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Conflict in Kashmir: Pakistani and Indian students reflect

In the midst of escalating tensions between their home countries, Indian and Pakistani students at Grinnell College find solidarity in their shared South Asian identity. Growing up in the feuding nations, students received different educations and perspectives on the conflict, heavily influenced by the media and general bias of their home country.

For more than 70 years, India and Pakistan have been engaged in a conflict with ranging levels of tension over the disputed territory of Kashmir. The origins of the Pakistani and Indian conflict over Kashmir trace back to British colonialism. The conflict has resulted in three wars and several smaller violent disputes. On Feb. 14, tensions that had been somewhat in hibernation erupted once again with the deadliest attack in 30 years in the Pulwama district. The Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, referred to as JeM, claimed responsibility for the attack, in which a suicide bomber killed 40 members of India’s Central Reserve Police Force.

For the first time in 50 years, Indian warplanes crossed into Pakistan to fire airstrikes; the Indian government claimed that it was attacking a JeM training camp. An aerial skirmish ensued, with Pakistani forces capturing an Indian pilot, but ultimately returning the pilot.

Resting tensions have been exacerbated by these recent events, and many fear that the nations may clash again or consider the possibility of war.

“Growing up, I heard a lot about the conflict but in a sense of a lot of animosity against Pakistan. The media always sensationalizes things and makes them very black and white to them being wrong and taking our land. You don’t really question those things, right? When you’re a kid, you just are like this is how it is and they’re doing wrong things. But I guess coming to Grinnell and college, I became more critical and aware of how these problems work and realizing the root of how even terrorist groups get formed in the first place, and how just because the media tells me that this part of Kashmir is ours doesn’t mean that that’s ours,” said Preksha Bajaj ’19, from New Delhi, India.

In Pakistan, students receive a similarly biased and media-influenced education regarding the conflict. The respective countries tend to teach about the conflict by promoting a clear-cut division of right versus wrong.

“I think I can speak for both Indians and Pakistanis here that our schools, our textbooks are pretty biased towards our countries. … We were always taught the Muslim side because Pakistan is an Islamic state, so we were basically taught about how whatever we did was right, and it was always that biased view that whatever Pakistan or whatever the Muslims do, it’s right,” said Ali Admair ’21, from Lahore, Pakistan.

The opportunity to hear other perspectives and experiences, both in an academic setting as well as casual and friendly interactions, has highlighted the similarities between Pakistani and Indian students at the College.

“One thing that you realize when you go abroad is that your differences, like being from India and Pakistan, aren’t really a thing, it’s more about being South Asian that unites you. All my friends from Pakistan, they’re as close to me here as my other friends from India because we speak the same language, we are brown, we share a lot of similar cultures even if we are religiously different. But that religious difference isn’t as bad here as the commonalities as us talking the same language and liking the same food and stuff,” Bajaj said.

“At the end of the day, both of our countries, being from the Indian subcontinent, we have a lot more in common than media portrays. Media has a huge part in just changing everything and showing how badly we hate each other, but that really isn’t true. Most of my friends that I’ve made at international conferences have been Indian, even here on campus, I can easily say that my best friends not only include Pakistanis but most of them are Indian, as well, so we do get along pretty well in the community,” Admair said.

It can be difficult to hear about the conflict at home from such a large geographical distance while in Grinnell, but the physical separation also provides additional space to reflect on larger issues as a whole.

“What is good is that we believe we are in the space where we can discuss these issues without facing any violent opposition. … I would say there is more tolerance here. It doesn’t necessarily affect our relationship as friends, and it might be different back home, but here we still have that friendly relationship and political conversations always on site, and no one takes offense and everyone respects their own views,” said Umang Kamra ’22, from New Delhi.

Still, disagreements can arise between students, usually due to the complexity of the conflict and decades of tension between the two nations. Some Pakistani and Indian students, while simultaneously disapproving of the government’s actions in regards to the conflict. Where all Pakistani and Indian students tend to agree, though, is that war between the countries is not the solution to the ongoing conflict.

“Most of us, I think that we can connect on a level, like, we don’t want our countries to be at war, or even we want them to be allies, because we have so much more in common than we don’t. Like, we were the same people. And 70 years doesn’t change thousands of years, so while most borders are meaningless and stupid, these ones especially all of us think are really bad,” said Takshil Sachdev ’19, from New Delhi.

Umang Kamra ’22 (Top) and Preksha Bajaj ’19 (Bottom) have both felt able to examine the conflict in Kashmir in new ways since coming to Grinnell. Photo by Liz Paik.

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    RajivMar 8, 2019 at 10:29 pm

    I admire the thoughts of our new generation. In Grinnell they have been taught like boundaries are man made, so ultimately they are building a world with different atmosphere ?