The India-Pakistan conflict was a big part of my childhood narrative. My grandparents and parents had moved to India as refugees from present day Pakistan, during the 1947 partition of British India. I constantly heard accounts from them of the way Partition had forever altered my family’s history, the stories of the loss of their loved ones, the end of their childhood and youthful dreams and their experience of hunger and poverty as refugees in a new land. For my family, “the other”—Pakistan and the people who lived there—were the enemy who had brought this suffering upon them.
In all of these conversations on the partition, I never heard what happened to the “other side.” Somewhere in hearing all these stories, and in the demonizing of the other, my young mind had shut off to hearing anything about the “other side.” I had categorized this “other,” Pakistan and its people, as the enemy who must be hated because they had robbed our country of land, and my family of their home. They were responsible for my mother’s lost childhood and my father’s lost dreams. These feelings of hatred for the other were further fueled and justified by the media, and the history that I was taught in school.
This is the narrative that I carried when I moved to study in the US and I met someone from Pakistan for the first time, Anila. Was this the enemy that I had been warned about? In the process of our conversations we began to engage in deep and difficult conversations about our histories and came to a conclusion that just as we needed each other to continue the conflict, we needed each other to make peace.
We decided to work together. In 2001, Anila and I were both invited to support the Seeds of Peace South Asia initiative. Each summer, we would witness the interactions between the Indian and Pakistani Seeds at Camp. We saw them passionately arguing about whose version of history was right and at the same time, building strong friendships with each other.
The interactions and conversations of the Seeds with each other on the 1947 Partition of Punjab became the topic of my doctoral dissertation. I wanted to explore how these Seeds understand the event as a fourth generation after Partition, and how they perceive the other in these interactions. I conducted this research with the Indian and Pakistani Seeds who had attended the Seeds of Peace Camp between 2001 and 2005. In my research I found that the Seeds from both sides, struggled with navigating their identities between the new friendships that they formed at Camp, with the enemy other, and their notion of patriotism and loyalty to their country.
There was anger and frustration about whose historical and political narrative was right. While they did not reach any agreement on the political narrative of the conflict, when they shared personal narrative; the family stories of loss and suffering during Partition, there was a sense of connectedness and reaching out to the other side.
Shared living quarters and Color Games further strengthened these friendships. I was convinced that if we had to transform the existing narrative of conflict between the two countries, a history textbook reform that included the narrative of the other side, facilitated face-to-face interactions and exchanges between the two sides, and support from like-minded adults and educators in both countries will be critical. This is what I have dedicated myself to as an educator.
How are you impacting your community?
I am an Associate Professor at both the Interdisciplinary Studies Program and the International Higher Education and Intercultural Relations Program at the Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In my research, I have found that teaching history, particularly teaching about events of collective violence, has implications for the way young students perceive “the enemy.” The teachers’ enactment of these events in the classroom either supports the students to break the hegemonic discourse of the content, or to perpetuate it. Hence, the role of the teacher is critical in any initiative that seeks to transform the discourse in the direction of peace. My work aims to educate and support teachers from both India and Pakistan to build content and skills that support a peace-oriented pedagogy in the two countries.
Specifically, I am extending my research related to the teaching and learning of historical events of collective violence between conflicting groups with a focus on the India-Pakistan conflict. I am working on developing 1) a framework for teaching and learning about conflict, with a focus on the 1947 Partition of British India; and 2) a two-year proposal for a collaborative Teachers Training Workshop for India and Pakistan for teaching about differences, boundaries, and histories of conflict.
“In the process of our conversations we began to engage in deep and difficult conversations about our histories and came to a conclusion that just as we needed each other to continue the conflict, we needed each other to make peace.”