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


Pakistan – The Country of My Friends

Indo-Pak friends devika mittal (india) and aliya harir, saba khalid, namra nasir, raza khan (pakistan)

As I think of friendships across the border, my first memory goes back to the days of yahoo messenger, chatrooms and orkut! I would often visit the Pakistan chat room just out of curiosity. I can’t recall if I had made any friend from there through this. I owe my first friend from Pakistan to Harry Potter! Though my memory is posing serious challenges but what I certainly remember that I was able to strike not one but several conversations with so much ease with this one friend from Pakistan. I don’t even know if this person will even remember me because we lost touch and it has been so many years now but I certainly remember my first friend from Pakistan and I thank him because I think that it was probably because of him that I never ever had any hatred for a Pakistani.

The second round of friendships came with my admission time and entry in South Asian University (SAU). I will want people to genuinely believe me that one of the things that I imagined about SAU and which motivated me to apply was meeting Pakistanis! My fascination was derived out of my new found understanding of our past, the horror of our past actually. On both sides, we are often exposed to very biased and one-sided accounts of what had happened. I had got the opportunity to explore that the horror was also shared by both sides and I was filled with guilt and remorse. It makes me emotional everytime I think about what we did to each other. It disturbed me and I could not think of a way to make things fine. The only thing that came to my mind was to probably reach out to the “other”. I had befriended a Pakistani student aspirant during admission time and though he never joined the university, we became friends! His name was Zeeshan and as again my memory challenges me, I can’t remember much details. But what I clearly remember is that how when we started sharing photographs of our cities and when I saw photographs of a Pakistani city (forgetting which city it was..but I think it was Islamabad), I said “Yaar ye to foreign country lag rai hai” (This looks like a foreign country) and he laughed and said that yes it is foreign indeed.. it is Pakistan! I think this explains how our bond was. I had forgot the “difference”!

In the university with students from all 8 SAARC countries, the bonding was strongest with Pakistani students primarily because we spoke the same language. I also always feel that when Indians and Pakistanis meet, they are very extra sweet to each other! I somehow think it is because we carry the past baggage for which we try to make up for.  

My third and strongest round of friendships have come with Aaghaz-e-Dosti. It has helped me to not only get such close friends but actually family members across the border! I must reiterate that I do not like to write fancy and do not exaggerate. Visiting Pakistan for me solely meant visiting my friends. Because of the conflict and a culture of stereotypes and mutual suspicion, when we travel to Pakistan or a Pakistani travels to India, he/she is given many unwanted advices. People would say that they pray that we will come back alive. When I went to Pakistan, I also had such concerned friends in India. I must say that not even for one second, did I feel scared. Infact, I felt so much scared when I was to travel to Europe. With Pakistan, I did not feel any such feeling. I attribute this to my friends and “family” in Pakistan. My birthday was a day prior to my travel to Pakistan but I celebrated a second birthday in Pakistan. All thanks to Namra. I had really not imagined it and I don’t think I ever got a bigger birthday surprise than that in my life. There is a lot more that my beautiful, bold and so hard working friend did for me which I am not sure if I can ever return. My elder brother Raza bhai was I think on his heels during the entire trip. I don’t think I can ever say enough about how good he is. I was taken such good care by my two elder sisters – Safia didi and Summi didi. Then there were some non-Lahoris without whom my trip to Pakistan would have been incomplete. The time that I spent with the Pashto Poet-Philosopher Rauf, adorable Imrana, charming but very mischievous Huma and ofcourse Aliya without whom I cannot even imagine my daily life was when I secretly was so angry thinking about the culture of hatred and conflict that has been constructed. I had also got the opportunity to make so many new friends. While it is always customary to talk good about one’s hosts and for the right reasons that they really try so hard to get you across the border, I want to talk about the two university hosts for the bond that they had initiated which they were not compelled to. They were not compelled to wait for us hours before our arrival on the Wagah Border. They were not compelled to invite us to their home, invite us to meet their family members. Though I really feel guilty of not having done so and wish that the offer was not of limited time period, I was deeply moved by such a gesture. I had also got another new very wonderful friend named Zeeshan whom again I did not know previously but who really made sure that I didn’t ever feel alone. While I take a lot of time to talk freely with new people, I feel that he really broke that bubble so instantly through his friendly and humble nature. I met Dr. Wasif Ali Waseer who took out time from his busy schedule to be with us throughout the two days and had also made us met his really lovely wife Saba and with whom I bonded over some Indian serials.  While I think of all this, I am also reminded how these are all supposedly my enemies who were supposed to hate me. 

