The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A bold, brave face gains currency

Lahore, Dec. 14: The boundary separating India from Pakistan is a thin white line on a tarred road at Wagah. In less than 15 minutes, one can walk across to Pakistan after completing all formalities — that is, when the atmosphere is friendly between the two neighbours.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee wants a single currency for South Asia. Well, there is a region — the border area between India and Pakistan — where both Indian and Pakistani currencies are accepted. Like all border regions, this one too is a bilingual, dual currency area.

A cab ride from Wagah to Lahore can cost anywhere from (Pak)Rs 200 to whatever the scalpers can get. “I have a Datsun taxi, sir. Please come with me,” a taxi driver said. But the spanking new car that I had expected was nowhere in sight. Before I could wonder what was happening, my luggage had been loaded into a ramshackle vehicle that could only have been held together by prayer.

The ride to Lahore is about 30 minutes through the busy vegetable and fruit market of Jallo Mode (Jallo bend). Going past piles of Kino oranges being sold on the roadside, I asked Naveen Qayyum what exactly she did. She worked for a Lahore-based women’s resource centre called Simorgh — named after a wise bird of Persian mythology. Naveen, who is all of 24 years, had been requested by a friend to accompany me from Wagah to Lahore.

“We write textbooks on human rights and gender sensitisation for school children. In our textbooks, the contribution of women to our history is missing. We want our children to acknowledge that women didn’t always sit in the kitchen; that they led armies in war, they negotiated peace, they went hunting, they participated in the public sphere,” she replied.

“We also take up issues of religious tolerance, the rights of the minorities, child labour and environment,” she explained. Simorgh’s textbooks are already being used in 30 schools across the country.

Naveen seemed a part of the emerging new face of Pakistan. She had not studied abroad, came from a village near the town of Khanewal and was not part of the small Pakistani elite. She spoke English like any convent-educated woman in Delhi and lived in a working women’s hostel.

What did being a Pakistani mean to her'

“Pakistanis are different from each other. For the ordinary folk, religion is very important. They don’t care how they are perceived abroad — mostly as fundamentalists, of course. For others, like businessmen, there is a more practical aspect to being a Pakistani. They do not see it as an ideological issue,” she said.

But what about her' “I resent all the negatives associated with my identity. I don’t want people to look at my green passport and assume things about me — that I should be wearing a burqa or that I think in a particular way. I don’t want to be seen as an alien from another planet,” Naveen said.

About the kind of Pakistan she wanted to live in, she said: “I would want my children to grow up in a Pakistan where there is no sectarian violence, no religious intolerance, where there are equal opportunities to work and no discrimination on the basis of class, gender or caste.”

And, she said, she would like to see a healthy and friendly relationship with India.

“I don’t think there is any other country with which we share so much. We have suffered together in history, we have fought against colonial rulers together, and our poets and our writers are the same. Would you call Ghalib a Pakistani or an Indian'” she asked with a smile.

Her views, especially on the minorities, and her yearning for a religiously tolerant Pakistan were very unusual for someone so young.

Was she a Hindu who had changed her name, I hesitatingly asked her. “No, I am a Christian. Christianity is important to me, even though I don’t go to church regularly. It is a part of my identity and what happens to the community also affects me,” she said.

Was her being a Christian a disappointment to me' No. She was indeed the emerging face of Pakistan — boldly but not foolishly nationalist and choosing to stay in her country to transform it for her children.

We had reached Lahore. There were still six hours to kill before boarding the train to Karachi. Having missed the “Chinese Train”, as the brand new Karakoram Express gifted by China is called, one had to settle for the Karachi Express.

LoC fencing

India tonight dismissed as unacceptable Pakistan’s objections to fencing along the Line of Control on the ground that it was “violative of UN resolutions”, adds PTI.

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