The 9th Indo-Pak Peace Calendar 2021 is launched online today by Aaghaz-e-Dosti, an Indo-Pak Friendship Initiative that works voluntarily on fostering people to people relations between India and Pakistan mainly through peace education activities. This year, Aaghaz-e-Dosti collaborated with Tehrik-e-Niswan for a peace calendar.

More than 200 Indian and Pakistani citizens from all walks of life participated and it was wonderful to see that students as young as nine years old to peace loving citizens as old as ninety three old advocated peace and enjoyed the session together. For many among them, this was their first such experience to interact and participate with someone from across the border. This diverse participation enjoyed not only important words by esteemed speakers and few eminent participants, but also from school teachers and young students. The program ended with beautiful couplets of Bulleshah.

This peace calendar is a collection of selected paintings of Pakistani and Indian school students along with messages from 12 renowned persons from both countries who favor Indo-Pak Peace. This was the ninth year of the initiative and peace calendar. In earlier years, these calendars have been launched in several cities of India and Pakistan but owing to COVID19, the launch was shifted online – which encouraged bringing together of speakers, students, and audiences from both sides, something that was not possible in the physical world owing to visa issues.

While speaking on the occasion, panelist Ms. Sheema Kermani , who is founder of Tehrik-e-Niswan Pakistan warmly reminisced her dance and theatre tours in India, especially focusing on one of her tours where she and her group performed a play – “Jinhe Lahore nai dekha ve jamiya nai” in 17 cities India. She focused on the importance of cultural exchanges, through art, music and travel and spoke from her own experience how impactful that was. In her own words, she admired the efforts of young students and encouraged them to adopt art for a positive change in society.

Prof. Saleem Kidwai, a former professor in JNU,India and academic advisor in George Washington University of Peace, stressed on the importance of a liberalised visa policy. He shared anecdotes about how visas to each other’s countries often involves bureaucratic hurdles and painful rejections. He talked about how often his students, when they meet fellow Pakistanis or travel to Pakistan, are amazed at the differences in the stereotype that the media feeds them and the real Pakistani people. In an extremely light manner through stories, he effectively conveyed that the conflict between both countries is essentially owing to a lack of interaction between its people. This was an event where young minds spoke their heart. Paintings displayed of students expressed emotions of peace and friendship.

