Life ... it is complex to define but simpler to enjoy! I started this blog with the aim to give a platform to my views about life and its nitty-gritties. I hope that through this blog I shall be able to interact with like-minded people who will identify with my way of life and thinking. Often we are short of words to have our feelings be expressed. Through the medium of this blog, I want to let off all my feelings and opinions out for a healthy and interactive debate.
Cross-border friendships: A Dreamer’s Recipe for Peace
Girish Modi is a young
Mumbai based peacebuilder striving for friendly relations between India and
Pakistan Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere spoke
to him about Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein, his initiative to
transform the hostility between the two countries by building on the power of
cross-border friendships through social media, supported by on-the-ground
interactions and workshops with schools and colleges.
What inspired you to
be a peacebuilder? Any reasons for specifically choosing to work on
Chintan Girish Modi
I am not sure if there is a special category of person called
‘peacebuilder’. I feel personally perturbed by the animosity that India and
Pakistan have built towards each other for decades, and I want this to change.
People in both countries have many stereotypes about each other, thanks to how
we learn about the other side from history books, and more so from the media.
Politicians, of course, know how to whip up nationalist sentiments at the drop
of a hat, and spread hate. This makes me deeply upset because the focus is
deepening divides instead of celebrating our shared heritage and
interconnectedness. Sitting and wishing for a transformation will yield no
results if I don’t do something. This belief is what led to my getting involved
in India-Pakistan exchanges aimed at improving relations between the two
countries through people-to-people contact. I must be honest and say that I
have done very little but I am doing what I can.
How did you begin your journey into peacebuilding?
I used to work
with the Kabir Project at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in
Bangalore. It is led by Shabnam Virmani, a documentary filmmaker and dear
friend of mine, who turned to the poetry of Kabir after the violence and
insanity unleashed in Gujarat in 2002. Of all her films, the one that affected
me most was ‘Had-Anhad’ (Bounded-Boundless). It had a big impact on me,
particularly the Pakistan sequences in the film. The ceremony at Wagah seemed
absurd. The people on the other side seemed so similar to the ones on this
side. Something felt utterly strange. I felt a deep sorrow but at that point of
time I didn’t know that I too could do something. This experience stayed at the
back of my mind. I joined the Kabir Project to look after the educational
outreach aspect of their work. It was a rich and meaningful experience, soaking
in the poetry of Kabir, Bulleh Shah and Mira, learning from them, and sharing
that with children and teachers through workshops and interactions.
After that, I moved back to Mumbai. In 2012, while working with
Shishuvan School in Mumbai, I had the opportunity to visit Pakistan as part of
Exchange for Change, a project run jointly by the Citizens Archive of Pakistan
and a Delhi-based organization Routes 2 Roots. After that, I have participated
in other peacebuilding initiatives, and also been to Pakistan twice, for the
Children’s Literature Festival in Lahore in 2013, and the one in Islamabad in
Any hiccups through this journey?
Oh yes! I have come across people who think
that being Indian is synonymous with being anti-Pakistan. I used to get annoyed
earlier but I realized that I needed to stay calm in order to continue doing my
work. Prejudices will not disappear overnight. Those who are hurting will not
heal in a jiffy. In order to do peacebuilding work, one has to prepare oneself
to listen to all sorts of perspectives, yet stay calm. It’s not easy. Not at
all. One of my school mates once
commented on my Facebook page, stating that I should give up my Indian
citizenship if I love Pakistanis so much. It is a rather simplistic
understanding you, see. It is possible to love Indians and Pakistanis, and
Afghans, and Americans, and Tibetans, and Palestinians. Why should love and
friendship be restricted only to people who share our nationality? In fact, I
prefer using words like ‘friendship’ and ‘love’ over ‘peace’. Friendship sounds
like something you and I can do. Peace somehow sounds distant, something that
is decided by people who sign treaties and agreements.
What keeps you going in the face of these hiccups?
Hope. And people who share my hope and dreams.
