Commemorating Joint Independence Day together, India, Pakistan, citizens call for peace

Delhi, 12 August 2019: Mani Shanker Aiyer addressing the flagging-off ceremony. Photo courtesy Ravi Nitesh.

Wrote this piece yesterday, published in Aman Ki Asha, about the annual joint Independence Day Celebrations by Indians and Pakistanis. The Aman Dosti Yatra (Peace Friendship March) reached Amritsar from Delhi yesterday. Friends in Pakistan were prevented from going to the border but they held a seminar in Lahore. There’s a piece about the Yatra in The Indian Express:

“There is tension on the border due to Kashmir issue. But we have been getting huge response from the public. Sentiment on ground is different from social media where people have been trolling each other and spreading hate. On ground, people are coming to greet us. We are encouraged by the response. We have plans to light candles at Indo-Pak border on the midnight of August 14 and 15. We hope security forces will allow us this peace gesture like last year,” said Ravi, adding that this year, the yatra is dedicated to Shri Guru Nanak Dev on his 550th anniversary.

From Delhi to Wagah, a yatra for peace gets warm response.

My article below.

Commemorating Joint Independence Day together, India Pakistan citizens call for peace

Indian Army Col. (rtd) Ahluwalia with the peace marchers at Karnal, Haryana. Photo: Ravi Nitesh

Beena Sarwar

As India and Pakistan enter yet another tense phase in relations following the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status as an autonomous state, peace activists from either side continue their efforts to call for normalizing relations between the two nuclear-armed nations.

The annual Aman Dosti Yatra (Peace and Friendship March) was launched from Delhi Monday, with prominent Indian citizens. Public interactions are planned at more than ten places along the way in India starting with Rajghat in Delhi. Other points include Harijan Sevak Sangh, Murthal, Gannuar, Samalkha, Panipat, Gharonda, Karnal, Taraori, Shahbad, Ambala, Ludhiana, and finally Amritsar. Participants include locals from all walks of life and from different regions of India.

The midnight candle light vigil of 14-15 August is a legacy of late Kuldeep Nayar and Nikhil Chakravarty in India, and late Asma Jahangir and Dr Mubashir Hasan in Pakistan, who started this yearly tradition over two decades ago.

The Yatra takes forward the cause of peace that they and many others on both sides have advocating and working for all their lives. Last year’s Aman-Dosti Yatra was flagged off in Delhi by Kuldeep Nayar, despite his failing health. It was his last public appearance. He passed away barely 10 days later. 

Kuldip Nayar, Nandita Das, Asma Jahangir at Wagah border: Celebrating Aug 14-15. Undated file photo

Every year, thousands of people show up at the multiple public meetings held along the way at the Aman Dosti yatra and express their support for the peace cause. This is quite different from the dominant narrative perpetuated by the mainstream as well as social media.

The launch ceremony in Delhi this year included eminent citizens like Dr. Mohini Giri, former Chairperson National Women Commission, founder Guild for Service, and Founder Trustee Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia; former Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar; Dr Syeda Hameed, author, and former member Planning Commission; Kamla Bhasin, feminist and founder member organisations like Sangat and Jago Ri; Prof Jagmohan Singh, nephew of Shaheed Bhagat Singh; as well as several others. They were joined by other eminent personalities like writer Ram Sharan Joshi, cartoonist Abid Surti, former Commissioner, Haryana T. K. Sharma, activist Dr Shanker Lal among others.

Local activists and organizers of annual Hind-Pak Dosti Mela in Amritsar will join the marchers to light candles on Wagah border at midnight of 14-15 August “as a symbol of hope for peace, open borders, and to foster people to people relations between India-Pakistan”, says Devika Mittal of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, one of the supporting organisations.

Supporting groups in India include Nirmala Deshpande Sansthan, United Religion Initiative, Gandhi Global Family, Mission Bhartiyam, National Youth Project, Khudai khidmatgar Hind  and Hali Panipati Trust.

At Karnal a couple of hours drive from Delhi, the marchers were welcomed by Prof Abrol and other locals at Jaat Bhawan, the hall decorated with posters of peace poetry and quotes. Providing updates, Ravi Nitesh said that the passion for IndoPak Peace “lives on in the hearts of common people without being affected by social media and states”.

