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“Interdependence” Day and beyond

First published in Aman Ki Asha on Aug 1, 2012 :

As the dates approach, the excitement is increasing. The event is “Celebrate India, Pakistan Independence Days for Peace, Aug 14-15, 2012” — on Facebook at

As more people join the event page, those who joined earlier are getting to know each other better. They share common interests in music, culture, poetry. Some discuss pains and pleasures common to India and Pakistan. Many who met as strangers on the event page have added each other as Facebook friends and continue their exchanges elsewhere.

The idea is based on the “Pray for Peace between India and Pakistan Day” initiated by Swati Sharan in Toronto, asking Indians and Pakistanis to “Save the Date! Pray for 30 seconds in your own style for peace between India and Pakistan”, on December 18, 2011 (randomly picked). This led to some 200,000 souls around the world praying for this cause, not only via social media but at community centres and ashrams.

Inspired by the idea, a discussion began on twitter about celebrating Aug 14-15 together as “Interdependence Days”, instead of just wishing each other for Independence. “What is this celebration for if we can’t party together?” asked Shivam Vij, an IndoPak peace voice from Delhi, almost a year ago.

The Pakistan Youth Alliance, inspired by the prayers and their own Peace Parade in Lahore on August 14 last year which ended with wishing their friends in India at midnight on August 15, decided to take it further. The idea caught on and within a few days, many groups joined with more ideas and support.

Some have been going to Wagah border on Aug 14-15 for years, lighting candles to wish their neighbours for Independence Day. The Confederation of Voluntary Organisations (COVA) based in Hyderabad, Deccan has been organising events in different parts of India. This year they will celebrate Aug 14-15 with interfaith prayers and a video conference between youth across the border.

The Internet and Facebook allows those who are not physically able to join an event to participate virtually. And so, with leadership and support from Aman ki Asha, other groups and individuals have joined in this year.

Swati Sharan of Pray for Peace between India and Pakistan continues her quest through meditation and prayer. “I hope that wherever people are, they will take this power (of prayer) that they have in their hands and use it,” she says.

The Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA), with its team leader Shumail Zaidi in Karachi plans an iftar with orphans and physically challenged children, along with a fun packed evening of imaginary India and Pakistan teams playing tug of war, Antakshari, and other games, followed by a prayer.

“We at PYA want the youth bulge on both sides of the borders to understand the importance of sustainable peace based on common ground. Enough of wars and hatred; let’s move forward to make one-fifth of humanity an epitome of progress, prosperity and equality,” says Ali Abbas Zaidi who heads PYA. Believing that his generation, youth on both sides of the border, can be ‘game-changers’ towards a better South Asia, “together we can, and together we must,” he insists.

Another youth initiative, Romancing The Border, is working to build a movement to increase positive engagement between India and Pakistan. It includes innovative tools such as e-cards with positive messages. “We don’t know if RTB will make a difference, but it brought 80 of us together from around the globe. We cared. We will continue to do so. We all came for a peaceful South Asia,” says one message.

For Independence day this year, RTB is planning a “Google Hangout” between Indians and Pakistanis aiming to set a world record for the longest running virtual meet-up between conflict boundaries.
The Journal for Pakistan Medical Students plans a teleconferenced get-together for volunteer editors on both sides, to take forward for the idea of peace and cooperation in healthcare through medical research.

“There is no other option but peace between India and Pakistan, if we are to fight mutual enemies like malaria, cholera, dengue, hepatitis, maternal mortality…,” says Dr Anis Rehman, a JPMS co-founder.

The South Asian community in Canada, including eminent professors from the University of Toronto at Mississauga (UTM) and Mc Master University are celebrating Aug 14-15 with the launch of Pledge for Peace – a website to provide an ongoing, long-term platform for Indians and Pakistanis, aiming for “lasting peace and friendship between the two peoples”. The website will invite pledges from around the world to make a chain of peace and launch an online game for youth, Cricket for Peace, to be inaugurated jointly at UTM by the Hindu Students Council and PYA.