Pakistan means a lot to me and the reason are my friends and I have all kinds of friends, I should say. I have friends who are as good as family. I have brothers like Umair Bhai, Raza Bhai, Mujtaba, Adil, Zuhaib, Jahanzeb, younger brothers like Hussain, Syed Zeeshan Ali Shah, Faizan, Owais, sisters like Nazzia didi, Saba, Natasha, Imrana, Warda, Zoya, Suraya and very adorable younger sisters – Fatima and Mahrosh. I have friends like Poonamchand, Warda, Faisal and Asad on whom I can always depend on. I have found friends like Ashraf, Sehyr, Shabbir, Zeeshan Ahmed and Saif with whom I can engage in discussions on even critical issues. Pakistan has given me friends, mentors, inspirations. It continues to bless me with friends. With this, I must mentioned my newest friend from Pakistan – Dr. Munir whom I met in a conference on Human Rights Education in Germany. The Conference had seen practitioners and scholars from different countries and while it was an honor to interact and learn from all of them, the interaction with the Pakistani participant was certainly very different. It didn’t take us even seconds to bond and the bonding became so strong that once I ended up counting 4 Indians in the conference (there were 3 Indians and 1 Pakistani).

My friendships have helped me to understand conflict, to understand it from different angles, understand the complexities and more importantly, on how futile the conflict is.

Returned with Love: My Experience of Visiting Pakistan

Devika Mittal - lahore trip

As an ardent supporter of Indo-Pak peace and having many friends in Pakistan, visiting Pakistan was a long-awaited desire for me. Having worked actively as a member of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, a cross-border Indo-Pak friendship initiative, I didn’t have many pre-conceived notions about the country. I was far too excited that I would finally visit Pakistan.

The literally golden opportunity was an academic conference on inclusive education that was organized by University of Management and Technology (Lahore). When my co-authored paper was selected, I and my friend Madhavi Bansal knew that this was only the first step forward. The second and most difficult step was getting a visa. Our apprehensions were right. The struggle for visa comprised of standing in a long queue outside the embassy waiting endlessly, being on the verge of rejection with a host of terrible sounding suggestions that are not listed on the embassy website, troubling our hosts with emails to intervene more and offering daily prayers. To our great surprise celebrated with tears of joy, we were finally granted the visa to visit Lahore.

The moment of crossing the border filled me with emotions. The white line on the border reminded me of Manto’s stories, especially of Toba Tek Singh. I imagined seeing the spot where the story had concluded. I was to cross the border and enter the land which is prejudiced, which we have been taught is different and opposing.

In a span of six days, we were to discover if this was actually true. While we had been talking to people from Pakistan through our peace activities, the people would mainly be those who were already convinced somewhere about peace so this was the first experience of interacting with people who may have had no experience of interacting with Indians. However, as expected, it largely turned out to be a myth.

Because of our language which was apparently “Urdu”, people could tell that we are non-Lahoris, but we being Indians was not what they would imagine. We were travelling in a rickshaw. While directly, the driver smiled at some words that I used and I thought that he had found out. He asked me where we were from and on discovering that we were Indians, his eyes widened and he exclaimed, “Masha Allah!” He said that he knew that we were not from Lahore but had thought that were probably from Karachi. He shared that his grandparents had migrated from India. He told that both Hindus and Muslims prayed to God but only used different words and that there wasn’t really a difference. “There is no hatred but politics”.

The expression of disbelief, the wide eyes and giving us a second look when we would inform people that we were Indians were unforgettable and something that I enjoyed. After they found out, they would change. They would become more welcoming towards us. We were invited for lunch at home by complete strangers.

Even in the university, the environment was way beyond friendly, it was quite special. There were people who came for our presentation only because we were Indians. A more special thing was that before our presentation, the moderator of the session welcomed us with a quote of Mahatma Gandhi. We were cared for far beyond what we could ever expect.