Speaking at the event, Indian Army Col. (Rtd) Ahluwalia welcomed the marchers, supported their call for peace and shared his friendly experiences with Pakistani counterparts in 1982 at Suchetgarh border region. The local hosts included renowned writer activist Dr Pavan Arya, along with Harpal Singh Kamboj and several other leading faces from Ambala.

Throughout their journey, and especially in the Punjab, the marchers have come across “huge support for India-Pakistan peace”, says Nitesh. “People stayed on even when it got late”.

Locals adding their support at different places included advocates, judges and other social activists. The overwhelming consensus was for hope for peace that they all desired, adds Nitesh.

Khadi Ashram, Panipat: Huge support for peace. Photo: Ravi Nitesh

At Panipat the marchers convened at Khadi Ashram, where the portraits on the wall include a famous photograph of M. K. Gandhi and M.A. Jinnah together. Welcoming the marchers, Khadi Ashram members talked about the poets Hali and Meer, and how Pakistan and India are two countries but one heart. They sang Mera Rang de Basanti Chola, the famous song commemorating shared hero Bhagat Singh Shaheed.

Mumbai-based journalist and longtime peace activist Jatin Desai who reached Attari on 13 August was among those who paid tributes at the Martyrs Monument built to pay tribute to the thousands of people, mostly Punjabis, who were killed during partition. From where he stood, he could see Pakistani flag across the border at Wagah.

Haryana-based singer and filmmaker Abhay Punjabi, who has roots in Sukkur, Sindh, is among the busload of peace lovers who reached Amritsar on the night of 13 August to participate in the event. Punjabi shared photos and brief descriptions of his fellow travelers to social media, providing a glimpse of the kind of people joining the 14-15 August commemoration.

Meanwhile, headed over from Delhi to Amritsar, well known feminist activists Kamla Bhasin and Dr Syeda Hameed learnt to their dismay that their friends in Pakistan had to cancel their plans to reach Wagah border on 14 August to participate in the joint Independence Day due to lack of government permission.

“Today in Amritsar. Two flags” – Dr. Syeda Hameed

However, the Freedom and Peace seminar on 14 August in Lahore is going ahead as planned at the South Asia Free Media Association auditorium, with several organisations participating.

The Pakistan government has designated 15 August, India’s Independence Day, as a Black Day in support of Kashmiris. There is some irony here since this was also Pakistan’s original Independence Day, as evident from the first speech of the Father of the Nation broadcast live on national radio: “August 15 is the birthday of the independent and sovereign state of Pakistan”. Pakistan’s first commemorative postage stamps released in July 1948, also mention 15 August 1947 as Independence Day as does the cover of the Press Information Department’s Independence Anniversary Series on August 15, 1948.

Pakistan commemorative stamps and Press Information Department publication listing Independence Day as 15 August

In support of the Pakistan government’s call, expatriate Pakistanis in UK are planning to hold a demonstration at the Indian Embassy in London. Their call to stand in solidarity with “oppressed Kashmiris suffering from human rights abuse perpetrated by India” may have more clout if they also express solidarity with those suffering from human rights abuses at home Pakistan.

Some Indians provoked by this are planning a counter protest at the same venue, calling for their fellow expatriates to turn up and “outnumber Pakistanis”. This should be easy enough, considering there are many more Indians than Pakistanis around.

These demonstrations and counter-demonstrations will provide good grist for the sensation-hungry media mill but are unlikely to help the Kashmiris. Nor will they contribute towards peace in the region, which should be the aim of anyone who wants to leave a better future for coming generations.

(ends)

One Billion Rising: Global campaign against violence against women

Eve Ensler, founder of the One Billion Rising movement. Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian.

The well known feminist activist, playwright and actor Eve Ensler has given a call for One Billion Rising campaign that aims to mobilise and bring out one billion people on streets across the world on February 14th, 2013 against violence against women, and in celebration of women’s power (One Billion Rising on Facebook).