Tell us about your collaborations and friendships through this
I have many
dear friends in Pakistan, and there are some wonderful anecdotes to share. However,
given the constraints of space, I’m going to mention only the ones I’ve also
collaborated with on specific programmes. Anam Zakaria and Haroon Khalid in
Islamabad are the ones who come to mind immediately. I met them thanks to the
Exchange for Change project I mentioned earlier. Since then, we’ve done a lot
of stuff together – whether it was participating with them at WISCOMP’s
Conflict Transformation Workshop in Delhi, or working with Haroon at the Hri
Institute for Southasian Research and Exchange, or being fellow panelists at a
discussion on peace education in Islamabad. They are two of my dearest friends,
and I make it a point to meet them every time I visit Pakistan.
Shiraz Hassan, my journalist friend from Rawalpindi, who is one of the nicest
people I know. He speaks little but is an amazingly warm-hearted being who I
remember most for bike rides, walks through bazaars, and his unique sense of
humour. Aman Ki Asha gave us the
opportunity to participate in the ‘Conversations’ series, an exchange of
letters over six weeks, and these got published in The News. We discussed art, history, music, literature, politics,
our work, our everyday lives, the similarities and shared cultural heritage. I
eventually met Shiraz in person on my second trip to Pakistan.
I’d also like to tell you about my friend Sheharyar Rizwan who lives in
Lahore. He’s a journalist with Dawn,
and we have been paired for this year-long programme called the Building Peace
Project. We are one of ten such India-Pakistan pairs who write collaborative
blogs, stay in touch through social media, and participate in online
discussions around prescribed readings. I am so grateful to have discovered
Sheharyar. He lives so far away but I know if I have to reach out for help, I
can do that without a moment’s doubt. You see what I mean? One feels personally
invested in friendships. ‘Peace’ just seems so out there.
Tell us something about Friendships Across
Borders: Aao Dosti Karein.
idea is quite simple. In India, there’s so much bad news about Pakistan that it
is almost impossible for a large number of people to even imagine that they
could be friends with someone across the border. Similarly, in Pakistan, there
are people who promote hostility towards India. I felt like there’s only so
much that conferences and seminars can do. People-to-people contact is where
the real stuff of peacebuilding seems to lie. I thought it would be a good idea
to share stories of cross-border friendships, so I started looking for these. I
got Pakistanis to write about their friends in India, and Indians to write
about their friends in Pakistanis. These stories are about how they first met
each other, what this friendship means to them in the context of the hostile
relations between our countries, how their perceptions about the other side
have changed because of this friendship, etc.
When I think of friendship, I think of warmth and
caring, of opening up one’s heart to listen and be there. See, you can be
friends with people of another nationality. When you find common ground over so
many other things, nationality becomes just one of your many attributes. Who
you are is not just your citizenship, or the country you were born into. I also
visit schools and colleges, on invitation, to talk about these ideas with young
people, sometimes using art, theatre and films.
Chintan interacting with students on peace building
What are your views on young people and their role in
Young people living in India and Pakistan,
and in the South Asian diaspora, have a very important role to play. Our
countries have been in conflict for too long, and our people, societies and
economies have suffered a great deal. Though a large number of young people
have grown up listening to stories of Partition because their families were
personally affected, many of them want to establish friendly relations with
people across the border. People want the healing to happen. The pain is too
much to bear. Despite the stereotypes people in both countries have about each
other, many Pakistanis would love to travel to India, meet their friends and
family here, visit their religious shrines, study here, or even just travel
around. Similarly, several Indians would like to go to Pakistan, either to see the
homes of their ancestors who migrated, or because they have friends they’ve met
on Facebook, or have studied with in the US, Europe, or elsewhere, or just for
tourism. It’s such a tragedy that we don’t even have enough exchange programmes
for young people in both countries. Imagine Indians and Pakistanis studying
together, or working at the same place. Such amazing opportunities to learn
about each other, and move past our legacy of suspicion!
How has the new media
contributed to peacebuilding?
Oh yes! Definitely! It’s thanks to Facebook
and Twitter that thousands of young Indians and Pakistanis have got the
opportunity to interact with each other without the rigmarole of applying for a
visa and, if they are lucky, getting one. These are rich conversations. Young
people are not talking only about India and Pakistan. They are talking about
combating gender-based violence, improving education, protesting against human
rights abuses, making music, conserving heritage, or even just movies and
television shows they like watching. These conversations show us how shallow
our stereotypes are, how urgently we need to embrace each other, say sorry, and
commit ourselves to each other’s well-being
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