Twenty four students and the idea of peace! In a world dominated by narratives of hate and violence, what happens when young minds are encouraged to engage with the idea and practice of peace? Peace, not as an illusory ideal to be achieved, but peace with oneself and those around us! Peace which is not as lofty as the goal of world peace! This and something more exciting happened at The Faculty of Journalism and Communication at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in Gujarat, India. Junior students of the Master of Communication Studies programme participated in a workshop on media and peace building. The workshop was facilitated and steered by Chintan Girish Modi, founder and pioneer of Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein (FAB) , an innovative platform premised on fostering cross-border friendships between Indians and Pakistanis through story-telling, social media content generation & dissemination, and real-time interactions with people across both countries.
Spanning two days (10-11th March, 2015), Chintan visited the Faculty in Baroda, a small but culturally vibrant town in central Gujarat, known for being multicultural and cosmopolitan. The purpose was to sensitize budding media professionals about concepts like peace journalism, social media in peace building, and content creation through digital citizenship. Speaking about the significance of such an exposure for media students, Dr. Niti Chopra, Officiating Dean of the Faculty said, “It is relevant for media students to be able to engage intellectually with significant issues of their time. Indo-Pak relations have always borne a delicate edge. But journalists, with their power to negotiate change through ideations and projections in their writings and other media manifestations can effectively help to manage and change stereotypical mind sets. Interactive workshops such as these lead to eye- opening exposure which ultimately veers students’ towards alternative lines of thinking and realisations.” In her view, a global, digital and culturally intertwined future albeit with dangers of a strife torn scenario, would require these students to plug into their work in a major way, endeavours towards peace building.
Given the growing presence of new media tools and platforms and their role in information sharing, the workshop facilitated knowledge of important concepts through innovative on-field activities and transmitted requisite skills for students to pursue options quite different from those available in mainstream media.
So what did the students undertake as part of the workshop? Quite a varied and interesting set of activities that included:
• Learning about media’s role in creating and furthering stereotypes
• Conducting surveys about prevalent attitudes towards Pakistan among Indians
• Art activities and problem solving tasks devised around peace
• Preparing and presenting skits on peace building
• Watching short films on people to people contact in the Indo-Pak context
• Exploring existing social media peace initiatives between India and Pakistan
According to Chintan, “The growing interest in peace journalism comes from recognizing that media persons have, in many cases, created or instigated or exaggerated conflict instead of keeping their focus on reporting it. If media folks put their mind to it, they can be tremendously influential as peace builders. Journalists and other kinds of media makers need to radically rethink their priorities if they would like to be peace builders. For example, they will have to stop reporting on an India-Pakistan cricket match like a war. Or they will have to start reporting on India-Pakistan issues from a humanitarian perspective in addition to a national security perspective.”
During the workshop, students were shown films like Nina Sabnani’s ‘Mukand and Riaz’ and Supriyo Sen’s ‘Wagah’. They were also introduced to the work of other peace building initiatives between India and Pakistan such as Aman ki Asha, Aaghaz-e-Dosti, Building Peace Project and India loves Pakistan. What was important was students were allowed to explore different ideas of peace. Their learning, which otherwise may be dominated by classroom teaching, was let loose as they were sent out to explore ground realities by talking to people at the most common of places – railway stations, markets, cafes and the university campus.
Chintan shared that he enjoyed the workshop experience primarily because of the students’ enthusiasm to learn, to ask questions and to face challenges in the form of group tasks allotted to them. At the end of two days, they warmed up to the idea of peace journalism and were sensitized to thinking about how as future media practitioners they could do their bit for India-Pakistan peace.
The students had a similar story to tell. The workshop has set them thinking on many aspects of journalism, peace, Pakistan and their own perceptions about the ‘other’. All of them are abuzz with excitement about the projects they have undertaken post workshop.
For Kaushani Sen, the workshop was no less than a lifetime experience. She speaks with hope, “This workshop has changed me as a person, the way I perceived Pakistan, also the dynamics of media in respect to peace building or conflict resolution strategies. It made me a responsible citizen and somewhere enlightened the fire within me to visit Pakistan someday.” She affirms that the next time she hears anything negative about Pakistan, she will make an attempt to reason and talk to that person and let them know an alternative way of thought. Her friend Aparna Upadhyay felt it was interesting to talk to strangers about Pakistan and understand their point of views which in a way, have been shaped by the media over the years. As students are working on unique project proposals for promoting peace and friendship between the two countries, Aparna is excited about infusing this experience into the research project that she will be taking up in the next semester.
What Manish Yadav liked was the interactive nature of the workshop and that each one of them was participating through their original inputs. He now feels determined to not place blind belief on what media and other information sources tell him about Pakistan. Empathizing with his friends across the border, he says, “Pakistanis too are victims of terrorism. Instead of spewing hatred we should all be one in the fight against terror and violence perpetrated in the name of religion.” He wants to be a travel journalist, visit Pakistan, explore its natural beauty, talk to people, know more about their food, culture, life style, and bring forth the positive aspects of Pakistan. He also wants to run a Skype centre where people from India and Pakistan can talk to each other without restrictions to share their lives and build lasting friendships.
Aman Chhabra narrates a personal nostalgia since his maternal grandmother came from Lahore and had to leave the city during partition violence. “I have this wish of visiting Pakistan as my grandmother was just about five years old when her family had to leave Lahore and come to Delhi. I have read about the immense pain and agony that people underwent during the partition, and have always wondered why! In that sense, it was exhilarating to know that platforms such as friendshipsacrossborders .org are doing some wonderful work to promote peace between the two countries.” Though he himself doesn’t think negatively of Pakistanis, he knows many who do. That is why he feels it is essential to work to alter misconceptions and stereotypes about the ‘other’. His mother too, he says has a desire to visit Lahore, recalling a line from the movie Filmistaan (2014) – “Jine Lahore na dekhya ohne kuch na dekhya” (The one who hasn’t seen Lahore, hasn’t seen anything).
The process of sensitization that has begun for students through this workshop will open them up to new and innovative thought processes. They have been given assignments to work with, on themes of ‘positive peace’, ‘negative peace’ and have submitted proposals with a scope to encompass different themes such as comparing the food, architecture, fashion and other cultural aspects of both countries. Project proposals include a range of ideas including use of mobile applications, tweeting about positive memories from the past, websites that promote friendship, a food blog and an online portal for games. Many among the students have also started pitching actively on FAB’s Facebook page and have shown a keen interest in contributing to other similar initiatives on social media.
Dr. Chopra perhaps sums this entire experience in the best way, “There is no doubt about the fact that the deep imprint left on their minds and the internalisation of the spirit of “doing something” after going through the workshop will make these students remember and transfer to their work as professionals in the media - an inclusive approach - which would manifest in a positive way and help bridge and heal the divide and hurt between India and Pakistan.” What the students have indeed achieved through Making Media, Building Peace is not being guided to peace, but charting their own way to it.
Nidhi Shendurnikar-Tere is an independent researcher with interests in politics, gender, peace and popular culture. She has been a former UGC fellow at The Dept. of Political Science, The M.S. University of Baroda, Gujarat. She has recently submitted a PhD thesis in Political Science and is a team member with Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein
She blogs at http://www.68pagesofmylife.blogspot.com and tweets at @mailtonidhi
Written by Nidhi Shendurnikar-Tere and published on 15-April-2015