By Spruha Mehta
Spruha Mehta, daughter of Nikita and Satish Mehta, is pursuing her B.Com at H.R. College after completing her SSC in 2008 from The New Era School. She is an active member of "Seeds of Peace".
Today, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about the organization I’m a part of, called Seeds of Peace. It is an international organization founded in 1992 which is supported by the US State Department and works for the empowerment of youth. Every year a batch of 14 students from India attend a camp in Maine, USA which marks their involvement with the organization. I attended such a camp in 2006 and again as a senior peer support in 2008. At camp, students from conflicting countries like India, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Afghanistan and America live together for 3 weeks and get to know the “other side” in person. We stayed with Pakistanis in the same bunk, had meals together, played sports and did various activities together. We also had regular dialogue sessions with Pakistanis where we discussed serious issues like Kashmir. I had my history textbooks and thought that all I had to do was defend my country’s stand in those discussions and blame Pakistan come what may – yes, isn’t that what all of us would do otherwise? To my surprise we bonded the best with the Pakistanis – maybe it’s the common cuisine, the culture, the language, cricket or Bollywood that ties us closer or maybe because we just thought of them as one of us. It was hard for others at camp to tell us apart. I learnt at camp that we have two ears and a mouth for a reason – listen to everyone’s opinions, respect them although you don’t agree with them and think for yourself. And I did everything but blame the Pakistanis in that little dialogue hut.
Camp is just the beginning – we come back and continue to work for the society and put into practice all that we have learnt and spread the message of peace. We have 2 meetings a month where we discuss various pressing issues and plan our projects and workshops like bring-a-friend, photography and painting sessions. We also issue an annual newsletter and magazines. As a part of the follow-up program, the Indo-Pak homestay programme takes place every year. One year Indian seeds visit Pakistan and the next year Pakistani seeds travel to India.
My batch visited Lahore, Pakistan in august last year. The idea is for us to see the “other side” for a week and live with families of the friends we made at camp and experience their culture. It seemed surreal until we rushed into the arms of our friends who were eagerly waiting to meet us too. At first I was nervous about how easily my friend’s family would accept an Indian living at their house, but on meeting them, I realized that I had been accepted way before I had even arrived.
In a short span of five days we attended a day long workshop, gave presentations in schools, visited the Wagah Border, gorged on yummy Lahori food, went shopping, and spent time at cafes and restaurants.
What I saw that week was that no matter how frail the relationship between India and Pakistan is on the political front, and what the media makes out the “conflict” to be, on an individual level, there was absolutely no bitterness. And having a best friend from across the border and thinking that attacking them as a response to 26/11 is futile doesn’t make me a traitor. Patriotism doesn’t mean climbing up on another nation and raising your flag at the cost of a thousand innocents. I have a reason, more than a reason, to believe that everyone on the “other side” doesn’t want war or hate India. Who would believe that I was given special treatment in Pakistan by the locals when they found out my nationality? I didn’t see people with long beards walking with guns. Hatred and enmity has got us nowhere. We should get that message from what is happening in Gaza right now, and make sure such a day never dawns here. Let’s hope that our kids grow up to see a better tomorrow and let’s work for it. This is the time, rise up, think for yourself. I would like to appeal to the youth to retrace the steps of Gandhiji and pull themselves together for a safer tomorrow, a happier tomorrow - Our tomorrow.
Spruha Mehta can be contacted at email@example.com.
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