People's issues ignored in UP elections

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'People's issues ignored in UP elections'

Bobby Ramakant in Lucknow

"People's issues highlighted through various people's movements going on in the UP state are sadly not at centrestage in the UP elections," said Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee 2002 and National Convener of NAPM (National Alliance of People's Movements). "Caste-based politics is becoming decisive in UP," he said at a press conference in Lucknow on Thursday.

NAPM, the largest network of grassroots people's struggles in India, came up with People's Political Front before the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. PPF gives voice and a platform to grassroots activists to participate in the electoral process in UP.

Arundhati Dhuru, a Narmada Bachao Andolan frontline veteran activist, who is actively working on Right-to-food, RTI (Right to Information) and NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) all across UP, said, "PPF is trying to increase representation and meaningful participation of the most underserved communities. It is within this context that the role of people's movements becomes imperative. The movements have been 'in politics', as they have been shaping and trying to change the power structure and decision making processes within society. That is what politics is all about. Electoral politics is one of the dimensions of the larger political sphere."

"Even within electoral politics, the people's movements have been participating in various capacities, either by pressurising existing political parties to integrate peoples' issues into their agenda, creating awareness among the voters, trying to weed out corruption and malpractice, and supporting suitable political parties. Contesting the election by the members of people's movements is again one of the ways of direct intervention into electoral politics."

Keshav Chand, another grassroots leader from Deoria, said that "people's movements must have a say in policy making. Right to work and food for work must be made fundamental rights."

There were many grassroots leaders supported by PPF from all across UP. Mahesh Kumar from Kanpur, Ram Sagar Verma from Hardoi, Keshav Chand from Deoria, Jaishankar from Chandauli, Prem Kumar from Moradabad, Jashodhara Dasgupta from Lucknow, Gyan Kumar from the Dynamic Action Group, Professor Ramesh Dixit from Nationalist Congress Party, Kamta Prasad Vishwakarma from Indian Justice Party, Arun Kumar from CPI-ML, Rakesh from CPI, Arundhati Dhuru and Sandeep Pandey from NAPM/PPF.

They resolved to struggle for the right to life, right to work, and protection of livelihoods of the workers in the unorganised and organised sectors.

"We will struggle for the enactment of legislation to ban the water extraction and water utilisation for soft drink industries and ban on all non-essential water-based consumer luxury products. We are in and take ahead the struggle against Coca Cola and Pepsi factories in Uttar Pradesh, and call for a national campaign to boycott all products of multi-national companies," said another grassroots leader Master Nandlal from Mehndiganj village in Varanasi.

Dr Pandey adds that, "We assert that water, land, forest, mineral, and aquatic wealth belong to people. It has community ownership and does not belong to either the state or corporate powers. We reject and will fight against attempts to privatise water bodies, water supply depriving common people of the right to water for drinking, domestic use, and livelihood."

"Corporatisation and criminalisation of politics is a major concern," said Dr Pandey. "The PPF's decision to enter electoral politics was aimed at changing the nature of politics," he said.

A people's forum was held in Hardoi on April 23 to question the candidates about their stand on these issues. This sheet with a list of people's issues is being circulated in a number of assembly areas to encourage people to ask questions from candidates in their areas, informed Dr Pandey.

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Stop PMI from worsening the global tobacco epidemic

Stop PMI from worsening the global tobacco epidemic

As World’s largest tobacco company Philip Morris ‘combined’ hold their annual shareholders meeting on 26 April 2007 (in East Hanover, New Jersey, USA) to celebrate the tobacco giant's profitability, public health advocates say there is heightened urgency for governments to enact comprehensive laws to control Philip Morris and other tobacco companies.

Philip Morris' parent company has just recently spun off its Kraft affiliate, and there is now widespread speculation that Philip Morris International and Philip Morris USA will separate soon, which will have major public health ramifications.

"The proposed breakup of Philip Morris poses the risk that Philip Morris International will become even more predatory," says Anna White, Coordinator of Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control (GPTC). "An independent Philip Morris International, which is likely to be based in Switzerland, will no longer feel constrained by public opinion in its home country and most important market, the United States"

Last year, over 100 organizations in 50 countries asked Philip Morris International and its subsidiaries to make commitments -- in advance of a breakup -- to ensure that the separation of Philip Morris International and Philip Morris USA does not worsen the tobacco epidemic. To date, Philip Morris has declined to agree to these demands.

This year by 22 April 2007, more than 140 public health organizations in 65 countries worldwide had already endorsed a call on governments to adopt comprehensive tobacco control measures to ensure that the separation of Philip Morris International and Philip Morris USA does not worsen the tobacco epidemic. Among other measures, they are urging that governments ratify and implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and ban the tobacco industry from lobbying or working on legislation to implement the global tobacco control treaty.

"An independent Philip Morris International based outside of the United States will be immune to even the possibility of domestic regulation in the United States or litigation in U.S. courts," said Anna White, of GPTC. Anna, who also represents the U.S.-based corporate accountability group Essential Action, further added that "This has been a real threat to Philip Morris International."

The litigation risk to Philip Morris International was recently made apparent in the U.S. government case against Big Tobacco. In that case, U.S. Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that Philip Morris and the rest of Big Tobacco must stop using misleading terms like "light," "mild" and "low" (as in "Marlboro Lights"). Big Tobacco has used these terms to deceive smokers into thinking they are using a reduced risk product, when they are not. Judge Kessler ruled that the prohibition on use of these misleading terms extends to Philip Morris International. If an independent PMI had no connection to the United States, the judge would not have been able to issue this order.

