VIEW: Celebrating South Asian commonalities —Adeel Pathan - Friday, April 22, 2011

Interacting with the Nepalese, Bangladeshis and Indians is simple and easy because of a number of reasons ranging from the same or easily understandable spoken languages, food, dress, to customs and traditions 

The winners of the much-hyped Pakistan-India match have undoubtedly been the people who found an opportunity of getting closer to each other and share the joy and happiness through a sporting activity. We should not treat it as a mere cricket match because the positive vibes of both teams playing in the cricket stadium of Mohali were praiseworthy and similar was the response of the spectators from the two neighbouring countries.

There are more commonalities among the people living in different countries of South Asia than differences and this was further explored and exposed during a study programme in Nepal, which could be pronounced as an undisputed visitor-friendly country of South Asia.

More than 30 fellows belonging to Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh gathered in a village resort of Nepal near Kathmandu city with backgrounds in academia, development sector, research, education and women’s movements. They came together from February 1-18, 2011 as part of phase I of South Asian Network to Address Masculinities (SANAM) on understanding masculinities.

The course was designed and given the indigenous name of SANAM, which means sweetheart in Urdu, for developing better understanding on the issues of masculinities (characteristics usually attributed to men but which could be exhibited by other human beings as well) and how this is linked with culture, politics and social change.

Differences among the South Asian countries notwithstanding, the participants of this 18-day programme came so close to one another that it is difficult to segregate them into country slots. South Asians are very humble and loving and no problem was faced in learning from the participants’ diverse experiences.

The experience of staying together for almost three weeks was enough to reveal that whatever the differences of South Asian countries on the political level, the people of these countries are alike and love each other despite bad phases of history. These differences are political in nature and need political solutions instead of disallowing people-to-people contact, stopping or minimising the access to information about one country in another and so on. We need to learn a lesson from our colonial masters who have now realised the importance of unity in the shape of the European Union.

Interacting with the Nepalese, Bangladeshis and Indians is simple and easy because of a number of reasons ranging from the same or easily understandable spoken languages, food, dress, to customs and traditions. Though the sessions were purely academic in nature, even then during the presentations of at least four countries (excluding Sri Lanka) it was clear that they had many things that linked them with one another and gave the people of this region a unique identity. Out of sessions and classrooms of the training programme, the fellows kept on discussing the political landscape of the countries of South Asia, different strategies the politicians are adopting, benefits they are earning by fuelling hatred among the common people and how media is being used all over the region to support this process.

The interaction and communication with Bangladeshi young professionals also helped in understanding them. It is surprising that the country, which was once part of Pakistan, is seen as being distant in relations as well due to this parting of the ways.

A Bangladeshi friend admitted that before meeting us (fellows from Pakistan) he had a negative image about Pakistanis but after this meeting, this notion has been eliminated or reduced greatly because the people were not responsible for whatever happened in East Pakistan.

The participants shared how radicalisation and fundamentalism are being promoted in secular India and questioned why people of India and Pakistan are not allowed to freely meet and interact with each other.

With politics keeping the people of all these nations apart, how will we end the distance and come closer to one another for sharing our cultures, traditions, food and our rich heritage which is adored all over the world as South Asian?

I am not exaggerating that Pakistanis are identified as ‘Asians’ or ‘Indians’ outside Pakistan because of our looks and style. So, if the outer world sees us as one nation, i.e. South Asian, then why do we not rise above our differences and embrace each other? Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives can join hands and make the regional forums more vibrant by bringing their people closer for the purpose of sharing and celebrating the rich commonalities that have existed for centuries.

I recall the sentence of a food manager of the resort where we stayed, Raj Kumar, at the beginning of our course. He said that you will get Indian and Asian food and served them in style. Pakistanis could claim it was all Pakistani food and Indians and Bangladeshis felt they were their own dishes and recipes.

The writer is a freelance journalist and SANAM fellow from Pakistan. He can be reached at

Source :\04\22\story_22-4-2011_pg3_5

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