Aaghaz-e-Dosti’s Eleventh Indo-Pak Classroom Connect between students in Punjab, Pakistan and Mumbai, India, helps break stereotypes
The India-Pakistan youth group Aaghaz-e-Dosti (Start of Friendship) held its Eleventh Indo-Pak Classroom Connect on April 4, 2017, bringing together students from India and Pakistan. The participating institution in Pakistan was the National School and College of Modern Sciences Mandi Faizabad, Nankana Sahib — birthplace of Guru Nanak, the venerated founder of the Sikh religion. In India, it was Ecole Mondiale World School, Mumbai.
On either side of the border, the workshop facilitators – Aliya Harir in Pakistan and Tulika Bathija in India – say they found themselves “struggling with the same old questions” while connecting over the commonalities. It is discussions around Bollywood, TV shows, food, visa issues, festivals, cricket, Urdu-Hindi, and social media that make people “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”, say the organisers. A challenging task to accomplish via Skype.
The students from India sang ‘Channa Mereya’ from the Bollywood movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. Pakistani children discussed the Indian TV shows and films they have watched. Their favourites: Salman Khan and “Tiger” Shroff. The Indian students’ heartthrob: Fawad Khan.
Children on both sides agreed that ban on cross-border cinema is ridiculous. They could not imagine living in a world where they can’t see each other’s films and TV shows. Are the governments listening?
When asked what they like about India, the Pakistanis named Hindu festivals like Holi, Diwali, Raksha Bandhan, that they said they love to celebrate as well, “Holi being their absolute favorite” according to the facilitators.
The Skype discussion also centered around food – especially biryani – streets, and unexpectedly, pets and animals! The Indian side loved hearing that some Pakistani children had goats and rabbits for pets.
The Pakistani students responded supportively to their Indian counterparts’ attempts to speak Urdu and shared that Muhammad Iqbal, author of the poem ‘Saare Jahan se Accha Hindustan Hamara’ is the national poet of Pakistan.
As the discussion concluded, the students said they would love to reconnect and asked Aaghaz-e-Dosti’s Raza Khan Lahore Chapter Head who organised the session when he would be back. “Raza sir, none of them resembled the stereotypes I was taught”, said one student. This comment applied equally to children on both sides.
It is clear that regular exchange programmes enabling youngsters on either side to meet and experience each other’s cultures in reality, beyond Skype, would go a long way towards eroding tensions and misunderstandings between Pakistan and India. And that, it seems, is exactly what the ruling elite don’t want.
Ease visa restrictions — let people meet, we say. #MilneDo