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Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan

It was meant to celebrate diversity, create a blueprint for a more unified South Asia. Instead, Delhi’s South Asian University has turned into a miniature Saarc summit with Indo-Pak rivalry occupying centrestage and every other country jostling for attention. Sonia Sarkar has the story

  • INTERNATIONAL DIS-COURSE: A bulletin of events at SAU. Picture credit: Sonia Sarkar

Bharat Kumar Kolhi was looking forward to his two-year stay in Delhi when he signed up for the Sociology programme at the South Asian University (SAU). The resident of Pakistan’s Umarkot imagined that in India, he would finally get to be Bharat – the name given to him at birth – instead of Bhrat, the tweaked moniker he had had to acquire to suit the political climate of his birthplace.

It was not very long before Bharat realised his mistake.

Just as the mere whiff of India in his name would set the Pakistanis bristling, here too everyone kept thrusting his Pakistani nationality in his face. Nothing else seemed to matter – neither his name nor his Hindu identity.

“The first thing some Indian students at SAU asked me was – ‘Pakistani ho, haath mein bomb leke aaye ho?’ (You are a Pakistani; have you brought along a bomb?) I realised I would have to live with this kind of stereotyping the next two years,” says Bharat, now in the final year of his postgraduate programme.

SAU was set up in 2010 with the aim to bring together students from the Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) nations – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and, of course, India. While the physical bringing together has happened, it will take some doing before one gets to the “unity in diversity” part, at least going by what students have to say.

In recent times, the SAU campus, like many others across the country, has come under the grip of ultra-nationalism. Pakistani students claim they find themselves at the receiving end of slurs such as “terrorists” and “ISI agents” here, whenever there is tension brewing along the Line of Control.

Hira Hashmi, who is from Karachi, is studying International Relations at SAU. She talks about how last year, when 18 Indian soldiers were killed by militants allegedly “harboured” by Pakistan, a group of Indian students abused the Pakistanis on campus openly. “They put up posters saying ‘dushmano ki buzdili‘ and ‘Pakistanis are cowards’. When we protested, they removed them,” says Hira. “The campus was divided into two groups. It became an Us vs Them debate. We thought we may have to go back to our country halfway through the course.”

Students claim a warning was issued to the mischief-makers after a complaint was lodged with the university disciplinary committee. University officials, however, deny this. “These things happen between students and get resolved by them. We don’t get involved,” says SAU president Kavita A. Sharma.

While the Pakistani students claim they could do with less attention of a certain kind, students of other Saarc countries say they feel left out and their ethnic sensibilities ignored. Sounds familiar? Think Saarc meetings.

Even celebrations are centred around India and Pakistan, students of other nationalities complain. For instance, initially, Indian and Pakistani students celebrated their Independence Day on the midnight of August 14-15. Mahamadul Hasan Rana, a Bangladeshi PhD student at SAU says, “Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed on August 15. No one bothered to understand our sentiments.” He adds, “The event has been mellowed down the past two years after we complained.”

 

 


SAU Facts

Established in 2010
Programmes offered: PG, MPhil and PhD
Number of students by country*
♦ India: 350**  ♦ Pakistan: 19
♦ Bangladesh: 67  ♦ Sri Lanka: 8
♦ Nepal: 52  ♦ Afghanistan: 55
♦ Bhutan: 9  ♦ Maldives: 1

US $300 million (Rs 1,996 crore)
is the estimated capital cost
The operational budget for 2016 is
US $10.71 million (Rs 71 crore)
Capital budget for 2016 is
US $36.37 million (Rs 242 crore)

*Number currently enrolled at SAU
**50 per cent seats reserved for Indians


Some others allege that India’s “big brother” attitude in the Saarc region is reflected in the conduct of the Indian students. “Indians try to emphasise that Bangladesh exists only because Indians helped us in our Liberation War,” says Sariful Islam, a Bangladeshi student, who is doing his postgraduate in International Relations.

The imbalance, apparently, is also reflected in the curriculum. Afghanistan is under-represented in courses such as International Relations and Sociology, points out Omar Sadr, a PhD student from Afghanistan. “The multi-cultural and multi-national theme of the university is defeated because there is an overdose of India and Pakistan in the curriculum.” And yet, the SAU is overflowing with applications from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Nepal.

