Despite tensions flaring between India and Pakistan in the wake of the recent Uri attack, a 20 student team from Pakistan arrived in Chandigarh on Tuesday for the 11th Global Youth Peace festival.
The students belong to Pakistan’s Girls for Peace group and have brought along hand-written messages of friendship on greeting cards from schools all over Pakistan. Many of the girls are of the opinion that the tension between the countries is due to merely political reasons and that the mainstream media in both India and Pakistan is trying to add fuel to the fire.
During the award ceremony conducted on September 28, Aliya Harir, a peace and social justice activist, who is the leading force behind the Indo-Pak friendship initiative titled Aaghaz-E-Dosti, won the Exemplary Youth Action and Activism award.
According to reports, Aliya, who is also the leader of the peace contingent, said, “There is enormous warmth and camaraderie between people across the border and we are just exuding a minuscule portion of it.”
The special focus during the festival, which ends on October 2, will be on the Pakistani girls because they had to get past numerous obstacles for making a trip to India. Most girls who were attending the festival have nervous families who are eagerly awaiting their safe return to Pakistan.
“Back home, there is talk of war and tension, but we wanted to come here,” Roohani Barkal, 21, who is pursuing economics graduation in Gilgit, told Hindustan Times. “Our families were shocked, scared. Friends even said ‘tell us your last wish’. I told them to turn the TV off and let us go.”
Resham Sitara, a 31-year-old student in philosophy from Lahore was told by her parents that the team wouldn’t return alive.
But the warm hospitality and affection they received from Indians has only strengthened their conviction that borders can’t divide humanity. Resham said, “Twenty of us will go back and tell 200 people that India and Indians are lovely. We’ll spread the word on social media. People will believe us because we are sharing our experience. They will not believe the politicians and the propaganda on media anymore.”
A majority of the girls, who are on their first visit to India, also believe that the general public in both the countries only wants peace.
According to PTI reports, Alvina, a student from Lahore, said, “”There is hype created that there is tension between the two countries. But this narrative of war remains limited to our governments. When we stepped in India, we didn’t feel any difference. We felt Pakistan and India are the same.”
Urwah Sultana, a student of social and cultural studies told PTI, “”Common Pakistanis want peace. They are big fan of Bollywood films. Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan and Ranbir Kapoor are hot favourites. There are many fans of Arjun Kapoor also.”
The Global Youth Peace Festival is organised by an NGO called Yuvsatta and will receive 250 peace- crusaders from 33 countries all over the world. The delegates belong to various countries that have been affected by war, such as, Syria, Liberia, Afghanistan, and Libya. Irom Sharmila, the civil rights activist who has been involved in 16-year-long non-violent protests against AFSPA in Manipur addressed the international gathering of social justice activists on September 28. She also released Bernie Meyer’s book on Mahatma Gandhi.
Pramod Sharma, the coordinator of Yuvsatta, told Times of India, “ It is once again time to sink our differences and celebrate the spirit of global citizenship – Vasudhev Kutumbkam. By their mere presence in the city for the next full week, these youth ambassadors will remind political leaders currently engaged in cross-border rhetorical war that peace is more than mere absence of war.”
To know more about Aghaaz-E-Dosti, visit their website.
You can find out more about the Global Youth Peace Fest, here.