Other joint collaborations beyond Aug 14-15 are planned. Mumbai Marathon is organising the “Every Step Counts” run between Amristar and Lahore on November 9, 2012, to commemorate the birthday of Allama Mohammad Iqbal, Pakistan’s national poet. Runners will start from Golden Temple, Amritsar and end at Iqbal’s tomb at Badshahi Mosque, Lahore, to commemorate the man “who gave us the beautiful song Sare Jahan Sey Acha,” says team leader Swaminathan Subramanyam. “Why do we do this? Because as we look for peace between our two countries, EVERY STEP COUNTS.”

Pakistan’s Pedal for Peace group are organising their Lahore to Amritsar bicycle tour to coincide with Every Step Counts’ November 9 event. “We cycle from one city to another in order to spread the message of peace, tolerance and to urge people to solve social issues hampering our growth” says Abdul Basit Khwaja of Pedal for Peace.


Those who are unable to physically join an event are invited to dedicate some time to peace on Aug 14-15 this year, wherever they may be: light a candle, meditate, pray, fly a kite, cook a meal, make a piece of artwork or write a poem dedicated to peace between the two countries.

Let’s make peace more visible than conflict, this Independence Day. Happy India Pakistan Peace celebrations!

Dr Ilmana Fasih is an Indian gynaecologist and health activist married to a Pakistani. She blogs at Blind to Bounds


Sometimes calamities unite us more

First published here:

The conscience-shaking brutal rape and subsequent
death of the anonymous student from Delhi is not India’s issue alone and the grief is not for one case alone
By Ilmana Fasih

As thousands of people on both sides of the India Pakistan border mourned the death of the Delhi gang rape victim, someone commented on Aman ki Asha Facebook group: “Well, the Delhi rape proceeds from a common mindset. The negatives unite us just as well as the positives.”
“Sometimes, calamities unite us more,” came a response.

The conscience-shaking brutal rape and subsequent death of the anonymous student from Delhi (who is referred to by different names by various sections of the media) has made us rethink how common our pains are.

Beyond this tragic incident, looking through the e-newspapers from the subcontinent, there is hardly a day without some incident of rape being reported.Be it the gruesome gang-rape of a medical student at a bus stop in a megacity, or a six-year-old girl raped by local goons in a village, or a girl raped while partying with friends in the posh area of another city, or a teenager gang-raped and then asked to patch up by accepting money or marrying one of the rapists in a town. Can you guess which side of the border each case belongs to? The scenarios differ, cities differ, but the crime remains the same. The mindset stays identical. Age is no bar. Infancy upwards, one finds women and children of all age groups being subjected to rape and sexual abuse.

Unfortunately this is one situation where the human race seems to have achieved a “no barriers of age, color, creed or class”, the world over.

Hard to digest, but rapes are on a steep rise in the subcontinent.

In 2011, 568 rape cases were reported in Delhi, and 459 in 2009 (National Crime Reports Bureau) .The figures given by Delhi Police reveal that a woman is raped every 18 hours or molested every 14 hours in the capital.

Similarly in Pakistan, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, estimates that “every two hours a woman is raped in Pakistan and every eight hours a woman is subjected to gang-rape”.

The Additional Police Surgeon, quoted in a 2008 newspaper report, estimated that at least 100 rapes are committed in Karachi alone every 24 hours, although most are un-reported.

If these are the statistics of two megacities, one can fathom what would be the situation in the other smaller towns and villages. It is well known that the majority of the rapes in India, Pakistan and other South Asian countries are never reported, and just a handful of the perpetrators are ever punished.
The tragedy is amplified when inane solutions are offered like: “Women should not go out late at night” or “Women going out late night should be accompanied by a male.” In the ‘Delhi gang rape’ case, the solution of an accompanying man clearly failed.

Women are advised not to wear western clothes, or more ridiculous “not to eat chow mein” or “not to carry mobile phones with cameras”. Some even advise women to not report the attack “if there are not enough witnesses”.

But none of this well-meaning advice takes into account why rapes occur. It is not because the woman was dressed so, or walked alone on the street late at night, or was attending a party with her friends or ate a certain kind of food. No. Rape occurs because some men want to rape. And why do ‘some’ men want to rape and not others? Rape is the culmination of a series of systematic experiences that a man is exposed to, from infancy to manhood- in which he is told, with or without so many words, that he is stronger, and a woman is not just weaker, but a commodity at his disposal. Rape is a way to display power and superiority.