In fact, it is the number of Pakistani students that has been dwindling – their 10 per cent quota remains underutilised in most courses. And while the ongoing political tension has most definitely contributed to the reduced numbers, there are quite a few niggling issues that they face.

Hira talks about how Pakistanis have to literally go to lengths just to be able to pay the fee for the aptitude test. Payment via debit card, credit card and netbanking from Pakistan is not possible. “One of my cousins who lives in India made the payment on my behalf,” she says.

It is the same story when Pakistani students have to block seats by making an advance payment after they have cleared the test. A senior university official who does not want to be identified confirms that Pakistani students have indeed been complaining about payment-related problems.

The other stumbling block is visa. According to SAU rules, students along with faculty members and university staffers from other countries were supposed to get the SAU visa. It is valid for the course duration and allows visa holders to move freely across India. But the reality is different for some, especially if they are from Pakistan. “We need to renew our visa every year. Besides, only six entries are allowed and the movement is restricted to four places – Delhi, Agra, Gurgaon and Amritsar,” Hira complains.

But a lot hinges on the political dynamics between the two countries. Last year, an additional visa granted to Hira for travelling to Patna was withdrawn, and apparently no valid reason was cited.

Then again, every time Pakistani students re-enter India, they have to report to the foreigners regional registration officer within 24 hours of arrival. Students of other Saarc countries have to do so within 14 days of arrival.

  •    The first thing that some Indian students at the university asked me was — ‘Pakistani ho, haath mein bomb leke aaye ho?’
    Bharat Kumar Kolhi
    Sociology

  •     We need to renew our visa every year… Only six entries are allowed and movement is restricted to Delhi, Agra, Gurgaon and Amritsar
    Hira Hashmi
    International Relations
    Picture credit: Sonia Sarkar

University officials are inundated with complaints. “We have written to the ministry of external affairs (MEA) several times about these issues,” says president Sharma. “That’s all we can do.” The Telegraph tried to contact the MEA spokesperson to understand the visa issues but did not get any response.

All said and done, two years is a decent period. Despite irritants, one picks up survival tips, makes friends, learns to laugh at the situation. Hira points out that a lot of the campus humour also revolves around Indo-Pakistan relations. “One of my Indian friends taught me this dialogue from a Sunny Deol blockbuster where he apparently tells Pakistanis – ‘Doodh mangoge toh kheer denge, Kashmir mangoge toh cheer denge (If you want milk, we’ll give you kheer. But if you seek Kashmir, we will rip you apart),” she says with a laugh.

Hira has learnt to cope with the biases too. Tips from her Indian cousins have helped. “They told me that whenever someone asks where I am from, I should say Ranchi since it sounds like Karachi.” She also takes care not to speak in Urdu in public places.

Both Hira and Bharat are scheduled to leave India next month after the convocation. They leave with bittersweet memories. “Perhaps, I will come back when the ties between the two countries are better,” says Bharat.

But with ultra-nationalism taking centrestage here, this might take a while.


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IMG_1799 (1).PNGWe We are in another season of tumult in Kashmir. Violence has been spiralling in the Valley ever since the 22-year-old Hizb-ul Mujahideen (HM) commander, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, was killed on July 8. More than 40 people have been killed in sporadic clashes with security forces. Miles away from the scene of action, across a forever tense Line of Control, sits Syed Salahuddin, fount of the HM, Kashmir’s only homegrown militant outfit – for most, a shadowy figure that drifts between Muzaffarabad, Lahore and Islamabad and looms over Kashmir. Some believe that the seed of the turmoil in Kashmir was planted when Salahuddin – then known as Mohammed Yusuf Shah – fought an election in the state as a candidate of the Muslim United Front from Srinagar’s Amirakadal constituency in 1987. His supporters hold that he was winning by a wide margin, but widespread electoral rigging led to his unexpected defeat. The seat was won by Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah of the National Conference. Two years later, he had crossed the border into Pakistan, and launched an armed struggle for the freedom of Kashmir. Salahuddin, who is on the NIA’s ‘most wanted’ list, warns that there’s more trouble on the way, if security forces do not stop killing ‘unarmed’ civilians. And it won’t be restricted to Kashmir alone: ‘We will hit everywhere and anywhere we like.’ Pertinently, at one point the militant also offered himself as a peace mediator between India and Pakistan. Sonia Sarkar spoke to him for an hour over Skype, imo and telephone. Excerpts:
Q. Did you know Burhan Muzaffar Wani?
A. I did not meet him but he was inspired by me. There are thousands of mujahideen in Kashmir whom I have not met, but who follow me and my path.Q. How do you see the recent spurt in violence after the killing of Burhan Wani?