Besides the university conference, our other main focus was to meet our friends and interact with people. We got the opportunity to interact with school and college students. The interactions helped me to know how people of Pakistan, especially the youth thought. People of both countries hold stereotypes and misconceptions about each other and the reason is that there are very few platforms to know each other. The sessions, thus, helped to answer the curiosities. We were asked about different religions in India and I informed that India was a land of religious diversities just like Pakistan. The constitution of India even legally recognized and respected agnostics and atheists. Similarly, a student in Punjab University asked about Pathans in India. They inquired about how they were perceived. There were questions on how Pakistanis are perceived in India, how Pakistanis serials and movies were seen there. And I spoke about the success of Zindagi channel that has provided a great alternative to the never-ending and boring saas-bahu sagas that dominate the Indian TV industry. For movies, there is still a big void and people hardly know the great movies that Pakistan has produced.

What also came out of the interactions was that youth of Pakistan, like youth of India, are not much aware of the issues, the complexities yet embroiled in the conflict, in the culture of stereotypes sustained by the biased media and lack of people-to-people contacts. In Punjab University, over the discussion on the restrictions of visa, a student justified the city-specific visa by saying that Indians would come and spy on our weapons. Another important part of the discussion was on the role that people can play in improving the relations. Interestingly, I was asked the same question during a discussion in a university in Gujarat (India), some months back.

The questions that we were asked in Pakistan were exactly the same as asked during discussions in India on this issue. This shows that people on both sides are curious, have the same apprehensions, perceptions about each other. Having these interactions also helped as they highlighted the fact that on both sides, people preferred peace over conflict. The students were excited to hear us and wanted to interact and connect personally.

While the six days in Pakistan gave way to new bonds, it also strengthened the existing ones. While Lahore didn’t seem much different and definitely not part of a different country, my friends, three of whom came all the way from Islamabad and one from Peshawar made sure that it didn’t even seem like a different city. Six days in Pakistan and few hours before my scheduled departure, I was wondering if I could stay back even for one more day – this says enough of how Pakistan treated me. I came back with new thoughts, knowledge to break some more stereotypes and more importantly, a new strength to work for peace between the two countries. Let people of India and Pakistan meet and I am confident that each one will pen down a similar story.

This article got published on Dunya News Blog (Pakistan)

Role of People in Improving Indo-Pak Relations


Photo Source: Internet

While British India became independent and was divided into India and Pakistan for a more peaceful and saner future, we know that this is yet to be realized. Since separation, there has largely been a culture of war and extreme hatred. In these 67 years, there have been 4 major wars, countless ceasefire violations and indirect clashes suffered by divided families, prisoners and fishermen.

Yet, there exists a very pessimistic attitude towards peace. It has also been reduced to an issue of mockery. Working to improve relations is seen as passive and futile. Also, these views emanate not from the stakeholders but from the common masses in both countries. There is
not just a pessimistic attitude but also a severe questioning of it, especially on times of a clash. During any disturbance, the peace groups and activists are targeted. They are rendered accountable. Their loyalty towards their country is questioned. They are asked to prove their love for their country by condemning the other. Their efforts are regarded to be futile and showy.

In general, there exists a view that war and peace are in the hands of those who have political power. What can you and me do about it? The conflict is regarded to be a conflict between the state heads, between New Delhi and Islamabad. Is this true? Do people have no role to play?

What is then the purpose of interactive sessions, seminars, public demonstrations and student exchanges?

Another view that anyone who advocates for peace witnesses is that there can be no peace unless we solve the core issue, the Kashmir or the K-issue. Is this the only way to establish peace?

While the two views regarding the state’s role and the need to resolve core issue are not wrong, they are narrow and insufficient. We use the term “peace process”. The word “process” signifies that peace, like any process, will come under certain conditions and through a systematic way. It will come under a certain culture. While peace and conflict definitely depends on the political head, the decision or the official policy is never in isolation with the views of the people. The states manufacture consent. There is a certain ideological culture that it manufactured to create as well as sustain the official policy. In our context, hatred for India/Pakistan has been manufactured and sustained. There exists a culture of hatred and suspicion on both sides of the border. Both sides have constructed their own stereotypes and misconceptions. These have been aggravated, if not carefully constructed, by the lack of communication and by miscommunication. Both sides believe that they are right and the other is wrong. Both sides think the other does not want peace, the other is unjust and cruel.

