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“Interaction opportunities among ethnic, religious communities required to enhance acceptance, coexistence”

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PR/Lahore
6 March 2019

There is a great need to increase interaction among different identities, in particular the ethnic and religious ones. Such exchanges can shed their misperceptions among each other, enable them to empathize, and provide fertile group for coexistence – which is direly needed in the face of changing socio-economic dynamics, not least in the shape of increasing population influx to big cities.

These thoughts came in a day-long discussion on “Coexistence with Multiple Identities”, organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), with a select group of experts, academics, lawyers, and social scientists, in Lahore. The session was moderated by PIPS director Muhammad Amir Rana, and Qazi Javed, scholar on identity issues, delivered keynote address.

Participants noted that a person’s identity, whether religious, national, or ethnic, helps in associating that person with the larger group. A person’s identity, which includes his fears and interests, often derive from his group identity. It is not only how he defines about himself, but how others do about him, they noted.

In case of Punjab, participants noted, there is a tendency among youth of identifying oneself along religious line. So much so that, noted one participant, a discussion on Pakistani literature recently found it overwhelming be of religious in character. In recent time, there is a strong tinge of sectarianism in that religious identity, noted some. In far-flung areas, on the other hand, ethnicity too takes precedence. Similarly, caste in itself dominates the group with which people tend to associate.

Pakistan is a diverse country, and the best way to coexist is accept them all. The root of resolving conflict in such societies is to accept that each person has multiple identities, noted intellectual Qazi Javed. It is the resort to singular identity that others are excluded and conflict generated.

It was precisely to accept that diversity that the 18th amendment was passed, which devolved powers to the provinces. Yet, almost nine years to that landmark legislation, there are still demands on how to accommodate different identity groups. Even now, the group lamented solution in the country is often sought by seeking out some sort of one-identity panacea. This is wrong thinking, he said.

Participants noted that the absence of culture of interaction among the people compels them to live in their silos. Many local-level problems can easily be overcome if interaction is increased.

For one, one of the critical problems is managing population influx in different parts of the country, especially big cites. Because people do not have prior interaction with each other, migrations can also deepen the stereotypes about each other. There is a need to engage more frequently with each other. The dialogue forum also explored the tendency of people migrating to other parts. They said economic reasons, coupled with insecurity, forced them to do so.

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