A 16-month-long programme to begin from New Year

An imaginary line that sliced a nation into two 63 years ago and ran deep into the hearts of people on both sides of the border might have a chance to get truncated through a new project involving school children in India and Pakistan.

Routes to Roots, a non-government organisation that works “to bring together peoples, cultures and values across SAARC countries, in particular India and Pakistan”, will begin a 16-month-long programme called Oral Histories from this coming new year.

“The idea behind Oral Histories is that there is a need to address the hatred in both countries…. children in both countries learn that that the ‘other side' is an enemy,” says Routes to Roots founder Rakesh Gupta.

The organisation has classified schools from Delhi, Mumbai, Karachi and Lahore, based broadly on the income groups they cater to.

“There are 2,200 school children involved -- 1,100 from India and 1,100 from Pakistan. The schools have been identified as high-income, middle-income and low-income to cover the entire spectrum of society in both countries,” says Mr. Gupta.

The programme will be executed in three stages -- children between 10 and 14 years of age will initially write letters from both countries addressed to “My friend” across the border, and slowly get acquainted with each other through more letters; next they will send across scrapbooks of drawings depicting different aspects of their lives and finally click and mail pictures of their families and surroundings using cameras provided by the NGO.

Free to write

The students will be free to write anything they desire in the letters. Routes to Roots will ensure that language does not become a barrier in this communication.

“Students from Pakistan might want to write in Urdu, and those in India might want to use Hindi. So we will make sure that the letters are translated into the other language before being sent,” says Mr. Gupta.

The NGO has also tied up with a courier company to ensure that letters reach their respective destinations within three days of mailing.

“These activities are aimed to cut out the similarity between the two countries…and encourage the students to talk to their families about the “other” country,” says Mr. Gupta.

In a world that is increasingly becoming an open platform to interact through the World Wide Web, would the students not want to communicate through social networking sites and other online media?

According to Mr. Gupta, the NGO wants “an open thinking project. We would like the children to communicate through social networking sites, but not in the beginning as there is a lot of negativity on these sites”.

Since the students would not know each other initially, interaction through online media would not be possible, he adds.

Routes to Roots will coordinate Oral Histories with NGO Citizen Archive of Pakistan (CAP) across the border. Having the programme run through 16 months would ensure that it is “result-oriented”, says Mr. Gupta.

The NGO is also planning a camp with students of Oral Histories from both countries in another SAARC nation.

“We want these children to have their own stories about their friends from across the border,” says Mr. Gupta, hoping that these friendships might become the bridge connecting the widening gap between the two nations.