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Bilateral ties: Love thy neighbour


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Ali Hassan Raza
Ali Hassan Raza

“I will go to India again a thousand times as I have more friends there than I have in Pakistan,” said Ali Hassan Raza, a Pakistani student in India who was beaten in his hostel at Pondicherry University on May 13. He came back home two days later. Raza had just completed his two-year postgraduate specialisation in South Asian Studies when the incident happened. He is now back in his hometown of Pattoki, 84km from Lahore.

“I went to the hostel washroom early in the morning and left the door of my room open. In my absence, somebody sneaked into my room and, when I went back to sleep, the guy opened the door for two other people,” Raza explained. He said the attackers beat him up with iron rods, hung a rope around his neck and hit him on the head with a cold drink bottle.

“The attackers left after some time and I don’t think they wanted to kill me,” the student said, adding that he stayed in hospital for the next two days until arrangements were made for his return to Pakistan. Replying to a question as to what could be the motive behind the incident, he said he did not know the cause as he was quite popular at the campus. He’s not sure whether the assailants wanted to send a message, malign the university or simply wanted to divert attention as general elections were going on at that time.

“The authorities responded to the incident, the state governor came to meet me in the hospital and the regional police chief also visited and assured me security,” he said. However Pakistani authorities did not respond until he contacted them through an official whose number he had obtained, Raza added. Once the incident got media attention, Raza says help came from the Pakistani officials and the Pakistani ambassador got in touch with him.

It is important that there are more people-to-people contacts and that citizens have a better understanding of each other. “In India, many universities have Pakistan Studies departments and many students have done PhDs on Pakistan but we don’t have Indian Studies centres at our universities,” Raza exclaimed.

But what was Raza doing in India in the first place?

“I went to India under the South Asia Foundation (SAF) students exchange programme. My class consisted of two students from each Saarc country. I was the only one from Pakistan,” he explained, saying he has good memories of his two-year stay at Pondicherry and have been immensely impressed by their development in various fields like medicine, social sciences and information technology.

“During my stay there I have written a book titled Why I Do Not Hate India which will be soon published in English and Hindi. My friend Chandana Baruah is the co-author of this book,” he stated. The book consisted of his impressions on about 15 sectors in which India had made significant development.

The student said that it is important that there are more people-to-people contacts and that citizens have a better understanding of each other. “In India, many universities have Pakistan Studies departments and many students have done PhDs on Pakistan but we don’t have Indian Studies centres at our universities,” Raza exclaimed. He also added that he got a lot of love and affection in India but was hugely disappointed by the response of his own people who objected to his decision of studying in India and maligned him for going there.

On another note, he said that there are lots of misconceptions in both countries. “In Pakistan, students are taught that India is a caste-ridden society and its people kill their daughters; however, the reality is quite different. India is a very diverse country,” he said. In order to remove these mistaken beliefs, the development of social sciences and people-to-people contacts would be the steps in the right direction.

Talking about what can be done to bring a change in attitude of people both countries, he said, “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India to attend the oath-taking of Narendra Modi and their meetings would not bring about any major difference. The real change would come with the development of research centres to explore common grounds and social and cultural similarities.”

Raza said that his stay in India was not smooth sailing and initially he faced a lot of difficulties but he dealt with all of them. “I was not allowed to go out of the city and I had to get clearance, not only from the local police but also from the regional police every six months,” he said. In that context, he stated that once when he was coming back to Pakistan and had to stay in New Delhi for a night, no hotel gave him accommodation and he had to spend that night in a gurdwara.

Salima Hashmi, Dean of Beaconhouse National University’s School of Visual Arts and Design, who heads SAF Students Exchange Programme, said there were 88 beneficiaries of the programme at her university while dozens others went to India but the incident that Raza faced was the first one. She said two students even went for a PhD in Kashmir, which is considered to be a conflict zone. The SAF has also sent students to Nepal, Sri Lanka and other Saarc countries. “Since 2007, Indian students had also been coming to Pakistan to pursue higher studies and I want more students to go to India for higher studies,” added Hashmi.