Philip Morris is the world's biggest tobacco multinational. Eighty percent of its sales are outside of the United States.

Anna White further elaborates that Philip Morris USA is prohibited from paying for product placements in movies and other media by the U.S. Master Settlement Agreement, but this does not apply to Philip Morris International. Philip Morris International states in its marketing code that it will not pay for product placement, but it does not address: indirect efforts to facilitate product placement; direct or indirect placement of unbranded tobacco products; or direct or indirect efforts to promote smoking in movies or other media.

Tobacco continues to kill more than 5 million people annually worldwide. "Tobacco is a uniquely harmful product, which kills consumers when used as intended; The World Health Organization projects that 10 million people will die annually from tobacco-related disease by 2030, 70 percent in developing countries," says Professor (Dr) Rama Kant, Head of Tobacco Cessation Clinics and International WHO Awardee (2005) in UP, India.

We therefore call on governments worldwide to ratify and strongly implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – the first ever global public health and corporate accountability treaty which came into force and became legally binding on 27 February 2005. Presently 146 countries have ratified this global tobacco treaty.

Bobby Ramakant

(The author is a senior health and development journalist, and member of Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) and Global Youth Advocacy Network. He can be contacted at:

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When the legislature starts functioning like Executive

When the legislature starts functioning like Executive

Dr Sandeep Pandey

In Asia we do not follow the practice of debating international agreement entered into by our Government in the parliament or state assemblies before approving them. This lacuna was again brought to the fore in the case of India’s Kerala Government cabinet trying to push an agreement with Asian Development Bank through amidst major controversy. The chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan almost created a constitutional crisis by insisting that his dissenting note be recorded that his approval was not secured before signing of the loan agreement with ADB and that he was not even shown the file!

The Rs. 1422 crore loan agreement was signed between the Central Government and the ADB on 8th December, 2006 and then the State Government also signed on it as the project executor. The loan is sought to be obtained on behalf of the municipal corporations of Kerala, making a complete mockery of the 74th Constitutional amendment empowering these municipal corporations as local self-government institutions. The matter was not put before the Parliament, the Kerala State Assembly or the concerned Municipal Corporations for discussion and debate. What is the hurry to push this loan agreement through without following a due democratic process? What are the pressures under which our governments are acting? All is not well with this agreement has been highlighted by the chief minister as well as number of people’s organizations working in Kerala who burnt the copy of the agreement with the ADB in Kochi on 3rd March, 2007.

The Kerala CPM general secretary M.V. Raghavan has demanded the chief minister’s resignation saying that he has lost confidence in his cabinet team. It is quite unfortunate that instead of initiating a debate within the party and the government, the CPM too is following the model of bigger opportunistic political parties which lack complete internal democracy. That the mainstream Indian political parties have now subsumed themselves to the international monetary agencies and private corporations is clear beyond doubt. By corollary, their commitment to the sovereignty of the people of this country has reduced. CPM first exhibited these tendencies in West Bengal and now it is doing it in Kerala.

The CPM says that it is supporting the ADB loan for Kerala Sustainable Urban Development Project because the conditionalities of the loan agreement have been changed since the time it was in opposition and was opposing the ADB loan agreement. However, going through the loan agreement it is quite obvious that the anti-people nature of it remains intact. For example the following texts from the agreement expose the truth.

‘By not later than March 2007, Government of Kerala will formulate a policy on conversion of standposts to individual metered house service connections and/or metering standposts, for the purpose of efficient demand side management and reduction of Non Revenue Water.’

‘Government of Kerala will ensure that all the municipal corporations pass a resolution by March 2008 to introduce service tax and/or other revenue mobilization measures in each municipal corporation to meet the shortfall of revenues needed to fund the operations and management of the expanded water supply.’

‘Government of Kerala will ensure that all the municipal corporations will prepare and implement a financial improvement action plan to (a) introduce a sewerage charge, (b) introduce a solid waste management charge, and (c) improve collection efficiency, by no later than one year after related sub-project completion.’

‘…the tariff will be increased twice during the project implementation period to a level which is sufficient to cover the operations and management costs of new and existing infrastructure…’

One wonders looking at above statements whether the job of our legislatures is being reduced to that of executive, with decision making having been left to external agencies. And there is an eerie feeling that we cannot change any of these things. The reforms are being virtually dictated to us by the international monetary agencies backed by the vested interests of private corporations who stand to gain as contenders of many contracts which will be thrown open once the privatization process is underway.

Is it difficult for a political party like CPM to understand that privatization of basic services like sewerage and natural resources like water and land will hurt the interests of the poor?

The people’s organizations in Kerala opposed to the ADB loan are demanding that the Government should announce withdrawl from this loan agreement immediately. It should publish all relevant documents regarding this loan in local language and specifically list those conditionalities which it is claiming have changed after it came to power. The draft of the agreement must be placed for discussion in the cabinet, assembly and municipal corporations. This is the minimum action needed on the part of the Government to demonstrate that as a legitimately elected sovereign body it has the capacity to modify or reject an agreement coming from an external agency which is not accountable to the people. It must come out clearly on where it thinks its basic commitment lies.

Efforts by the CPM to suffocate the voice of their chief minister are tantamount to strangulating democracy. It is a cowardly act to demand his resignation. V.S. Achuthanandan has shown rare courage going against his party line risking his coveted position in voicing his protest. If he resigns then the only voice of dissent will be silenced. It is not V.S. Achuthanandan but the CPM which has to introspect. They have to decide whether there is any room for inner party democracy in their structure? Will they debate an issue which is generating opposition within and outside the party and government or will they simply force a pre-decided agreement upon the people? It is a test not only of CPM’s commitment to the people and but also to its ideology.

