Building bridges

Beyond Borders

On December 28, an Indo-Pak peace forum named Aaghaz-e-Dosti, launched its third annual calendar. The ‘Calendar for Peace and Love’, as it is called, includes selected paintings of students from India and Pakistan.

According to AeD, this year, more than 200 students from both the countries sent their paintings to get published in the calendar. At the launch, Pankaj Chaturvedi from National Book Trust, who was one of the speakers, talked about the existence of a ‘war industry’ and how the calendar is a stepping stone towards strengthening the civil society in both countries.

For Ravi Nitesh (the founder of AeD), words of Chaturvedi and other speakers from Pakistan, were nothing less than a profound acknowledgment of his forum and the work a few youngsters have been doing in the past few years.

Now a petroleum engineer in Delhi, Nitesh says that the urge to work for community development came to him when he saw the massive destruction during the 2004 Tsunami. “I was younger and like many others wanted to contribute in my own way,” Nitesh said. In 2007, he set up Mission Bhartiyam, a Non-governmental organisation to work in areas of social welfare.

“The idea behind Mission Bhartiyam was to build a platform for individuals belonging to different professions who cannot spend all of their time in social activism due to time constraints. There are a lot of engineers, doctors and other professionals who are keen on peace activism and thats why Mission Bhatriyam was started,” Nitesh said.

While Mission Bhartiyam, has 4-5 core members, the group gained strength in terms of volunteerism over the next five years. The group focuses on ‘peace’, ‘development for all’, protection of human rights, environment and communal. The group has also extensively worked for and with Irom Sharmila, civil rights activist, who has been on hunger strike for almost 15 years demanding an end to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958.

It was however in 2012, that Nitesh and other members of the group thought of something ‘bigger’. “Misunderstanding is the main issue that plagues the human society. We stereotype and define them as ‘others’. It was to counter these stereotypes that we launched Aaghaz-e-Dosti in collaboration with Pakistan-based The Catalyst. The need for such a movement is extremely important in the current political climate both India and Pakistan are facing,” Nitesh said.

Along with a string of social and cultural activities, AeD conducts Aman Chaupals or Indo-Pak peace sessions wherein someone from Pakistan interacts with students in India and vice versa. In this session, youth activists and Pakistani team of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, Aliya Harir (convener of Aaghaz-e-Dosti from Pakistan) and Syed Zeeshan Ali Shah, had interacted with about 50 students and faculty members from Prakriya Green Wisdom School of Bangalore who were on an educational trip in Delhi.

“Through Aman Chaupal, we want to show how technology can be used in a more constructive manner. In the scenario of restrictions in mobility and interaction between people of India and Pakistan, internet can play a very positive role. It can help to bridge the communication gap and counter stereotypes, said Devika Mittal, convenor of AeD and a student of Economics, Delhi University.

A student from India asked the youth activists from Pakistan about Karachi. To the amusement of students here, the activist on the other end mentioned how “Karachi has a very cosmopolitan culture and that there are also several South Indian restaurants in Karachi,” Mittal added.

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