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)

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

PAKISTAN/INDIA: Citizens Push for Peace

By Beena Sarwar

India's Kavita Srivastava meets Pakistan's Rajasthani women. Also pictured Haris Gazdar (left) and Karamat Ali. Photo: YPC

India’s Kavita Srivastava meets Pakistan’s Rajasthani women. Also pictured Haris Gazdar (left) and Karamat Ali. Photo: YPC

KARACHI, Jul 8 (IPS) – The months following last year’s Mumbai terror attacks have seen a renewed sense of urgency among peace activists in Pakistan and India. Citizens are pushing their governments to resume the composite dialogue process between the two nuclear-rival nations.

India suspended the process after the Mumbai attacks, accusing Islamabad of not doing “enough” to contain terrorism. But activists argue that terrorism is not Pakistan’s problem alone.

“Both countries are going through a critical phase,” says Jatin Desai, a veteran Mumbai-based journalist.

A frequent visitor to Pakistan, he was in the country with two other Indians, meeting community-based organisations, political leaders and media persons in Karachi, Lahore and Hyderabad to take the push for peace to the people. His proposal to ‘twin’ the press clubs of Karachi and Mumbai was positively received.

“After the Mumbai terror attacks, Mumbai residents sent a clear message – No to war, No to violence, No to terror,” said Desai. “Thousands joined hands for a hundred kilometre long ‘human chain for peace’ on Dec. 10, 2008, to say this and urge a resumption of the peace process.”

Zahida Hina and Jatin Desai at the seminar for Nirmala Didi. Photo: beena sarwar

Zahida Hina and Jatin Desai at the seminar for Nirmala Didi. Photo: beena sarwar

He was speaking at a seminar in Karachi to underline the need for peace in South Asia and to honour Nirmala Deshpande, a prominent peace lobbyist, who passed away in May 2008.

A majority of participants in the seminar were women from low income localities whose husbands work as daily wage labourers. Mumtaz, a young woman suckling her toddler, told IPS that this was the second such event she had attended.

“I understand what it’s about,” she said. “They want peace between India and Pakistan. We should live in peace with our neighbours. Maybe then our lot will improve. We all want that.”

Breakthroughs between India and Pakistan are routinely subverted by violence like the Mumbai attacks.

The security establishments and military machines also have vested interests in keeping tensions simmering.

“There will be no peace until the arms race ends,” said Mohammad Ali Shah of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, representing a community severely impacted by the hostilities, with whom the Indian delegates spent an evening.

“There are currently over 500 Indian fishermen in Pakistani prisons, and over 150 Pakistani fishermen in Indian prisons,” Shah told IPS. “Fishermen on both sides caught violating the maritime borders are treated as prisoners of war.”

A consular access agreement of May 2008 – aimed at facilitating early release of prisoners – requires both sides to exchange updated lists of each other’s nationals in their custody every Jan. 1 and Jul. 1.

Pakistan handed over its list to the Indian government. “But India defaulted both times this year, and has been unable, for unspecified reasons, to provide Pakistan with a list of Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails,” reported The Hindu on Jul. 2.

The lists in any case are incomplete, with many prisoners unaccounted for.

Jaipur-based Kavita Srivastava of India’s People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), on her maiden visit to Pakistan, wanted information about five Indian prisoners incarcerated in Pakistani prisons since 1991.

“Only two are in touch with their families, we don’t even know if the other three are alive,” she told IPS. “When they heard that I got my visa, their families walked for a whole day to meet me. With tears in their eyes they begged me to bring any information I could.”

She was unable to ascertain their whereabouts but left with a promise from the provincial minister for prisons that “next time” she would be allowed to visit the prisons and verify for herself.

“Such visits are important to increase contacts. After all, we are one region. We should be able to meet,” Shakeel Silawat of the Youth Progressive Council told IPS, after arranging a visit for Srivastava with girls and women from his community. Silawats are Rajasthanis who often have families on both sides of the border.

“If there was dual citizenship for Indians and Pakistanis, believe me, many would take it,” asserts award-winning social activist Sandeep Pandey from Lucknow.

Pandey participated in the 2005 peace march from Delhi to Multan in the south of Pakistan’s Punjab province. The marchers had also received enthusiastic welcomes from Pakistani villagers along the way.

Karamat Ali from the Pakistan Peace Coalition which organised the visit said that the Indians left with “a sense of the urgency for peace with India which appears to be greater among Pakistanis”.

“They realise that they need to push the Indian government to change its attitude towards the elected government of Pakistan, go beyond pressurising the Pakistani government to ‘take action’, in order to break the grip of the establishment here,” he told IPS.

Such visits may not yield immediate results, but the fact that the governments allow them to take place is in itself a step, if not forward, then at least not backwards. And in the context of India and Pakistan, that can only be seen as positive.

(END/2009)

http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=47575

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