(Author Dr Sandeep Pandey is recipient of Ramon Magsaysay Award for the year 2002 and leads National Alliance of People’s Movements in India. He can be contacted at:

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JANSATTA Editorial of Amit Dwivedi: Tobacco control in India

Hindi national newspaper
Amit Dwivedi's editorial article
14 April 2007
अमित द्विवेदी का सम्पादिकिये लेख

Jansatta (national newspaper)

Amit Dwivedi's editorial article in Jansatta: Staying alive with HIV

अमित द्विवेदी का जनसत्ता का लेख

एचआईवी के साथ जिंदगी

Why should we enforce global tobacco treaty (FCTC)?

Why should we enforce global tobacco treaty (FCTC)?

The global tobacco treaty, better known as Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), was developed as a global response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic. Adopted in May 2003 by the 56th World Health Assembly, the first ever global public health and corporate accountability treaty - FCTC - quickly became one of the most widely embraced treaties in United Nations' history, becoming international binding law on 27 February 2005.

Increased trade, foreign investment, global marketing and other complex international phenomena have led to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic. As the epidemic transcends national borders, its control requires international cooperation and multilateral regulation.

Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in the world, with an estimated 4.9 million deaths a year. If current smoking patterns continue, the toll will nearly double by 2020. A high percentage of deaths (70%) will occur in developing countries. Tobacco kills people at the height of their productivity, depriving families of breadwinners and nations of a healthy workforce.

There is no doubt that reducing the rates of uptake and consumption of tobacco will save lives and that the FCTC is the evidence-based tool with which to do it. It has been projected that with a progressive 50% reduction in uptake and consumption rates, as many as 200 million lives could be saved by the year 2050 ― and hundreds of millions more thereafter.

By becoming Parties (signing and ratifying FCTC by national parliaments) and implementing the provisions of the treaty where it counts most – at country level – countries are working towards a tobacco-free world and towards millions of lives saved. 146 countries have signed and ratified the treaty so far.

It is the first legal instrument designed to reduce tobacco-related deaths and disease around the world.

Among its many measures, the FCTC treaty requires countries to impose restrictions on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion; establish new packaging and labelling of tobacco products; establish clean indoor air controls; and strengthen legislation to clamp down on tobacco smuggling.

Advertising, sponsorship and promotion
Tobacco products are advertised through sports events, music events, films, fashion - in fact, any place where the tobacco industry can target potential new smokers (young people). The treaty obliges Party States to undertake a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, as far as their constitutions permit.

Packaging and labelling of tobacco products
As advertising restrictions are implemented, tobacco packaging plays an increasingly important role in encouraging tobacco consumption. The treaty obliges Party States to adopt and implement large, clear, visible, legible, and rotating health warnings and messages on tobacco products and its outside packaging, occupying at least 30% of the principal display areas. This is required within three years of entry into force of the Convention.

Protection from exposure to tobacco smoke
Second-hand smoke is a real and significant threat to public health. Children are at particular risk - exposure to tobacco smoke in children can cause respiratory disease, middle ear disease, asthma attacks, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The treaty obliges Party States to adopt and implement (in areas of existing national jurisdiction as determined by national law), or promote (at other jurisdictional levels), effective measures providing for protection from exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor workplaces, public transport, indoor public places and, as appropriate, other public places.

Illicit trade in tobacco products
Cigarettes are smuggled widely throughout the world. In addition to making international brands more affordable and accessible, illegal cigarettes evade restrictions and health regulations. The treaty obliges State Parties to adopt and implement effective measures to eliminate illicit trade, illicit manufacturing, and counterfeiting of tobacco products.

Effective implementation of FCTC is indeed a huge challenge countries are confronted with. There is a long way to go for effective comprehensive tobacco control to become a reality.

(Bobby Ramakant)

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Mandatory HIV testing will boomerang

Mandatory HIV testing will boomerang
Bobby Ramakant


India is increasingly getting into the grips of a division over mandatory HIV testing versus voluntary HIV testing.

Last month Karnataka state in India had proposed mandatory HIV testing for couples. This month in April 2007, another state of India (Andhra Pradesh) came up with mandatory HIV testing before marriage. Also Goa had proposed mandatory pre-marital HIV testing ‘by law’ in April 2006.

But will mandatory HIV testing alone reduce the new HIV infections? Public health experts disagree. “We need to raise awareness about HIV, reduce stigma associated with HIV, especially stigma within healthcare settings which keeps people away from accessing these services (which are often life-extending and also contribute towards prevention), strengthen primary healthcare services and raise sensitivity to the issues of confidentiality and dignity of life of those living with HIV” said noted health rights’ advocate Jashodhara Dasgupta of SAHAYOG (

The paramount progress we have made in terms of NOT thinking about prevention and treatment in isolation is at risk to be lost with Indian states promoting HIV prevention strategies completely ignoring the treatment, care and support provisions for people living with HIV.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhar Reddy on 17 April 2007 said that (Source: Rediff News: "I fail to understand the reasons behind the objections raised by some human rights activists on the government's initiative for making HIV/AIDS tests mandatory for couples before marriage.”

India has never been on such a HIV control crossroad with people divided over mandatory HIV testing versus voluntary HIV testing.

