I have for some time been in touch with a young Indian software engineer turned project manager turned ‘digital nomad’, Amrit Sharma. Last week in the Aman ki Asha page that I edit published weekly in The News, Pakistan, we featured a small report on a heart-warming initiative he has started (all the articles are online at the AKA website).
In August 2013, Amrit launched India Loves Pakistan for the joint commemoration of India and Pakistan’s Independence Days. The aim: “to add the human element into the India Pakistan relationship”. Now he has launched an Android app called “India or Pakistan” through a self-funded tech startup.
The app features photos of people, monuments, streets and markets. Users answer whether they think the photo is of India or Pakistan, see the correct answer, and get the next photo. Android users can download it at IndiaOrPakistan.com, via the homepage IndiaLovesPakistan.com. Sharma says he was inspired by a 2012 TED talk he saw, by the Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edry (Israel and Iran: A love story?)
When war between Israel and Iran seemed imminent, Edry had shared a poster on Facebook of himself and his daughter with the message: “Iranians … we [heart] you.” Other Israelis joined him, and Iranians responded warmly. The idea sparked many Facebook communities like “Israel loves Iran,” “Iran loves Israel” and even “Palestine loves Israel.”
Sharma realised that thanks to social media, “the world is a village with no degrees of separation”. One person with the right idea can be like lighting a candle in a dark room.
“The goal,” he says, “is to highlight the similarities between India and Pakistan, learn about some monuments, and further humanise the Indo-Pak relationship.”
“What’s more is that a candle can light other candles without losing any of its brightness. That’s what we’re seeing with more and more social ventures – like DearNeighbour, Aao Dosti Karein, Aaghez-e-Dosti, and soon to launch Sarhadpaar by beyondviolence.org,” says Sharma. “Over time, it becomes abundantly clear that the silent majority in India and Pakistan want to live by each other’s happiness, not each other’s misery.
Another Indian friend I’ve been in touch with for some years, and met on my last trip to Delhi in 2013, is Samir Gupta, an IT professional and peace activist based in Ghaziabad, India. He is also a volunteer admin for our Aman ki Asha Facebook page and group.
We carried Samir’s article, “Patriotism: Boon or Bane” as the lead story on the AKA page, in which he wonders who this enemy across the border is. Is it everything and everyone associated with Pakistan, security forces or it it something more subtle? Of course his article and questions apply in reverse to Pakistanis when it comes to India.
Samir writes thought-provokingly about the ‘nationalism’ that is stirred through patriotic songs and slogans and fears that India is moving in the direction that Pakistan has followed – from which I infer he is referring to the injection of religion into politics and the conflation of ‘religious nationalism’ with patriotism (something I’ve written about for a forthcoming compilation of essays on Modi’s ‘new’ India).
Through a process of elimination – it can’t be the entire nation of Pakistan, the landmass, forests, animals and rivers, it can’t be all the people either – his friends who love him so much, or the ordinary people on the streets of Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi and Peshawar “who are themselves being targeted by terrorists and criminals every day”, and who welcomed Indians with so much love during the 2003 cricket match series.
I constantly come across such people in both countries whose voices the mainstream media mostly tend to ignore. Thanks to social media outlets, they are being able to make their voices heard anyway. The question is, when will the trickle become a big enough flood to force the governments to follow their lead. In the meantime, dear peace-mongers, keep on keepin’ on, to quote my American peace-monger friend Joseph Gerson.