March for Peace
|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 in India)...
But Mazher, who heads a confederation of voluntary organisations (COVA),
was not to be daunted. It would be like a relay of marchers, he
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 Pakistani authorities.
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
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 on foot.
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 finally
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
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 the doves.
As for the doves, the reception in Pakistan has been 'amazing', says
Monica. Large numbers of people turned up to greet the marchers, from
The organisers also raise the very valid question of how Pakistan hopes
to host the forthcoming Asia-Pacific Social Forum in Karachi, January
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