Why I speak for Raza Khan, a Pakistani citizen


There are some “concerned” people who keep texting and questioning me. They tell me to remain silent because I am an Indian. Yes, I am an Indian but Raza is my friend. How can I remain silent if my friend has been missing? Friendship is based on values which are in essence, natural, free-flowing and do not recognise borders.

Secondly, Raza Khan, besides being part of many campaigns, is convener-Pakistan of an Indo-Pak Friendship Initiative. Very obviously the Indian members will speak! We will talk about his role in our initiative, what work he did. We will talk about what we do, we will talk, not just for him but for ourselves as well that we are not doing anything that contradicts our role and duty as a citizen of our respective countries.

Third, in the world today, there are shrinking spaces for freedom of speech, for any dissent and most importantly, for peace. We all are facing challenges, with varying degrees. A threat to him or any peacebuilder anywhere, is a threat to peace everywhere.

Fourth, Raza works for peace, justice and rights for all. Anyone irrespective of his/her nationality who believes in these values, has a right to speak for him.I spoke in favor of Malala, Binayak Sen, Irom Sharmila, Raif Badawi, Snowden and anyone who represented these values and unfortunately, today I speak for my own friend.

Join the #FindRaza campaign if nowhere then atleast on social media. Post, share about Raza, his commitment to peace, his country using hashtag #FindRaza.


Indo-Pak Visa Imbroglio: Between the States’ Power and People’s Desire

“Why can’t I visit the land of my forefathers?” This is a question that I have read in the eyes that would be gleaming in the reminiscence of the inherited memories and would eventually turn into gloom. They would sigh and express their desire to cross the border and live the memories but sadly, their emotions do not count as a “valid” reason for visa.

The partition of the subcontinent uprooted millions on both sides of the border.There were those who chose to migrate but there were also those who were not left with a choice to migrate. People were forced to abandon the house of their ancestors and escape to a new land where they had to begin life from scratch. They lost everything but there was something that could not be snatched from them, something that could not have been looted or murdered. These were the memories of their childhood, their house, the neighbourhood and of a life before the storm. These memories have a life of their own; they continued to live and were even passed down in inheritance. The second, third generation of migrants hope to relive the family memories. They wish to discover their roots but it is not easy for them. The tragedy of partition is followed by the tragedy of the visa regime. There is no tourist visa between India and Pakistan. They need a blood relative to be able to visit the land of their ancestors.

This is not to say that the blood relatives always have it easy. The visa policy, the procedure of application, the arbitrary norms and the South Asian bureaucracy have made sure that the pain of separation can never be forgotten.

Visa procedure is like a maze

While I do not fear going to Pakistan and would love to visit Pakistan at any opportunity but the one thing I do dread is the procedure to obtain a visa. Unlike the case in Pakistan, Indians cannot apply online for Pakistani visa. We have to go to the embassy and stand in the queue for hours and hours. There is no exaggeration here. When I had to apply for visa, there was a huge crowd outside the embassy and I got to know that it was nothing new. It was just a usual day at the high commission. While standing in the queue, I overheard many conversations. A lady had come from Bhopal to apply for visa and this was her third attempt to obtain a visa to visit her relatives. Since I don’t know her case, I am not sure if this is a norm for non-Delhi people though another reality is that one cannot be sure about any norm. The visa officer initially refused to accept my application because I had not followed the “absolutely important” guidelines which were not mentioned on the high commission website.

This is the case with both India and Pakistan. In the form given in the immigration center, the currency limit is mentioned but this information is not provided on the consular information portals. If someone is carrying more than the limit, what are they supposed to do with the money? Also, there is no mention of the extremely important fact that in the case of Pakistan, the host needs to come to receive the Indian guests as there are no taxis on Wagha border. This is unlike the case on the Indian side of the Wagha border (called Attari Border) where there are private taxis.

People rely on past travelers for information and this can be problematic. I was told by a past traveler that despite having the visa, I will need permission from another authority to cross the border on foot. I called at the high commission, the ministries but no one seemed to know anything. They did not even refute this. Finally, another traveler who had travelled more recently informed me that the rule had been changed.