A. Burhan Muzaffar Wani was not just any man killed by security forces. He is the sentiment of the Kashmir Valley. Every person in the Valley – man, woman and child – all of them are attached to this sentiment. There is a Burhan in every corner of the Kashmir Valley. This sentiment will not go away with the killing of Burhan Wani.

Q. Media reports said that the founder of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, Hafiz Saeed, and you organised a prayer meeting for Wani in Muzaffarabad. Also, in Lahore, Saeed said that there would be more trouble for Kashmir. What exactly did he mean?

A. I organised the prayer meeting for Wani. I did not invite Hafiz Saeed to come, but he offered to come on his own.

I agree with Hafiz Saeed. More trouble means that when the security forces of India are killing unarmed Kashmiris, we will intensify and escalate our attacks not just in Kashmir but elsewhere. There is no alternative left for us.

We want to stress that it is for the good of the Indian government to understand that the people of Kashmir are asking for their right to self-determination. If they don’t, we have to start target-oriented attacks.

Q. But the Indian government blames militant leaders like you for encouraging people to come out in protest to the streets, leading to civilian deaths…

A. It is government propaganda that we are pushing the people of Kashmir to come out on streets and protest. Children, doctors, government servants, old men, mothers – they are not coming out on the streets because I asked them to do so. They are committed to their cause.

Q. Aren’t you using the bodybags to fuel your movement? How is the Hurriyat helping you?

A. Hurriyat leaders are with us, shoulder to shoulder in the ongoing freedom struggle. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Shabir Shah – all of them are with us on the same page. They are in touch with us on a regular basis. But I have been cautious and have not spoken with any top separatist leader in the past one week. They are also supporting it (the protest) because themujahideen and the children, who are getting killed, are their children as well.

Q. Many youngsters are dying in these protests. Don’t you think it’s your responsibility to stop these children from going out on the streets so that this cycle of death comes to an end?

A. What we are seeing on the streets of Kashmir is a spontaneous public reaction to the killing of Wani. Also, there is pent up anger against the security forces because every day, somebody or the other is being targeted. You must understand that the youths of Kashmir, who are protesting on the streets, are a part of the generation which was born during the armed struggle. They have grown up witnessing unrest, killings and crackdowns. You need to understand their desperation to be freed from India on the basis of the fact that they are attacking heavily armed security forces with stones. It means they have no fear for life and they are not ready to compromise their right to self-determination.

Q. What is your plan of action in Kashmir now?

A. Our armed struggle and political struggle will carry on simultaneously. So far, our effort was to limit our activities to Jammu and Kashmir. If the Narendra Modi government continues to oppress the Kashmiris and if the security forces increase their assault on Kashmiris, I promise that we will hit everywhere and anywhere we like. We will go to any extent. You will see it, we will intensify our attacks.

Q. Several of your family members including your four sons are government employees. What’s their part in all this? Did you ever ask your sons to join the militancy movement?

A. I have not asked a single man to join militancy. It is the choice of the person to join it. It could be possible that my sons don’t think I am doing the right thing. You should understand that people joining us feel it strongly from within. They think this is the most befitting reply to oppression.

Q. How are you using the social media to recruit young men into militancy?

A. We don’t recruit people. Young boys are coming to us on their own because they have been facing assault by the Indian government. If we don’t recruit them, then they will pick up stones and protest on the streets. Also, the social media revolution is everywhere in the world. The young and educated Kashmiris do not need to learn from me how to use the social media. They know how to make the best use of it.

Q. Don’t you think, your movement has failed because it’s been 26 years since the struggle began – and there has been no real outcome? Also, according to security agencies, militancy has decreased in the Valley. Have you lost the war?

