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Puppeteers lead message of tolerance in Pakistan

Reuters, KARACHI, Pakistan

Children watch a show in a puppet theater in Karachi, Pakistan, on Dec. 2, 2016.

Photo: Reuters

In the narrow alleys of a poor neighborhood of Karachi, known for drugs, gang wars and low literacy rates, children are learning about peace, love and interfaith tolerance from string puppets.

As the curtains open on stage, a narrator tells the story of Sindbad the Sailor, a hero of Middle Eastern origin, and his journeys in which he meets people of different faiths, languages and religions — who often do not have much tolerance for one another.

“A man is dying and you guys are talking about castes,” the protagonist puppet rebuked a fellow puppet who did not want to save a drowning marionette because it belonged to a lower caste.

“You should be ashamed calling yourself human beings,” Sindbad says. “Humans save humanity, not caste.”

Writer Nouman Mehmood said that the story came to mind when his group was conducting an education awareness campaign in some of the city’s poor neighborhoods.

They noticed religious and ethnic antagonism in the neighborhoods and decided to create a puppet show to spread a message of peace, tolerance and harmony.

Pakistan, an overwhelmingly Muslim country of more than 200 million people, has seen repeated attacks on churches, Hindu temples and Sufi shrines in the past few years by hardline religious groups and extremists.

Conservative religious schools are regularly blamed for radicalization, but they are often the only education available to millions of poor children, making alternative messages especially important.

“The basic thing is acceptance. You should have enough room to accept others regardless of whether he is a Christian, without considering whether he is a Hindu, without considering whether he is a Sikh,” Mehmood said.

Organized by the Thespianz Theatre, the show plans to travel to other poor Karachi neighborhoods after its run in the tough Karachi neighborhood of Lyari, and then to other provinces.

“There is the message that we should not interfere with others’ religions. We should help each other,” eighth-grader Adul Rahim Arshad said after the show. “If one deceives us, we should not deceive him back. Instead, we should help him.”

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