Archive for July 23rd, 2010

Cross-Border Unions: How Indo-Pakistani Marriages Prosper

By Vinita Bharadwaj for The National-UAE

While relations between their countries may be at an all-time low, Indians and Pakistanis who marry each other often find extended family ties confound their nations’ mutual hostility.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when two South Asians wed, they not only marry each other, they also marry into each other’s family.

And family matters between Indians and Pakistanis might be expected to be highly charged, given those two countries’ mutual antipathy for more than 60 years.

“When an Indian marries a Pakistani, it’s a loaded event that can only be matched by the energy of a cricket match between the two countries,” says Amra Hyder, a Pakistani.

The partition of British India into Pakistan and India is historically recorded as the largest human migration ever. It displaced millions and forced people of a common culture to choose a new geography and subscribe overnight to the idea of previously non-existent nations.

Most tragically, it split families. The ghosts of the 1947 partition loom large in the psyches of both countries’ modern histories that include three wars, a continuing dispute over Kashmir and terrorism.

Amra is originally from Pakistan and is married to Zulfiqar Hyder, who hails from India. Amra and Zulfiqar, now Canadian citizens, have lived in Sharjah with their four children since 2006.

In 1992, when the gregarious, romantic 23-year-old Amra married the 33-year old Zulfiqar, a studious man from India, she did not quite know what to expect – from married life, her in-laws and most importantly, her husband’s country. “I also never would have imagined I would be apologetic for both countries’ ridiculous obsession with ‘Shonia’,” she says of the media brouhaha over the recent nuptials of the Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik and the Indian tennis player Sania Mirza.

For long before the Malik-Mirza marriage, thousands of Indians and Pakistanis, mostly from families divided by the 1947 partition, have been marrying each other.

The difference is that now these marital alliances are formed outside the extended family circuit. Amra and Zulfiqar did not have an arranged marriage, and neither of them had any intention of settling in either India or Pakistan. They opted to overcome predictable visa hassles by initially residing in the UAE soon after their wedding, and migrated to Canada in 1996 to obtain citizenship, in the hope that it would ease their trips between India and Pakistan.

 
Masooma Syed, from Lahore, met her Keralan husband Sumedh Rajendran at an artists’ residency programme in Delhi. ‘I knew he understood me perfectly.’ Charla Jones

The couple first met in Abu Dhabi at a mutual friend’s party, and married within a year. The wedding took place in Karachi, with Zulfiqar’s entire family flying in from the northern Indian city of Lucknow. “It was a lovely wedding,” Amra recalls, adding that the questioning – albeit, in jest – began soon after they were married. “It was like, ‘Now you’re an Indian daughter-in-law’ and ‘Who will you support in cricket’ or even ‘Who will you support in war’?”

Her response was simple. “I married an Indian, not India. Having said that, I have been welcomed so warmly and given unbelievable respect by Indians, whenever I visit. My relationship with the people, I cherish. The politics, I don’t care for.”

Amra grew up in Abu Dhabi and returned to Lahore for university. Her childhood perception of Indians was to lump them all as people from the Southern Indian state of Kerala. “It was so wrong,” she says regretfully admitting to an error of judgment on her part, “but I honestly never really gave it any thought.” Although her grandfather was an active political leader – initially in the Indian independence struggle and later in the Muslim League, which pressed for Pakistan’s creation – she was uninterested in matters of politics.

On numerous trips to Northern India in the last 18 years, Amra has returned amazed by the cultural similarities she has observed between Indians – including non-Muslims – and her community in Pakistan. “We speak the same kind of language, we appreciate the same food, we like the same clothes, we place the same importance on family values. We even share similar pre-wedding festivities. It’s hardly an alien experience,” she says.

The differences were more to do with class and little do with the country. “Compared to my husband’s childhood, mine was very privileged. He is a self-made man and has single-handedly contributed to his family’s success. If I had to get used to anything, it was holidaying in a home that would experience power cuts and water shortages.”