What human rights’ advocates will like to tell Dr Reddy is that the impact of HIV positive diagnosis on an individual’s life is enormous. The triad of stigma, discrimination and denial associated with HIV, thwarts an individual’s life in a myriad of ways. What are the plans for people who test HIV positive? Will they be left to face life without having access to even the primary healthcare services? With complete disregard to NACO’s (National AIDS Control Organization) confidentiality guidelines, the HIV positive status becoming a public knowledge in the to-be bride and groom’s communities, are we prepared to meet the healthcare needs of these people who test positive, and to ensure that they will not be forced to lead a life adversely impacted by HIV associated stigma, discrimination and denial?

United Nation's HIV Programme official said that the State has to think again as mandatory HIV testing will prove to be counter-productive. He said that it not only violates privacy but also stigmatizes the entire family, and also ‘tends to create a black market in false HIV test results’.

Senior Advocate Colin Gonzalves said that "any mandatory testing is wrong. Couples should rather be counseled and educated," adding, "If they want to get a testing done by choice after that, it's their business. But a mandatory test can't be imposed on them".

NACO guidelines say that “Testing for HIV is more than a mere biological test for it involves ethical, human and legal dimensions. The government feels that there is no public health rationale for mandatory testing of a person for HIV/AIDS. On the other hand, such an approach could be counter productive as it may scare a large number of suspected cases from getting detected.”

HIV Testing by itself does not result in behavioural changes that restrict transmission of HIV to others and therefore, testing should be a part of the comprehensive control programme which is conducive for behavioural change of the individual by providing social support, means and skills to reduce or eliminate risk behaviour. NACO official further adds that “Otherwise such testing can drive the target people underground and make it more difficult for launching intervention.”

As access to antiretroviral treatment is scaled up, there is a critical opportunity to simultaneously expand access to HIV prevention, which continues to be the mainstay of the response to the HIV epidemic. Without effective HIV prevention, there will be an ever increasing number of people who will require HIV treatment. Among the interventions which play a pivotal role both in treatment and in prevention, HIV testing and counselling stands out as paramount.

The current reach of HIV testing services remains poor. The reality is that stigma and discrimination continue to stop people from having an HIV test. To address this, the cornerstones of HIV testing scale-up must include improved protection from stigma and discrimination especially within healthcare settings, as well as assured access to integrated prevention, treatment and care services.

Just earlier this month, a pregnant woman with HIV died after being denied medical attention in Indore. Undoubtedly public health strategies and human rights promotion are mutually reinforcing. It is clear that India has a long way to go before we have a public health system strong enough to deliver effective healthcare to most underserved communities. And mandatory HIV testing alone is certainly not the short-cut.

Bobby Ramakant

(The author is a senior health and development journalist writing for newspapers in Asia, Middle East and Africa. He can be contacted at:

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DECCAN HERALD, Bangalore, Karnataka: 3 May 2007

Avian influenza in Egypt

Avian influenza in Egypt
Bobby Ramakant

“What is avian influenza?” asks a senior lady doctor working in one of the leading hospitals in Cairo. It is not a surprise because in present times we all are so focused with our own respective professions and interests, that it becomes hard to know all about all.

The Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population has announced two new human cases of avian influenza A(H5N1) virus infection. The cases have been confirmed by the Egyptian Central Public Health Laboratory and by the US Naval Medical Research Unit No.3 (NAMRU-3).

The first case, a 2-year-old female from Menia Governorate, developed symptoms on 3 April 2007 and was admitted to hospital the following day. She is currently in a stable condition. Initial investigations into the source of her infection indicate recent contact with backyard poultry.

The second case is a 15-year-old female from Cairo Governorate. She developed symptoms on 30 March 2007 and was admitted to hospital on 5 April 2007 where she remains in a critical condition.

Of the 34 cases confirmed to date in Egypt, 13 have been fatal.

Avian influenza, or “bird flu”, is a contagious disease of animals caused by viruses that normally infect only birds and, less commonly, pigs. Avian influenza viruses are highly species-specific, but have, on rare occasions, crossed the species barrier to infect humans.

In domestic poultry, infection with avian influenza viruses causes two main forms of disease, distinguished by low and high extremes of virulence. The so-called “low pathogenic” form commonly causes only mild symptoms (ruffled feathers, a drop in egg production) and may easily go undetected. The highly pathogenic form is far more dramatic. It spreads very rapidly through poultry flocks, causes disease affecting multiple internal organs, and has a mortality that can approach 100%, often within 48 hours.

Influenza viruses are grouped into three types, designated A, B, and C. Influenza A and B viruses are of concern for human health. Only influenza A viruses can cause pandemics.

Influenza A viruses have 16 H subtypes and 9 N subtypes. Only viruses of the H5 and H7 subtypes are known to cause the highly pathogenic form of the disease. However, not all viruses of the H5 and H7 subtypes are highly pathogenic and not all will cause severe disease in poultry.

On present understanding, H5 and H7 viruses are introduced to poultry flocks in their low pathogenic form. When allowed to circulate in poultry populations, the viruses can mutate, usually within a few months, into the highly pathogenic form. This is why the presence of an H5 or H7 virus in poultry is always a cause for concern, even when the initial signs of infection are mild.

The current outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza, which began in South-East Asia in mid-2003, are the largest and most severe on record. Never before in the history of this disease have so many countries been simultaneously affected, resulting in the loss of so many birds.

The widespread persistence of H5N1 in poultry populations poses two main risks for human health.