There is so much stereotyping around the Indo-Pak visa. In India, it is widely believed that if you have the stamp of Pakistan on your passport then you cannot visit US. While I know people who have visited US after visiting Pakistan, I still can’t say if this is perhaps only a stereotype. The rules that govern the visa which are not mentioned anywhere also create a lot of panic among travelers. They don’t know what is legal, what is not. It is not like we require this panic because we anyway deal with a panic situation when we declare that we are going to cross the border.


Visa to counter stereotypes

‘Hope you come back alive’ is a typical reaction that I think travelers from both sides encounter when they announce that they are going to cross the border. Both Indians and Pakistanis have constructed stereotypes about each other. They have constructed a violent image of each other. They believe that the moment someone will find out that I am an Indian, they will harm me. People in both countries still seem to be living with ideas of what had characterised the environment during the partition. The moment I tell people that I have been to Pakistan, I am praised for my courage. This is followed by questions around how I was treated in Pakistan.

We need to ease the visa rules for these people. We need to have more and more people to cross the border and understand the truth that we are indeed the same people. While there is fear, for Indians Pakistan is a land of their great curiosity and vice versa. A more relaxed visa regime would work to counter stereotypes and misconceptions and contribute to peace between the two countries.

However, if we trace the evolution of visa regime, we will see that it is only becoming stricter. Rules keep changing but not for any good.


A draconian Visa Regime

India and Pakistan have many conflicts and visa seems to be an extremely important way to sustain them. Indo-Pak visa is susceptible to the political mood of the two countries. Any fluctuation in the relations and the first thing likely to be affected is the grant of visas.

The visa policy is anyway very vicious. As stated previously, there is no tourist visa. While it was agreed to be implemented, it has not been implemented till now. This means that you can only visit India or Pakistan if you have a host. Similarly, few years back, visa on arrival was introduced for senior citizens. However, the reality is that they still need an invitation letter. For visit visa which is granted strictly for personal visits, while Pakistani hosts require an affidavit, Indian hosts need to get the sponsorship certificate signed from a class A officer, the people at the top most level of government institutions. In the culture of hatred and suspicion that we live in, it should not be difficult to realise how tough it would be to approach anyone for attestation.

People who do not have blood relatives or friends with great contacts search for events and conferences as there is a conference visa. A conference may demand one of these two things or both – expertise and a lot of money. The visa rules regarding conferences have also changed. Any conference that involves Indians (Pakistanis for the Indian case) needs approval by the Interior Ministry. The ministry will also need to approve each of the participants. Without this approval, visas are not granted. This is rule for both sides. Besides this, there is pilgrim visa, business visa and journalist visa which are all confined to specific groups.

The story doesn’t end here. India and Pakistan feel the need to have even more bizarre visa rules. India and Pakistan seem to be the only two countries which grant city-specific visas to each other. This means that Indians and Pakistanis can only travel to cities for which they have visa. There is also a limit. They can be granted visa for a maximum of 5 cities. They would also need local hosts in all the cities they apply though sometimes people get visa for cities even if there is no local host. There are many more absurd rules that ensure that it indeed remains to be a dream to cross the border.

Restricting Visa, Restricting Peace

It is a tragedy that we don’t understand the importance of cross-border travel and interaction. For 70 years, we have been living in ghettos of hatred, suspicion, with memories of violence and this is what is sustaining the conflict. We need visa to break this cycle of hatred.

Visa remains to be the biggest hurdle in the peace process. The defendants justify everything under the name of “security concerns” but the fact is that even the most powerful yet scared country in the world does not have such strict and absurd visa restrictions. Also, what do we have the special police and investigation cells for? Moreover, our concerns for security should focus on becoming efficient rather than to resort to such draconian yet convenient solutions.

It is imperative that we realise the potential of a relaxed visa regime. It will even contribute for more prosperous economies. We need a more relaxed visa regime. We need to let people meet because when they meet, when they talk, the possibilities for a better future are endless.

This blog has been published on Dunya News

Peace Internship Program

Source: Peace Internship Program

Peace Internship Program

With the objective to increase the peace tribe, Aaghaz-e-Dosti launches peace internships. The Peace Internship Program is a four-week internship program (can be extended) which while being specialized in a specific field – writing, research, video editing and designing, will inculcate an understanding of peace and conflict in context of the Indo-Pak issue. The internship will equip you to understand conflict, and contribute to peace between India and Pakistan.