These misconceptions are used to justify clashes. The state and public opinion cannot be said to be in isolation with each other. Both affect and influence each other. It was the public anger that killed Sarabjit Singh and Sanaullah Ranjay. It is public opinion that determines the action and ‘reaction’ on the borders. If we talk about issues of prisoners and fishermen, it is not just the state but the people’s biases (as prison guards, advocates and judges) that aggravate their sufferings. Thus, it is essential that a culture of peace, respect and understanding is established. People need to become sensitive and need to realize the importance of peace for a better future. They need to realize that the other, like them, wants peace and friendship. It is also this culture that will contribute to resolving of core issues. In the present scenario of jingoism, opinions are only classified as “pro-Indian” and “anti-Indian” or “pro-Pakistani” and “anti-Pakistani”, not in a rational way. They are not seen from a human perspective. It is the culture of peace that will motivate them to think rationally and in a just manner. Peace needs to be created before being established.

Thus, people cannot be regarded to be passive agents. The people of both countries need to take charge for a better future. 

This article got published on The Pakistan Today and CSS Current Affairs Pakistan website

Photo Source:

Need to Recognize Multiple Perspectives on Partition

indopak partition

Photo Source: Internet

As I think of writing about partition, I pause to think if it is still a relevant issue? Partition of India and Pakistan happened 67 years ago and was succeeded by many other major clashes so should I instead talk about the wars? Is partition an outdated issue or does it still hold any relevance?

Talking of relevance, another debate that came to my mind was whether it is fine to keep talking about it? Should we not just move on?

I will begin by answering the second question first. Prof. Krishna Kumar in his book “Battle for Peace” (2007) has argued and I agree with him that while a lot has been written on partition, we have not been encouraged to engage with it. We have, especially on the Indian side, continued to see and develop it further without challenging the basic proposition. There is now an emphasis on oral history. There is also the angle of class that has been used to explore partition. It is argued that it was the Hindu dominating class v/s the Muslims dominated. While the Indian scholars have debated upon the inevitability of the partition, there hasn’t been any significant attempt to imagine India if partition had not happened. This should not be surprising because the narrative of partition is tied up with the foundation of two countries. While partition is a moment of “crisis” for one, it is a moment of “liberation” for another. This discourages attempts to see partition from the side of the “other”. This discourages any critical dialogue on the narrative of the partition. But it is relevant a discussion? Should we not just forget and move on?

The fact is we can’t. Before forgetting about the partition, we need to engage in a dialogue with it. We need to understand the complexities of the past because it shapes our present perspectives. 67 years after, India and Pakistan still seems to live in the past. 67 years after, we still compare ourselves. On both sides, there are still people who debate if the decision to part ways was right or not. On the Pakistan side, the vision of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah is constantly reminded. As Prof. Krishna Kumar in his book “Pride and Prejudice” (2001) had shown that the idea of Pakistan shared by Quaid-e-Azam during the formative period of Pakistan is still invoked. This is not true for the Indian side. But on the Indian side, many people still remember partition and the existence of Pakistan but in a more negative light. Many people have the misconception that Pakistan came out of India whereas on partition, undivided colonial India had been partition into two nations – India and Pakistan and imagine a “father-son” relationship which is used in a derogatory sense. There are still many people who would point at any negative news from Pakistan and would say that Pakistan has failed and it will soon “merge” with India.

67 years after, we still carry a stagnant picture of each other. Because the partition happened on communal lines, on both sides, people imagine a conservative or hypocrite other. So the talk of partition is still not irrelevant. It is very much alive. The narrative of partition continues to shape our perceptions about each other.