The first is the risk of direct infection when the virus passes from poultry to humans, resulting in very severe disease. Of the few avian influenza viruses that have crossed the species barrier to infect humans, H5N1 has caused the largest number of cases of severe disease and death in humans. Unlike normal seasonal influenza, where infection causes only mild respiratory symptoms in most people, the disease caused by H5N1 follows an unusually aggressive clinical course, with rapid deterioration and high fatality. Primary viral pneumonia and multi-organ failure are common. In the present outbreak, more than half of those infected with the virus have died. Most cases have occurred in previously healthy children and young adults.

A second risk, of even greater concern, is that the virus – if given enough opportunities – will change into a form that is highly infectious for humans and spreads easily from person to person. Such a change could mark the start of a global outbreak (a pandemic).

Direct contact with infected poultry, or surfaces and objects contaminated by their faeces, is presently considered the main route of human infection. To date, most human cases have occurred in rural or periurban areas where many households keep small poultry flocks, which often roam freely, sometimes entering homes or sharing outdoor areas where children play. As infected birds shed large quantities of virus in their faeces, opportunities for exposure to infected droppings or to environments contaminated by the virus are abundant under such conditions. Exposure is considered most likely during slaughter, defeathering, butchering, and preparation of poultry for cooking.

In areas experiencing outbreaks, poultry and poultry products can also be safely consumed provided these items are properly cooked and properly handled during food preparation. The H5N1 virus is sensitive to heat. Normal temperatures used for cooking (70oC in all parts of the food) will kill the virus. Consumers need to be sure that all parts of the poultry are fully cooked (no “pink” parts) and that eggs, too, are properly cooked (no “runny” yolks).

World Health Organization says that avian influenza is not transmitted through cooked food. To date, no evidence indicates that anyone has become infected following the consumption of properly cooked poultry or poultry products, even when these foods were contaminated with the H5N1 virus.

Bobby Ramakant

(The author is a senior health and development journalist writing for newspapers in Asia, Middle East and Africa. He can be contacted at:
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Today the 27 years old Nandlal Master has built up a strong local movement against a Coca Cola bottling plant in the Mehdiganj area of Varanasi District. This movement has become a problem for the US multinational giant as well as the local administration. Inspired by the Gandhian ideology and based on Jayaprakash Narayan’s concept he has put together a cohesive organization ‘Lok Samiti’ comprising of youth from saree weavers’ families in about ten years time. Nandlal laid the foundation of this organization in 1994 when after having completed his B.Sc. from Varanasi he returned to his village and started evening classes for his two little cousins – one a son of his uncle and another from his neighbour’s family. Most of the children in this area, situated about 20 km from Varanasi city, have to weave sarees on handlooms installed in every household and hence cannot go to school.

Nandlal was also born into a saree waever’s family in a village called Usrapatti. His father used to lend money for this business. The family was financially well off. But his father died when he was a child. The task of raising him and his six siblings suddenly fell on his mother. From a money lender she soon slipped down to being a labourer. Nandlal’s elder sister was already married. When the mother could not manage the family affairs she sent Nandlal to go and stay with his sister in Murgaha-Benipur village for continuing his school. He completed his school from Uday Pratap College and then joined the B.Sc. programme. But the deteriorating financial condition of his family forced him to return to his village. Two elder brothers had separted from the family after getting married. Nandlal upon coming back first decided to learn the skill of saree weaving on the handloom available at his home. At that time his two younger brothers were working on looms at other people’s places. Along with taking up saree weaving work Nandlal also started evening classes for children who were not going to school. Gradually the number of children grew. He had to start centres in other villages. Inspired by Nandlal’s example educated youth in other villages also started similar education centres for children engaged in saree weaving task. Slowly Nandlal built up a team of volunteers. They used to look upto Nandlal for leadership and guidance. Nandlal was a born leader and this opportunity provided him a chance to hone his leadership abilities.

But two incidents took place which shook him up. Nandlal had started a practice of taking out all the children once in a year for outing. In 1996 when the children were on a trip to Mirzapur, the bus carrying them met with an accident. One child died and 36 of them were injured, some of then very seriously. This was a big jolt for Nandlal. He had to face such a big tragedy at the beginning of his journey as a social activist. Nandlal was blaming himself for the tragedy. He gathered courage and started raising resources for the treatement of the injured children. He was able to raise Rs. 36,000, mostly from Heads of some Village Panchayats. This brought back some of his self-confidence.

The children with whom Nandlal was working belonged to the category of child labour. A number of organizations were engaged in the task of abolition of child labour and plenty of foreign funds were also available for this. A number of NGOs and funding agencies tried to bring Nandlal into their fold. Some of them made a blatant offer to him to accept some money from them in return for giving them some credit for his work. But Nandlal decided to preserve his autonomy and continued to work independently. Because of having succeeded in not getting lured by the enticement of these organizations Nandlal emerged as a person of strong character and the confidence of local people and youth in his leadership deepened. But once he was also fooled. Once an organization from Varanasi proposed to organize a cultural programme for the children engaged in saree weaving work. Nandlal did not find anything wrong with it. The NGO from the city organized the programme and invited some government officials to this. Next day there was a raid by the government inspectors and a number of children working on handlooms were caught. Some money lenders and others who were not happy with Nandlal’s growing popularity got a chance to denounce him. He was squarely blamed for this raid by government officials.

Because of these two events Nandlal thought that his role as a social activist was over. He was feeling guilty that he had brought grief to the community because of his deeds. However, miraculously, it was the parents of the children injured in the bus accident who came upto him and requested him to restart the education classes. It was probably because of Nandlal’s integrity and commitment that people had faith in him. So Nandlal got a chance to rebuild his social work. Learning from the good and bad experiences of life he was now a more mature human being. Slowly he gained of the confidence of the entire area.

