Cultural groups cross borders to co-host event
Sixty years of strife mark the relationship between India and Pakistan, but two student groups at the University want to make that history just that — history.
Members of the Pakistani Student Association (PSA) and the Association of Indians at Rutgers (AIR) are organizing "Salaam Namaste," a full-day cultural event, with the hopes of highlighting what the South Asian countries have in common.
This is the first collaborative event for the two organizations, said PSA Secretary Zain Ahmad.
"If you want to advance the South Asian community — whether that's here at Rutgers, in New Jersey or in America — you need to get together and unite on that front," said Ahmad, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
The Council of South Asian Ambassadors, made up of leaders from the two groups, met Wednesday evening to discuss potential speakers, cultural workshops and entertainment for "Salaam Namaste," which is a combination of the Pakistani and Indian greetings of "peace" and "hello again," respectively.
During the meeting, the groups discussed how different cultural elements like dances, yoga and music could help advance the common goal of spreading awareness of South Asian culture, a concept with which PSA President Haroon Mian, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, agreed.
"We're trying to do something new," he said. "They're two unique countries, but they have a lot of similarities."
The two-part event, scheduled for April 9, will consist of a conference in the Busch Campus Center during the day and a concert at the Nicholas Music Center on Douglass campus at night.
Vrunda Dalal, AIR president, said although the two groups have never had animosity toward one another on campus, they usually were content with working separately.
"I'm so glad this has come together," said Dalal, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. "Even though it's such a small-scale feat, to us it's a big deal."
Ahmad, who last academic year became the first Pakistani student to serve on the AIR executive board, said his familiarity with both groups enabled him to facilitate communication about a cooperative project.
"The majority of us that are here are first-generation [and] American-born, so our perspective of the world is a lot different than our parents'," he said. "But the thought processes they have still kind of influence us to this day."
Ahmad is personally familiar with how older generations' mode of thought impacts young people of South Asian descent. Although some of his closest friends are Indian-American, visiting them at home can be unpredictable.
"You can still feel that tension there, at least with the parents," he said.
Ahmad said young people from both backgrounds have the power to make change if they work together.
"Being that we are probably one of the most South Asian-populated universities in the area, I think it's imperative we extend that olive branch and welcome people if they want to learn about our culture," Ahmad said.
AIR Vice President Akanksha Karwar said she hopes other student groups whose members come from historically clashing backgrounds can learn from the example of PSA and AIR, a sentiment reflected in Ahmad's comments.
"It's not necessary that we have hostile relationships between Indians and Pakistanis. It seems like we do right now with the Israel-Palestinian [conflict]," said Karwar, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. "It's a very polarizing thing."
The University's "Jersey Roots, Global Reach" motto is a great place to initiate change that could affect many across the globe, he said.
"If we can show that Indians and Pakistanis can get along here at Rutgers, think about how many shockwaves that will send around the world," he said.
Karwar stressed the importance of communication between the two groups in making the event a success and achieving the broader goal of promoting cultural understanding for all on campus.
"When AIR and PSA come together, they're meant for great things," he said. "As Rutgers students, we should be about diversity and unity."