A. What has India got in these 26 years, tell me? Have they got Kashmiris with them? Let me tell you, in a freedom movement, a struggle of 26 years is nothing. India’s freedom movement went on for 90 years, so how do you even say that 26 years is enough? If there is no militancy and if we have lost the war, where is the need for such heavy deployment of security forces in Kashmir? Let me tell you, everyone in Kashmir is into the freedom movement now.

Q. Why is the Kashmir movement getting Islamised?

A. The Kashmiri movement was Islamised from day one. Why do you think an educated young man, who has a bright future otherwise, is willing to die? Is he mad? Azaadi is not his objective. What will he do with azaadi if he dies during the struggle?

He is into militancy because he knows that if he dies for a noble cause, he would become a martyr, as per Islam. We tell him that he would get into the “real life” after this death and he would get peace. Khuda usse raazi hoga.

Q. Is the ISIS with you?

A. There is no ISIS at all [in Kashmir]. This is fabricated propaganda by the Indian government. There is no support for ISIS, Al Qaeda and Taliban in Kashmir.

Q. Has there been any step by the Indian government to reach out to you? Do you think it would be difficult for you to operate in Kashmir because the BJP government under Narendra Modi has a more hardline approach?

A. [Atal Bihari] Vaj- payee was broad-minded. There is no com- parison of Modi with Vajpayee.

We still believe in peace but subject to one condition – let the Modi government give up dilly-dallying with the Kashmir issue. He should first accept that Kashmir is a disputed territory.

Q. You had earlier accepted that you were fighting Pakistan’s war in Kashmir. This time, how is Pakistan helping you to fuel the tension in Kashmir?

A. Let India agree to come to the table for our right to self-determination – it is my personal obligation [that I will get] Pakistan to the “peace” table.

The story was published in The Telegraph, July 17. Link : http://www.telegraphindia.com/1160717/jsp/7days/story_97087.jsp


Gurdaspur on the Indo-Pakistan border hit the headlines after terrorists attacked a police station. Once the crucible of the Khalistani movement, militancy of a different kind seems to be rearing its head again, says Sonia Sarkar

Terror strike: Police personnel at the Dina­nagar police station during the recent militant attack

The senior Gurdaspur resident recalls the song that children sang when the train came in from Narowal. ” Gaddi aayi, gaddi aayi shuka maar di,” they chanted, “gaddi aayi, gaddi aayi, Narowal di” (the train’s come, whistling, the train from Narowal is in.

The train’s gone, as has the railway line that connected Gurdaspur with Narowal. And there is no song to be sung when Narowal, now in Pakistan, is mentioned these days.

“Before Partition, Narowal was a business centre for traders dealing in garments, cotton and iron,” says historian Raj Kumar Sharma, former principal of Government College, Gurdaspur, as he recalls the children’s ditty.

But earlier this week, Narowal sprung up again when the Punjab police said the three terrorists who attacked Gurdaspur’s Dinanagar police station and killed seven people on Monday – and were killed by security forces – came in from Narowal.
People gather in large groups in market areas in Gurdaspur, crowding around a newspaper and discussing the attack. Passers-by stand curiously outside the Dinanagar police station. After years of peace, suddenly there is talk of militancy again.

Gurdaspur has had its share of terror – it was a hub for terrorists when Sikh militants waged a war for Khalistan. There is talk once again of a possible revival of the Khalistani movement.

But the former Khalistan Commando Force chief, Wassan Singh Zaffarwal, who is from Guraspur’s Dhariwal village, dismisses such speculation.

“It’s sad that an attack by terrorists from the other side of the border is linked with the Khalistani movement. We have no Pakistani connections anymore,” says Zaffarwal, who has now floated a political party, the United Akali Dal.
Gurdaspur, where Muslims were in a majority before Partition, was to have been included in Pakistan. But Cyril Radcliffe, the chairman of the border commissions, made a last minute change, giving away the Muslim-dominated Shakargarh to Pakistan and keeping Gurdaspur in India.

“If Jammu and Kashmir had to be connected with the rest of India, Pathankot (then in Gurdaspur, now a separate district) had to be in India,” Sharma says.

Gurdaspur’s strategic location, senior officers hold, is a possible reason the militants chose Dinanagar. “The geographical location of Gurdaspur makes it sensitive. It shares a border with Pakistan and is next to Jammu, which has seen a high infiltration of terrorists,” a senior police official in the Gurdaspur city police station states.
Investigating officers believe that Jammu may have been the target, but the militants chose Gurdaspur because of the high security in Jammu and Kashmir in view of the ongoing Amarnath Yatra.