When raising funds for the children injured in 1996 bus accident he had met Niti bhai in Varanasi city. It was Niti bhai who introduced Nandlal to Gandhian ideology as well as inspired him to lay the foundation of a people’s organization, ‘Lok Samiti’ in his area. Niti bhai also made it possible for Nandlal to visit Gandhiji’s Sewagram Ashram in Wardha. It was after coming here that Nandlal was deeply influenced by Gandhian philosophy. Meditating in Bapu Kuti, participating in the all-religion prayer meeting, and talking to various people and learning about incidents from Gandhiji’s life, a new light began to emerge from within him. This laid the ideological basis for his future work. He understood how his work locally was part of the larger social transformation process. He was enthused by his Wardha visit. Upon returning he deicded to spend some time with Niti bhai who was working in a different area of the Varanasi District called Chirai Gaon by forming an organization ‘Lok Chetna Samiti’. This is did for two reasons. First he wanted to learn the art of organization building and secondly he wanted to satiate his ideological hunger in the company of Niti bhai which had been ignited during his Wardha visit. Nandlal still maintains live contact with Niti bhai and his organization today.

Nandlal emerged so strong from his association with Niti bhai that he decided to wind up his registered organization ‘Nav Jyoti Swawlamban Sewa Sanstha’ and put its papers in a box. He decided to remain free of bureaucratic shackles and wanted to build a people’s organization. In other words he decided not to work in the prevalent NGO mode accepting money from funding agencies. For a 22 year youth coming from a simple lower middle class rural family a decision reflecting such ideological maturity was a rare achievement. He got a chance to participate in an ideological workshop on a recent development in philosophical thought ‘Sah Astitwawad’ popularly known as ‘Jeevan Vidya’ of A. Nagraj of Amarkantak. This helped his further his ideological development. It became very clear to him that an individual does whatever he/she does for his/her own satisfaction rather than for somebody else. This ended the possibility of any arrogance growing within him for the service to the society that he was doing. Thesense of independence that developed within Nandlal was because of the days spent at his sister’s place as a young boy. He considers this period as that of bondage. There was financial security but no freedom to express his views. He always desired to free himself from this constraint and live according to his ideas. This strong urge to not compromise on his freedom has prevented Nandlal to either apply for any job anywhere or for funding to support his work. This is Nandlal – a soft spoken, kind hearted but very independent and a personality with strong character. He is as strong in taking stands as he is soft in his demeanor.

Since Nandlal used a mature ideology and personal relationships to build an organization he developed a concrete mass base. People in his organization have complete confidence in him. On Niti bhai’s suggestion he has developed a very strong people’s organization in his area Lok Samiti. He has also developed a cultural team called ‘Kala Manch’ to rasise awareness on social issues through street theatre and beautiful songs. In 2001 he became the State Convenor from U.P. of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, which gave him an opportunity to build contact with other people’s movements going on throughout the country.

In 2003 when the NAPM decided to organize a nation wide protest against Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola as part of their campaigning against the new economic policy, Nandlal decided to organize a protest at the gate of the Coca Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj which was situated in his area. This plant has been emptying the earth of lakhs of litres of water every day. The company had distributed the sludge coming out of the plant as ‘manure’ to the farmers in the neighbourhood only to detroy their crops and fields. The farmers were up in arms against the Coca Cola bottling plant. The company was also encroaching upon a piece of land belonging to the Gram Sabha and had illegally built a portion of the plant on that. In 1999 when the company bought the plant from Thums Up they cheated the government on revenue to the tune of Rs. 1,75,00,000. No local person has been able to get regular employment in the plant till date. It is quite clear that Coca Cola in working against the interest of the local people. When after repeated complaints the administration was not taking any action against the company, 500 local people decided to assemble at the gate of the plant and demanded its closure. The police using lathis and private security guards of Coca Cola using iron rods beat up the protestors. 14 people were injured and 70 people put in jail for two days. Since then a number of action programmes have been taken agains the twin soft drink giants and slowly the movement at Mehdiganj is getting integrated into the international movement against Coca Cola. Two marches were organized in the eastern U.P. region to create awareness among a larger population about adverse impacts of operations of Coke and Pepsi. The first one was from 28th October to 4th Novermber, 2003, beginning from the Coca Cola plant at Mehdiganj to the Pepsi Cola plant in Sathariya, Jaunpur. The second was from 15th November to 24th November, 2004, beginning from the Coca Cola plant at Sinhachawar, Ballia to Mehdiganj. The day this march ended a direct action was announced at the plant. About 1500 people marched towards the plant and were prevented by the police from reaching there. When the people insisted on moving ahead there was a brutal lathi charge by police over a peaceful and non-violent gathering. 166 people were put into jail. 163 of them were released four days later but Nandlal and two others were detained for 14 days on more serious charges. A case is still pending against Nandlal and three others in the court.
Nandlal was invited to speak at the World Social Forum at Porte Allegre, Brazil in January, 2005, thereby raising the issue of Mehdiganj at an international forum for the first time. Recently, on May 6, 2005, the Village Panchayat of Mehdiganj decided to pass a resolution recommending cancellation of licence to Coca Cola. On 10th of May, 2005, the District Magistrate of Varanasi took an action against the Panchayat Head by revoking his financial and administrative powers charging him of illegally transferring land belonging to the Panchayat to Coca Cola. This is the first victory for people of Mehdiganj in their, what is going to be a, long drawn out battle with this multinational giant.

