Thursday, December 2, 2010

ARCHANA KAPOOR: Building on commonalities of culture, cricket and concerns - a bridge-building dialogue between Indian and Pakistani delegates

In November, SAVE Global traveled to Mumbai to conduct an income-generating workshop and a bridge-building dialogue between Indian and Pakistani representatives. Archana Kapoor, president of SAVE India, describes the projects and the impact that SAVE is making on the search for a peaceful solution to the India-Pakistan conflict.

Delegates from Pakistan and India came together in Mumbai for a 
groundbreaking bridge-building dialogue

The Pakistani delegation comprising civil society members, academics and a victim of terrorism had arrived. It was great to see them. We at SAVE India had been constantly worried that they would not get clearance until they finally joined us in Mumbai on November 29.

As the first step towards a meaningful dialogue, we assured the delegates that we were all there to look forwards and find solutions, rather than to rake up issues that were being dealt with at various other levels. For any dialogue, ground rules must be set. The parameters for our dialogue had to be fixed. The sensitivities of each of the participants had to be respected and most importantly, what was discussed had to stay within those four walls until a common consensus had been arrived at. Once this was done everything seemed so simple!

Thus began our two day interaction/dialogue with our neighbors and delegates from across the border. It was important to know what we as women first, and mothers later, could bring to the table and discuss in a forum that was definitely social but could not keep the political out, as the personal is political in the context of India and Pakistan.

SAVE Global provided this opportunity by sponsoring this dialogue and also setting the agenda. With experiences of working with victims of terrorist attacks in US, UK, Spain, Palestine, Israel ,Yemen and many other conflict zones, Dr Edit Schlaffer kicked off the dialogue. It was important for all of us to understand the issues plaguing each side. The problem of Pakistan was indeed different from that of India. They were not only suffering from problems of bad press, stereotyping and labeling as a country that has become the breeding ground of terror but also from the problem of terror attacks on innocents. Be it the SWAT valley, Lahore or Islamabad, the problem in the last few years has been aggravated and it is very difficult to say who is responsible for this. It was interesting to hear the points of view of experts who have worked with victims and who are doing their research on issues like Islamisation of Madrasas, terrorism and its causes, youth and radicalization. One thing that came out strongly was that women have a role to play - on the one hand when they are coping with victimhood and on the other hand they are also propagating terror as either mute spectators or active participants.

Thus the time has come to assimilate their energies, to discuss and debate with them and channel their energies positively. One way is of course to provide them with choices and this can be done by empowering them to access those choices. Income generation and livelihood skills along with life skills seemed a good option for Paiman Foundation, which has trained over 1000 women already and is carrying on these training programs on a large scale.

Families of the policemen on duty during the Mumbai terrorist attacks 
in 2008 discuss the livelihood project

SAVE India did the first pilot of Mothers for Change in April 2010. In a program called ‘Our Stories Our Future’ a 5-day workshop brought out the fears, sorrows and apprehensions of the mothers on one hand and their aspirations, hopes and expectations on the other. The program was a huge success, and it was important to go back with a concrete double program for these mothers who had opened their hearts to the SAVE team. Thus a livelihood program was announced for them. The beauty of the program is that it is a needs-based program that provides them with skills that they feel they need and which they feel would add to their confidence. After a thorough brainstorming session and assurance from the women that they would not back out, a basic computer training program, an accountancy training program and an English speaking course were announced. Vinita Kamte, the driving force of this program has committed her time and energy to see that this program becomes a success. The same Pakistani model will also be followed to provide life skills, including negotiation skills, to the beneficiaries.

It is important to use these income generation activities to create a platform for mothering change in the attitudes and mindset of the women. This could be their chance not only to voice their grievances but also to look at solutions to address their grievances against the extremist activities that their men and boys get into.

Build on commonalities, instead of stressing differences

The stories of those impacted by violent extremism in Pakistan and India were the most heart-rending part of the two-day dialogue. The story of Anjali Chemburkar, who lost her husband in the Trident hotel on 26/11, was very moving. Her spirit and courage despite her personal tragedy was not only inspirational for the women from India but also got a huge round of applause from the Pakistani delegates. In fact it gave others the courage to share their own stories of loss, grief, despair and hope.

The walk along the terror trail was disturbing for all. A comment made by Shabana haunted me last night. She said that ever since she had come to the Taj, she was internalizing what must have gone through the minds of those who were trapped here for more than 60 hours. The walk sent shivers down everyone’s spine. The common refrain among the delegates was, How could anyone ruin the lives of so many innocents? Could this tragedy have been avoided? The silence in the car on the way back itself reflected what was going on in the minds of all the delegates.

It was clear that perceptions about each other had to change. Though a handful of young men had destroyed the peace and tranquility of Mumbai there were millions in both countries who wanted to stretch a hand of friendship across the borders. Schools and universities could play a vital role in breaking stereotypes and changing perceptions. More dialogues and interactions at different levels are needed. Women have to join hands and become a force to be reckoned with.

It is time to build on commonalities of culture, color, cricket and concerns. There was no doubt that there are more reasons to work together and resolve the differences at the earliest stage than there are to allow the rift to continue. The love for Indian cuisine, music and Bollywood was stronger than any political differences.

It is time to break the barriers. It is time for women to lay the foundation for a strong bridge of friendship!!

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Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS