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Now a Chaupal for Indo-Pak Peace!

My article published in South Asia Monitor: Aug 2, 2013

http://southasiamonitor.org/detail.php?type=emerging&nid=5571

A campaign towards Indo-Pak peace and friendship revives the traditional practice of ‘chaupal’ …As an attempt to enhance people to people communication across the border, to share views, experiences and stories of love and collaboration. Mission Bhartiyam, an India-based not for profit organization has come up with the idea of holding ‘chaupals’ (informal interactions) between people on both sides. Befittingly named ‘Aman Chaupal’ (Interactions for Peace), the pioneering venture is an initiative of Aaghaz-e-Dosti (Start of Friendship), a cross-border campaign working for India-Pakistan peace and friendship. Like-minded individuals from different walks of life have come together to strengthen foregone bonds and make people realise the power of peace.
 
Aman Chaupal that commenced in July this year is about informal conversations and chats between people from both sides. The aim is getting to know the ‘other’ in a better way. With the convenience of being organized anywhere, the Aman Chaupal aims to conduct discussions and view-sharing sessions between Indians and Pakistanis irrespective of age, gender, profession. Chaupal sessions are informal, friendly and designed to be thought-provoking. Guests from diverse backgrounds, such as sports, arts, bureaucracy, civil society, media, and those who have travelled across the border are invited to conduct these chaupals. It takes a cue from village chaupals - traditional meetings devoid of formality and officialdom, providing the most common people the opportunity to have their say in the affairs of the village. Since, the Indo-Pak dialogue is dominated by elites in government and bureaucracy, a people’s chaupal can work well to democratize dialogue between rival countries.
 
Two such chaupals have been organized till now by Aaghaz-e-Dosti. The first one was organized in July at the Columbia Foundation School, New Delhi. It was attended by students and addressed by Saeeda Diep, peace activist and chairperson, Institute of Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS), Lahore. The chaupal was interactive in nature with students inquisitive about Pakistan and its people. Such an effort can help erase misperceptions that people in both countries harbour about the ‘other’. The organizers plan to collaborate with schools in India and Pakistan to conduct more such chaupals.
 
Apart from Aman Chaupal, the team of Aaghaz-e-Dosti has conducted several events for the cause of Indo-Pak friendship in the past year. Planting ‘Trees for Harmony’ in schools in Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi, Lucknow, Pakistan, inviting paintings from Indian and Pakistani students for a calendar initiative and advocacy on social networking sites are some of the activities of this initiative.
 
Says Devika Mittal, one of the conveners: “Like any other north Indian I also grew up hearing about stories of the Partition. I grew up in the usual environment harbouring hatred towards Pakistan. It is true that we can never undo history, but we can at least do something good in the present to make up for the past, to ensure that the period of madness, insane inhumanity is never repeated.” Devika is a post-graduate in Sociology from the South Asian University, Delhi. Also associated in the capacity of a convenor is Shivendra Singh, a well-known media person credited with writing a book ‘Yeh jo hai Pakistan’.
 
He says, (I long for the day when there will be love and friendship between the people of India and Pakistan. When we can roam about in Gwalmandi in Lahore and they in our Paranthewaligali!). The team has support from IMOV Humans - Armaan Khan Foundation, an organisation based in Pakistan. The team also plans to take the Aman Chaupal initiative ahead by organizing trips across the border for common citizens.
 
Truly, such a platform can become a learning experience for those who have had no contact with the ‘other’ by dispelling stereotypes built through years of hatred and enmity. It is indeed an innovative attempt to show that side of the ‘other’ which a hawkish and nationalist media never bothers to present. A platform that brings citizen diplomacy to the grassroots in the most genuine of spirit!
 
The aim is to talk peace at all times, and not just when the storm is over. People from both sides need to know about each other and talk to counter the negative forces that have dominated their minds. A chaupal is certainly a unique way to begin with. As Ravi Nitesh, one of the conveners puts it in the form of a poem.
 
“Hazaar haath badh gaye,
 
yahan bhi wahan bhi.
 
Hazaaron hazaar sapne jude,
 
idhar bhi, udhar bhi,
 
Hazaaron hazaar ummedein,
 
yahan bhi wahan bhi.”
 
(A thousands of hands, a thousands of dreams and a thousands of hopes ... on both sides of the border ... waiting to meet, waiting to be fulfilled)
 
History cannot be undone but a new chapter of friendship can certainly be written – and this is what this chaupal and upcoming ones will do for the peace loving people of the sub-continent.
 

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