“The mishap that Raza faced was possibly an outcome of the university’s internal politics as there are various kinds of students with different mindsets and backgrounds in any institute of higher studies,” elaborated Hashmi.

Elaborating about the SAF, she said, “It is a non-political, non-profit organisation and was founded by Madanjeet Singh who thought that the youth’s participation was important to build peace in the region.” With the same aim, Ali Hassan Raza and other students got a chance to study and explore other countries’ cultures.

Hindustan Times’ special correspondent Sudipto Mondal has a different take on the incident. He says that the cause of the attack lay in the very social structure of India, especially how that reflects on the education system. He said all the higher education campuses were dominated by upper class Hindus who maltreat even the lower caste Hindus and are unwilling to give space to anybody else.

“The students coming from Pakistan should select such universities which have a reputation of being secular and liberal with a progressive atmosphere, like the Asian School of Journalism, Chennai or Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi,” stated Mondal. It is not difficult to find such institutions as there were hundreds of such institutes of higher learning in India. The students should also look at the history of the area and its atmosphere, he maintained.

Mondal said Indian society had been polarised and become more conservative in the last 15 to 20 years and as a result there is an increase in right wing political influence.

The incident that Raza faced was a minor one, something which is quite common in India and its genesis was in the social structure of India itself rather than anything else.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 8th, 2014

Comments (42) Closed

Ali Hassan Jun 10, 2014 02:30pm

Peace love and peace <3

butterfly Jun 10, 2014 02:32pm

"Why I do not hate India"... the title of Raza's book seems to point at the real attackers! they could very possibly be mercenaries of the Pakistani intelligence or establishment as well!

Raj Jun 10, 2014 02:41pm

God bless you Ali, and you are welcome to India a million times. May there be peace.

Srikanth Jun 10, 2014 02:47pm

Folks come to Hyderabad. You would not even feel you are outside your country at all :)

Ankur Mathur Jun 10, 2014 02:51pm

As an Indian I am immensely saddened by the ill treatment that was meted out to Mr. Raza whose prolific work in South Asian Studies, and indeed broader ethnographic studies will enrich many a researchers' pages. His stay in India was eventful no doubt, but his story is warming for me as an Indian. Iw oudl welcome him to continue studying in this field. I feel the need to apologize for the incident as it blatantly violates what my country and indeed, any forward looking civilization in the world stands for. I wish him best of luck and all the future success.

True Pakistani Jun 10, 2014 03:13pm

Bravo young man

Suq Madieq Jun 10, 2014 03:16pm

Sadly the Pakistanis dont want to read this. They want to read about hatred for Hindus, Poverty in India, oppression of women, not about monorail in Mumbai, skyscrapers all around, peace and greenery all around, brotherhood among all religions.

Anup Jun 10, 2014 03:21pm

an out of box theory here. There may be cast divide but when it comes to higher studies, it is all about merit and the lower casts get 50% reservations. So, Mr. Mandal's point of view is utterly wrong and has zero merit.

stranger Jun 10, 2014 03:50pm

There indeed is ill will between the two countries but there is also a deep connect. Which won't go away despite all the hate, mistrust. It's a peculiar relation! The more Indians and Pakistanis will hate each other, more they will have to think of each other. And then ponder, why in the world are we hating each other? With hate we are not going to get over this relationship. And 7 decades of history proves that. What we need to do is slowly but steadily improve the relations. The people to people relations and also economic relations. Be practical and focus on making small gains rather than making a massive difference all too soon. Indians and Pakistanis have to understand hatred isn't working out.

Kanwaljeet Singh Jun 10, 2014 04:03pm

He resemble chetan bhagat..One of my friend at MU looks exactly the same..studies less and always scores more than me

Jayanta Jun 10, 2014 04:06pm

@Srikanth well said srikanth. cheers.

Kiran Jun 10, 2014 04:54pm

@Anup - I am guessing you are upper caste.

GA Jun 10, 2014 05:24pm

Pakistan does have an Indian Studies department. It's called Bollywood. We take it very, very seriously.

Muhammad Ramzan Jun 10, 2014 05:48pm

Good Job, done with your study and leave the wonderful memories in India. Believe in friendship. both country need to get closer than ever. World does not want Indo-Pak relations to fruitful. we are neighbors and will remain neighbors. at the end wait for your book once it is out there in the market will buy it. God bless India and Pakistan. love you all.

