been invited to chair the National Strategic Conference in Murree.
All these visits have been historic. My first visit - first Indian to obtain a single entry six month Business Visa. My second visit - one of the few Indians to cross the Wagah border on foot, alone. And my third visit - the first Indian to be registered at the Foreign Registration Office in Murree. I have an invaluable treasure of stories to be cherished for my entire lifetime. But all this wouldn't have been possible without my inquisitive nature.
Growing up, like any other Indian child, I too read stories about the Independence movement. These created a huge impact on me. Stories of revolt spreading from Lucknow to North Western Frontier Province caught my attention. The one incident that really impacted me was the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru in Lahore jail. When I read about it for the first time, I asked my father to take me to visit Lahore jail during my vacation. I was really upset to learn that there is a border that is almost impossible to cross. My subconscious never forgot.
Another time, I got a book about the geography and people of Pakistan issued from my school library about Pakistan. It was my first introduction to that wonderful country. Also, I learnt that two of my most beloved Bollywood personalities - Rafi sa'ab and Dev sa'ab were from Pakistan. I also remember reading about Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in one of our textbooks and how he was known as the "Frontier Gandhi".
In the midst of this prologue, stories about the bomb blasts in Mumbai (in 1993) and its accused taking shelter in Pakistan came up. I heard people talking about the weapon producing factories in every house of Pakistan. I was told that every person there roams around with a gun, shoots whoever he feels like, and gets away with it. This was pretty strange for me. I was also told that women can't roam around like we Indians. Every female, except Benazir Bhutto, wears a burqa which is compulsory. And if they refuse to wear it, they are stoned to death at the market square. These and other such prejudices countered my intuition all these years.
After graduating from college, I got the opportunity to extend AIESEC, the world's largest youth run organization, in Pakistan, an extension facilitated by AIESEC in India. As an alumnus of AIESEC (www.aiesec.org) this is what I wanted to do rather than taking up the white-collar job I was being offered. Of course this meant traveling to Pakistan - something that caused a big storm in my family. "Are you nuts? Aren't there any other countries that you want to go to - that's the most unsafe one on the planet? Have you lost your senses? Have you seen anyone going there alone at this age - and you being a female?" (This was six years ago).
Eventually, they had to give up as I was quite adamant. They understood where my heart lies. But not all Indian parents are as courageous to allow their children, especially daughters, to visit Pakistan. Eventually, they gave in because they were confident of the upbringing they had given me. I have been fortunate.
I remember my heart pounding with fear as I landed at Karachi airport for the first time in 2006, as part of the core team to set up AIESEC in Pakistan. I felt very self-conscious as I was not wearing a burqa but a pair of jeans and t-shirt. As the flight landed, I saw women touching up their make up. I thought that they are getting ready to put on their burqas. My mother had even given me a burqa and instructed to put it on every time I left the house. But I had also seen pictures of my friends in Pakistan not in burqas. So I was unsure about what to do.
Within no time, all my prejudices got erased and my fears vanished. I found people in Pakistan eating the same food, speaking the same language - even the slang - and watching the same Bollywood movies. In fact, I found myself to be just like one of them. And no, I never had to wear that burqa. I always received a very warm welcome by people in the corporate sector as well as the non-government organisations when they learnt that I am an Indian. I have met so many new people during my visits but believe me, no one has ever uttered a single word against Indians. All they shared was the pain of Partition, often moving me to tears.
When I shared my experiences in Pakistan with people here in India, many thought that I must have met only a limited section of the society, more educated and with a broader perspective towards peace. I wish I could make them and all other fellow countrymen understand that that was not the case. On my recent visit, even the servant at my friend's place was enchanted with the fact that I am an Indian and expressed his desire to visit sometime, someday. He called up his family in his village and got me to speak to them, and shared with me his life stories, treating me like his sister.
If this is not love and affection, then, I'm sorry, we don't know the meaning of these two wonderful words. I have so many examples of the compassion I received from everyone I came across while in Pakistan. I am extremely proud of being a citizen of the biggest democracy in the world and also proud of a peace ambassador of Pakistan. But a part of my heart dies, when I wonder that we have failed to understand that hatred creates a chain of negativity with no positive outcome. I am sure that Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev and millions of other martyrs of our independence era didn't give their blood, for us to have such a border between us.
The writer is an engineer by profession, striving to be a culturally sensitive and socially responsible world citizen. Email: email@example.com
Thursday, July 05, 2012
Chandigarh and Isl .....more
Trading love from across the border
Forging new ties and strengthening old ones with Pakistan is the main aim of the "Made in Pakistan" fair held annua .....more
Scientific technology is wonderful, but does it matter to someone who just loves chillies what the numbers are? Vasundhara Chauhan shares some spicy information an .....more
Page 66 of 175
The News on Sunday Special Report: India Pakistan prisoners more editions
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.
Except when the two countries decide to begin talking, yet again! This time a little before the foreign secretary level talks, some Pakistani prisoners were released by India (and vice versa must have happened) and some more were release....read more
For the past 2 years the Jang Group and Geo have been working on a project of great national interest; one that we hope will help usher in an era of peace and prosperity in the country and indeed, in the region. And one that hopefully all Pakistanis can be proud of. more
The Jang Group has entered into an agreement with the Times of India Group, the largest media group of India, to campaign for peace betw