The terrorists, they believe, swam across the river Ravi from Pakistan to India. They arrived at Tash Pattan, 17 kilometres from the Dinanagar police station. Tash Pattan in Gurdaspur is on the eastern bank of river Ujh, while Jalala in Narowal is on its western bank, separated by some 300 metres. Here no fencing demarcates the two nations.

The rivers, security officers say, are often the route that militants take. For while the railway line may have gone, the rivers continue to link India with Pakistan. The Ravi flows through Chamba in Himachal Pradesh to Madhopur and Kathlore in Gurdaspur, then to Katarpur in Narowal, and back again into India through Lashian in Pathankot.

The Ujh, which flows in from Jasrota in Jammu, forms the boundary between Pathankot in Punjab and Shakargarh in Narowal.

“The course of these two rivers enables the entry of infiltrators. When there is high current in the river, someone from Pakistan can easily swim into Gurdaspur,” a police official says.

The river is not the only route. I went to several border posts such as Simbal Sakoh and Dhinda but was not stopped anywhere by security officials. The posts are crowded, and the Dera Baba Nanak checkpost is particularly so, as locals with binoculars gather there to have a look at Gurdwara Katarpur Sahib in Narowal, about three kilometres from the border.
But the terror attack has resurrected old worries about links with Pakistan. Take Daniel Masih, a 50-year-old Gurdaspuri.

He says he was sent to Pakistan by the Research and Analysis Wing in 1992. He was caught, spent four years in Pakistan’s jails, and after being released in 1997, took the Samjhauta Express to India.

But, he adds, when he landed at Attari, he was arrested by the police on charges of planting a bomb. He spent two months in a jail before he was allowed to return home to Dadwan village.

“The police falsely implicated me. I live with the fear that they may do this to me again,” says Masih, now a rickshawpuller. “Any news of terror with Pakistani links worries me.”

Gurdaspur has gone through many upheavals. Even after the Khalistani movement was crushed in the 1990s, the region, where people are mostly farmers, saw little development.

“Now very few have land holdings. People mostly work as daily wagers on agricultural land,” Sharma says. “The only iron smelting industry in Batala too is dying. There is no major investment in the district.”

Unemployment is of grave concern. The government states that over 30,555 people are unemployed, but most contend that the figure is substantially higher than that. Joblessness among the educated is high, with the literacy rate at 69 per cent.

“We have degrees but no jobs. We sit idle all day,” complains Dhariwal villager Bikram Singh, 22.
The government, however, stresses that it has several employment programmes. “We have started many self-employment schemes such as pig rearing, bee keeping and animal husbandry. People have to take the initiative to be a part of these schemes,” district collector Abhinav Trikha holds.

Drug abuse – a problem across Punjab – is another worrying issue. The police say that drugs are smuggled to other parts of Punjab from Gurdaspur. In March this year, security forces seized 18kg of heroin worth Rs 90 crore from two Pakistani smugglers near the Dera Baba Nanak post.

“Like infiltrators, drugs too come through the Ravi. Packets of heroin stuffed in five feet long hollow plastic pipes sail into the river from Narowal. Smugglers on this side receive them,” a senior police official says.
Gurdaspur, clearly, carries a burden. And few can forget that Indira Gandhi’s assassin Satwant Singh belonged to Gurdaspur.

The Dinanagar attack has opened up old wounds, his family members say, alleging that they were subjected to police torture after Gandhi was killed. Satwant’s elder brother, Gurnam Singh, 60, says the family was glued to the television all day as the battle between the security forces and the terrorists at the police station raged.

“We didn’t go to farm. We didn’t milk our cows. Our women didn’t even cook that day till the operation was over,” he says.
“Gurdaspur has seen the worst. But we don’t want any disturbance now,” he adds. “We want peace.”

The placard – raised in a stadium at an India-Pakistan match – had evoked considerable mirth. “Keep Kashmir, give us Madhuri,” said the sign put up by a Pakistani fan of the Bollywood actress, who had then just danced her way into the subcontinent’s collective heart.

