Indians, Pakistanis, honoured for peace efforts
Several prominent Indians and Pakistanis have been honoured with the Association for Communal Harmony in Asia (Acha) Peace Star Award 2010, for their work in promoting peace and communal harmony. The recipients this year are: Dr. Mohammad Arif, Jatin Desai, Ashfaq Fateh, Faisal Khan, Dilafrose Qazi and Awais Sheikh.
Previous recipients include reputed peace activists from India and Pakistan like Karamat Ali, Sayeeda Diep, Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, B. M. Kutty, Dr. Abdul Hameed Nayyar, Dr. Ram Puniyani, Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi, and Dr. Ingrid Shafer from the USA.
Sharafat Ali of Piler, Karachi, has also been accepted for the Acha Award meant for individuals (and organisations) who have performed substantial service to Acha.
The awards, conferred every two years, have no financial value. They have been set up to recognise some of the unsung peace and harmony heroes and heroines, and those who have performed substantial service to Acha, a 17-year-old, U.S.-based, nonprofit organisation dedicated to promoting peace in South Asia, and harmony among South Asians everywhere (www.asiapeace.org, www.indiapakistanpeace.org)
Dr. Mohammad Arif hails from Varanasi. Inspired by Gandhian philosophy he abandoned his academic career to promote communal harmony, composite culture, secularism and democratic values. In this pursuit he has built alliances of Dalits, tribals and minority groups; organised awareness sessions for the media, and seminars, lectures, conventions, training workshops for peace and harmony workers, and street plays for the general public; developed training modules; published awareness and training materials; established a library of resource materials to facilitate research on and documentation of sectarian clashes; and founded the Centre for Harmony and Peace. Some of his initiatives have helped abort severe conflicts in such communally sensitive areas as Varanasi and have aided capacity building in other areas.
Since 1992, Ashfaq Fateh of Toba Tek Singh has been engaged in efforts to bring together Muslims and Christians of his area to work on such issues as the rights of minorities in Pakistan, restoration of the joint electorate system, abolition of the religion column on the national identity card, and amendment of the discriminatory blasphemy laws in Pakistan Penal Code. As chairperson Harmony Foundation he has inspired programmes in government schools to promote peace, to discourage gender discrimination, and eliminate hatred on the basis of religion. As a school principal he has organised activities for students from various schools to create awareness about human rights, conflict resolution, peace, and communal harmony. He served as coordinator for the programmes of the International Young Catholic Student designed to promote peace and harmony. He participated in a peace mission to India in August 1998, just after both countries had conducted nuclear tests and has since then made several visits to India and has welcomed Indian peace activists in Pakistan. He has worked on petitions to ease travel between the two nations.
Earlier this year, on June 25, under the auspices of Aman ki Asha, a joint venture of The Times of India and Jang Group, he led a group of students to the Wagah border for an exchange of peace messages on handkerchiefs to mark the 2010 Queen’s Commonwealth Games Baton relay. He has served as national convener of the Bangladesh-Bharat Pakistan Peoples Forum, national coordinator for Friends of the United Nations, country representative for Peaceful Schools International, and country head of Peace Pal International. He has even dedicated his home to this cause, calling it Indo-Pak Peace house. Currently under the auspices of the Ravi Foundation, he is leading efforts in his area to organise food for over 4,000 flood-affected animals.
Jatin Desai of Mumbai is a journalist and community activist who has persisted in his efforts despite trumped-up charges of attempted murder and armed robbery brought against him by his opponents. He has organised tribals in Maharashtra to fight for their land, forest and water rights; Dalits for their right to draw water from the community well; and journalists to struggle for better wages and against curbs on freedom of expression. He worked for restoration of peace during the 1992-93 Mumbai communal riots and bomb blasts, and helped mobilise secular forces during the Gujarat genocide of 2002. He is active in the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) and has visited Pakistan many times. In 2007, he organised a bicycle march from Mumbai to Pakistan. He was involved in organising an India-Pakistan conference “A Road Map toward Peace” in Delhi earlier this year. He has been working with other peace activists on developing a mechanism through which fishermen arrested for crossing the maritime boundary between India and Pakistan do not have to languish in foreign jails even after completing their terms. He is also active in the anti-nuclear movement; associated with the Gandhian organization, Mumbai Sarvodaya Mandal; and often gives television on issues like Indo-Pak relations, human rights, and freedom of expression. He has been honored with Ram Bapat Award for promoting peace and social justice through his writings.
Faisal Khan, a lawyer from New Delhi is a key member of Asha Parivar and National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM), whose programmes he organises and coordinates in Gujarat, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, and in north-eastern India. He has organised several peace marches and fasted in order to draw attention to communal and gender violence, state repression and skewed development. He has led goodwill missions at the recent Kumbha Mela and Ajmer Sharif Urs, where he and his colleagues discussed issues of communal harmony with groups of pilgrims. In 2006, he led a peace delegation to Kashmir Valley, to discuss issues confronting common people and political leaders. He has actively campaigned for peace between India and Pakistan and organised peace marches from India to Pakistan.
Even in the face of attempts on her life – bullets of the military as well as militants – have not deterred Dilafrose Qazi from trying to empower women in Jammu and Kashmir. She has established schools for girls, an engineering and technology college, embroidery classes for women, camps for medical and psychological treatment of women battered by daily violence, a dairy farm for rape survivors, and rehabilitation programs for militancy-hit families. Her refusal to comply with the orders of militants and religious zealots to close some of her institutions at one time led to her father, brothers, and husband being kidnapped. Concerned about the future of young people growing up in Kashmir and in migrant camps in and outside the state, she has endeavored for Hindu-Muslim amity. She could have lived a comfortable life elsewhere, but continues to live in Srinagar.
Awais Sheikh is President of Pakistan-India Peace Initiatives. Just after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, he organised a peace demonstration at Lahore Press Club, and helped organise as well as participated in a peace march at Amritsar. His book Samjhota Express has been translated into Hindi and Punjabi. As an advocate of the Lahore High Court, he represents Sarabjit Singh, the Indian national sentenced to death on charges of spying, currently lodged in Lahore Central Jail. For his services he was designated Ambassador for Peace in 2007. He is the only Pakistani whom the Bharatiya Dalit Sahitya Academy has twice honoured with the Dr. Ambedkar International Award.