By Beena Sarwar
Mazher Hussain from Hyderabad, India, has a dream that many others
share. The energetic peace activist dreams of the time when people
from India and Pakistan can walk together on public roads in each
other's countries. When he first talked about this peace march
idea during a visit to Karachi over a year ago, the first thing
that came to mind was the difficulties of such an exercise. Visas...
security... organisation (lack of, especially in Pakistan where
the grassroots or community organisations are not as strong as
But Mazher, who heads a confederation of voluntary organisations
(COVA), was not to be daunted. It would be like a relay of marchers,
said, with a core group walking the entire distance, while local
organisations would prepare the ground for their meetings at the
villages and towns they would pass on their way. "It is
doable, and it will work. You will see," he insisted.
A year later, Mazher is part of the dozen peace marchers from
India that Pakistan finally granted visas to (out of the 70 who
applied) and allowed to cross into the country on foot for the
final leg of the march. They had reached the border on April 18,
and waited there until the permission arrived on May 7.
The group includes the young activist filmmaker Monica Wahi,
who moved from Delhi to Ahmedabad after the Gujarat communal riots
(carnage, rather, as the Indian human rights groups labelled them)
and took up residence in an apartment block there in her quest
to help the affected women. Supported by other women's groups,
she set up a system for them to be able to earn their own livelihood
by making and selling readymade garments, simultaneously promoting
traditional hand-loom, dying and
Led by the veteran and respected social activist Dr Sandeep Pandey,
the Indian delegation has not been allowed to 'march' in Pakistan
but only to drive, due to 'security reasons' according to the
It is odd that thousands of Indians and Pakistanis can be allowed
to roam on public roads and markets in each other's countries
if they are
ostensibly there to see a cricket match, but not if they are explicitly
making the trip to promote the cause of peace.
Still, the very fact that they are here at all is testimony to
their persistence and patience, and that of their fellow peace
activists on either side of the border.
The march began on March 23 in Delhi, at the shrine of Hazrat
Nizamuddin Auliya. India granted special visas to only nine Pakistanis
(out of the 70 who applied), listing the cities they would be
passing through on the journey. However, at the last minute, the
Pakistani authorities prevented them from crossing into India
At the inaugural of the march, meanwhile, the presence of celebrities
like the Indian director Mahesh Bhatt and the Pakistani film actress
Meera (one of the three Pakistanis present there) ensured a fair
amount of media coverage for the walk.
Meanwhile hectic efforts to secure permission for the other Pakistanis
to join the Indian marchers continued, and on April 9, Pakistan
allowed nine of them, including four women, to walk across the
Wagah border to join their Indian friends who by then had reached
the River Beas. The Pakistani women included Lali Kohli, the courageous
former bonded labourer from Sindh who recently won her freedom,
and young Nayyar Habib of the Labour Party.
The insistence on crossing the border on foot has political significance.
It highlights the fact that the Indian and Pakistani governments
normally restrict visitors from each other's countries to trains,
airplanes and buses, which is far more time-consuming and expensive.
Visa holders are restricted to the entry and exit
points stipulated on their visa applications - you can't change
your mind later and return to Karachi from Bombay if your visa
application has Delhi as the exit point.
The peace march ended on May 11, the seventh anniversary of the
Indian nuclear tests. Interestingly, the marchers' arrival in
Lahore coincided with the authorities removing the replica of
the Chaghi hills from in front of the railway station - followed
by the clarification that the move is being made for 'repairs',
a convenient escape route in case the hawks become louder than
As for the doves, the reception in Pakistan has been 'amazing',
says Monica. Large numbers of people turned up to greet the marchers,
Lahore, to Sahiwal, to Chichawatni and Multan. "It was beyond
all expectations, even of the local organisers," she adds.
"Isn't it a great injustice for the governments to not allow
us to walk as we had asked? To keep people apart who want to meet?
Is this why they didn't give us permission to walk, they were
afraid of this huge
The organisers also raise the very valid question of how Pakistan
hopes to host the forthcoming Asia-Pacific Social Forum in Karachi,
2006, for which the Prime Minister has promised full support,
noting that after all, he also promised full support to the 150
peace marchers -a far smaller number than the 20,000 expected
for the Social Forum.