By Sakshi Mittal:
What would be your answer if I ask you about your general perception of Pakistan and a Pakistani? For many of us, it would not be a positive one. And same would be the case if Pakistanis are asked about their perceptions. We Indians are very happy watching movies of Pakistani actors like Fawad Khan, we are very happy listening to the soothing voice of Pakistani singers like Atif Aslam, we love to watch Pakistani TV serials, we prefer to buy Pakistani suits instead of Indian ones from trade fairs. But why does a barrier come in between when it comes to making friends with the local residents of the same nation? Why do we see each other with hatred? Why is a cricket match between India and Pakistan seen like a world war by residents of both the nations?
Luckily, I got an opportunity to get my stereotypes broken and have a totally new perception of Pakistan. The opportunity was given by a global youth conference in Chandigarh where Pakistani delegates were invited to participate as well. I had expected Muslim girls to wear burqas, but they were all in clothes as any other Indian girl. When asked if they wore burqas back home, none of them said yes.
“Girls are also allowed to step out and work and that is why we are here!” replied Aliya, to my question about gender equality in Pakistan. “Though the girls of rural areas are not given much liberty,” she added. A similar scenario can be observed in the Indian context. There was no point asking if they like India or not. Had they had hatred for India, they would not have been here. Their visit to Golden Temple, along with Ajmer Sharif Dargah, just automatically answered this question.
No less were they sweet from their hearts just as their language Urdu, of which I was already familiar with some words like ‘Shukriya’, ’Salam’, ‘Mohtarma’, ‘In Sha Allah’ and the credit goes to the wide use of Urdu words in our everyday Hindi in India.
They came from different cities of Pakistan – Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Hyderabad which, they said, were just like our Indian cities with shopping malls, expensive cars, and a booming fashion industry. They could see the glimpses of one of the markets of Lahore in the famous Sector 17 market of Chandigarh. Also we got to know about each other’s cultures more during the cultural night. Not only this, I was lucky enough to receive a special gift from Vishal Anand, a Sindhi Ajrak (a kind of scarf).
I had never ever tried to google images for Pakistan because of my lack of interest in knowing about the state. But when I was told about the beauty of Islamabad, Muree hills by Raj Kumar and famous Anarkali Bazaar of Lahore by Umar and a few other places, I surfed through the internet and looked at many pictures of those places and to my astonishment, I found them far more beautiful than I expected.
Here in India, the media often highlights how Hindus are being ill-treated in Pakistan. It is reported that girls are getting kidnapped and then forced to change their religion, voice of minorities is not heard and much more. But after interacting with three of the delegates of the team who were Hindus I was able to see and analyse that everything that media shows is not true. “We are not treated as second class citizens. We enjoy all the rights as other people. We live without any fear,” Dr. Rajesh Kumar, a Pakistani Hindu told me .
Not only did my perception for Pakistan change, but also a strong friendship was developed with a few of them, I would like to name – Aliya, Ayesham, Saadia, Umar, Vishal, Irfan, Zeeshan, Rajesh Kumar, Raj Kumar and Raza Khan. I am sure my Pakistani friends would also cherish this friendship beyond borders and I would be welcomed in their homes with their friends and families, whenever I visit Pakistan.
After spending four good days with all of them, what I could make out was that we are just the same people separated by media and politicians. My bucket list now has another addition and that is to travel to Pakistan and explore more about the state. I feel it is high time now we break the stereotypes and see Pakistan from all angles, the good, the bad and everything in between just like any other country of the world. What do you say?