So long as this mindset persists, legislation and punishment will never be enough of a deterrent. This tends to get overlooked in all the outrage at the gruesome details of the Delhi gang rape, that has led to demands for the severest of punishments, even public hanging for the perpetrators.
Without undermining that tragedy it is important to remind ourselves of the countless cases of rape and sexual harassment that are routine on both sides of the divide. Those who survive suffer psychological trauma, often far from the media limelight, mostly in silence.

Rape survivors are often pressured by the police or local goons to hush up the matter either, to accept money, or worse still, marry the rapist. Many commit suicide, or live with permanent scars. The rapists often roam scot free, posing a threat to the survivor who does not even dare to raise her head for justice.

Insisting on the death penalty in an isolated case that has shaken people cannot be a solution. Studies have shown that the certainty of punishment, rather than its severity, is a greater deterrent to crime.

We also need to look towards at preventing this crime rather than just push for a punishment after a case gets highlighted.

Foremost, each of us, irrespective of gender, which empathises with the Delhi student who was gang-raped, or any other faceless rape victim, needs to strive to ensure every woman in our sphere of influence feels secure and gets due respect. One of the signs of evolution in human beings is the neo cortex which enables us to restrain behaviour and train our minds. We need to use it to ensure that we don’t force anything upon any woman – or indeed anyone in a more vulnerable position.

Secondly, we need to empower girls with the right information and stop making rape a taboo issue for their ‘innocent’ minds. It is more important to teach a girl to be assertive than to try and ‘protect’ her. “Look up as you walk and stand up straight; pretending as though you have two big panthers on either side of you as you walk may sound silly, but it can help boost confidence,” suggests a self help site on rape prevention. “Attackers are more likely to go for those who they think cannot defend themselves.”

Given that over 90% of the perpetrators are known to the victims, girls (and boys) must be taught that if they feel uncomfortable with anyone’s touch – even if it is an uncle, a cousin or a friend – they must trust their gut and not let it continue. Thirdly, if we cannot change the mindset of some grown men, we can at least guide our sons, right from babyhood, to respect women and not consider them a commodity that is ‘available’. Last but certainly not the least, for those who cannot change their mindsets, a real need for certainty and not the severity of punishment to the rapist, as a mode of deterrence, is mandatory.

Shocked after the demise of the Delhi paramedical student, I tweeted: “Her sacrifice must no go in vain. Let us rise to make violence against women a history.” Knowing the scale of the menace, this may be wishful thinking, but we need to keep striving to make it a reality.

The writer is an Indian gynaecologist married to a Pakistani, a proud Indian Pakistani dreaming of a peaceful, healthy and prosperous South Asia.

She tweets @zeemana

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

A tribute to Delhi gang raped girl, inititially known as Amanat, Nirbhaya or Damini:

Goodbye Damini – A tribute to Nirbhaya

Being the ‘eighteenth camel’ for peace.

One advice by a Good Samaritan couple has come a long way for me, as an Indian Pakistani. Just a few days after being married, the couple of a similar kind advised, “Don’t quarrel over India or Pakistan; you will not be able to make any country a Heaven, but will make your own home a Hell.”

The exercise was easier said than done, but with few hard lessons, I ultimately decided that instead of acting an all patriotic for one side and holding a dagger against the other, I need to uphold objectivity, and a shield against  the emotional daggers hurled from both sides. And this is how I could actually see  how similar are both the people and their problems, and that both deserve to be seen with fairness. Hence to empathize with them of both became remained the only option. This is how I found my ‘eighteenth camel’, which to many of my friends is still an impossible option i.e. to love both India and Pakistan as much.

Just to narrate the context of ‘eighteenth camel’, the phrase is based on an Arab parable.

“There was an old Bedouin who had three sons, and all the treasure he had were17 camels. While dying he left a will to give one half of the camels to the oldest son, one third to the second and one-ninth to the third son. After his death, the sons began to quarrel, and since there was no way they could divide 17 camels into half, one third, or one ninth, none of them could have their share from the pie.
They approached a wise woman, and asked her to solve the problem. She was nonplussed too, and thought really hard. She sincerely wanted to solve the problem, even if it meant her sacrificing something from her side. So she decided to give one of her camels to them, so that it becomes `18, and now each one could easily get their share as the number was divisible by all –one half, one third and one ninth.
The sons were very excited and they began the mathematics. The one with half the share took nine camels, the one with a third took six, and the one with a ninth took his two.
To their surprise, they realized that after adding their shares, it was again 17 (9+6+2) and they were left with one camel. Since they were so content with their fair shares and at the generosity of the wise woman, that all of them with consensus decided to return the camel to her and that too with gratitude.”

