A team of youngsters from India and Pakistan, motivated by values of reformation, rehabilitation, and reconciliation have joined hands to promote a cultural, social, and creative exchange of ideas among young people in the two countries. The Indo-Pak Lighthouse Project is a pioneering initiative led by young people from India and Pakistan. They strive to bring down animosities and misconceptions rampant in the India-Pakistan relationship. The project focuses on building connections between the youth on both sides of the border. Katherine Abraham, the project’s director cum editor from Pune, India, and Aima Yusuf, writer and photographer from Lahore, Pakistan, share their vision of how they intend to challenge negativity in the Indo-Pak discourse and help young people in both countries see beyond myopic realities of political tussles and enemy images hyped in the media.
Nidhi Shendurnikar: With many Indo-Pak peace initiatives being floated by young people on both sides, how is your project unique?
Katherine Abraham: First things first, we prefer not to compare our work with any other organization. Each organization has its own genus and functioning. At ‘The Lighthouse Project’, we aim at re-introducing citizens to their friends from across the border. In the case of India and Pakistan, the discourse is dominated by people in authority and armchair thinkers. We want the everyday Indian to meet the everyday Pakistani. Come to think of it… neither Pakistan nor India figure in the list of top five destinations that people from both countries want to visit. This is what we want to change. We have a shared heritage, history, and culture. So why not share friendships as well? We know this will take time to materialize but we are certain that there will be a time when it will not remain only a dream, but manifest into reality.
Aima Yusuf: All initiatives play a unique role in promoting peace between India and Pakistan and we are totally in support of this larger movement. Our project focuses on the depiction of similarities between the two countries in a pictorial way. The mainstream media will never tell you how our people, cities, and day-to-day life mirror each other. Featuring photographs and write-ups about different cities in India and Pakistan is what makes our project special.
Nidhi: Why is it called The Lighthouse Project?
Katherine: We look at India and Pakistan as two ships lost in a sea of animosity and misunderstanding. The lighthouse serves as a beacon of hope to all those who are either voyaging or adrift in these troubled waters. In the present circumstances of a troubled Indo-Pak relationship, we believe we can be that lighthouse, that pillar of strength and ray of light showing the way forward for these stray ships.
Nidhi: Tell us something about your team at The Lighthouse Project.
Katherine: Interestingly, ours is a potpourri of sorts. We have members engaged in different professions and fields of learning. From students to architects, journalists, management professionals, teachers, and business people; we have a team that operates from both India and Pakistan. In the near future, we wish to strengthen our base of Pakistani participants considering the fact that we currently have fewer numbers from their side.
Nidhi: Whom do you want to engage with through the project and what do you envision for peaceful relations between India and Pakistan?
Aima: Promoting peace and tolerance, that is our main goal. Acceptance of each other, respect and love for the other, and mutual co-existence should be the way of life for neighbours, shouldn’t it? We want to influence young people and their opinions of the other country. It is time for the present generation to give up hatred and believe in love and its power to transform long-standing conflicts.
Katherine: We have a target audience, i.e. the common man/woman in both countries. The present generation has not lived through the bloody events of 1947 (partition of the sub-continent) or subsequent wars (1965, 1971, and 1998) which is why it is comfortable to leave the past behind and move ahead with a clean slate. This feeling is shared by young people on both sides of the border.
Nidhi: How did it all start for The Lighthouse Project?
Katherine: To be honest, the roots of this initiative were laid down when I started researching for my novel, ‘Silenced by Love’ (Authorspress, 2014). I was enthralled when a dear friend from Lahore happened to send some pictures of his visit to Naran which is located in the Mansehra District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. I decided to highlight the beauty of Naran in my book. I had to go see the place for myself but unfortunately that hasn’t happened as of yet. I haven't lost hope though. As time passed, I made a few friends from across the border; simple, common people like me who have dreams, hopes, aspirations very much like my friends here in India. Things began to fall in place and with support and encouragement from friends on both sides, the project got going in November last year. Nitika Nagar and Shivangini Pathak have been pivotal in supporting this initiative and bringing it to the level it is as of today. Nitika is a young law student who currently coordinates with the team and connects us to colleges both in India and Pakistan so that we at the project can build up a youth base. Shivangini on the other hand is working on getting us connected to important people in Pakistan’s administration and bureaucracy. Through her, we also are in touch with Pakistanis who have married Indians. Both Nitika and Shivangini have been crucial in mentoring our team for the project’s blueprint.
Nidhi: What are your plans for the coming two years?
Aima: We want to encourage the use of photography for peacebuilding. Photographs can showcase how similar we are. People can get a glimpse of life across the border, see how different cities are so similar in character and hopefully be tempted to plan a visit to the other side!
Katherine: Work is in progress for a ‘Cities Project’ between the two countries in order to be able to bring to the fore lesser known heritage and cultural sites that serve as shared sacred spaces. We also have a photo blog wherein we focus on sharing socio-cultural experiences through images. We recently held an essay contest on the theme ‘Indo-Pak 2025: Challenges and Channels of Unity’. We were thrilled by the overwhelming numbers who participated and we intend to now make this an annual event. In the near future, we wish to experiment with video blogging and real time exchange programs for young students in India and Pakistan.
Nidhi: How do you engage with someone who doesn't buy into the idea of peace between the two countries? What is your message to those who do not believe in ‘talking to the enemy’?
Katherine: Who is the enemy, really? Think about it. We are fighting a common enemy: terrorism. We cannot forget Mumbai and concomitantly, we can never erase Peshawar from our memories. There are bigoted minds who feel they can terrorize us, because we are enslaved by fear. If we unite against violent extremism, our strength is superior to those who want us to succumb. Our battle is the same, our fears are the same. When we stand together, we can overcome both.
Aima: Well, all I can say is that we haven’t achieved anything significant by hatred for over six decades now. Hate took us nowhere. So it is time we give love a chance. Most people involved in this project haven’t even met each other. Yet they chose to give peace and dialogue a chance. They believe in each other and they believe in peace. How can one then not have faith in peace?
*The Indo-Pak Lighthouse Project is looking to involve writers from both countries interested in penning down their thoughts for peace. It also seeks interested photo bloggers in India and Pakistan who wish to share their country’s beauty through the medium of photography.
To connect, please write to email@example.com or visit http://editorlighthousepr.wix.com/lighthouseindopak.
Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar is an independent researcher based in Ahmedabad, India. She has a Ph.D in Political Science from The M.S. University of Baroda, Gujarat. She is interested in research on young people in peace building, the role of religion in peace building, and counter-narratives to mainstream Indian secularism in the digital space. She is a team member with Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein, which works to promote peace between India and Pakistan. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar and published on 02-March-2016