When I say narrative, I mean the “official” narrative. As stated above, both sides have constructed an opposing narrative. The Indian side “officially” sees partition as a sad event. It views it as a significant break in the ‘secular’ fabric of the country. It views it largely as the conspiracy of the British. This is the dominant and official view on partition in India. On the “Pakistan” side, the partition is far from being a moment of “crisis”. It was the partition that led to the birth of Pakistan as a separate country. It is seen as “liberation”. Liberation from whom? As the official narrative of partition says, liberation from both British and Hindu dominance. The book “Pride and Prejudice” (2001) gives the content of history textbooks in both India and Pakistan. Both countries have given different interpretations for same historical events. Both have chosen to emphasise or neglect certain events. Both have used history for their project of nation-building. While India used it to save itself from fragmenting any further, Pakistan used it for legitimizing its decision of separation and for sovereignty. All countries use history for its own national ends and India and Pakistan are no exception.

It is important at this stage to clear that my intention is not to challenge any narrative. It is infact to state that different perspectives exist and we must recognize that. It is to say that none of the narratives can be entirely refuted. One cannot really argue that whose interpretation of history was correct. It cannot be argued that there was no Hindu dominance. It cannot be argued that before the British, there were no problems between Hindus and Muslims. The British may have encouraged the division but they cannot be alone blamed for it. Similarly, the complete difference and opposition theory cannot be accepted either. There cannot be such a simplistic division of population, lived experiences into Hindu and Muslim. The religious identity cannot be assumed to be primary. We need to view these interpretations more critically. History as a discipline has many schools of thought. It accommodates several interpretations and we must respect that.

Besides these two official narratives, we have the narrative of partition that many people on both sides did not and still do not accept the decision of partition. Many did not want to migrate and wanted to live in the place that they had been living for since years. There are many who did not want to migrate but had to or were forced to. We must also respect this. This narrative seems to be more dominant and “accepted” in India. The reason was stated above.

The reason why we need to recognize the different perspectives on partition is because it seems to be the way forward for peace. We need to engage with the narrative of partition, understand it, view it critically and accept that the past was very complex. We need to engage with the past before moving on because the past shapes our present perceptions. We cannot see partition simply as either a sad and disruptive moment in the secular fabric of Indian society or as a moment of liberation accepted by all. On the Indian side, we find it is fine to refute partition without thinking that refuting partition refutes the very existence of a country. This pertains more to ignorance on the Indian side because of the existing official narrative. Similarly, on the Pakistan side, there is a need to realize that while partition is a reality, it was not accepted by all at that time for different reasons. This does not refute the existence of Pakistan. We need to accept that different perspectives exist. We need to engage more critically with our past. We cannot see partition from one view and talk of peace. The past was complex and we need to recognize that for a simpler future.


Kumar, Krishna. 2001. Prejudice and Pride. India: Penguin Books.

Kumar, Krishna. 2007. Battle for Peace. New Delhi: Penguin Books.

This article was published on CountercurrentsSouth Asia Monitor and Eurasia Review

Contributing To A Culture Of Mutual Peace And Understanding : Zindagi Channel


The Zee network has recently launched a new channel by the name of Zindagi. With the theme of “Vasudeva Kutumbkam” or “The whole world is my family”, Zindagi channel promises to bring in stories from around the world. The channel theme and the tag line “Jodey Dilon ko” or “to connect hearts” clearly indicates that this channel has a clear mission. It is trying to use the medium of television to create a culture of peace. The channel was launched on 23rd June and is initially bringing in Pakistani content. The channel has selected some famous serials from Pakistan and is now broadcasting them in India. In this article, I will attempt to analyse the mission of this channel in the context of Indo-Pak relations.

The Indo-Pak relations doesn’t need an introduction. Even those who may not belong to either of the countries may know about the fluctuating relations that the two countries have. The Indo-Pak relations is characterized by love and hatred, peace and war. An important element of the Indo-Pak relations is that of “curiosity”. Both sides are ever curious about each other. Even if one may hate Pakistan, one will still be curious about it and any mention of Pakistan will definitely evoke an interest. This is another interesting bond that India and Pakistan shares and this is because both countries have very limited means of communication or knowing each other. There are severe visa issues. Other means of communication are also bound with several restrictions. Because of this, people in both countries do not know each other and have painted an opposing picture of the other. Both have constructed stereotypes for each other. But as I had previously said, even with hatred and suspicion, they remain ever curious and interested to know about the other.