By Sandeep



The India Pakistan Peace March from Delhi to Multan is symbolically over but we are leaving Pakistan with a sense of unsatisfaction. We were not allowed to march within Pakistan. It was quite an embarrassment for us to be talking about disarmament but moving around under heavy armed security cover. A Police jeep was always accompanying us wherever we went. Some of our hosts within Pakistan were also uncomfortable with this. We do realize that probably under the given circumstances in Pakistan this was the best possible thing that we could have done. This was the only reason we decided to come to Pakistan in what eventually was a curtailed and restrained visit for us. In my opinion in the end it was ultimately the difference of democracy between the two countries which resulted in different response from the two Sates, although it was only marginally better in India. The marchers from both countries had difficulty in crossing over into the other country to participate in the March. Both Governments delayed giving visas to the marchers from the other side but whereas the Indian Government did give visas for all the 12 Districts that fell on the route to the Pakistani citizens the Pakistani Government granted visas to the Indian citizens only for the cities of Lahore and Multan. It is a different matter that the Pakistani marchers could not use their visas for all places as by the time they were in India, because of further delay by the Pakistani Government in granting them permission to cross the Wagha border on foot, the March was in the last District of Amritsar. However, while the Pakistani marchers were walking on the road for five days in India there was no Police accompanying us. We consider it an achievement of the March.

We find it an affront that whereas hurdles were created in the path of peace lovers from both countries to participate in this peace march by both the Governments, soon Lal Krishan Advani, the master mind behind the uprise of communal politics in India, is soon going to be a State Guest of the Government of Pakistan when he comes here to inaugurate a temple and visit the school that he studied in at Hyderabad, Sind. It reflects the misplaced priorities of the Governments. The peace activists who labour to bring about a change in the relationship of animosity between the two Nations over the last 57 years and are mobilizing public support in favour of a friendly and peaceful relation between India and Pakistan are discouraged at every step, whereas the man whose party almost brought the two Nations to the brink of a nuclear war and whose partymen indulged in the worst carnage in independent India in Gujarat, is going to enjoy Government hospitality in Pakistan. We in India are fighting a battle to free Indian politics of the forces which are a threat to our democratic polity and our neighbouring Nation chooses to honour their leader. Although, we are no admirers of the US policy, but a step to deny visa to Narendra Modi, definitely discredits these forces. We admire Pervez Musharraf for having taken steps to check fundamentalist forces in Pakistan but we also expect him to help Indian people in controlling such forces in India.

We are glad that we received a very positive response from the various people’s representatives that we met during our tour in Pakistan. The Nazim of Lahore, Mian Amir Mehmood granted us permission to take out a peace march within the city of Lahore and allowed us to plant a sapling that Professor Rameek Mohan, one of the marchers from India, had brought from Rohtak, as a symbol of peace and friendship. Rana Tariq Javed, Member of National Assembly was present to welcome us at a small function in Sahiwal on our way to Multan. The local Nazim and SSP, Khuda Bux Malik were also present here. In Chinchawatani the local Nazim welcomed us. In Multan, MNA Shah Mahmood Hussain Qureshi, who also happened to be the Sajjada Nashin of Dargah of Bahauddin Zakaria, almost echoed our setiments in his speech and granted us permission to move about freely in Multan. We planted another sapling at the City Council Hall in Multan that we had brought from India. Member of Provincial Assembly from Okara hosted dinner for us when we were returning from Multan. Back in Lahore we were hosted in the Punjab Provincial Assembly by the Opposition Leader Qasim Zia, a former Pakistani Hockey player. MNA, Chaudhary Manzoor Ahmad of the PPP was quite harsh on the two Governments especially for engaging in arms race. He questioned the two Members of Parliament from India who had joined us that evening, Nilotpal Basu and Hannan Mollah, both of CPM, why India was still following the path of BJP Government in defence spending. Riaz Fatyana, another MNA, hosted high tea for us at the Lahore Gymkhana and he too supported our campaign. These people’s representatives compensated to some extent for the negative attitude shown by the Pakistani Government towards the Peace March. But it is clear that movement for democracy in Pakistan will have to be strengthened if pro-people’s initiatives are allowed to take place freely here. Even at the risk of appearing to interfere in the internal matters of our neighbouring country, we would like to see our peace movement also strengthen the democratization process in Pakistan, just as various people’s struggles are aiming to do exactly the same in India.

Hence we will continue to push forward the agenda for peace and friendship between the two countries. At the common people’s level it is the most important democratic issue in the context of bilateral relationship. We had planned to organize a joint peace march of activists from both countries. But that remains unfinished. The two Governments, even though they have used the language, hitherto used by peace activists, in the meeting between Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh, did not cooperate fully in facilitating the Peace March. We will return to finish this march next year. We hope, by then, the Governments will realize that it is in the interest of the people to allow such a march to take place.

