SGI members’ experiences in faith

Conflict as Connection

By Meenakshi Chhabra, USA

I was born and raised in India to a middle-class Hindu family. Growing up, I was very aware of the India-Pakistan conflict. My grandparents and parents moved to India as refugees from present-day Pakistan during the 1947 Partition of India.

My grandmothers shared stories about the brutality caused by the Partition. They witnessed the killing of their loved ones, lost their homes and belongings and were forced to flee to a new land. In every story, Pakistan and its people, the Muslims, were always depicted as the other. This narrative was reinforced by the media, Bollywood films and our history textbooks. My young mind absorbed these messages, and I grew up with fear and mistrust of Pakistani people.

I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism and the SGI in 1990 in Mumbai. In December 1992, violent riots between Hindus and Muslims broke out in Mumbai. I was reminded of my grandmothers' stories. I was frightened and felt helpless; I needed to do something.

In January 1993, I read "The sun of jiyu over a new land," a poem that SGI President Daisaku Ikeda wrote in response to the 1992 Los Angeles riots. In the poem, he encourages us to transcend our differences of race, ethnicity and religion and seek what he calls the "primordial 'roots' of humankind." "Here is a world offering true proof / of our humanity. / If one reaches back to these fundamental roots, / all become friends and comrades." Deeply inspired by these words, I determined to work toward peace in the region.

I moved to the US in 1995. Motivated by President Ikeda's poem, I pursued a master's in intercultural relations followed by a PhD in peace education. At university, I met someone from Pakistan, the first time in my life. We discovered that we had much in common and became close friends. We had profound and challenging conversations about our shared histories, the conflicting narratives we had learned and the prejudices we held about each other. Words by President Ikeda describing elements of global citizenship became my cornerstone for these dialogues: "The courage not to fear or deny difference; but to respect and strive to understand people of different cultures, and to grow from encounters with them." We realized that just as we needed each other to continue the conflict, we also needed each other to make peace.

Our commitment to peace became the driving force for us to collaborate through writing and conducting dialogue workshops between Indian and Pakistani youth and educators. In 2003, personal exchanges between the citizens of the two countries were rare. Despite opposition from the governments and our families, we accompanied a group of high school students from India to Pakistan. No one from my family had been back for three generations. I took this journey on my family's behalf as a link between generations and a bridge between enemies.

Meenakshi with family members

I was touched by the warm hospitality of the Pakistanis who helped me find my father's childhood home. I also visited places whose names were etched in my memory from my grandmothers' stories. Since then, I have returned several times with full support from my family. I continue to research and work with youth and educators from both countries, challenging the conflicting history textbook narratives and mutual prejudices. Many of the youth with whom I have worked now conduct peace initiatives in India and Pakistan and engage their communities in dialogue. I am convinced these small but meaningful steps will lead to a strong, sustainable foundation for peace.

I have come to understand conflict as a deep, inextricable connection with the other. It is a connection that can be transformed through willingness and courage to face our own prejudices and a deliberate sustained engagement to understand the other.