A student Sachneet kaur from India expressed how the relations between two sides are just a puzzle that can be solved beautifully with patience while another student Iraj Hasan from Pakistan expressed how being a cricket fan, he sees that how cricket can be a medium to foster peace. Daim Samuel, a Pakistani student, said that he wishes to see friendship and to meet friends on the other side. Hannia from Pakistan and Taranpreet from India expressed by painting hands, meeting each other and forming the shape of a dove, a symbol of peace. And many such other expressions. Satyapal, a ninety three year old peace activist expressed his happiness to see a bright future of the sub-continent among young students who are expressing their desires for peace. Ram Mohan Rai, a peace activist shared how his active role in Delhi to Wagah peace march brought many people together to support Aaghaz-e-Dosti. He expressed that it was late Kuldeep Nayar who handed over the flag of Peace to young hands now. Dr. Swati Parashar from Sweden shared about common culture and diversity that bring people together while Prof. Austin from Netherland expressed that he was very happy to see these young dynamic minds who are doing such amazing work through their paintings for a cause. This year, peace calendar carries messages from Prof. Romila Thapar (Eminent Historian and Author) Tapan Bose (Filmmaker, Activist, Secretary – South Asian Forum for Human Rights), Prof. Saleem Kidwai (Ex Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Director of International Centre for Peace Studies, New Delhi), Shabnam Hashmi (Social activist and Founder of Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD)), Anuradha Bhasin (Journalist, Executive Editor – Kashmir Times and Peace activist), and Rita Manchanda (Research Director at South Asia Forum for Human Rights, and author) from India. From Pakistan we received messages from Munizae Jahangir (Journalist, Filmmaker, and Human Rights Advocate), Anam Zakaria (Canada-based Pakistani author, oral historian, and educator), Mohammad Ziauddin (Senior Journalist and former President of the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA)), Mohammad Hanif (British-Pakistani writer and an international journalist), Dr. Ammar Ali Jan (Historian, Academician, Activist, and Columnist) and Azra Abbas (Former Professor and Urdu poet). ‘At a time when Indo-Pak relations are turbulent and facing a tide and ebb journey between the political establishments on both sides, students of Pakistan and India expressed their desire for peace through this peace calendar. This is something we need to recognise as a demand from the young community in both countries where youths are of majority in population and their secured, safe, and peaceful future should be in the agenda of both sides of governments. The students whose paintings were selected as winning or runner up paintings also expressed this desire while expressing their paintings to an audience that consisted of students, peacebuilders, educationists from both sides of the border as well as from across the globe.’ Said Ravi Nitesh, Founder of Aaghaz-e-Dosti initiative. Raza Khan, Convener of Aaghaz-e-Dosti (Pakistan) said that ‘Aaghaz-e-Dosti aims to create unwavering bonds of peace and friendship between India and Pakistan and seeks to become the medium to discover and recognise the misrepresented reality on the other side of the border. It is focused on citizen diplomacy and works primarily through peace education aimed at familiarising the people about the ‘other‘, countering stereotypes, homogenised, and negative image of the other, educating them about the issues of conflict, the existence of diverse views, and developing critical thinking and a confidence in dialogue for conflict resolution.’ Devika Mittal, Convener of Aaghaz-e-Dosti (India) told that the importance of the calendar is that it is a collection of shared dreams and hopes for friendship which we will be reminded of every day. This calendar is one of our peace education activities in schools and colleges. The purpose of these activities is to enable the future leaders to forge the path to a better world by engaging them with aspects of critical thinking, civic engagement and dialogue as solutions. She said that this year again Aaghaz-e-Dosti received many paintings from many schools of Pakistan and India. In these nine years, Aaghaz-e-Dosti has received paintings from school students from many states and provinces of India and Pakistan. This year, the six selected paintings are of Mahip Singh Saini, Sachneet Kaur, and Arshdeep Kaur from Swami Sant Dass Public School, Phaghwara, Priyanshu Yadav, and Simran Saini from Police DAV Public School, Ludhiana, along with Prabhnoor Basra of DAV