Aman Dost Yatra, a courageous journey for peace spearheaded by young Indian activists, is headed from Delhi to Amritsar, aiming to reach Wagah border on the evening of 14 August to jointly celebrate Pakistan and India’s Independence Day with a candlelight vigil.
The oldest Aman Yatree (peace pilgrim) is Harutai from Maharashtra, now in her 80’s, who participated in the freedom struggle against the British. The youngest is 5-year-old Bhuvnesh who sings peace songs. Most of those on the bus lumbering on towards the Pakistan border are young people – college students and young professionals.
Well-known figures like the senior journalist Kuldip Nayar, social activists Satyapal, Mohini Giri, and Dr Syeda Hameed participated in a panel discussion before flagging off the Yatra on the afternoon of 12 August.
We want independence from hatred, hatred for the other within and across the border. On #IndependenceDay2018 , youths and senior activists of #India are marching from #Delhi to #WagahBorder with the message of peace, love.. #AmanDostiYatra #Aaghazedosti #IndoPak #Pakistan pic.twitter.com/4pTp9qapcN
— Devika Mittal (@devikasmittal) August 13, 2018
Unable to join the Yatra itself due to his frail health, Kuldeep Nayar, 94, handed over the badge of Aman Dosti Yatra to Ravi Nitesh of Aaghaz-e-Dosti (start of friendship), an Indo-Pak youth peace group who is among the organisers. The symbolic gesture served as an official flag off, to the younger generation to carry the annual tradition of jointly celebrating Pakistan and India’s Independence Days at the border.
Indian and Pakistani activists, led by Nayar have been participating in this joint celebration for nearly two decades now. Authorities on either side often don’t allow them to go too close to the border, but they see each other’s candles and hear each other’s peace slogans and songs.
The journey involves over 15 stops along the way with the Yatrees holding public meetings to advocate peace and friendship between India and Pakistan.
Children from the villages of India are among the audience that the Yatrees are addressing. “When we ask them who all want friendship between people of Pakistan and India, not a single hand remains down. All spoke loudly, we want peace. I asked why? They said, ‘humanity’,” says Ravi Nitesh.
Activists in Pakistan say they have similar experiences in the villages around the country, where when asked, “almost every young boy and girl wants to have peace with India,” says Mohammad Tahseen of South Asia Partnership-Pakistan. “When we ask why, they respond: They are our neighbours!”
The Aman Dosti Yatra bus is carrying messages of peace from well-known peace activists like Sheema Kermani, Kapil Kak, the late Asma Jahangir and others who wholeheartedly supported such initiatives in their lifetime. “Many among us couldn’t participate physically but in spirit they are with us,” says Nitesh. He says that thousands of people on the way ask about these messages.
As of August 13, the Yatrees had made a dozen stops, participating in public meetings hosted by locals and distributing pamphlets, over 4,000 so far.
At every stop “we have got huge support,” says Nitesh. He adds that it has been an “amazing experience for all.”
Activists Mohini Giri, Dr Syeda Hameed and Satyapal will join the Yatrees directly at Wagah on the evening of August 14. Others present at the Aug 12 launch included Ram Mohan Rai of Hali Panipati Trust; Veena Behan, founder Mahila Chetna Kendra; Sanjay Rai, coordinator of National Youth Project; Vijay Deshpande, a follower of the late Nirmala Deshpande “Didi”, associated with All India Freedom Fighters Association; K. M. Aneesul Haq, former director Doordarshan TV; Jaiwanti Sheokand, social activist and retired Commissioner Haryana; writer Manjusha Bhagde; and acclaimed artist Hena Chakraborty. Many of them are on the Yatra.
At Ambala on the second day of their journey, speakers included army veterans who talked about the need for Indo Pak peace. Those present included famous poet Mahendra Chand who is also a Partition witness.
The Yatrees then drove to Ludhiana where they received a warm welcome and were hosted at a gurdwara. Reaching Amritsar late at night, they stayed overnight at a guest house managed by a gurdwara, the arrangements taken care of by the Folklore Research Academy.
August 14 is a packed day for the Yatrees starting with a morning meeting on peace, followed by lunch. They will then participate in a march for peace and have a Sufi music evening before proceeding to Wagah for the candlelight vigil.