“Why are India and Pakistan at war?” asks 14-year old Kshitij…

Like father like son: Samir and Kshitij Gupta

Like father like son: Samir and Kshitij Gupta

My article published in The News oped, TOI blogs and Aman ki Asha on Monday, Nov 4, 2013 

“Why are India and Pakistan at war?”

Beena Sarwar

Some days ago I got a call from my friend Samir Gupta, on his way home after picking up his son, 14-year old Kshitij, from a Delhi train station late at night. Kshitij was returning from a school trip with some 30 other students from Delhi Public School, Ghaziabad. They’d taken an early morning train to Amritsar and watched the flag-lowering ceremony at Wagah Border.

Samir, a passionate advocate of peace and good relations between India and Pakistan, asked Kshitij about the trip. It was very good, replied his son.

The students sat in the stands on either side of the large iron gate, along with some 50-60 other people who were already there. A public address system played rousing nationalistic songs like Suno Gaur se Duniya Waalo and Jai Ho. Some people waved the Indian flag, while others danced in the aisles.

“It was an electric atmosphere, as Ravi Shastri says during cricket commentary,” Kshitij said. “The show by the border guards was very good – very high kicks, marches and loud yelling at the other side. Every time an Indian guard did something everybody on the Indian side cheered loudly.

The students were told that they should love their country and be patriotic, added Kshitij. Then he said something that took the father aback: “I just loved that India won.”

Wagah border guards: Putting on a macho show. Photo: Beena Sarwar, 2010

Wagah border guards: Putting on a macho show. Photo: Beena Sarwar, 2010

Won? He was told that the Indian soldiers had performed better than the Pakistani, and had therefore ‘won’.

This made Kshitij feel proud as an Indian. His father probed further, asking him what he knows about Pakistan.

“They have a lot of riots and a lot of terrorism,” he replied.

But he is a thoughtful boy, and when Samir asked him if he’d like to talk to a Pakistani, “Yes,” came the unhesitating answer.

“What would you ask them?”

When Kshitij told him, Samir dialed my number, explaining the situation and saying his son wanted to ask me something. Then he handed Kshitij the phone. His question took me aback.

“Why is there war between India and Pakistan?”

Why is there…? Is there a *war* between India and Pakistan? What else explains the ongoing hostilities? Well, I said, taking a deep breath, they are not actually at war but the governments do behave in an antagonistic way towards each other. Each side thinks their country is great while the other country is bad. Each wants to assert itself over its territory. They have soldiers lined up at the border, who fire upon each other when they think the other side is encroaching because they want to have control over their territory. Also, the terrorists that are infiltrating and attacking India from the Pakistan side are the same ones who are also attacking Pakistanis in Pakistan.

The line wasn’t very good but from what he told his father later, he clearly understood. And he had more questions and ideas.

When Samir asked him what he was thinking, Kshitij said he’d like to talk to more Pakistanis. He wanted to know if peace is possible. And he wanted to know what happens to the children of soldiers who get killed?

“We should try to find a solution and have peace,” he said. “I think we should talk to each other and stop fighting. We should promise each other that we will not try to grab each other’s land and keep our promise. If we get peace the soldiers can go home and celebrate Diwali and Eid with their children. May be they can build more schools for children.”

“Who are the people who decide whether we have peace or war between the two countries?” he asked Samir. “Can they make a list of all the things that they should say sorry for and things the other side should say sorry for? We can then exchange the list…”

If all parents allowed their children the space to think and encouraged question the way that Samir does, and if all children were as thoughtful as Kshitij, the world would be a much better place.

p.s. Diwali Mubarak to Samir, Kshitij and all the family, and to all those who are celebrating this festival of lights.

Diwali greetings graphic by Bhatta Som on the Aman ki Asha facebook group

Diwali greetings graphic by Bhatta Som on the Aman ki Asha facebook group

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