The slogan seems set to change. “Take Kashmir, give us Fawad,” may well be the new message from this side of the border. Fawad Khan is a Pakistani actor who features in television series broadcast on an Indian channel devoted to Pakistani soap – and who has wowed Indian viewers.

An infiltration of a different kind seems to have taken place in India in recent months. The social face of Pakistan has captured the hearts of people across India. Zee TV’s Zindagi channel is a rage – and its Pakistani stars including Fawad, Mahira Khan and Samira Peerzada, are all talking points.

But that’s just one facet of the silent invasion. From Pakistani humour to textiles, from fashion to food and films, the social media platforms are brimming with comments from Indian fans of all that is Pakistani.

“Pakistan is the flavour of the moment,” agrees social commentator Santosh Desai. “Yes, a change is on its way. It may be subtle and it may be silent, but it’s definitely there,” stresses Pakistani social media commentator Alia Suleman.

The current interest in Pakistan has been triggered by the success of Zindagi, no doubt, but there have been several other recent developments as well. The Pakistan stall – with its onyx and textiles – at the ongoing International Trade Fair is besieged by visitors. Pakistani food and film festivals are taking place in the Capital, and eateries are serving Pakistani cuisine. A great many Pakistani comic videos are also being circulated in India on whatsapp and social sites.

“There is always a curiosity among Indians about Pakistan and its culture,” says an official at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi.

Pakistani social commentator Bina Shah stresses that strained bilateral ties had always come in the way of easy relations. “But because of social media, it isn’t just jokes that are being shared – folks on both sides of the border can observe the latest trends and what’s hot in our respective countries, and share it,” she says.

And among all that’s hot is fashion. In a first for Lakme Fashion Week (LFW), four Pakistani designers were invited this August to showcase their collections. “So far only a niche category was aware of our brand. But now there’s a huge buzz around Pakistani fashion,” says Sania Maskatiya, one of the designers who debuted at LFW.

The market — from a tony South Delhi mall to the local dress material shop in West Delhi — is stocking up on cuts, prints and fabric either procured from Pakistan or replicated in a wholesale market in India. “We are attracted to their stylish cuts and lace,” writer-columnist Shobhaa De points out.

That there’s an overwhelming interest in Pakistani textile and fashion was evident at the Aalishan Pakistan exhibition held earlier this year at the Pragati Maidan. Organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and The Trade Development Authority of Pakistan, it showcased fashion apparel, home textiles, leather goods, furniture and marble handicraft.

About 100,000 people are believed to have visited the exhibition on its second day. “We marked sales worth Rs 15 lakh over four days,” says Muhammad Yasin of Pakistan-based clothiers Gul Ahmed.

Wardha Saleem, the chief executive officer of the Pakistan Fashion Design Council, a non-profit organisation which facilitates the promotion of Pakistani designers, says that most of the designers had sold off their stock in the first three days of Aalishan Pakistan.

“We presented buyers with fusion wear — shirts (kurtas in India) paired with trousers or palazzo pants or skinny pants or form fitting cigarette cut pants,” Saleem says. “Our flowy chiffons, cotton silk and chamois silk are very popular in India.” The Council has also opened an outlet in Delhi’s South Extension in association with an Indian retailer where Pakistani collections are sold.

The Pakistan High Commission has been facilitating the exhibitions, and has also helped organise food and film fests in Delhi. “Chapli kebab and Kabuli Pulao are the two most popular Pakistani dishes in India. Both come from Peshawar,” says Mazhar Allahyar, the general manager of Islamabad’s Monal restaurant, which will collaborate in another food festival to be held in Delhi next month.

Restaurants serving Pakistani dishes have also opened up in the city. “Indians are keen on Pakistani cuisine because of its variety. Each region of Pakistan has something different to offer,” says Sanjeev Verma, manager of the Hauz Khas Village restaurant Raas, which has a Pakistani menu.

Commentator Desai describes this interest in Pakistan as cyclical. Indeed, in the late eighties and early nineties, too, there was a deep interest in Pakistani television drama series. A decade or so ago, it was the age of Pakistani music as bands such as Junoon and Strings became popular in India. Then the last few years saw another invasion – of the literary kind. Pakistani authors — Mohsin Hamid, Kamila Shamsie, Mohammad Hanif and others – were lapped up in India.

