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Leicester Institute promoting peace between diasporas

by Chitrangada Choudhury
February 26

A UK institute is going all out to improve relations between Indian and Pakistani diasporas here.

Leicester's Institute for the Study of Indo-Pakistan Relations (INPAREL) has been using its links with both communities to facilitate talks between them and ensure that communal violence in the subcontinent does not have a fallout here.

"People of south Asian origin maintain close links with events back home. Tensions between India and Pakistan can easily spill over to mar relations between their diasporas," says historian and priest Professor Richard Bonney, director of the institute. "INPAREL aims to inform them about each other, and to establish a spirit of reconciliation and dialogue between them."

The institute was set up two years ago under the University of Leicester's Centre for the History of Religious and Political Pluralism. After India and Pakistan's nuclear tests and the Kargil stand off of 1999, the Centre decided to set up a separate institute to study their relationship.

Leicester offers perhaps the ideal setting for such an institute. The city is practically a microcosm of the subcontinent with about a quarter of its population being of Indian origin (the highest in the country), and about two per cent coming from Pakistan.

However, unlike the subcontinent, or even its northern counterparts like Bradford, Leicester has a record of communal relations that it can be justifiably proud of.

Riots in Gujarat last year were a huge test, specially as most Indians here trace their origin to this western Indian state. But while prayer meetings and demonstrations were held to show solidarity with those affected, there were no violent incidents at all.

INPAREL holds regular colloquiums where Indian and Pakistani perspectives come together to debate the issues that divide the subcontinent. Kashmir, religious fundamentalism and terrorism have been discussed in the past.

Among recent speakers has been Arun Gandhi, Mahatma's Gandhi's grandson, who gave the institute's annual L M Singhvi lecture last November. An upcoming colloquium in March will discuss the threat posed by nuclear weapons in the subcontinent, with speakers coming from India, Pakistan and the United States.

The institute's primary publication, the South Asian History Academic Papers, studies the plural traditions that form a part of the subcontinent's history, and the religious extremisms that besiege them today. Subjects published so far include the implications of Hindu extremism, Mohammad Iqbal's political thought, and more recently, the Gujarat riots of 2002.

In Professor Bonney's view, the biggest threat to peace in the subcontinent is people's lack of awareness of mutually reinforcing religious fundamentalisms. "People need to understand the nature of these extremisms better in order to counter them successfully," he says.

Another point he emphasises on is people-to-people interaction. And this is where the diasporas stand at an advantage over the subcontinent's resident population. The absence of an all-powerful formal border means that they have much more opportunities of interacting with each other as individuals and testing out how much of their prejudice emanates from ignorance of each other's standpoint.

"I would like to see the whole tone of relations improved and become more 'softly softly' than negotiations by megaphone," Professor Bonney says. "This is an area in which both the diasporas can collaborate, understand and appreciate each other."

South Asian History Academic Papers published by INPAREL:

Jinnah: Role Model for Future Generations of Pakistanis (2001) by Professor Ian Talbot
Hindu Extreme Right-wing Groups: Ideology and Consequences (2002) by Dr Ram Punyani 

The Second Assassination of Gandhi (2002) by Dr Ram Punyani

Towards a New Regional Order in South Asia (2002) by Ross Masood 

Three Giants of South Asia: Gandhi, Ambedkar and Jinnah on Self-Determination (2002) by Professor Richard Bonney
Iqbal's Reconstruction of Political Thought in Islam by Professor Fateh Mohammad Malik

Harvest of Hatred: The Concerned Citizen's Tribunal Report on Gujarat, 2002 (2003)

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