Amra and Zulfiqar’s children – Hira (17), Anum (13), Zahra (11) and Ali (10) – describe themselves as desi, a generic, originally sanskrit, term used by South Asian immigrants that loosely denotes their origins. They are an animated group and debate the definition of desi among themselves, as their parents look on proudly. The conclusion: among younger generations in urban settings, desi communities have spawned a culture bound by a fondness for Bollywood, cricket, South Asian food and fused elements of their upbringing at home with the globalised, western outlook they are exposed to outside.

Having said that, India and Pakistan enjoy enormous cultural riches – largely attributable to their ethnic, regional and linguistic diversity. Both countries together are akin to the European Union – with each of their provinces having their own quirks, tastes and sensibilities. These subtleties within communities are apparent when embedded among the people in their own land.

Shadab Raza, from Lucknow, India, his Pakistani wife Sana Zehri and their six-year-old son Ali have relatives on both sides of the border. ‘There’s never been this India-Pakistan mentality in our families,’ Shadab said. Siddharth Siva / Arabian Eye

Masooma Syed, an artist from Lahore, lives in Delhi with her husband Sumedh Rajendran, also an artist, but from the south of India. They were introduced to each other at an artists’ residency programme in the Indian capital Delhi in 2003. Following that, they would arrange to meet in Manchester, Sri Lanka and New York before finally geting married in July 2008.

Their cultural backgrounds could not be more different, as are their temperaments and artistic styles. “And yet, I knew he understood me perfectly,” says Masooma of the decision to marry across the border and step into the cumbersome world of visas, soon after exchanging wedding vows in Sri Lanka.

“We never thought about a third country [to live in]. Sumedh has lived in Delhi for the last 15 years and I’ve had absolutely no problem in adjusting to living here. It’s just like Lahore. Ironically, I find Sumedh is more of a foreigner in his own country’s capital than I am. We have discussed moving to a neutral country, especially if visa regulations became tighter, but then as artists all our inspirations stem from this region. Relocating would uproot those emotions and we wonder what impact that would have on our work.”

Kerala, where Sumedh is from, however, is an altogether different milieu. “The first time Masooma visited, she was stunned,” says Sumedh.

“I thought to myself, how lucky am I to be able to see and discover these different facets of India,” she says recalling her reaction to the abundant greenery, the aromatic spices, the swaying coconut palms and the simple people.

But since marrying Sumedh, Masooma has found herself saddled with the unexpected baggage of acting as an ambassador of sorts for both countries. “It’s annoying at times,” she says. “And really it’s all because of immature media reportage in one country about the other. So I end up having to either justify, explain or make excuses for India when in Pakistan or vice versa. I’m not used to being accountable to anyone and this new role is quite tiring, even if it does come with special treatment in some instances.”

The challenges within an Indo-Pak marriage, according to Masooma, seem to be similar to any mixed-culture marriage. Except that among South Asian communities, tradition dictates the wife follows the husband to his home, or homeland. In the specific India-Pakistan context of the 21st century, the complications of visas and work permits make it harder for educated women to carve out an identity for themselves in their new environment. “It’s definitely much easier to be in a third country – either resident or citizen – when in an Indo-Pak marriage. Also, in today’s world, the younger generations of Indians and Pakistanis are meeting and interacting abroad, first as students and then as professionals. Marriages between different faiths among this demographic is on the rise and logistics is no longer a deterrent to falling in love.”

Masooma has been visiting India since 2003 and as an artist she has travelled, exhibited and worked in both countries. “I go through the same motions as all Pakistani nationals applying for an Indian visa. It’s a process and is easy or difficult depending entirely on how you want to look at it,” she says. In early June, the Indian government announced it was relaxing the requirements for granting the extension of long-term visas to four categories of Pakistani nationals, including Pakistani women married to Indian nationals and staying in India. The announcement was welcomed by individuals in her situation.

Her current visa is a ‘visit visa’ valid for nine months that is split into three visits of 90 days each. She has to exit India after each ‘visit’, but says it suits her work commitments that require her to travel abroad. “And I can visit my family in Lahore,” she adds.