Now what happened when Zindagi channel was launched? Indian channels and serials have been broadcasted both legally and illegally in Pakistan. The Pakistan Electric Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has from time to time tried to enforce strict restrictions on the telecast of Indian serials because of several reasons including the petitions by local channel producers but they have met with little success. According to a Times of India report dated 19 November 2013, a no. of channels in Pakistan were fined for airing too much of “Indian content”. The people of Pakistan have also resisted these restrictions by shifting to DTH cable system or by watching them online. In contrast to this, India has had few such opportunities to access Pakistani channels and serials.
So while people in Pakistan had a sense of what India was like, what Indians think, people in India were largely clueless. And so with this initiative of Zee, with this opportunity to know the “other”, their enthusiasm seems to have crossed the boundaries. There was a huge enthusiasm from people of India for this new channel. This can be inferred from the response that can be seen on social networking sites and ofcourse, the TRPs. A Times of India report dated 1 July 2014 had argued that not only the channel has received good response from the public but even bollywood and television celebrities are welcoming the new channel.

Saying so, the first step towards the mission of the channel seems to have been completed. It has established itself to become the platform through which people will know about the other side of the border. Now comes the second and more important step. What is the content?

Zindagi channel is currently running 4 shows – Zindagi Gulzar Hain, Aunn Zara, Kitni Girhain Baaki Hain and Kaash Main Teri Beti Na Hoti. All the four serials given an insight into the everyday life and struggles that people in Pakistan go through. It presents the problems existing there. It is presenting the extreme rich and poor divide, the problem of polygamy and the problems faced by women. Why did the channel pick on these shows? What is the relevance?

By picking up these shows, the channel is doing something more important. By presenting the everyday struggles, the everyday stories of pain, the Zindagi channel is able to show that we, Indians and Pakistanis, are not only similar in our language, culture, values but also in our problems. These problems are relatable. We are also struggling with them here. There is an extreme level of rich and poor divide in our country as well. The problems of marriage are also as relevant here. There is a serial by the name of “Kitni Girhain Baaki Hai”. The stories in this serial are as relevant to Indian audience. The stories presented in this serial pertain to the struggle of women, the changing society and human nature.

This representation of struggle has another element to it. It breaks the image of Pakistan that has been painted by our biased media. Pakistan has been painted as a Muslim conservative country. It is being seen as riddled with severe problems which people in Pakistan have accepted and glorified. This image of Pakistan is quite problematic. While Pakistan has its problems, the people of Pakistan have not accepted it and are struggling to change it. There does exist a counter culture in Pakistan that is trying to oppose the forces of religious fundamentalism and intolerance. These serials are also representing this counter culture. It is breaking several myths about Pakistan. While polygamy is prevalent in Pakistan, there are voices against it. People are struggling against it. It is being popularly rejected. Same goes for women’s rights. In all the four serials, women are not being shown as passive and submissive.
Thus, this representation of women in sarees will also have another important connect. It will break the stereotype that muslims are “conservative”. One of the most common stereotypes about muslims is that muslim women would always wear a burqa or atleast a hijab. It must be noted that while considering burqa and hijab as a sign of “conservatism” is a debatable issue but popularly it is seen as “conservative”. This stereotype is also very apparent in the representation of muslims in Indian electronic media. The representation of women in sarees breaks this popularly-held stereotype. It also again shows that how Indians and Pakistanis share a similar culture even in terms of their dress.

The representation of the counter voices and elements of cultural similarities like the saree are extremely important details that are breaking the popularly held views about Pakistan and Pakistanis. In one of our aman chaupal sessions in which we tell Indian students about Pakistan, when asked about the official language of Pakistan, several students were confident that it is Arabic. With this and some other views expressed, it was clear that how they had stereotyped Pakistan to be a “conservative” country with one religion and one language (Arabic). They had a completely opposing picture of Pakistan. For them, Pakistan was completely different from India and there were no similarities. This was also not just an experience of one school but in all the other schools that we have done sessions, students had more or less the same views. Their views reflect the popular conceptions.

Thus, I feel that Zindagi Channel is a great and an important initiative that has been taken by the Zee network. By breaking these stereotypes and emphasizing on similarities in terms of language, culture and challenges that people of India and Pakistan share, it will become an important contribution to creating a culture of mutual peace and understanding among the people of India and Pakistan.

