India Pakistan youth group Aaghaz-e-Dosti launches its Sixth Peace Calendar with student paintings and peace messages from prominent personalities – and a surprise guest
The youth voluntary group Aaghaz-e-Dosti that aims to promote peace building in South Asia, particularly peace between India and Pakistan, launched its Sixth Indo-Pak Peace Calendar in New Delhi, Sunday, accompanied by a seminar addressed by prominent peace builders.
The normally joyous occasion was marred by the disappearance of AeD Pakistan Convener Raza Mahmood Khan in Lahore, who has been missing since Dec. 2, 2017. The young volunteers have vowed to continue their peace building efforts.
“We all hope that Raza will be back soon”, said AeD founder Ravi Nitesh. “As a peace education group, our activities are not against anyone and we must keep working for our goals of peace”.
A mission of peaceAeD maintains its stance of not criticising the Government of Pakistan or its agencies and reiterates that as a voluntary peace group, they respect the Constitution and democratic values of both countries. “Our activities are not against any government or ideology”, says the group, emphasising that its only ideology is that of peace and harmony that is the need of this world.
An initiative of voluntary youth organisations Mission Bhartiyam (India) and Hum Sab Aik Hain (Pakistan), Aaghaz-e-Dosti is not a funded project of any organization and does not receive any governmental or foreign support for its activities in either country. Its members engage in peacebuilding including through peace education activities among school students in India and Pakistan. The AeD annual calendar features 12 artworks by Pakistani and Indian school students. Additionally, the calendar carries messages from 12 renowned personalities from both countries – a daily reminder of shared dreams and hopes for friendship. It is one of AeD’s peace education activities in schools and colleges, that aim to “enable future leaders to forge a path to a better world by engaging them with aspects of critical thinking, civic engagement and dialogue as solution”.
The group has regional chapters in Pakistan (Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Toba Tek Singh, and Peshawar) and India (Delhi, Dehradun, Baroda, Mumbai and Surat). These volunteers have compiled a list of cross-border prisoners that has been helpful for lawyers, activists, and prisoners’ families. AeD also vocally condemns cross-border violence and ceasefire violations that kill soldiers and civilians on either side of the Line of Control.
Over the past five years, AeD has launched its peace around India and Pakistan at seminars addressed by prominent locals. The panel discussion at this year’s launch in Delhi, organised by India International Centre and Aaghaz-e-Dosti, was titled, ‘Sharing of Hopes for a Peaceful Co-existence’. Delhi University students volunteered their photography services, through Zephyr, their photography society.Speakers included Chairman of Centre for Peace and Progress O. P. Shah, Consulting editor Indian Express Jyoti Malhotra and activist and author Prof. Jagmohan Singh, nephew of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, as well as retd. Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak and former President, Press Club of India Rahul Jalali whose messages feature on the calendar.
Messages in the AeD 2018 calendar also come from other prominent Indians: “Father of Green Revolution” Prof. M. S. Swaminathan, feminist Kamla Bhasin, The Hindu’s former correspondent in Pakistan Nirupma Subramanian, and photographer-author Amardeep Singh (“Lost Heritage: Pakistan’s Sikh Legacy”).
From Pakistan, messages for this year’s calendar come from retired Pakistan Army Lt. Gen. Mohd. M. Alam, historian Dr. Mubarak Ali, senior journalist and Secretary General SAFMA Imtiaz Alam, writer Anam Zakaria, spokesperson of Awami Workers Party Farooq Tariq, and academic Dr. Anita M. Weiss currently carrying out fieldwork in Punjab.
Eminent audience members included educationist C. Raja Mohan, Supreme Court advocate Ram Mohan Rai, Secretary General of South Asian Fraternity Satyapal, activist Khurshid Reshi, NYP Coordinator Sanjay Rai, and several youth activists like Mushtaq ul Haq, Akhtar Hussain, Mubashir Malik, Suresh Yadav, Abhishek, Sanjana, Madhuri among others.
A surprise guest
A surprise guest was Dr. Araish Kumar Singh of PML (N) from Peshawar, who has served two terms as a Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan. Learning he was in the audience, the AeD volunteers announced his presence and invited him to say a few words, that Dr. Singh readily agreed to despite being on a private visit. He spoke briefly and warmly on the importance of peace building, emphasising the need for talks between both governments on core issues as well as the need for people-to-people dialogue.
Another member of the audience, who had never met a Pakistani expressed his desire to gift Dr. Singh with a shawl from Tamil Nadu. Introducing himself as Krishnaswamy, a small businessman and activist from Tamil Nadu, Krishnaswamy said that love is the only thing we should spread. He explained that he always carries a few shawls from his native state as gifts.
Retd. Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak talked about the importance of peace building, specially through people’s initiatives. He quoted Faiz Ahmad Faiz to explain diplomatic engagements between India and Pakistan- “Dil se toh har mamlaa hal karne chale, saamne aaye toh har baat badal gayi”. Highlighting the efforts of the Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh governments, he termed the 2003-2007 phase a ‘golden period in the India Pakistan dialogue process’. Since then, he said, we have suffered from a ‘famine of dialogue’. Referring to Narendra Modi’s 2015 visit to Pakistan as a ‘leap of faith’ he quoted Elliot: “Only those who risk going far can know how far one can go”.
Senior journalist Rahul Jalali said that there is a need to work on peace building to counter hatred and violence at every level. Media groups can play a positive role in peacebuilding, he said, appreciating Aaghaz-e-Dosti’s for peace in today’s disturbed times when there’s a dearth of those taking on or for peace between the two neighbours.
Founder of think tank Centre for Peace and Progress O.P. Shah talked about the necessity of people coming forward and taking centre stage to decide their own policies and demanding peace, harmony and development. Hoping for better days, he said there is currently a ‘crisis of confidence’ between and among the neighbours.
Activist and author, nephew of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Prof. Jagmohan Singh talked about Bhagat Singh and Pakistan. The places where Bhagat Singh studied and was hanged are both in Pakistan. He spoke about his experiences on how Bhagat Singh still lives in so many hearts of Pakistanis and Indians and can be a connecting medium for peace building.
We need to learn from the paintings sent for the calendar by students, the future generation of our countries, said senior journalist and columnist Jyoti Malhotra. She lamented the unnatural state of affairs between India and Pakistan. “It isn’t our responsibility to decide whether Pakistan is good or bad”, she said. “What is needed instead is more normalized relations with our neighbour, which given our geography cannot be ignored.
Madhulika V. Narsimhan, Aaghaz-e-Dosti member moderated the event and spoke about AeD’s various other activities over the last six years.
Over the past five years, Aaghaz-e-Dosti has provided peace trainings to over 6,000 students and youths through 20 Aman Chaupals (peace sessions) across India and Pakistan. AeD also uses video conferencing to connect classrooms at its Indo-Pak Classroom Connect sessions. They also facilitate regular exchanges of letters and postcards between students of India and Pakistan. Faiz Ghar (house of Faiz Ahmed Faiz) in Lahore recently exhibited these letters.
AeD volunteers represent the spirit of youth in Pakistan and India who want peace between their countries and in the region.
“This is something we need to recognize as a demand from the young community in both countries where young people are in majority in population”, says Ravi Nitesh, founder of AeD. An engineer by profession, Nitesh believes that the agenda of both governments should include the “secured, safe and peaceful future” of the young generation.