So obvious from the story, even by finding my eighteenth camel, I did not lose anything.

From the India-Pakistan perspective, if we as common masses consider ourselves as the wise woman, and make an effort to find the eighteenth camel, we too would lose nothing, at all. Our love for our own country cannot in anyway be compromised. Giving a flicker of thought, that instead of harboring a venomous hate for the other side, we need think of them being as human as us– with same rogue elements, and vested interests trying to sabotage the peace process.

It would be unfair to generalize both sides as hate mongers, and I know firsthand that both aspire for peace as much.

But come a conflict, deliberate or accidental, between India and Pakistan, media takes the lead, with magniloquence of the ‘breaking news’. And the TV channels start to balderdash every few minutes, repeatedly beating sensationalism into the eardrums of the masses. And responding to its cries, the sleeping patriotic Bheemas in us suddenly wake up hungry, desperate to chew up the other side. Even before the facts come up, the mainstream media and the individuals on social media throw themselves into convulsions, frothing hatefully.

Haven’t we seen this circus both sides, all too often? Are we not yet fed up of this drama occurring day in and day out, sucking up our positive energies?

Can we as helpless masses be a solution? As above, I repeat, yes, we can be the ‘eighteenth camel’, being the unified voice of peace.

“Secret to peace is us, the humanity.” says an anthropologist Willaim Ury

We on the subcontinent are a billion and a half humanity, out of which two thirds are the youngsters who are or yet to embark on a journey of adulthood, and there lay decades of life ahead for them. Imagine if each day or each week, they simply indulge in barrage of hate waves either in sympathy for a Siachen, or Godra or Mumbai or even Zeeshan Abbasi? How will they be able to grow as productive individuals with such frequent doses of hatred?

Says poet EE Cummings “Hatred bounces.”

Aren’t we seeing it bouncing higher and higher with each incident?

Both sides have their own fair share of problems to wrestle with, and most of them are identical. Name it and we both have them– religious extremism, corruption, poverty, ill-health,  ignorance, women abuse, and the list goes on…

Should we not be aligning with each other, and be the unified voice of peace? And with numbers on our side, we can show to the vested interests that we want to live with dignity, with prosperity and with peace, and that our voice matters.

Being eighteenth camels for peace, do we lose anything?  No.

We all win, and no one loses.


India and Pakistan: Let’s recover our natural bond

All dreams can be turned into realities, all we need to do is to first break the barriers within, and take the first step forward. PHOTO: AFP

Published in Express Tribune on Aug 15, 2012 :

Many stories in our lives, no matter how insignificant, leave us changed. I narrate my personal life experience, as a young child, which subconsciously broke my psychological barriers between India and Pakistan. This was long before I even decided to marry a Pakistani, and cross over to the other side.

Living in a rented house in New Delhi, India, we were faced with a senior Hindu couple as our landlords, who were old workers of a radical Hindu extremist organisation. Being a very strict vegetarian couple, even the normal Hindu families wouldn’t feel comfortable renting their upper floor.

My parents, being moderate Muslims, were respectful of their religious sentiments, and in dire need of a short term rental place. They thought they would be able to spend next six months as tenants there, without any problem. The owners had put restrictions on us for certain non-vegetarian food items which we were not allowed to cook in the kitchen. It did make us a little uncomfortable but out of respect and religious sentiments, we would strictly abide by their rules.

Auntie, as my parents called her, would come and check the kitchen often. But since my parents were complying to their demands and respecting their sentiments, they did not object. In fact, they let her reassure herself.

Once my father’s aunt in Lahore fell sick, and he wanted to see her before she passed away. Luckily the whole family got the visa too. My parents informed uncle and auntie that they were going for a visit to Pakistan. To be honest, we expected a negative reaction from them for their tenants were to leave on such short notice.

Surprisingly, a day later, the senior couple came upstairs to us and made an appeal. They said they lived in a house in Lahore before they migrated to India in 1947, as newlyweds, and if we could bring back a picture of that house to them, it would mean a great deal. They had the house address memorised by heart, even after almost 29 years of living away from it. They had a strong bond with Lahore and were holding on to memories of their youth spent there.

