Indian-Pakistani students celebrate freedom: A hope for
"peace and solidarity"
|Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State
of Wisconsin (U.S.-SBA)
Between Pakistan and India at the Wagah border,
Each day a ceremony happens --
The border opens up for a few minutes
And then closes.
We know the Wagah border as the border of peace
Because it connects people to people
Once enemies, now desiring peace.
Many Pakistanis, many Indians come
To see what happens.
And as the borders open and close,
They chant the national anthem of their country.
I wish we might sing the national anthems
Of both countries together.
In my very last line below,
I use 'gate' in two ways --
One, the physical gate of the Wagah border
And two, gate as boundary --
One that divides people's hearts and lives.
I wish that gate to open.
With one foot on either side of the Wagah border
We stood and sang
“Paak sar zameen” and “Vande Mataram”
We sang them with equal fervor
You throw down your gun
And I empty mine, disarming, my
Bullets fall to the ground
Our hands rise
In this fight for land and pride
May love, at length, set hate aside.
And may the reluctant powers realize
They cannot close the gates upon us.
© Ayeshah Iftikhar 2007
WAGAH was written by Ayeshah Iftikhar, a doctoral fellow at UW-Madison Department of Anthropology. She read the poem during the “Jash-e-
Sangam,” a celebration of friendship and solidarity between Indian and Pakistani students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, on August 21 at the
Memorial Union. It was also a celebration of the Independence Day anniversaries of the two nations. Hosted by the South Asia Forum and the Indian
Graduate Students Association, “Jash-e-Sangam” was making a positive political statement to the world that UW Indian and Pakistani students are
friends and allies and that they desire peace and harmony to exist between their countries.
Iftikhar is an active member of South Asia Forum-Madison, an organization of students, activists, and others interested in promoting awareness and
discourse about South Asian issues. SAF-M is committed to pursue peace and harmony among peoples - across boundaries of nationality, religion,
race, class, color, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. SAF-M came about in 2004 in reaction to the growing hostility among Indian and
Pakistani students in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots — Hindus vs Muslims — that left thousands dead. SAF-M has become committed to peace
by getting together students from South Asia — India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka — to hold dialogues, know one another, talk out
differences, and embrace similarities. Through the years, SAF-M has been conducting events featuring knowledgeable speakers, such as Harsh
Mander, a renowned human rights activist, who spoke at length about the Gujarat carnage of 2002, secularism in India and his personal struggle to
uphold this philosophy; and Dr. Shazia Khalid, a rape survivor and advocate of women's human rights, who spoke about the social and legal
challenges women face in Pakistan today. More than listening to speeches, however, SAF-M members continue to listen to each other, believing that
only in listening and being listened to can peace begin.
The Indian Graduate Students Association, established in 1996, “provides support to Indian students, particularly to those new to the University of
Wisconsin.” IGSA promotes Indian culture through classical concerts and film showing, and participates in various campus and community events that
celebrate cultures. Other activities include organizing various events like table tennis tournaments, trivia quizzes other literary events, as well as
presentations from outside-campus speakers, especially those coming from India who are doing community service.
IGSA presented Gopika Nair and Sunil Sunkara in a fusion classical dance performed to the music called “Gurus of Peace,” composed by AR
Rahman and the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The lyrics say that when the blue skies, sunshine, stars and moon belong to everyone, why do we fight
over land? Let us join on sunshine, let us join on blue skies, let love and brotherhood be our language.”
These two student organizations — SAF-M and IGSA — joined forces to hold an annual “Jashn-e-Sangam” in the spirit of friendship and unity.
Aside from a brief documentary on the conflict between Pakistan and India (Documentary by Dr. Zia Mian (Pakistan), Princeton University " Pakistan
and India - Living Under the Nuclear Shadow"), the students sang their respective national anthems, performed songs and poetry that expressed hope
for India-Pakistan peace and harmony, traditional dances celebrating the beauty of their cultures, and capping it all with the dance, Tauba Tauba,
the theme dance for “Jashn-e-Sangam “ which says, ”Let us join on peace. It is really sad that we fight so much.” The dancers, Gopika Nair, Ayeshah
Iftikhar, Arul Sundaramoothy, Sunil Sunkara, hoisted a sewn-together India-Pakistan Flag at the conclusion of their beautiful dance. Atif Hashmi and
Suryanaraynan took the stage and sang “One Love” (Johnny Cas) and “Aaja More Gale Lag Ja” (Come, hold me close to your heart) — songs that
reflected the whole theme of Jashn-e-Sangam. On the lighter side, IGSA’s Arul Sundaramoorthy danced a Michael Jackson number, “Black or White.”
The Asian Pacific Dance Study Group (with dancers Joy Chen, Beverly Seavey and Lalita Subramanian) performed three beautiful dances: Ghoomar,
a folk dance from the state of Rajasthan in India; Rouf, a traditional folk dance of Kashmir usually performed by women during festivals and family
celebrations; and Darvoz, from the Pamir region of Afghanistan.
There was an open forum that gave attendees an opportunity to speak out . All of them shared one wish: that peace and love reign over their
countries and the hearts of their people. A couple, Samita Joshi (a UW doctoral student in cell and molecular biology) Harshal Patolia (a student of
Marquette University, majoring in educational policy and leadership) was among the attendees, and both agreed that an event like this shows that the
Indians and Pakistanis do not share the perspectives of politicians, particularly their divisiveness.
“In my personal opinion, none of the politicians are ever going to solve this, because that would put them out of business,” Joshi asserted. “They don’t
want to resolve the issues.”
“We have lots of people from India who have visited Pakistan; they feel completely different,” Patolia added.” The amount of affection that people
in Pakistan show toward them, they feel welcome rather than going to an enemy territory. Within peoples, there are no boundaries.”
(L-R) Ayeshah Ifthikar;
Asia Pacific Study
Dance Group; South
Forum and IGSA
below) Sunil Sankara
& Gopika Nair