It is no secret that some South Asian countries are hostile towards each other. Political leaders repeatedly exploit this issue for rallying their nation in order to achieve their vested interests. It is an inevitable issue in every Indian election, and undoubtedly, the situation is the same across the border. Several other forces also fuel this feeling of hatred and hence three generations have grown up with a feeling of ill-will towards ALL citizens of the neighboring country! Needless to say, this is not unique to South Asia.
In blogs and forums, we have been celebrating the ‘power’ of youth to change the world, which is very true. However, this ‘power,’ when manipulated by sinister persons/organizations for a negative purpose, also threatens to destroy the world. When I come across pictures of so-called terrorists, I realize they are the same age as I am! Mostly in their 20’s, they have been brainwashed to such an extent that they are willing to die to fulfill their tasks; this makes me realize how vulnerable we are.
Contrary to the general perception, this is not restricted to some poor pockets of the world. Due to the frequent terror attacks in India, my friends, especially those studying in Mumbai and Delhi, feel very unsafe. Some of them have lost their friends and relatives. They are angry and in that state of mind you tend to be vulnerable. Fortunately, we live in a democracy and could vent our frustration through peaceful demonstrations that happened across the nation. The point I am trying to make is that even people like me, who grew up in a peaceful environment and have received the best possible education, do get very disturbed and become vulnerable when a single terror incident happens. Therefore, we need to create more interaction among youth, to reduce tensions between hostile countries.
Two years back I was invited to the South Asian Economics Students Meet (principal sponsor is the World Bank). There were 11 of us from each of the South Asian nations and we spent 10 days in Sri Lanka at the conference and the retreat that followed. My entire perception of the nations and their people changed. We watch the same movies, love the same actors, sing the same songs and are fed the same ill-feelings about the other country! Those 10 days were among the best in my life and have brought about a positive change in me. From then onwards, whenever there is an unfortunate terror attack in the country, I don’t feel hatred for ALL the people across the border as I used to, or join forums asking India to go to war.
We need more of such platforms, where we can bring together the youth who have been directly affected by conflicts/attacks, give them a true picture of the situation and then ask them to come up with solutions to foster peace among the nations. These “peace” messengers can go back to their countries and universities and spread the message. We also need student mobility programs in volatile regions like South Asia, such as the Erasmus program in Europe, to enable them to stay long periods in other countries and discard their pre-conceived notions.
Youth may not be 100% of a country’s population, but they certainly are 100% of the future!