The Peace Internship Program has been designed keeping in mind the voluntary nature and the time constraints that may bound an individual. The program is home-based and easily doable but does require hardwork. An intern will have to devote about 10 hours in a week.

Since this is a non-funded initiative, we will not be able to offer any monetary remuneration. However, the interns will receive a certificate on the completion of the internship program.

Aaghaz-e-Dosti is seeking:

Writing Interns


Writing Interns will be given a maximum of 4 different writing assignments which may include movie review, article, poem and fiction story. Feedback will be provided on the writing style, analysis and understanding of the conflict.


  • Good command over written English
  • Prior knowledge of writing skills
  • Ability to analyse issues
  • Able to meet deadlines and complete one assignment (writing and incorporation of feedback) in a week’s time

To apply, please send a writing sample along with your CV and statement of interest.

Research Interns

Work: This will be done in a group. A group of 4 people will work on a particular issue that informs the Indo-Pak Conflict. The team will divide the work and will be involved in compiling, analyzing and documenting data. The objective of the research team will be to understand the issue from different perspectives.

Data collection will involve finding and reading existing works, collecting data through survey and interview method.

The team will write a joint report. Besides the report, they can also explore creative, alternative methods to present the findings.

Eligibility: Any previous experience in research will be preferred. To apply, please send your CV and statement of interest.

Video Interns

Interns will make video on particular issue, in collaboration with research team or independent. This will involve video making and editing work.

Eligibility: Some experience in video making/editing is mandatory. Please share any previous work along with your CV and statement of interest.

Design Interns – photo editing and designing of posters (content will be given).

Eligibility: Some experience in designing and photo editing is mandatory. Please share any previous work along with your CV and statement of interest.

The first peace internship will start from 20th June (tentative date). Please do not apply if you will not be able to commit one month (10 hours a week) for this program. 

Deadline to Apply: 15 June 2017

To apply, please email with the above-stated documents to aaghazedosti@gmail.com

Stigma, Shame and lots of Pain: My Period Story

You are about to read a narrative full of pain, shame, privacy concerns and blood! Yes, they comprise the story of my monthly ordeal named “periods”. As a person who heavily suffers, who cries from menstrual cramps, I think that what I would consider worse than the pain is the stigma around menstruation.

My story begins when I was in class VII. I noticed blood on my skirt but I assumed that I must have got hurt. The carelessness and casual attitude that I had allowed me to assume it. But the “secret” was not kept from me for long. I had to face it the next month and learn to deal with it.

I was also the one who struggled a lot with stains so yes, I have many experiences which have been like lessons on patriarchy. I remember that once in school, I had stained my skirt and had to take a napkin and borrow a skirt from the school office. I had to return it the next day and when the office lady approached my teacher, my teacher felt very uncomfortable communicating the office order to me.

The stigma around menstruation, the dirt and shame seems to have been accepted by most of the people at school as well. A stain was seen with horror, disgust and accepted by mockery and humiliation. An exception to this rule was a classmate and friend, Amrita Arora (I think she deserves to be named) who did not create a scene, helped me get over the shame that day and earned respect from me.

Even without the stigma, the taboo, we also grow up believing that we are impure when we are menstruating. The most urban of us are also advised not to touch pickle or to participate in any religious activity. Some of my friends have told me the existence of several other restrictions like menstruating women not to enter the kitchen, serve food or do any household activity. While these are and can be justified by arguing that our scripture writers wanted women to rest but the part about us being impure just cannot be justified. How can blood be pure or impure?

Menstruation is a natural, biological process just like reproduction. It is high time that we start taking talks around reproduction, reproductive health and sanitation in a serious manner. A lot of us, especially women, suffer because of the stigma. While the monthly pain which consists of extreme weakness, abdominal pain, back ache, pain in every part of the body is unbearable for us. The pain varies among women and for some, these are literal the worst days of the month. Yet, this pain has been so underestimated. A female friend had once told me that I am “exaggerating the pain”.The fact of insufficient research around menstrual pain and the ways to deal with it contributes to such a thinking among women as well.

Menstruation is a fact, deal with it! For ladies out there, it is not going to stop till we reach our 50s maybe and yes, is a better companion than some people so get to know about it better. For “gentlemen”, please read about menstruation. It is not unhygienic and impure to read about it. Let’s together break the taboo around talks of menstruation and reproductive health.

