'Romancing the Border' through social media -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

‘Romancing the Border’ through social media

By: Barkha Shah

An exciting initiative by young Indians and Pakistanis seeks to change mindsets through virtual interaction, testimonials and more

Had a conversation today with someone across the border. Sure, he belongs to a country that my nation has been in war with before. And sure, I had a few reservations. But a few minutes down the call and familiarity wiped out the inhibitions. Every other statement ended with a “Sahi hai” (Hindi/Urdu for ‘that’s right’) and chuckles and friendly banter soon made way into the conversation. But why was I expecting it to be different — just because he was from Pakistan and I from India?

That’s the kind of mindset that Rehman Ilyas, founder of ‘Romancing the Border’, an initiative towards Indo-Pak peace wants to change. “My dad had an Indian trading partner in Dubai about two decades ago and he still raves about his family’s incredible hospitality to him on his business trips to the city. My grandmother was raised in pre-partition Lahore, in a harmonious neighbourhood with Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims,” Rehman says.

“She has narrated anecdotes and stories from the past multiple times to me. And even though all these positive thoughts were fed into me, I had a few reservations about India. But this changed within the first few weeks of my time in Hong Kong and I found myself befriending more Indians than Pakistanis. We have similar language, interests, culture and food and so naturally in a foreign setting, we become immediate friends.”

This got him thinking that Indians and Pakistanis need to meet and interact with each other to let go of their reservations and apprehensions. “I don’t want us to be handicapped with hatred forever,” he says.

Sounds like a cause worth spreading. Rehman has been banking on social media for that. The ‘Romancing the Border’ Facebook page features beautiful post-cards that spread interesting messages of peace interactions. It involves its audience by including their pictures in these ‘peace bombs’. Statistics related to costs of conflict are also shared to bring facts into the picture. They are also playing around with twitter. Not surprising as Rehman says, “Since the past two years, I have been fascinated by social media marketing and activism.”

The initiative is fairly young. Started in December 2011, it was initially a part of Pakistan. Soon it started getting significant positive response and now it has a life of its own. Today, it is being incubated by Stanford Peace Innovation Lab, California, USA.

“It’s been good. We’ve even got encouragement from Aman ki Asha, a peace initiative backed by The Times of India Group in India and Jang group in Pakistan. But the best push for us has been in the form of testimonials from young Indians and Pakistanis,” Rehman says.

One testimonial from Disha (Mumbai) on their Facebook page says, “A lot has been said about India and Pakistan, and I think everyone is aware of all the problems going on. All I really want to say is: the only time both countries should be opposing each other… ought to be on the cricket field!”

The best is yet to come, says Rehman. “We are working on a regular comic series based on interactions between Indian and Pakistani youth in a foreign setting, based on our own experiences.”

Other upcoming initiatives include a weekly fiction story update (being worked upon), collaborations with youth organisations and peace groups on both sides of the border, short videos on India-Pakistan peace, Romancing The Border goodies (T-shirts, posters, bands) and localised events across the globe to raise voice for the issue.

Like many other social media entrepreneurs, he’s also looking at a crowd-sourcing online campaign for funding. The only difference perhaps will be that in his case, it is peace that will measure the project’s “profitability”.

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