Can school children on both sides of the border become the best ambassadors of peace and harmony and help in easing tension between India and Pakistan?
The idea may sound rather odd and out of context considering that even some of the most experienced leaders or diplomats of the two nations have failed in their numerous efforts to diffuse tensions along the hostile border. Peaceniks of the two countries, too, have been making efforts to ease tensions through their concept of people-to-people contacts.
Having tried everything that is possible to limit or ease tensions along the borders, why not let school going children play the role of peace makers. Well the students of Lahore Grammar School (girls) have made an effort in this direction alongwith their principal Bushra Irfan and a few staff members.
On the invitation of the Chandigarh-based Society for Promotion of Peace (SPP), a 280-member group, including 18 girls undertook a five-day trip to Chandigarh, interacting with students of their own age group. The students paid obeisance at the Golden Temple here on Sunday and then left for Lahore through the Wagah border.
“The trip was very satisfying and our girls came to know a lot of things that helped remove some of the misconceptions that they had about India and Indians in their minds,” Irfan stated, while talking to HT.
Complaining that the trip was too short, Aqsa Sultan, a seventh standard student felt that the duration should have been at least for two weeks. Asked about her experiences, Sultan said, “There is no difference, India is the same as Pakistan. The people here were very friendly and not once did I get the feeling that I was in another country. Whatever positive or negative is said about the two countries, it is said by the leaders on both sides.”
Such words or thoughts could have only come from a child and not from any adult. The reason is quite obvious -- the visiting children discussed no politics and neither did they talk about Kashmir during their interactions with the students of some of the schools of Chandigarh during their tour. They talked about books, plays and dramas, music and of course the internet and social media.
Were reluctant to undertake trip
Most of the Pakistani students revealed that their parents were reluctant to send them on a trip to India. The parents were apprehensive that their wards being from a hostile nation could be targeted on the trip.
“My parents put their foot down and did not want me to go. But after some persuasion from our teachers they agreed,” said Salka Sarfaraz, a 10th standard student.
“The trip helped to remove a lot of misunderstandings we carried about India and Indians. We were told that Indians are not friendly towards Pakistanis and that we must be very careful. But everyone here was warm and friendly and not once did I feel that I was in another country,” Sarfaraz said.
Another student Eifa Tahir felt that the media of the two countries had a lot to do with the tensions that exist between the two countries. “Media should follow a more constructive approach and help ease tension,” she added.
Educational institutes must play a positive role
The students felt that educational institutes, especially schools must play a positive role and inculcate feelings of love and compassion for each other.
“If you fill a child’s mind with negative thoughts, then he or she will carry forward this thought process throughout his life. But if you fill a child’s mind with love, then it will yield positive results in later years. This line of thought should be adopted in schools on both sides of the border,” stated a staff member of the visiting school.
While in Chandigarh, some of the visiting students, Minahil, Fatima and Salka planted saplings in the schools they visited and also contributed to the setting-up of a “Peace Park” in St Stephens School in the city beautiful.
SPP chairman Chanchal Manohar Singh, himself a well known journalist alongwith Gajinder Singh, another senior journalist with The Telegraph, were instrumental in organising this trip. They said in the next few months, students of Shivalik School, Mohali, St Stephens School and Guru Nanak Public School, Sector -36 in Chandigarh would be undertaking a similar trip to Pakistan. They have been invited by the Islamabad based NGO, Ali Trust.