Chandigarh: Amid rising tension between India and Pakistan since the Uri terrorist attack, 19 girls from across the border landed here last night only to learn “the narrative of war remains limited to our governments and media” and common public on both sides of the border want peace.
Pakistan’s Girls for Peace Group, majority of them on their first visit to India, arrived here to take part in the 11th Global Youth Peace Festival, organised by an NGO.
“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,” said Alveena, who is from Lahore.
She said “we are the same people” and “artificial borders” have been created between India and Pakistan.
“The general public over there and here want peace. I feel very welcome and at home,” she said. “I think it’s time we should realise that we exist as collective community.”
Asked what is the mood in Pakistan when attacks like Uri happen, Alveena replied, “People do get scared because there is also a lot of hype in the media.”
“At the end of the day, I think we share common history and if you put aside this narrative that we are going to war, then I don’t think the common man is concerned with anything more than the fact he should have a decent life,” she said.
Urwah Sultana, also from Lahore, said her family, like many others’, was worried about the visit at a time when the tension between the two countries are on rise in the wake of the Uri attack that left 18 Indian soldiers dead.
“They said if tensions further escalate, what will happen? I told them, if, God forbid, war breaks out, we may die over there (in Pakistan). So how would it matter if I die here,” she said.
Sultana is a student of social and cultural studies at University of Punjab and her ancestors belonged to Amritsar.
“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 hype about war is just in the media,” she added.
Alveena said youths on both sides of the border can play a crucial role in bringing peace.
“I think we the youths are going to be leaders of tomorrow. If we don’t understand the concept of peace, then things won’t improve. I think it’s important for us to realise that we have to co-exist, especially when we are neighbours,” she said.
Maria Jabeen from Gilgit, who lives in Lahore and works in an IT company, said she was excited to visit India for the first time.
“I find privileged when I got visa on Friday, two days before we were leaving. Because of the current situation, we were not expecting visa at all.
“But giving us seven days, during which we will be in Chandigarh and also going to Shimla, I would like to thank the Indian Embassy, that we could actually travel to India and see the country, meet people here, and learn what are their opinions about us and how we can make things better,” she said.
Sara Riyaz Awan, from Lahore, a final-year medical student and also on her first visit, talked about her ancestors having roots in Indian Punjab.
“My parents’ ancestors were from Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur. My grandfather Munshi Khan Awan was a Revenue officer in Jalandhar. I got emotional when I touched this land. I wanted to go to Jalandhar but since we did not have a visa for that city, may be next time we will visit there,” she said.
Awan said when she crossed the Wagah border yesterday, “an immigration official who learnt that my ancestors were from Jalandhar, said his ancestors were from Lahore. We have so much common that there is an instant bonding between us. People on both sides shower love and affection on each other”.
Asked if her family was worried, Awan replied, “My father told me that whenever there is an opportunity, just go for it, he said just do it, fine. I rang him last night and told him that in India I feel like home.”
Tayyiba from Lahore, doing her Mphil in Education Policy and Development, also on her first visit, said the girls are from different parts of Pakistan.
“I watch Bollywood movies, I follow cricket matches,” she said, but laments that no India-Pakistan cricket match has happened for a long time.
“People back home in Pakistan love M S Dhoni and other Indian cricketers. My two younger brothers, one of them is a Dhoni fan and the other a Virat Kohli fan. They fight with each other as one wants Kohli to get out fast so that Dhoni could come in and things like that. We watch IPL matches also,” said Tayyiba.
She said, “We have emotional connection with India. I am
saying I may be from across the border but I don’t feel I’m in any other country.”
About current tensions, she said, “I think tensions are there just between the two governments, not between the two people. People want friendship and peace between the two nations. People of Pakistan watch Bollywood movies more than Indians do, I guess, I can bet on that.
“People don’t want any war, they don’t want any tension because just few decades ago we were one country. From my family, my mother was very worried when I was coming here. My aunt said she was feeling so overwhelming when I was visiting here,” she said.
Meanwhile, Afzal Rahim Khan, a PhD student, who is the sole male member in the Pakistani delegation, said they were touched with the hospitality they received here.
However, replying to a question, he said they had also applied for a visa for adjoining Mohali which falls in Punjab, but it was denied.
“It depends totally on Indian high commission, which allows visa. But we are still grateful when there are war drums being beaten we got visa for Chandigarh and Shimla,” he said.
“For Mohali, we had applied three months ago. We get city-based visa, a maximum of five city visa can be issued, this time it is for two cities, but that is okay,” he said.
The Pakistani delegation has brought special greeting cards and messages of peace from Pakistani students.
Afghanistan has also sent a few school children to be part of the event here, in which other participating countries include Bhutan, France, Libya, Malaysia, Nepal, Syria, United States and Zimbabwe.