Peace marchers going on foot from Gandhi Ashram across Gujarat to the Indo-Pak border, received great support on the ground including from PM Modi’s wife Jashodaben Modi for their demands for India and Pakistan to stop killing each other’s soldiers and initiate dialogue
In these trying times, the India Pakistan Friendship and Peace March a group of activists undertook on foot from Ahmedabad to Nada Bet, 19-29 June 2018, as an effort to draw attention to the need for peace. We are demanding from the governments of India and Pakistan to reach an agreement to stop killing each other’s soldiers at the border.
There is no reason why this cannot happen. On 21 June 2018, international yoga day, Indian and Chinese soldiers practiced yoga together at Daulat Beg Oldie in eastern Ladakh. Why can similar bonhomie not be created on the India-Pakistan border?
What we need at the border rather than the militaristic flag ceremony is a Peace Park where people may freely meet friends and family from across the border step. The modalities of this may be worked out and could include depositing a government-issued identity card and being security-checked. Such peace parks could be created on all openings along the border, especially given the difficulties ordinary people face in obtaining passports and visas.
Rather than facilitating such meetings, the governments create hurdles in the way of those who call for peace. As our walk started from Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, police detained us for about three hours, refusing us permission to march within Ahmedabad. Finally allowed to go on the condition that we started the march from outside Ahmedabad district limits, we walked across various towns and villages — Adalaj, Kalol, Chatral, Nandasan, Mandali, Mehsana, Bokarwada, Sihi, Balisana, Patan, Dunawada, Roda, Totana, Thara, Devdarbar, Diyodar, Kuwala, Bhabhar, Dudhwa, Suigam to Nadeshwari Mata Mandir at Narabet (see map).
Towards the end, we faced another hurdle as the Border Security Force refused us permission to go beyond Narabet to the Pakistan-India border 25 km away. Still, we managed to walk about 250 km, engaging people along the way for our cause.
We received a major boost when PM Narendra Modi’s wife Jashodaben decided to join us at Balisana, dist. Patan on 23 June morning to express her solidarity. She wholeheartedly supported the idea of peace and friendship with Pakistan and agreed that we could avoid getting soldiers killed. Her endorsement pinpricked the balloon of those a jingoistically raising questions about our motives. Jashodaben and her borther Ashok Modi also signed the statement of the march.
We gathered about 500 signatures along the way for our demands addressed to Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan.
The foremost demand is to remove visa restrictions and allow citizens of both countries to travel easily across the border. Over the last few years, some clauses of the visa agreement signed by the governments in 2012 have started to be implemented, including allowing seniors over 65-years old to get visas on arrival at the Wagah border. However, many are afraid to risk it. The policy needs to be clarified and the other clauses implemented [See details at the online petition Milne Do]. Furthermore, this facility should be extended for children, journalists, academics, social activists, religious leaders and labourers.
India and Pakistan should open a route at the Gujarat border with Sindh either at Khavda or Nada Bet to facilitate travel and trade. This route would also enable fisherfolk released after detention in the other country to return home via a more direct way than traveling all the way up to Wagah border from the coastal cities where they are imprisoned across the border.
Presently, fisherfolk who get caught by coast guards of the other country have to spend years in jail without any information reaching home. Sometimes family members may not even know that their kin have landed in jail on the other side of the border.
When a prisoner from the other side dies, the process of identity verification is excruciatingly long. In a recent instance, Indian fisherman Deva Ram Baraiya died three months ago in a Karachi jail but his family has yet to receive any official communication from either government, and his body remains in the Edhi morgue.
Pakistan recently released two other Indian fishermen, Dana Arjun Chauhan and Rama Mansi Gohil, suffering from various ailments. One can imagine their arduous journey home covering thousands of kilometers on both sides of the border
The governments should make public and regularly update lists of each other’s prisoners, ensure their early release, and repatriate them through the most direct route. The Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners needs to be urgently revived and activated.
Our demands also included the formation of a Peace Park at the Wagah-Attari border, as outlined above.
Finally, drawing inspiration from North Korea it is important that China, India and Pakistan should give up nuclear weapons to make Asia a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and safe for all people of region and the world.
At Balisana, where about a hundred families have relatives in Karachi, the people we met demanded opening a Pakistani Consulate at Ahmedabad so that they would be saved the trouble of long distance travel and going to Delhi to obtain their visas.
In Totana we paid our respects to the spiritual leader Sadaram Bapu, aged over 100 years, who has played an important part in preserving communal harmony in the area. It appears that spiritual gurus have a role in maintaining peace and harmony along the Gujarat-Sind border.
Baldev Nath Bapu, head priest of temple in Devdarbar, from Lohana (Thakkar) community, who hosted the peace march on 26 June, 2018 described his experience of visiting Pakistan in October 2017 for about a month. He is building a hospital in Salemkot from the donations he received from his followers in Pakistan. He refuted the allegations that Hindus are forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan and temples are destroyed there. While there may be some such incidents, he categorically stated that not once during his month long stay there had he received such complaints. He also said that people were talking about the possibility of re-opening the Suigam-Nagarparkar by 2020 or 2022.
At a closing event of the march in Ahmedabad, Pakistani peace activists Karamat Ali and Saeeda Diep joined us over internet. Entrepreneur Piyush Desai of Wagh Bakri tea company was so overwhelmed with the idea of march that he has decided to hold weekly meetings at Gandhi Ashram to promote the philosophy of peace and communal harmony.
We also wrote a letter to Narendra Modi on behalf of the India Pakistan Friendship and Peace March to start a bus service between Ahmedabad and Karachi like the one started by former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee between Delhi and Lahore.
While India and Pakistan continue to focus on defence, including nuclear weapons, Bangladesh, concentrating on improving the general condition of its people, has overtaken us in social indices like literacy, malnourishment, sanitation, fertility rate, health status of children and women, and women’s empowerment.
Security comes from fulfilling the people’s basis needs. Arms and weapons, including nuclear weapons, protect the vested interested of the ruling elite. They provide no security to a child dying of hunger or a farmer forced to commit suicide. Of what use are weapons if we don’t take care of the basic needs of people?
India and Pakistan must bury their differences and resolve all outstanding disputes amicably through dialogue. We must give peace a chance.