Pakistani nationals issued visas to India are typically allowed to visit a maximum of three cities and must report to a police station on arrival and before leaving for their next destination. Masooma is now exempted from the police reporting, as she is a regular traveller between India and Pakistan and is also now married to an Indian national. “I’m allowed to visit more than three cities each time, but it will be a while before I am given complete freedom to travel like any other foreigner,” she says.

She could apply for a residence permit, but would be compelled to stay in India until the paperwork is completed, but it’s diffiuclt to predict how long that would take. Nationality, however, remains a touchy issue, particularly among the educated and liberal women of either country, who see no reason in giving up the passport of the country they originally belong to.

“Unfortunately, political relations keep changing and this spills over into visas and affects people-to-people relationships,” says Zulfiqar Hyder, a staunch believer in encouraging contact between the two countries. The Hyder family hold Canadian passports, but they still have to apply for visas to visit India and Pakistan.

In the wake of the David Headley arrest – a US citizen of Pakistani origin – over his alleged terrorist connections and involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attack, Zulfiqar says having the Canadian passport makes little difference towards easing the process. “I’m trying to get a PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card for the children,” he says of the document issued by the Indian government that functions as a long-term multiple entry visa. As things stand, the foreign spouse of an Indian national is eligible for the PIO card, but the spouses from Pakistan are not, effectively ruling out Amra and her two elder daughters, as they were previously travelling on her passport. “I don’t understand the logic that my children cannot get the PIO card, because their mother is Pakistani,” says Zulfiqar.

The national security argument does not resonate with him as much as it does with Amra. “Frankly, if my family can be assured of safe travel, I don’t mind a little more waiting or dealing with a bit more bureaucracy,” she says. He shakes his head furiously, looks at me and asks: “Did the 26/11 terrorists enter India with passports? Did they? How did they enter India?”

They arrived by night. Across the Arabian Sea, first on a small boat, then a hijacked fishing trawler and finally entered Mumbai’s waters on a rubber dinghy.

Visa-related policies in both countries are updated depending on the warmth or frostiness of the political relationship. Shadab Raza, a 35-year old Indian also from Lucknow, married Pakistani national Sana Zehri, who grew up in the UAE. They have a six-year-old son who has an Indian passport. The families arranged their marriage, as Shadab’s maternal aunts live in Pakistan. “There’s never been this India-Pakistan mentality in our families, because we have relatives on both sides of the border,” says Shadab.

Sana’s ancestry can be traced back to Lucknow, as her grandparents migrated to Pakistan at the time of the partition. On her first visit to the city after her marriage, she visited the ancestral home of her grandparents and filmed it to share with them. “I filmed the house, the neighbourhood and some of the people recorded messages for them. When they watched the video they were consumed by nostalgic sadness. I think partition hurt their generation the most. Our parents to a lesser extent, but they still feel the impact of it as they grew up hearing about it from their parents and visiting immediate relatives in the other country. For my generation, the degree of the trauma is even more reduced, because we haven’t experienced much of the consequences of it directly,” she says.

Shadab and Sana’s son, Ali, however, is quite clear about where he is from. “India,” he says firmly.

Sana laughs and recalls an incident of him wanting a carrom board specifically ‘made in India’. “My father-in-law had to get the lettering customised because the shop, where they bought it didn’t sell carrom boards with a ‘made in India’ label,” she says. In the meantime, Ali brings out his carrom board and empties out the coins from their container. He then calls out to Shadab to come and play with him.

“There’s never been this India-Pakistan mentality in our families, because we have relatives on both sides of the border,” says Shadab sitting down at the board, across from Ali, who flicks the large striker coin towards the arrangement of smaller black and white coins stacked by colour in the centre of the board. The two towers collapse, some of the coins disperse in four directions, but none of them is pocketed.

“What a mess,” exclaims Ali.

