New Delhi: “Ma’m, Kya Pakistan mein Hindus rehte hai?” (Ma’m, Do Hindus live in Pakistan?) asked a student.
“Haan, Beta. Pakistan mei Hindu, Sikh, Christians, sab rehte hai” (Yes my son, there are Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and people of other religions in Pakistan), replied Saeeda Diep, a renowned Peace Activist and Chairperson, Institute of Peace & Secular Studies, Lahore from Pakistan.
What do people from Pakistan think about us? came another question.
To which, she replied, “Pakistanis know about your country and culture because they have access to Indian TV channels but unforunately, no Pakistani channels are permitted in India so Indians only know what the news channels portray.”
Saeeda Diep with students of Columbia school
Several other questions, some related to political issues and controversies, were posed to Saeeda ji during ‘Aman Chaupal’, an initiative of Aaghaz-e-Dosti for Indo-Pak peace and friendship. This was the first Aman Chaupal wherein Saeeda Diep Ji , a renowned peace activist and Chairperson of Institute of Peace & Secular Studies (IPSS) interacted with students from classes 6th-12th on 10th July 2013 at Coumbia Foundation Senior Secondary School , New Delhi.
The interaction was entirely in Hindustani as according to Saeeda ji, speaking in English would be very “artificial”.
Aaghaz-e-Dosti, an initiative of India-based Mission Bhartiyam, works to create unwavering bonds of peace and friendship between India and Pakistan. Under this initiative, it has launched Aman Chaupal with the aim to enhance people-to-people communication. Like in our traditional baithaks or chaupals, people from Pakistan or those who have been to Pakistan share their experiences. It is an interactive session meant to address and arouse curiosity.
First Aman Chaupal was organized at Columbia Foundation Sr Sec School, Vikaspuri, New Delhi. In her address to students of Columbia Foundation Sr Sec School, Saeeda Diep ji talked about the general stereotypes and misconceptions that people have about Pakistan and Pakistanis. She tried to show them the side of Pakistan that Indians never get to know because of lack of communication and a biased or as she had put it, “hawkish” media. The session was entirely devoted to a question-answer format wherein Saeeda ji had answered students’ questions.
It ended with the Principal, Deepshika Dandu, sharing her personal experiences with Pakistanis during her stay in a foreign nation. She remarked that, “In a foreign nation, Indians and Pakistanis often form a transnational community bounded by a shared culture, language and experience.”
On the same day, Second Aman Chaupal was also organised at South Asian University, New Delhi. It began with a meeting with the President or the Vice chancellor of the university, Prof. G.K. Chaddha. Prof. Chaddha gave a very warm welcome to Saeeda ji. The conversation which was entirely in punjabi revolved around their personal experiences, memories, and about the university.
After the meeting, Saeeda ji had also interacted with a small group and answered their questions.
This programme was co-ordinated by Aaghaz-e-Dosti team consisting of Ravi Nitesh, Devika Mittal and V Arun Kumar.
The organisers said, “In this current scenario of disturbed relations, Aman Chaupal is an important resource for peace and friendship. It is important for people to know what the other side is because miscommunication has been the most dangerous weapon. So they plan to organise Aman Chaupal in several other schools in India as well as in Pakistan.”