SOUTH ASIA: The Mumbai Press Gallery Visit to Pakistan

Thursday, December 8, 2011
Mumbai Press Gallery
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Conflict Prevention
Peace Processes

The same sea, the same sky. The distance between Mumbai and Karachi is only 877 km. But the distance created by politics and religion is so much more! Before landing at the Jinnah International Airport, my views about Pakistan were mixed. Pakistan is a “declared enemy” for India; for religious and political reasons, it was separated from India in 1947. The Islamic prayer recited inside the plane reminded me that I was going to a country that is not based on secular ideals. On landing, however, I realised that what we have learnt, what we have “understood” about the people of Pakistan was completely wrong.

We received a warm and royal welcome at the airport, with garlands of roses. Everywhere I looked, I saw friendly, smiling faces. We were received as if we were close relatives expected for a long time. We shared anxieties, worries and thoughts. I discovered that the wounds of Partition have not yet healed. Everyone we met was eager to unbundle her or his sweet memories about India.

Our week in Karachi was hectic, with meetings and discussions mainly on Indo-Pak relations. How can a journalist strengthen this relationship? Instead of exchanging furious words, how can we pen words of love and fraternity? How can we be messengers of peace?

Before coming to Karachi, I had heard that it is similar to Mumbai. But I found it totally different. It is not overcrowded like Mumbai and it has more open spaces. The heart of the city is really beautiful. With flyovers and malls, Karachi shines like any other modern city. But parts of it are gloomy with no greenery, mud-coloured buildings, slums and congested roads.

Unlike Mumbai, we did not see working class women thronging the streets to reach their workplaces. Public transport is crowded with mostly male passengers; there are no transport services exclusively for women like our Mumbai's Ladies' Special. Women vendors are rare.

I thought all women would be in purdah. But they only cover their heads with scarves and duppattas. We met some strong, enthusiastic and capable women, leaders in media, politics and in NGOs. I hope they bring change in the political history of Pakistan and succeed in their fight against the pernicious trend of “honour” killings.

The poor in the Karachi are overburdened with daily struggles. We visited Ibrahim Hyderi where we found children uninterested in education, going to sea to fish. There are many child labourers, many sadly addicted to tobacco and supari even at a tender age. Because of poverty, parents send their children to sea instead of school. All of them struggle to make both ends meet. We met a lady who has been waiting for her husband and four other male relatives who have been imprisoned in Gujarat, India, for the past 15 years, for crossing the maritime border. Fishermen's arrest is a common occurrence and a serious issue between the two countries.

The ajraks we received as a symbol of love and respect are very colourful. Places like Port Grant, Clifton and Karachi beach are mind-blowing. The Indus River is vast and beautiful. But along with this beauty of Sindh, we saw our brothers and sisters struggling to cope with their uncertain life. In the eyes of women we saw hidden tears and pain mixed with trauma.

At Hyderabad, a schoolgirl drew flowers in my notepad and wrote: “My name is Fatima, I like India. I want to go to India. Thank you”. That was the most beautiful gift I got on this tour.

I hope at least the next generation can be free of any ill-feeling between our countries. Let us delete words like “enemy”, “terror”, “war” forever from our dictionaries! Let us live in peace and harmony.

Leela Solomon

The writer is Assistant Editor, Economic & Political Weekly, Mumbai, who spent a week in Karachi recently as part of a 22-member delegation of journalists from The Mumbai Press Club.