The address was (some number), Ram Gali, Lahore.

We went to visit their house and took photographs of it. The current residents were very hospitable and showed us all the different and curious things about the house they had left exactly as they were.

One such thing was the “Om” emblem installed at the head of the entrance of the house. We were surprised and found it immensely kind of the new residents to have left it there as the Sanskrit word ‘Om’ is of sacred importance to Hindus.

When we returned, the first thing my father did was he developed the photos, and present it as an album to our former landlords.

Upon receiving the album, the old couple broke down. Tears and simultaneous smiles shone on their faces as they touched and saw the pictures. My parents gave them details of the house, verbatim from the current residents in Lahore. They were particularly moved by the symbol “Om” still being in place, and the name of the street still being Ram Gali. Maybe, sitting across the border, they had the idea that Pakistan is extremely anti-Hinduism and all their belongings would have been destroyed or reconstructed by now.

Around the same time, my nani (maternal grandmother) had passed away, and mother would feel depressed. Auntie would then console her by saying,

You are my daughter; as it is I have none.

She had two sons, and they, too, were living away at that time. Her motherly emotions were not stymied by differences of faith. She was beginning to realise that our prejudices based on religion were unimportant and meaningless.

Auntie never came up to check for non-veg being cooked in the kitchen again, as she had before. But she did visit to give us guavas from her tree in the backyard, or chameli (jasmine) flowers from the garden, which my mother loved so much.

Our new house was under construction and uncle once offered,

Take me there, for I have experience in house building and can give you some suggestions.

After six months, we moved to our own house, but the relationship we had weaved out of love remained. It was no more a torn fabric of partition but a beautiful tapestry of friendship and love.

They did not visit much as they were very old, but whenever we visited their house, we received hugs with a warm reassurance,

“We are your nani (grandmother) and nana (grandfather),” they would say, helping us children cope with the absence of our own.

Now, I’m married to someone from across the border and I believe that my Indian nani and nana’s attitude played a major part in removing the demonised presumptions I had of people across the border. Perhaps this was what gave me the courage to even think that living with a man from Pakistan would not be such a bad idea after all.

Two decades on, witnessing the turbulent tides between India and Pakistan’s relations, and watching the feelings of misunderstanding existing between certain sections of people on both sides, I feel there is a dire need to break these psychological barriers. We may now be independent but we share with each other more than what a simple defined border can weaken. Our traditions, culture, attire, our liking of spicy food and chapattis and our love for our families are all mutual.

Thankfully, the distance-less, border-less social media is playing that role. It is bringing people across the border closer as friends. Even something as small as a Twitter trend about our friendship can make a difference in someone’s mindset and remove our biases.

This year, I’ve seen a group on Facebook, as the name implies, “Celebrate India, Pakistan Independence Days for Peace, August 14/15, 2012”.

Following a plea to “Pray for Peace between India and Pakistan” on December 18, 2011, initiated by a Toronto based Indian journalist, Swati Sharan, almost 200,000 people across the globe prayed for peace. Inspired from this success, the idea to form the above mentioned group and to celebrate independence days together for peace was conceived. Thus a Facebook event was created.

A number of peace groups from different parts of India, Pakistan and even Canada joined in. (They are all listed on the event page).

Growing in just a few months, now all these groups are set to celebrate the two independence days on ground as ‘peace days’, in their own unique ways. They all look forward to take it further each year, hoping that more groups will soon join in.

But we need to see more of this sentiment beyond the virtual world and into the real one.

Learning from these example, I again feel reassured that after all dreams can be turned into realities. All we need to do is to first break the barriers within, and take the first step forward. After all, we cannot deny the fact that we were once one. We stood united and even fought against the British together, hand in hand. And today on India’s Independence Day, despite the political and legal barricades, we have to learn to love each other. We already do so naturally; maybe we aren’t expressive enough or have yet to unlearn our biases and accept each other as brothers that we are, but it is undeniable that love does exist.

I pray for Pakistan and India to thrive far more than they already have. Where Pakistan will always be in my prayers, India will too. I wish for lasting peace to prevail between the two nations, the two neighbours, the two brothers.

Happy 65th birthday, India! Happy independence day.