Sajid Kahn Jun 10, 2014 07:30pm

Indian society had been polarised and become more conservative in the last 15 to 20 years and as a result increasing Muslim Population.

Zakir Jun 10, 2014 09:11pm

Spot on Ali Hassan Raza. Good essay.

I have been working in Gujarat, India for eight months on a work assignment and it has been absolutely a wonderful experience. Being an expat of Muslim origin, I have mingled very well with colleagues at work and with the public in general and have made friends with whoever feels comfortable to talk to me and the other way round. Clearly, I do not have to pretend that because of my western passport I am superior and I should look down on others with a chip on the shoulder. People have respected my seniority both professionally and on a personal basis.

And that's what life should be. Peaceful.

GreaterIndia Jun 10, 2014 09:49pm

I'm so sorry you had bad experience in India, I as an Indian an appalled by this attack. An University/Collage is a place for education and spiritual upliftment, not to prove a point. I'm equally disappointed by hotels for not providing you accommodation, however, please understand, they are under the gun from security services and don't want t take any chance. Hope you get heal, comeback and finish your study.

Salim Jun 10, 2014 09:55pm

"people kill their daughters!" Amir Khan did a complete program on it. How daughters are killed in India quietly. Well! In Pakistan we will kill daughters in daylight in front of authorities! (Lahore court house incident) Our societies are quite similar to a certain extent. "Direct or indirect types of Upper caste ... Lower Caste issues!" 99% of population suffers from it in the two countries.

Saqib Jun 10, 2014 10:56pm

I am always amazed how understanding Pakistanis are, and still they get all the bad attention. If this had been an Indian student in Pakistan. Ha ha, the amount of accusations and name calling would have made it look like it was the biggest crime since Jesus was crucified.

Mir Jun 11, 2014 01:10am

@Suq Madieq Unfortunately, are Indian friends aren't interested in cordial relations either. Instead, they'll take to criticizing and spreading their own misconceptions on Pakistan, such as yourself.

Imran Jun 11, 2014 01:31am

@Suq Madieq Not at all. I am a Pakistani and loved reading this. I am a Pakistani with few relatives living in India and don't see the difference between the people of two countries except that the politicians want to keep us busy in this hatred.

FIZA Soho Jun 11, 2014 02:42am

It's commendable that despite suffering serious injuries from extremists students at this Indian campus, Ali Hassan Raza still has a place in his heart for his Indian friends and India. He seems to be a gentle soul who is quick to forgive those who did him so much harm.

The fact that the Pakistani Embassy staff including the egomaniac Ambassador couldn't find the time to give Ali Hassan Raza, a fellow Pakistani a call after his horrific attack says volumes about the opportunists representing Pakistan abroad. What a shameful attitude to display when they only showed superficial concern only after the media broadcast this crime.

Sarmad Siddiqui Jun 11, 2014 02:47am

We shouldn't generalize the actions of some Indians. During my interaction I have found them to be lovely and peace loving. Loving Pakistan should not equate to hating India.

D Jun 11, 2014 03:00am

Good Work Ali, Go back For Studies

We should respect and luv, we all have same culture.

Keiky M Press Jun 11, 2014 06:14am

Dear Razabhai, I am very sorry for the serious hurt caused to you; I hope they were caught and punished. God Bless you for being so graceful! A few rotten apples give a bad experience in life. Regards, Keiky.

Roger Jun 11, 2014 06:53am

I am absolutely 'touched' by Ali Hassan Raza's words for India where he experienced this unfortunate incident, as also the warmth exuded by the Pakistanis on this board, which seem genuine.

Sunny (USA) Jun 11, 2014 07:22am

Two years of living in India made him a better person. He is more open minded now. A loving, supportive and encouraging environment brings out the best in anyone. Good Luck Kiddo ! Best wishes always !

bharat Jun 11, 2014 08:54am

Raza ,i hope you have a good stay in India.

