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Where Kashmir divides the same people

By Aarti Dhar

LAHORE, DEC. 1. The people are same but territories different, the cultures are common but religions somewhat dissimilar, and aspirations are identical but only as long as Kashmir is kept out of conversation. When it comes to this contentious issue, people from Pakistan react with equal passion, though like good hosts they avoid raking up the matter with Indians.

The unilateral ceasefire in Kashmir, announced by the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, is perceived as an attempt to build-up a ``big, generous brother'' image at the international fora and the calling off of the India-Pakistan cricket series as a move contradictory to this display of generosity. No one wants war. Nevertheless, peace will only come if India gives up its claim on Kashmir! This is Lahore today.

``We are a State which cannot boast of a praiseworthy account of human rights. Militarisation has undermined democracy and development, and religion has harmed the interest of a vast majority. But there are women who are standing against it and many others who can challenge the State,'' says Ms. Hina Jilani of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Much of the resentment against India, particularly among the younger generation, comes from the concerted efforts being made by the Pakistani Government to project it's neighbour as an ``eternal enemy''. According to Ms. Rubina Saigol, an educationist, the school curriculum promotes anti-Hindu sentiments. The education system creates a sense of insecurity among the children which helps in justifying militarisation. The national interest is defined as interest of the military and not social and economic security, she says. The low-intensity war in Kashmir also defends the State's heavy expenditure on defence, which is depriving women of education and health.

The women's rights group strongly believe that State and orthodoxy have joined hands to disempower women and hence the feminist movement is Pakistan is described as the movement for empowerment of women. Depriving women of education, health, right to choose, reproductive rights and patronising honour killings are different ways adopted for disempowerment, says another women's activist.

This, perhaps, explains the widening emotional gap between the people of the two countries in the present day context. The older generation, to a large extent, is able to identify itself with the Indians due to the common traditional bonds which are gradually wearing out.

Such deep-rooted is the perception of the two countries being sworn enemies that a professor of an American University who was visiting the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) expressed disbelief when she interacted with the women's delegation from India, under the banner of the Women's Initiative for Peace in South Asia, touring the educational institutions here. She candidly admitted that she could never imagine Indians and Pakistanis interacting with each other!

The realisation for the need to improve the relations between the two countries is felt by all and sundry, but there is no way to channelise this sentiment. So, not surprising was the suggestion made by the head boy of the historic Aitchinson School who felt a magazine or a website by the students of the two countries would go a long way to end disinformation campaign and build healthier relations.

Names like Shahdara, Ram Nagar, Sham Nagar and Krishna Nagar which still exist speak volumes of the historic links but general distrust for Indians is hard to believe in a city like Lahore which has character and spirit.

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