Noted women activists from all over South Asia, including Kamla Bhasin of Sangat, OBR’s South Asian coordinator, were at the launch in Nepal. (Photo: WFS)

This, writes Ensler, “is a call to the billion women who have been violated and the men who love them, to the women who have been beaten and raped and mutilated and burned and sold and who know the destruction of the female species heralds the end of human kind. A call to walk out of your homes, your jobs, your schools and find your friends, your group, your place and music and dance” (‘One Billion Rising: Together we can end violence against women’, op-ed in The Guardian). Continue reading

Indian peace delegation is back from Pakistan with a message of love & friendship

Their faces smudged with the colours of holi, Indian peace delegation wearing Sindhi ajraks address a gathering in Hyderabad. Photo: Piler, Karachi

PRESS STATEMENT: Indian peace delegation is back from Pakistan with a message of love & friendship

An Indian Peace Delegation visited Pakistan from 17th to 25th March 2011. During their stay they visited Karachi, Hyderabad, Islamabad and Lahore. They met Pakistan Prime Minister Mr. Yusuf Reza Gilani, Sindh Chief Minister Mr. Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Law makers of various political parties, civil society activists, journalists, members of business community,  students amongst others. The 12 member Indian delegation was led by Mr. Kuldip Nayar and included Mr. Mahesh Bhatt, Mr. Bhalchandra Mungekar, Mr. Shahid Siddiqui, Mr. Jatin Desai, Dr. Mazher Hussain, Ms. Kamla Bhasin, Mr. Ramesh Yadav, Mr.Sanjay Nahar, Mr. Haris Kidwai, Mr. Laxmi Prasad. Mr. Krishna Rao. Continue reading

Flood relief: Beyond politics

Article published in Aman ki Asha page, Aug 25, 2010

Beyond politics

It is heartening to see efforts by Indians and others around the world to help Pakistan in its hour of need

Even as the deadliest floods in living memory rage across Pakistan – affecting more people than the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, the 2006 Asian tsunami, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined – tensions between India and Pakistan can still obstruct efforts to help those in need. With over 20 million people affected – more than the population of Australia or several European nations – and about a quarter of Pakistan under water, some people still find time to play politics.

When India generously offered $5 million to Pakistan, cyberspace and media pundits exploded with negative comments. From Pakistan came comments like: “Too little too late” and “Pakistan should not accept because of the bloodbath in Kashmir”. From India came: “The PM should withdraw the offer if Pakistan doesn’t immediately accept it”, and “India should not offer aid to Pakistan because they sponsor terrorism”.

It is to the credit of both governments that they did not succumb to this pressure. Meanwhile, Indians at home and abroad, as well as others, are increasingly stepping up on a private level to help out with flood relief efforts in Pakistan. Continue reading

‘Bridging Partition: People’s Initiatives for Peace between India and Pakistan’

Cover art: K.B. Abro; design: Bindia Thapar

JUST PUBLISHED

BRIDGING PARTITION: People’s Intitiatives for Peace Between India and Pakistan

Edited by SMITU KOTHARI and ZIA MIAN

With Kamla Bhasin, A H Nayyar and Mohammad Tahseen
Essays by Shehryar Ahmad, Karamat Ali, Sumanta Banerjee, Kamla Bhasin, Nirupama Dutt, Madeeha Gauhar, Mubashir Hasan, Pervez Hoodboy, Asma Jehangir, Sheema Kirmani, Sanat Mohanty, Kuldip Nayar, Sandeep Pandey, Narendra Panjwani, Anand Patwardhan, Balraj Puri, Laxminarayan Ramdas, Lalita Ramdas, I A Rehman, Beena Sarwar, Jamila Verghese, Achin Vanaik

“Over the past three decades, in the shadow of hostile nationalisms fuelled by radical Islamic and Hindu politics, military crises, a runaway arms race, nuclear weapons and war, an amazing set of civil society initiatives has been taking root in India and Pakistan. A citizens diplomacy movement embracing thousands of activists, scholars, business people and retired government officials has emerged in an unprecedented effort to build national and cross-border networks for peace and cooperation between the two countries.

“In these essays, leading scholars, activists and writers from India and Pakistan reflect on the political and personal impact of crossing the border, and explore the possibilities and limits of this new movement in its quest to chart a path to peace between the two countries.”

Cover design Bindia Thapar
Cover art 60 Years of India Pakistan by K. B. Abro

Published by Orient BlackSwan India

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