Nirala Sawera

Dedicated to the events :  

Pledge for Peace Launch in UTM, Mississauga, ON.

Aug 14-15, 2012 Pakistanis, Indians, celebrate Independence Day for Peace!/events/243690589069619/

Nafrat ki gathri ko mein ney
Phenk diya hai gireh laga ker
Hasrat se ab khol rahi hoon
Yaadon bharey iss thailey ko
Pyaar ki taaza hawa lagaane
Aman ki roshan dhoop dikhane.

Tum bhi aao, kholo apni
Saari gaanthein, saare bull
Tum bhi apne jholey mein se
Bujhe huwe woh deep nikalo
Un yaadon ke, un baaton ke
Un qisson ke, jo itne zyada
Dohratey the jab Nana Dada
Chehre unke damka jaate the
Ankhein unki chamka detey the.

Usee dhamak ki roshni mein tar
Usee chamak ki lau ko lekar
Mein bhi apna deep jalaaoon
Tum bhi apna diya jalaao
Roshan phir se rahon ko ker dein

Taaron se  khwabon ko bher dein.

Apna apna diya jalaa ker
Saare apne dard bhulaker

Mil ker jab sub saath chalenge
Haath me lekar haath chalenge
Dhal jayegi ghurbat ki sham
Ho paayegi khush haali aam.

Lekin saw nahin, hazaar nahin,
Saath her ek ko chalna hogaa.
Sirf mera ya tumhara nahin,
Diya her ek ka jalna hogaa.
Karoron diye jo saath jalenge,
Dil mein nai umang bharenge.
Pher door jab andhera hogaa,

To kya nirala yeh SAWERA hoga.

Ilmana Fasih
June 6, 2012

Daring to cross the love border

Published in Aman Ki Asha, The News on January 24, 2012.

Ilmana Fasih shares some stories of building cross-border bridges through the social media

A world without borders was my childhood dream. The desperation and the need for this dream to realise, came out in the open when I embarked on my ‘pyar border paar’ journey, after deciding to tie the knot across the border. I’ve been on two decades of a topsy-turvy ride riddled with visa travails, with the hope-hopelessness cycle going round in vicious circles. Not had I ever dreamt in my wildest of dreams that my hope for a borderless world could be realised in my lifetime. By a ‘borderless’ world, I mean erasing psychological rather than physical borders.

Perhaps on ground it still remains a dream, but on the virtual terrain it has turned into a reality, with the booming world of social media, especially twitter. It is a visa free, passport free utopia where no one is asked their colour, creed or credentials.
It does not take long for one to get addicted to this borderless terrain. The most fascinating thing for me is to see Indo-Pak friendships burgeoning through social media. Thanks to this factor, we can all be a family beyond borders and beliefs, tied with passions common on both sides of the Indo-Pak border.

Indians and Pakistanis wish each other on Eid and Diwali via Twitter and Facebook, and send virtual firecrackers, mithai and biryani across the border.
The #shair hashtag which ‘trended’ on twitter some time back merits a mention. Every day, it attracts Urdu poetry loving twitterati in India and Pakistan. As Rana Safvi , who started this trend, begins to tweet the topic or the poet of the day, other #shair fans start to contribute their tweets with unmatched enthusiasm. So common is the passion for #shair on both sides, that it is almost impossible to identify which side of the border the tweep belongs to.
Rana tweets: “Twitter ne nikamma ker dia, warna aadmi hum bhi aadmi the kaam ke.” #shair
Comes the reply: “140 characters mein baat ker lete hain, DP to DP borderpaar, mulaqat samajh lete hain.
Political differences and arguments also emerge on twitter, but more than anger, what trumps are the vibes of friendship and harmony. The same thrill is felt on facebook too, with some limitations.
Some time back I was approached by two sets of people keen to tell their story of cross-border friendship developed through social media.
One was Ram, a boy in his mid twenties, from West Bengal, India who became friends with Maria, a girl in Punjab, Pakistan through facebook. As their friendship led to a better understanding and respect for each other’s cultures and beliefs, the vibes spilled over to thaw any cold feelings that their families had for the other side. When Ram’s father fell ill and was admitted to hospital, Maria’s mother and sister prayed for his recovery. He recovered, and Ram’s family attributed the recovery to Maria’s family’s prayers (duas).
Now, as Maria is about to be married, Ram’s family is sending her a present as a token of their friendship and gratitude for her family’s prayers. Ram explained that their families had no links to anyone the other side, and hence had no other reason to be warm, but for their friendship.
Maria and Ram have vowed to keep up their friendship even getting married to their respective spouses, and one day, when they can obtain visas, they hope to meet and ensure that any children they have are able to meet each other.