Pakistan Extends Gen. Kayani’s Term

By Zahid Hussain for The Wall Street Journal

Pakistan’s civilian government late Thursday extended the term of army chief General Ashfaq Kayani for three more years to ensure continuity in the military leadership at a crucial stage in the country’s battle against Islamic militants.  The announcement was made by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in a televised speech.

“The decision is taken to maintain continuity in the military’s command as the country is passing through very critical times,” Mr. Gilani said. Gen. Kayani, 58 years old, was appointed army chief in December 2007 and was to retire at the end of the year under normal tenure limitations.

The general has won praise for leading two successful military operations against Islamic militants last year in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and South Waziristan tribal region. But militants have regrouped in many areas and continue to unleash suicide strikes across the country.

More than 50,000 Pakistani troops are still engaged in fighting al Qaeda backed Islamic militants in the Pakistan’s troubled northwestern region, which borders Afghanistan. They are aided by unmanned U.S. drone strikes.

The war is seen as a crucial piece of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan as many Taliban fighters use Pakistan’s tribal regions as a safe haven.

A senior government official said Gen. Kayani’s good rapport with Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan, and other American military leaders was a major factor in the decision to extend his term.

“He has worked closely with the current American military leadership and it is important for both Pakistan and the U.S. at this point for Gen. Kayani to stay at the helm,” said the official.

Other analysts agreed continuity was important at the current juncture of the war. “His leadership is crucial at the time when Pakistani army is fighting a decisive battle against the militants,” said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, an independent defense analyst.

Still, the extension of his tenure is likely to raise concerns among some pro-democracy activists about the pre-eminent role of the military in Pakistan.

The country has a democratically elected civilian government under President Asif Ali Zardari. But the country has been ruled more by military leaders in its 63-year history, most recently between 1999 and 2008.

Mr. Zardari’s government faces growing opposition and some analysts fear the army may step in again if they deem it necessary. Gen. Kayani, though, has focused on fighting militants. “We have to defeat them decisively,” he said during a recent discussion with a group of journalists.

Gen. Kayani received his commission in the Pakistani army in 1971. He served as the chief of Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, before his elevation to army chief.

The Pakistan America Peace Through Music Project

A Musical Journey to Peace, Freedom and Understanding
(A Collaboration of The Sonic Peace Makers and SHINE HUMANITY)

The following information in this article is taken from the Peace Through Music webpage on Global Giving at:  http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/peace-through-music/  

Peace Through Music (#5719)

Mention Pakistan today and what comes to the minds of most Americans is terrorism, poverty, and hopelessness. That’s all they see in the news. But Pakistan also has one of the world’s most diverse and rich cultures, equaled only by its spectacular natural beauty as home to part of Kashmir, the Khyber Pass and high mountain peaks like K2. Once upon a time in the not so distant past, Texan gun enthusiasts brought their prized antique revolvers to Peshawar’s gun smiths to make copies, actor Robert DeNiro posed for pictures with restaurant owners while vacationing in Chitral, and Mick Jagger tested his dance skills with Lahore’s most well-known Mujra dancers. And many of Pakistan’s greatest musicians and singers like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan regularly collaborated with their counterparts in Europe and America such as Peter Gabriel and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.

Two decades ago, we failed to uphold our principles and fulfill a moral obligation to help rebuild Afghanistan and assist Pakistan with the painful aftermath of the Soviet-Afghan war, which included millions of Afghan refugees who still reside in Pakistan. In stark contrast, we helped rebuild our enemies Germany and Japan after WWII, but inexplicably abandoned our friends after the war in Afghanistan, a key factor in allowing extremists to begin their destructive swarm across Afghanistan and Pakistan’s western frontier and become a grave threat to the security and stability of the entire world. But today, while the wounds are deep and the challenges are great, the forces of light and sonic harmony are again on the ascendance. Pakistan today is home not just to 11 music video channels and has one of the most innovative and vibrant music scenes anywhere in the world. A country that has produced some of the greatest sitar and tabla players is today home of some of the finest singers, guitar shredders and drummers. Music pioneers like Junoon, the godfathers of “Sufi Rock,” are joined by Qawwali rockers like Mekaal Hasan and Aaroh, indie projects like Peshawar’s Sajid and Zeeshan, and Heavy Metal innovators like Akash and Karavan. In recent years Atif Aslam has become the most successful Pop singer in all of South Asia with a growing following world-wide.