Centenary Public School, Phillaur were winners from India.From Pakistan, Ariba Fatima of Punjab Group of Colleges, Jazil Abdullah Qazi and Noor Ijaz from Lahore Grammar School, Lahore along with Areeba Sajid, Rawalpindi Women University, Rawalpindi, Ayaan Nasir Malik, Lahore Grammar School, Karachi and Wajiha Anwar Ali, Rana Liaquat Governments Girls Sec. School, Ibrahmin Hyderi, Karachi sent in the winning paintings. Shortlisted paintings from India are Neha Maniar, Delhi Public School, Bangalore, Sirjan Kaur and Taranpreet Kaur of Swami Sant Dass Public School, Phagwara, Manan Jain of Kundan Vidya Mandir, Ludhiana, Priyanshi Jain, Delhi Public School, Ludhiana, and Subhashini of Notre Dame Academy, Patna.From Pakistan, the shortlisted paintings were painted by Lahorians Daim Samuel and Sadia Khan, Sanjan Nagar Public Education Trust Higher Secondary School, and Hannia Rehman, Lahore Grammar School, Muslim Town as well as Karachi-ites Syeda Daania Ally and Iraj Hasan from Lahore Grammar School, Karachi and Syeda Zoha Ahmed Gardezi, Lahore Grammar School, Karachi. Many eminent persons like Swati Parashar (Prof. of Peace and Conflict Studies in Sweden), Ram Mohan Rai (Social activist), Satyapal (Secretary General-South Asian Fraternity), Syeda Hameed (Former member Planning Commission), Renowned educator Baela Raza (Founder of Idara-e –Taleem-o-Agahi), Lalita Ramdas (Peace activist), Admiral Ramdas (Magsaysay awardee for Peace and Disarmament), Prof. Roger Austin ( Emeritus Professor of education in Ulster University, Netherland) were present, Among youth peace activists, Zeeba Hashmi (Peace educator, founder of Ibtidah from Pakistan), Bilal Bashir (Journalist and activist), Iqbal Ahmed (Peace activist), Sajjad Kargil (Peace activist and former MP contestant), Surjit Anand (Peace activist), Syed Abid Hussain (Peace activist) were also present for the launch. Design of the calendar was done voluntarily by Kushal PG from the marketing agency Osprey in India alongwith Shruti Achesh. At the end, Himanshu Khatri, sung beautiful couplets of Bulleshah. Program moderation was done by Aaghaz-e-Dosti members Madhulika, Abha and Atiqa while Calendar introduced Nitin Mittoo. Discussion of students was conducted by educator Tulika who teaches in Nagoya, Japan and volunteers with Aaghaz-e-Dosti. Aaghaz-e-Dosti started in 2012 by Mission Bhartiyam and later collaborated with different organizations to foster peace and promote people to people friendship. As a non-political, non- religious and not for profit initiative, Aaghaz-e-Dosti works completely on its unique voluntary model and has given peace trainings to more than 12000 students and youngsters through many Aman-Chaupals (peace session) across India and Pakistan and through video conferencing to connect classrooms of India and Pakistan in sessions called Indo-Pak Classroom Connect that facilitates interaction between students of India and Pakistan. Aaghaz-e-Dosti has also conducted regular Exchange of letters and cards between students of India and Pakistan and exhibited these letters at the renowned Faiz Ghar (house of Faiz Ahmed Faiz) in Lahore. For its efforts, Aaghaz-e-Dosti has been recognized with several awards and got featured in international documentaries. In its previous years Aaghaz-e-Dosti received messages/participation from eminent people like Dr S N Subbarao, Kamla Bhasin, Major General Ashok K Mehta , Dr Shashi Tharoor , Pankaj Chaturvedi, Dr Dhananjay Tripathi, Ram Mohan Rai, Dr Meenakshi Chhabra, Dr D S Rana, Dr Chaman Lal, Air Vice Marshall (Retd) Kapil Kak, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Dr Kavita Sharma, Late Kuldip Nayar , Shailja Kejriwal , Tara Gandhi, Admiral Ramdas, Satyapal, Syed Salman Chishty, Dr Pritam Rohilla, Lalita Ramdas, Prof M S Swaminathan (Father of Green Revolution), Amardeep Singh (Author-Lost Heritage-Sikh Legacy in Pakistan) from India and Dr. Pervez Hoodhboy, Raza Rumi,Beena Sarwar, Sheema Kermani, Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, Aamir Nawaz, Reema Abbasi, Shakeel Wahidullah Khan, Rahil Yasin , Late Awais Sheikh, Dr. Salima Hashmi, Lt. Gen Muhammad Masood Alam, Dr I A Rehman, Khadim Hussain, Karamat Ali, late B M Kutty, Anwar Jafri, Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad, Saeed Ahmed Rid, Nisar Ahmad Chaudhary, Dr Zahid Sahab Ahmed, Dr Farzana Bari, Late Asma jahangir, late Dr Mubashir Hasan Dr. Mubarak Ali (Pakistani historian), Imtiaz Alam (Secretary General SAFMA), Dr Anita M Weiss (Academician). Many students participated in the launch ceremony and a tribute to peace stalwarts (Kuldeep Nayar, Madeeha Gohar, Asma Jahangir, Dr Mubashir Hasan, Dr. Shankar Lal) who passed away in recent years were also offered.

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