The second story is that of a love-struck couple who prefers to keep their identity and respective nationalities confidential. They contacted me with a request that I should intervene, (having gone through a similar ordeal), and convince the girl’s parents that tying a knot across the border can work out.
Like many others, they ‘met’ through an incidental chat on twitter some six months ago. They then added each other as friends on facebook. The exchange of pictures and other information led them to develop a better understanding of each other, until they reached a point when they decided they needed to share their lives. Both are in their early or mid twenties, and feel they are mature enough to embark on this journey.
The hope and enthusiasm that they had attached to my help made it hard for me to explain that I would prefer to stay away, and that they needed to deal with the situation themselves. Life is as such a struggle, and with a cross-border union, it gets tougher. Hence, let this be the first hurdle they need to cross together, before embarking on the real lifelong journey.
The couple cited the Shoaib Akhtar-Sania Mirza marriage as an example, but the girl’s parents pointed out that they were ordinary people, not stars. Hence they chose me, an ordinary Indian woman married to an ordinary Pakistani man to plead their case.
With this borderless world of twitter and face book, it is easy to predict that in future, there will be more virtual friendships which people will want to turn into real relationships.
As I explained to them, I would want everyone to appreciate that such decisions are never taken either in a haste or without realising the pros and cons of this life changing decision. Life is tough in any case, it gets tougher, and more so, after an Indo-Pak adventure. Since there are decisions which when taken can effectively be non-reversible. The decision of one of the spouses to forego his or her passport for the other side cannot be reversed, whether the marriage works or not. Secondly, when the couple has children, their nationality is one or the other. So if the marriage fails, the woman may have to suffer a lot in terms of losing her children, if the children happen to have the father’s nationality (or vice versa).
I have personally seen a couple of cases in which things did not work out and the mother and children were left stranded across the border, unable to meet again at all. I also know a woman, who is bearing all her husband’s abuses including his second marriage, only because she does not want to lose the children who have the father’s nationality. Moreover, her children are very young, and she can’t think of separation, as she has no family support or financial standing in her husband’s country, for which she left her own.
All this is certainly not intended to dissuade anyone from daring to cross the love border. But those who think of it should be fully informed of all the issues involved before embarking on this toughest exam of one’s real life.
The young twitter couple I mentioned is adamant that they want to tie the knot and transition their relationship from the virtual to the real world. I wish them good luck in their future journey.

The writer is an Indian gynaecologist and health activist married to a Pakistani. She blogs at

Let’s make Health our Commonwealth

First published in AmanKiAsha in TheNews:

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) some time back recommended promoting economic cooperation between India and Pakistan by focusing on information technology (IT), entertainment and healthcare.

Yes, “Healthcare”, I shout.

After all the other two are thriving and will take care of themselves. I remember in the mid-nineties, when my father-in-law, a doctor himself, was diagnosed with a serious medical problem. Frantic tests at various local institutions recommended that he undergo a procedure that wasn’t very commonly performed in Pakistan. He was all set to go to the west which required large expenses.

It was then that my awareness about a particular institution in India, where I had grown up and attended medical college, came in handy. I persuaded him to get examined there. We went to New Delhi, and he returned to Pakistan treated at one tenth of the cost it would have required in the west. I became an instant ‘doted’ upon daughter-in-law in his eyes. All his initial reservations about his son marrying an Indian disappeared overnight.

The true potential of medical cooperation between the two countries was dramatically highlighted when Noor Fatima, a two-and-a-half year old baby girl, went to Bangalore by the Lahore-Delhi bus in 2003. In fact, the bus service was resumed in part to allow her to make the journey. She was literally given a red carpet at the hospital as well as by the media.