This article was published at Countercurrents

This too is Pakistan

It is quite common for most of ‘us’, the non-Pakistanis and those who have known Pakistan mainly through our national or international media, to stereotype Pakistan with religious fundamentalists, the  Taliban, intolerance to religious minorities, men with moustache and topis, all women in burqa etc etc. Being an Indian, as my national media would tell me, I would also expect all Pakistanis to have venom against India and to be solely responsible for all military clashes. I would be taught to expect “Pakistan” to be of a certain type. So the Indian as well as International media would try its best to give us answers for “What is Pakistan”. I, through this article, would try to tell “what is also Pakistan”.

Source: Internet

Source: Internet

The basic conception about Pakistan pertains to the official religion i.e. Islam. Pakistan today is seen as being controlled by religious fanatics, the mullahs and their violent extreme – the Taliban. We hear about Malala, the ban on youtube, the persecution of religious minorities. There is no denial to this dismal reality. Yes, there is a lot of religious influence in several spheres. But what is equally important is the constant struggle by people of Pakistan against them. There is a section of the population who do not believe in them, who have rejected and struggle against their authority. Like in India and globally, people of Pakistan do not feel that their political and religious heads represent them. There are many civil society organisations and individuals who have constantly raised their voice and have protested against them. The virtual world – Facebook and Twitter have emerged as the counter-platforms. There are several pages on Facebook that criticize these acts and challenge the claim of representation. There are several alternatives to youtube. There are counter-voices and they represent Pakistan.

Source: Express Tribune

Source: Express Tribune

The essence of Pakistan is not religious conservatism, it is religious tolerance. The white portion in the national flag of Pakistan represents the religious minorities. In the universities, there is also quota for religious minorities. The Constitution of Pakistan grants them the freedom to profess any religion. It is true that religious minorities have been subjected to atrocities but that is not the entire story. That is not Pakistan. The persecution has been condemned by people of Pakistan as well. They also protest against the persecutions and that is Pakistan. Recently, a virtual anti-terrorism campaign has emerged in Pakistan by the name of “Awaz Uthe gi”. It condemns the discrimination and violence meted out to the minorities.

Source: Hindustan Times

Source: Hindustan Times

It is widely-believed among Indians that Pakistan and people of Pakistan have a lot of venom for India and Indians. All they cite are the wars, the border clashes and acts of terrorism. It is not entirely their fault because this is all that they have been shown. It is always hatred that is cited. What is not cited are the instances of goodwill, peace and friendship that have been initiated by Pakistan. What they don’t know or don’t remember is that the school in which the present PM, Manmohan Singh, had studied had been renamed after him. What they don’t know so widely that there has been a long-standing struggle for a “Bhagat Singh chowk” in Pakistan. They don’t know that there is a samadhi for Sir Ganga Ram in Lahore. They are unaware that Pakistan allows hundreds of sikh pilgrims to Nankana Sahib every year. What they don’t know is that the soldiers on wagah border exchange sweets on Holi, Diwali and Eid. What they don’t remember is that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had sent a bouquet for Sonia Gandhi when she was ill.

As for gender, it has been quite easy to talk about women empowerment in an Islamic country. The parameters to judge it have mostly confined to the existence of burqa and hijab. While we must recognise that we fail to acknowledge the agency of those women who do not find it discriminating and may, on the other hand, find it liberating as it does not objectify their body, but even if that has to be taken, we must know that not all women in Pakistan do wear the burqa or hijab. There have been voices against it. Contrary to stereotypes, women in Pakistan also appear significantly in education, politics, army and other spheres. We must also acknowledge that we have failed to see the progress that Pakistan has been doing in terms of giving rights to LGBTQ community.

We have failed to see Pakistan. We have failed to see how it struggles like any other country. There is a lot more to be explored. Yes, there are problems with Pakistan but so do we. The people of Pakistan are struggling and challenging the existing evils like us. You may ask, why does it concern us? It concerns us because there is a war industry out there that operates on these weapons of miscommunication. There are people out there who will paint Pakistan as an evil and themselves as saints and ‘saviours’. 

This article was published on The Alternative