But what’s given a boost to the trend is the growth of the social media.

“Social networking sites are abuzz with praise for Pakistani shows. In fact, there are continuous requests for repeat telecasts and that’s why we have also had re-runs of some of our popular shows,” says Priyanka Datta, business head of Zindagi, which Zee launched five months ago.

Apeksha Harihar, content head, Social Samosa, a Mumbai-based social media knowledge storehouse, says she has noticed a “fascination” for Zindagi channel shows on social media platforms. “Most tweets favour these Pakistani shows over Indian shows,” Harihar holds.

Indeed, Pakistan seems to have entered the lives of many people through their television sets. “Till now, whatever we read about Pakistan or watched on TV through news channels was political. But these dramas gave us a glimpse of Pakistan which we’d never thought about,” says an ardent Fawad Khan fan, Shipti Sabharwal. Sabharwal, who runs a boutique in West Delhi, adds that Pakistani long kurtis “sell like hot cakes” in her shop. A trader at the Pakistan stall at the trade fair points out that women buyers often ask him for specific designs or styles sported by Pakistani actors in the serials.

The channel already has over 90,000 followers on Twitter and 300,000 fans on Facebook. “The platforms are abuzz with discussions,” Harihar says, adding that viewers have also started fan pages.

Fawad Khan’s fan clubs include ‘_FawadKhanFan_’, ‘Fan_FawadAK_Fanatic’ and ‘Fawad Khan Fever’. With a fan base of the kind, Fawad has not surprisingly made his Bollywood debut. The actor starred in the recent release Khoobsurat. Another Pakistani actor who debuted in Bollywood in recent times is Imran Abbas Naqvi, who was paired with Bipasha Basu in ‘Creature 3D’.

Talks are on for a role for Mahira Khan, too. “I consider myself among the lucky few from Pakistan to have their work recognised and appreciated in India,” says the female lead star of ‘Humsafar’, the blockbuster serial which was premiered on Zindagi in September. “I recently joined Twitter and have experienced craziness since,” she says.

The use of Urdu words in the series may have sparked an interest in the language, too. Zindagi now runs a scroll that acts as a thesaurus for Urdu phrases — a word is explained in Roman letters every day. About 65 per cent of people who log on to an Indian website on Urdu poetry called Rekhta, launched in 2013, are from India.

“We have close to 7000 visitors every day, up from the 300 that we used to get last year. We are now planning a festival for which poets from across the border will be invited,” Rekhta founder Sanjiv Saraf says.

Back in Pakistan, too, the trend has been appreciated.

“The segment of the population that had begrudgingly viewed the influence of Indian culture in Pakistan, openly opposing the airing of Indian movies in our theatres and on TV, is now pleased that this influence is reciprocated on the other side of the border too,” Suleman says. “The segment that sincerely wishes to see the two ‘bullies’ finally call it a day sees this as a step towards that goal.”

Samira Peerzada, a popular character actor from ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hain’ and ’Dhoop Chhaon’, points out that she grew up watching Indian shows and films in Pakistan. “We always dreamt and hoped that the work of Pakistani artists also got the same kind of response in India. It seems the dream has come true.”

Suleman has noticed another outcome of the trend – a difference in attitude in her Indian relatives. “To them, Pakistanis had always appeared to be too ‘fast’, too ‘modern’, too ‘unreal’, and too ‘foreign’. But now, it is all changing.”

When she phones them in the evening, her Indian relatives tell her “somewhat irritably” not to call when they are watching Pakistani serials on TV. “For the first time, they want to hear about the other good serials, writers and actors, something they never wanted to do before… They are interested when I talk about Pakistani fashion for a change. For the first time, they are interested in me as a Pakistani rather than just a relative.”

So it’s not just India that’s rejoicing in this friendly invasion. This could well be the season of hope. After all, the twin siblings -– separated at birth, like so much of Bollywood — just shared the Nobel Peace Prize, too.



  • mamun ibne hussain: dont take it negatively but we are indian and our daughters should not follow the filthiest dirtiest horrible european and american womens the w
  • Susmita Saha: Memories truly have a special place in the treasure trove called life. And your memories shine like jewels in this piece.
  • saimi: That is a lovely one Sonia.. and I can relate to so many things that you mention ...