Just a few days ago there was news of a 10 month old baby being taken from as far away as Qila Abdullah near Chaman in Balochistan to Bangalore, India for a heart surgery, a free treatment thanks to the joint efforts of Rotary India Humanity Foundation (RIHF) and Rotary Pakistan with Aman ki Asha, the peace initiative of the Jang Group of Pakistan and the Times of India Group. It is heartening to know that thanks to this rightly named ‘Heart to Heart’ initiative, now over 60 Indian and Pakistani children from poor families have been able to undergo life-saving heart surgeries in India.

As this people-to-people interaction in health, as in other fields, goes on, it is clear that no animosity or cold temperatures at the top level can freeze the warm relations between the ordinary Pakistanis and Indians. Our common heritage, common interests and above all a concern for each other will never dampen this warmth.

However, there is a dire need to extend this at a wider and higher level. The recent statements from the Indian and Pakistani business communities could well be the trigger. The top levels of the corridors of power need to formulate policy along these lines to bring a real impact at community level.
With reports about a case of Polio being found recently at Wagah, Pakistan, it becomes essential for strong policy decisions to be made at the top level, trickling down to the masses, to combat the spread of such crippling diseases.

India and Pakistan are among the four countries of the world where Polio is endemic. Our proximity will not enable either to achieve the ambitious plan of making Polio extinct, without mutual cooperation.

Looking at both countries from the UN lens, India and Pakistan are both termed ‘out of track’ when it comes to achieving the 2015 target for the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 – the reduction of infant mortality. With a 1.4 billion population in the region, this means millions of children and babies are at risk. Failing to achieve an optimal Infant Mortality Rate will mean that a gigantic number of children being deprived of the opportunity to survive. Does that not warrant a joint concerted effort for both countries to come ‘on track’?

Similarly, in the MDG 5, the reduction of the Maternal Mortality Rate, again, both the countries are unlikely to meet the target in 2015. India has done better, but in both countries, far too many women die during childbirth. We certainly have great room for cooperation in this field too, as overpopulation, women’s illiteracy, and violence against women are among the common problems that both countries face. Isn’t it common sense to share information and experiences and work together to eradicate these problems?

MDG 6 deals with the Infectious diseases, like Tuberculosis, Malaria and HIV. India has done a good job in stabilising HIV, bringing down the prevalence rate from 0.36% in 2006 to 0.31% in 2009 (UNAIDS Global report on HIV/AIDS, 2010). In Pakistan the HIV/AIDS prevalence is low among the general population (<0.05%), but according to UN reports, it is increasing rapidly in high risk groups. The UN categorises Pakistan as a high risk country for the spread of HIV/AIDS. (

Doesn’t it make sense for Pakistanis dealing with HIV/AIDS control to learn from India’s experience? Isn’t prevention better than cure?

Malaria is still a problem that both countries have not been able to tackle. According to a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report, a third of the world’s countries will manage to eliminate Malaria, but adds that “the future in the South Asia region isn’t bright.”

India battles with a heavy burden of Malaria. Pakistan too has almost half a million cases of Malaria each year. A common problem with a common purpose of defeating it could help the region also realise the dream of being Malaria free. After all, countries closer to home like the Maldives have managed to do that, and Sri Lanka is considered close to eliminating the menace.

The mid-2000s saw Dengue epidemics in the Indian cities of Delhi and others in northern India. Today, Lahore and others in Pakistan are battling with it. It was a proud moment for the region when expertise from Sri Lanka and medicines from India helped Pakistan to combat the illness.

We have no choice but to combat such problems through joint efforts. The border security guards can check humans for visa, but mosquitoes are above such restrictions.

But besides the recent Dengue cooperation, there has hardly been any cooperation in the field of health at the top policy-making level. The only other cooperation worth a mention is the Polio drops being given to under-fives at Wagah border, and the fumigation of the Samjhota Express against the H1N1 flu virus.

Such small examples of cooperation are nothing compared to the gigantic cooperation that takes place in the field of entertainment. It is much more critical to come together on the immensely more serious issue of health. The stalwarts in this field must emulate the entertainment sector towards substantial cooperation.

We have a common geography, ecology, genetics, cultural practices and health problems. I am sure we can find common solutions too, that will save both countries much valuable time and money. United in health we shall stand, divided we shall fall with illnesses.

Dr Ilmana Fasih is an Indian gynaecologist and health activist married to a Pakistani. Blog: Blind to Bounds

Other children who have also been given a second chance through AKA-Rotary’s Heart to Heart initiative

Wednesday, December 21, 2011