Kala Ingrez Jun 11, 2014 10:24am

Ali Raza is a real hero and deserved a hero's welcome. We need more kids like him to break the hate barrier and work towards peace even though there is cost associated to peace. The confused Liberals of our country should learn from Ali Raza that road towards peace is rough and you just can

Prashant Asthana Jun 11, 2014 10:33am

A hearty sorry for what has happened to Raza.I would say a positive article about the incident which will not hamper the studies of others studying here in are al most welcome to come and study and explore.

Devendra Jun 11, 2014 10:59am

Welcome brother. You are most welcome in India

Dileep Jun 11, 2014 11:11am

I always found a natural comfort with my colleagues from Pakistan, whenever I worked in the west. The vested interests in politics, bureaucracy and media drive a misinformation campaign against each country. Most of the media houses are bigoted and irresponsible. Hats off to medias like Dawn,Daily Times and Friday Times which I feel are way ahead of any Indian newspaper

bhunia Jun 11, 2014 11:32am

@Anup its ironical as Mandal is a lower caste last name and most of the Mandals I know are in elite universities because of the 50% quota provided by the government. These low merit students usually become the target of a lot of their peers who see them unfairly using up a prestigious seat due to a quota and after graduation they become vehemently anti-general category students (also referred to as upper caste by these hypocrites) who never receive any quota. Mandal is most probably such a case.

B N KHAZANCHI Jun 11, 2014 11:45am

I am glad what Ali raza cant live hating your neighbour all the time.All human beings r created by god whether muslims or hindus.We must enjoy and learn from each others company. i do not read many newspapers but DAWN is my favourite for honest reporting

Anil Nair Jun 11, 2014 11:53am


But the southern India and the North-East has no similarity with Pakistan whatsoever though :)

Anil Nair Jun 11, 2014 11:57am

@GA LOL at this comment.

Well done sir :D

anil Jun 11, 2014 12:02pm

Mr.Mondal says in Indian universities , only higher caste students get seats . It's not higher caste , it is the student with higher marks or more talent . And if these higher caste students secure more marks (which is again not always true) , let it be . We love to follow this merit system . These are all baseless arguments . Though Indian education system is not at par with western ones , but it has maintained its value because of this merit system . Now we are even asking gov to abolish these quota systems . All universities have entrance tests to enroll students . When I say all means it is all universities through out India . There is not a single university which takes students on the basis of caste or religion except universities with religious back ground like jamia milia and nobody cares these universities now a days . So far these SAARC students are concerned , they are welcome but Pakistanis are not.

Ali Hassan Raza Jun 11, 2014 01:27pm

I am thank to one and all Regards Ali

Ali Hassan Raza Jun 11, 2014 02:08pm

@Kala Ingrez thanks a lot

Sherry Jun 11, 2014 03:01pm

I personally wants to thanks DAWN for its impartial journalism .I still unable to find a better and professional news agency in both countries. All other media channels and news agencies like to spice up the news .

Once again keep up the good work and I wish you all the best from the core of my heart.


Trish Jun 12, 2014 06:32pm

While I hate Pakistani govt/military, as long as a Pakistani student (or anyone else with valid reason) comes to India, they should be treated like a guest. Good to see the college and police officials were very supportive.

An Indian Jun 13, 2014 09:20am

Thanks to Dawn for such a positive peace of article about a brave gentleman. And to dear Raja,as an Indian,I feel ashamed of this incident.However,with your experience in India,you must be aware about such incidents happening even to Indian students in college campuses.Therefore,I do not think that is was related to you being a Pakistani.May be this was out of boy to boy jealousy who could not digest your popularity or for that matter may be due to reasons related to college politics. You must be aware that Pakistanis are more popular in India then even may be in Pakistan ! Whether Ustad Ghulam Ali janab,Nusrat Fateh Ali khan Sahab,Rahat Fateh Ali khan Sahab,Adnan Sami,or many other young singers.Even in sports Imran Khan,Wasim Akram,Shoaib Akhtar,Afridi,etc are popular among Indians. We all are human being and we love each other irrespective of caste,creed,religion or nation. I hope you will come to India again and meet many good friends and will have wonderful experience in the future. Please accept apology from a sane Indian !