This article has been published on Women Chapter (English)

Hindu New Year: A Celebration of Unity and Heterogeneity

The Hindu New Year or Nav Varsh is celebrated with different festivals – Navratri, Gudi Padwa, Ugadi, Navreh, Cheti Chand symbolising the intermingling of religion with local culture and rituals and celebrating the beauty of heterogeneity, cultural assimilation and diversity.

It beautifully tells us that no culture is superior, while we should be proud of our culture, we must also respect the culture of others, that unity may not always be in homogeneity, we can be different and we have to learn to respect and celebrate the difference, that there is a certain beauty in co-existing which cannot be experienced in dominating and replacing. We must understand what our festivals try to teach us.. focus on the underlying essence, the ideas not the visible, the material.

Nav Varsh ki Hardik Shubhkaamnaye!

On Women’s Day, appeal by Mission Bhartiyam to improve Safety of Women in Trains

Photo Source: Internet


The Chairperson,

National Commission for Women,

New Delhi

Subject: Request to Issue Suggestions to Indian Railways to Improve Safety of Women in Trains

Dear Madam,

We, a group of responsible and committed citizens, are writing to you with suggestions to improve and ensure the safety of women in Indian railways. The Railways is an important communication link in our country. Every day, millions of Indians commute through the railways. However, there are several challenges in this sector. Recently, there have been many efforts to improve the Indian railways but a lot needs to be done for the safety of passengers, especially the women passengers.

The Railways is, unfortunately, another vulnerable space for women. Sexual assault, molestation, and even rapes have been reported in trains and are even rising. As per the information available on the Indian Railways website, the incidents of rape year wise are:  21 in 2011, 47 in 2012, 54 in 2013, 40 in 2014 and 33 (until Sept month) in 2015 whereas, crime against woman other than rapes ‘registered’ in IPC are: 154 (in Train) and 222 (in Premises) in 2011; 229 (in Train) and 215 (in Premises) in 2012; 350 (in Train) and 289 (in Premises) in 2013; 330 (in Train) and 258 (in Premises) in 2014; 260 (in Train till Sep month) and 172 (in Premises till Sep month) in 2015.  

In view of this, we have thought of several measures that can contribute to making our trains safer for women:

a) A female-only coach, especially for long distance journeys involving one or more nights of travel is still unavailable in all such trains where night journey is required. Presently there are few trains with such provisions but that needs to be

b) Emergency buttons in trains, in the washrooms, to ensure women feel safer in trains.To avoid misuse, a heavy fine can be charged in case of its violation. There may also be an emergency complaint system (with the provision of the speaker) that can connect a woman traveler directly to the security person/guard who is present in the train.  

c) Deployment of guards in every coach or at least two guards patrolling trains, especially overnight ones should be achievable.Though it is in use at present, but somehow this provision is not much effective. An analysis must be done regarding the same. Few more female guards must be deployed and they should preferably be in civil dress. 

d) Better working conditions for women employees. Since the railways have taken this initiative of deploying women officers and women staff for various other jobs at the station, they should also take care of their women employees and must provide them with better and healthy working conditions that would cater to their unique job needs. The responsibility of the Railways is huge in terms of providing necessary amenities and security to its women employees in station premises and on-board trains so that they are able to conduct their responsibilities nicely.

e) A sanitary napkin vending machine in washrooms ofrailway stations. Sanitary Napkin along with basic medicines should be one of the things that should be available (on request) in trains.  

f) Hygeine should be taken care of. A lot of women/people have complained about dirty loos and unhygienic conditions in Indian trains which in turn is the reason for the spread of a lot of diseases. Care should be taken to maintain cleanliness inside and outside the trains.

g) There should be a provision for women traveling alone or in groups to be able to change their seats during the journey. This should be authorized and facilitated by the T.T.E. If (s)he feels the people around the female(s) are of a suspicious character and condition, that request should be immediately taken into consideration.

h) Women helpline numbers (Toll-Free Helpline No. 182 and All-India Helpline No. 138) are in use at few places, but not completely effective. Also, its information has not been disseminated. A lot of women are unaware of such a helpline. We suggest that its information should be disseminated through stickers in compartments, through advertising on display boards in stations, through printing in train tickets and through broadcast and social media as well. This helpline number should also be sent by Railways and IRCTC along with Ticket information via SMS. Effective reporting and action should be planned for its proper implementation as many times such helpline numbers are busy/non-responsive. As connectivity during travel is also an issue, railways must do its best effort to improve connectivity in no signal zones or to take up the matter with telecom operators for providing shared networks for calling Helpline numbers under ’emergency’ / SOS call. 