The Pakistan America Peace Through Music Project was inspired by the work of Greg Mortenson (author of the bestseller “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones Into Schools”) and is based, among other things, on world music pioneer Manu Dibango’s declaration that musicians are “all from the same tribe” regardless of their race, nationality or religion and John Coltrane’s belief in the power of music to spread peace and harmony. Building on the millennia-long tradition of musical and cultural exchange in Pakistan and South and Central Asia more broadly, we will bring a group of leading musicians from the U.S. to Pakistan led by guitarist/producer Lanny Cordola (House of Lords, Giuffria, The Beach Boys), drummer/producer Matt Sorum (Guns ‘n’ Roses, Velvet Revolver), singer/guitarist Todd Shea and many others for a month long musical caravan throughout the country, creating and performing with some of Pakistan’s most well known, talented and innovative artists such as Atif Aslam, Shehzad Roy, Strings, Arieb Azhar, Abda Parveen, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, Rustam Fateh Ali Khan, Beo Rana Zafar and celebrated record producer Rohail Hyatt (Vital Signs, Coke Studio). The inspiring poetry of Allama Iqbal and other revered poets will be prominently featured as an artistic and cultural base for the musical collaboration. Later on in the year, the Pakistani musicians will come to the U.S. for performances and events joined by their American comrades (including members of Guns ‘n’ Roses, Velvet Revolver, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.), which will also include time for more song writing and recording. Both the Pakistani and American “legs” of the gathering will be filmed for a documentary. The music and film will then be completed and released for sale on CDs & DVDs.

Goals
The project’s goals will be to bring Americans and Pakistanis closer together by erasing misconceptions and raising awareness of the diversity and beauty of Pakistan and its people, ultimately revealing the commonalities between Pakistani/Muslim and American cultures, to show Americans the Pakistan they never see in the mainstream media and to support Pakistan’s courageous artistic community, as well as raise funds and awareness to help establish and equip music schools and fund innovative health and education projects across Pakistan and Afghanistan. Once the initial project has been released, the music will continue with a series of collaborations with musicians and artists from all over the world to bring people together and help people in need.

Help bring people from all over the world closer together through a musical journey designed to erase misconceptions and build bridges of Peace and understanding between Human Beings.
Go to http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/peace-through-music and donate to the project.

More Information About this Project
Project Needs and Beneficiaries
SHINE Humanity and The Sonic Peacemakers need your support to help raise the funding needed to produce, record, film and document musical collaborations between singers and musicians from all over the world to promote peace and support humanitarian aid projects.

Activities
Musical fusion and celebration of diverse cultures will erase misconceptions and raise funding which will lead to a lasting positive effect on vulnerable children in developing nations, and help create a better, safer world for all Humanity

Funding Information
Total Funding Received to Date: $9,620
Remaining Goal to be Funded: $490,380
Total Funding Goal: $500,000

Why this Project is Important
Potential Long Term Impact

Project Message
“Music has incredible power to inspire and energize Human Beings to bridge divides and create a better world”
- Todd Shea, Chief Operating Officer

Who is Running This Project
Contact
Todd Shea
Executive Director
8020 N. Nob Hill Road
#201
Tamarac, FL 33321
Pakistan
Email: toddshea@cdrspakistan.org

Project Sponsor
GlobalGiving
Organization
Comprehensive Disaster Response Services
Chikar Rural Health Center
Chikar, Dist. Muzaffarabad 131000
Pakistan
011-92-300-502-9705
http://www.ShineHumanity.org

Additional organizations worthy of your donations
http://www.penniesforpeace.org/

http://www.ikat.org/

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