Growing up in India, a typical youth’s perception of the world is framed primarily by family, popular culture and the news media. A family’s reflection of the past, their perception of society, the media’s framing of culture and history through music and films, and the news media’s portrayal of events, all filters into how the youth perceives the nation and the world. I grew up in India during the 1990’s, an era of regular violence in Kashmir, bombings in Mumbai and to top it all off, the Kargil war. The intellectual and emotional environment in India was marked with a sharp animosity for Pakistan. Families across the nation mobilised narratives of past wars and the Kashmir dispute, and the news media complied. Popular culture thrived on nationalistic imagery creating empathy for frontline soldiers while painting the Pakistani state and its people as the ‘others’, bent on subduing the Indian military and holding an alien right to the land of Kashmir. At a very young age, my generation interpreted the reality of our two countries in such a binary frame.
When the 21st century kicked off, India was put on the fast track of becoming a success story of globalisation. As the Indian economy opened up and western consumer culture flowed in, Indian culture deviated from a binary vision of the world to a sense of cultural solidarity with the West. Pakistan has become a fringe actor in the view of Indians, as aspirations to study and live in the West and adhere to its cultural standards have overrun the nation. Pakistan’s image only flares once India is rocked by violence in Kashmir or terrorism, when the old binary sentiments come into play. It remains in our subconscious even as we have grown as a nation, sustained by a resilient yet negative image held by older generations.
Yet, when Indian students come abroad, they are exposed to a harmonious multicultural society. In a foreign land when searching for company and common connections in a global mix of students, Indian and Pakistani students become the best of friends. We speak the same language, enjoy the same food, films, music, and share the same traditions, customs and the aspirations to succeed through our studies to make a name for ourselves. In my four years studying at Cardiff University, I have enjoyed the friendship of many students from Pakistan, interacting with them during lectures and seminars, at cultural events, sharing meals or a shisha, or going on trips to see different parts of the UK. We share our memories of family, school life and popular culture, as well as our experiences interacting with people from different countries and adjusting to a new way of life, be it buying groceries, paying bills or the self-study culture the university thrusts upon us. While sharing the cultural diversity of India, I have learnt much about Pakistan. From the regional cultures of Sindh and Punjab to the differing norms, customs and communities in the cities of Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi and Rawalpindi, I have gained a deep understanding of the complex social make up of the country. I have also gained an insight into what Islam means to the people of Pakistan, how their tumultuous history has shaped their way of life, and how they just like Indians yearn to live in peace and strive in hopes to rid their society of corruption and the perverse brand of terrorism. Living in India one cannot see or understand life on the other side of the Line of Control. It is only when we come abroad that we can keenly look into each other’s worlds with a sense of ease and comfort. While as a journalist it’s an informative experience to learn of Pakistan in such an in-depth manner, as an Indian it is enriching to understand my neighbour’s culture through the bonds of
However, if there is one drawback I have consistently seen to relations between Indian and Pakistani students, it is when discussing Indo-Pak history or issues, both sets of students refrain from being candid with each other. Be it politics, poverty or conflicts, both groups of students are broadly unable to discuss them without drawing comparisons between the countries. They indulge in a limited debate even though it’s no secret that both nations suffer from similar problems. When Indian and Pakistani students discuss common problems, there is a persistent culture of ‘one- upmanship’ where both aim to frame the other nation’s situation as worse. It is essential that we address this attitude. We need to be able to honestly discuss and understand each other’s situation because we are neighbours with common roots and because it is the only means by which we can rid our societies of the animosity that has thrived for too long. Be it in a simple discussion, a high profile debate or just through writing, an honest discussion of the situations and issues in our nations will filter into our perceptions, our conversations, and discourses back home. As the future of our nations, the change in attitude can be the stepping stones to achieve a revision of national sentiments, a challenge to the apathy surrounding India-Pakistan relations, and hopefully one day a change in the political perceptions of our countries.
Gandhi once said that anger and intolerance are the twin enemies of correct understanding. The emotional environments in our nations do not support the discussion required to intellectually chart a way to harmonious relations. Yet, we are the future generation of our nations and looking into ourselves we understand that we do not deserve the anger and hatred of the past. We deserve to live in peace as friends and aid each other in attaining prosperity. To achieve that vision, we must take up the opportunities foreign education and foreign societies offer us to fearlessly peer across the border even when a hundred miles away.
Ayushman Jamwalis a MA Political Communication student from Cardiff University describes the perceptions of Pakistan in India and his experience of interacting with Pakistani students in Britain