i) A social media App R-Mitra was launched last year by Hon’ble Railway Minister for ‘Eastern Railway’ women A lot of women have complained that this app doesn’t work properly. We suggest that effectiveness of this app should be monitored and if found suitable, improved versions should be launched for other zones as well

j) CCTV cameras are installed in very few trains. We suggest these cameras should be installed in all the trains and their working must be ensured. These cameras should be installed on all routes with proper technical analysis and their installation must be feasible and effective in terms of women safety. 

k) Though railway reservation system is computerized, such possibility should also be explored where all booked tickets by a single woman or a group of women can be (even if later) combined together in the vicinity of each other.  

We appeal to you to consider these suggestions and direct the Ministry of Railways to think upon these measures and adopt them to ensure women’s safety in trains. 

Thank You


Devika Mittal, Madhulika Narasimhan, Ravi Nitesh and Shruti Arora

Mission Bhartiyam

Petite Women and Body Shaming: My Personal Experience


Photo Source: Internet

We live in a web of definitions, roles and expectations weaved by the society, the threads made strong and shiny with ideal images that invokes a sense of happiness and comfort. While we are all trapped, not all of us may realise it. Some of us realise or rather are made to realise it when we fail to ‘naturally’ meet the expectation. 

While the society controls every aspect of our being, in the present context, I am talking about the expectation regarding our physical appearance. Growing up, always looking half my age and being tiny in size, l have personally experienced the societal ‘reality’, the societal expectation to be of the pre-defined ideal size, height, colour, qualities and a mindset that all these pre-defined specifications are perfectly fine.

Always been tiny, I am so used to hearing people express their disbelief at my age that it surprises me when someone doesn’t seem shocked! I don’t mind people being surprised but I certainly wish that they would keep the after thoughts to themselves though they don’t affect me anymore. I am far more used to it and at peace with myself, with my body. Though there would be a time and I must confess, still there are moments when the comments affect me, trouble me enough to force me to look for solutions.

I have gone through body shaming in childhood, during teen years, in college and even today, there are people who try. A small physical stature combined with an introvert nature, I would be assumed to be dull, docile, subordinate, powerless, incompetent and a source of pity. While growing up, not reaching a certain height by high school was supposed to be a matter of great concern and shame. I would constantly be made conscious of my height, a friend would constantly hint at how she was trying new things to speed up her growth. She did manage to grow an inch or two taller than me but I don’t remember if I congratulated her for the achievement. I remember that once a junior kid had asked me if I was a dwarf. At that time, I did feel a sense of shame as I explained I am not but now ofcourse, I realise that it is no matter of shame even if I was one. 

But back then, it was hard to fight it. I remember that once I had said to my friend that it doesn’t matter to me if I am short and she frowned which made me think if I really said something so wrong. But eventually, I started accepting myself, my body and doing so, I realized that this was much harder than to grow in height!

I am still made conscious about my tiny stature.  There are people who still treat me, a woman in mid-20s as a “kid”. The snide comments passed off as “jokes” or sentences in “light vein” do not stop. I am still asked if I am ok with looking so young. I am suggested ways to look a bit mature, given free advices on hairstyle, dress sense and way to carry myself. But this doesn’t hold me back anymore.

I have realized that the problem doesn’t lie with me but with such people. I realise that it is actually their own insecurity and failure that they try to impose on me to become happy. They themselves failed to challenge the society that teaches us to give importance to looks than to other things, to challenge the society that teaches us to be of a certain type. They fail to fight to get our right to be the way we want to, look the way we want to. They not only failed but also try to hide their failure by sustaining the order, keeping stiff the web. If they judge me, then the fact is that I judge them more. I feel pity that they could not look beyond my physical appearance. I feel pity that they can’t find a better topic to talk about other than one’s physical appearance. I don’t know and care less whether one may agree or not but this is my tiny perspective on the body that belongs to me.

This article was published on Women Chapter http://en.womenchapter.com/a-tiny-womans-experience-of-body-shaming/