By Sandeep Pandey



The India Pakistan Peace March, scheduled between 23rd March and 11th May, 2005, from Delhi to Multan, met a roadblock on April 18th, 2005 when it reached Wagha border as none of the Indian marchers were given visas to cross over. Earlier, the Pakistani marchers also had trouble in coming over to India to participate in this march. First, for 10 days, the Indian Government delayed giving visas to the Pakistani marchers, and then the Interior Ministry of Pakistan did not allow the marchers permission to cross the Wagha border for another 13 days. It was only after one of the persons keenly following the developments, helping with the ongoing preparations and a prospective marcher, Saeeda Diep, whose commitment to the cause of India-Pakistan friendship is magnanimous, went and pressurized the Interior Minister of Pakistan that the permission was granted. It is quite funny that visas and clearances in the case of India-Pakistan travel are not given easily giving the excuse of security concerns until some kinds of pulls and pressures are applied and when it comes to actually giving the permissions no procedures are strictly followed. When the pressure builds up for taking decisions even a proper scrutiny is not done. For example, a list of 21 prospective marchers from Pakistan that was submitted by us was finally approved by the Ministry of External Affairs and communicated to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad for granting visas. Inadvertently, a name was repeated in this list and passport details of two members was missing. Nine Pakistani marchers – Saeeda Diep, Aslam Khawaja, a free lance writer from Karachi, Mahar Safdar Ali and Muhammad Akbar of Anjuman Asiaye Awam, Ghulam Hussain, who works on labour issues in Hyderabad, Sind, Lalee, a freed bonded labourer, Nayyar Habib, Rafia Bano, a District Councillor from Layya, and Mitho Khan – were finally able to join the march on 14th April, 2005 when the march reached the banks of the river Beas. We went down in the waters on the bank removing our footwears and resolved that water, land and human beings are one and that we do not recognize any artificial boundaries dividing either the nature or the human beings. It was an emotional moment for all of us and tears were flowing down the cheeks of quite a few marchers from both sides. Subsequently, the Pakistani marchers marched with us for the last five days of the Peace March. The police were conspicuous by their absence. We were given strict security while walking through Delhi and Ludhiana areas. However, that the Government did not feel the need to have police accompany the band of marchers, while nine Pakistanis were walking with us, is a good sign. It points to the fact that normalcy is returning. We would like to thank the Indian Government for they did not think that Pakistanis marching freely on Indian roads, which was a dream come true for us, was not a security concern. We waited at the border for two days in the hope that we would get our visas and be able to cross the border along with our Pakistani friends.

However, after two days of waiting at Wagha-Amritsar in vain, when we saw no sign of visas coming we decided to let the Pakistani marchers go ahead. The Pakistani marchers are now waiting in Lahore for their Indian friends to join them. In the meantime they are registering a protest with their Government for not letting the Indian marchers enter Pakistan. We are determined to complete the March whenever we get permission from the two Governments. We knew right from the very beginning that crossing Wagha was not going to be a piece of walk for us. Hence we were mentally prepared to suspend our effort as an ‘Unfinished March’ until the time the two Governments allow us to proceed. We are is no hurry. The March will be completed whenever the situation favours us.
That could be within the next six months, a year, or anytime in future.

We have learnt from sources within the Pakistani Interior Ministry that Indians walking on Pakistani roads could be a security concern for them. Well, obviously, anything is possible when such an exercise is undertaken. After all, in our own country, Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi have been assassinated in broad day light. But the fear of any untoward incident should not prevent us from embarking on a noble mission. The Pakistani Government must put aside all reports from security agencies and approve of the idea of Peace March in a positive
spirit. The potential gains that could result from the Peace March going inside Pakistan far outweigh the risks involved.

The promises made by the two Governments during President Pervez Musharraf’s recent visit to India about encouraging more people-to-people contact and making the borders softer seem to ring hollow – the ground reality has not changed at all. The process remains as complicated as ever; for the common person it is still a nightmare to even think of crossing the border. There is no relaxation in the bureaucratic hurdles consisting of a number of unreasonable rules, like requiring permission from the home ministry of one’s own country even if one has the appropriate visa to enter the other country, visas only for a limited number of cities, strictness about port of entry, insistence regarding modes of entry and exit, daily police reporting, etc. If the two Governments are really serious about making the borders softer they must demonstrate in reality that they are willing to dismantle the complicated travel regulation regime existing right now between the two countries. The experiences of people must validate the rhetoric of official claims.

Although the Governments are saying that they would now adopt a pro-people approach in resolving their disputes and that the peace process is irreversible, we are afraid that the Governments do not really want the initiative of peace process to go into the hands of the common people. Until that happens, we cannot really say that the peace process has become irreversible. So long as the Governments determine the extent and the pace of peace process there is a possibility that it may be reversed to suit geopolitical whims. In light of the recent deals of both the Governments to buy fighter aircrafts from the US, what is the guarantee that they will not begin issuing threats of bombing each other tomorrow? It is also, therefore, necessary to talk about abolition of nuclear weapons, complete removal of land mines and reduction of defence budgets if the Governments want the people to take their confidence building measures seriously. There has been so much mistrust between India and Pakistan during the past 57 years that CBMs without any disarmament measures do not appear credible.

On the other hand, if free people-to-people contacts and softer borders are indeed allowed, it would become difficult even for the Governments to reverse the peace process. It is only possible in an atmosphere where people are kept artificially separated from each other that hostilities can be promoted. Hence the only guarantee against the rolling-back of peace process is lifting of artificial barriers separating the people. There appears to be no credible reason why the Governments cannot take this step. The initiative for peace process must therefore be in the hands of the people and not the Governments. It is the right of the common people to live in peace and harmony with each other and if the Governments are supposed to represent the will of the people, this is one area where they must honour the popular public sentiment on both sides. The passport-visa regime between India and Pakistan must be done away with.

While awaiting our visa clearances we also look for signs of how honestly the two Governments transform into reality the public commitments they have made at the recent meetings between President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi.

By Sandeep Pandey



When we reached Phillaur from Ludhiana we met the first resistance to our position on Kashmir during the Peace March. Our host here was Mr. Johal, president of the committee which runs the Gurudwara where we were to stay. He registered his protest as soon as we reached Phillaur saying that our position that the Kashmir issue must be resolved according to the wishes of people of J&K was not acceptable to him as it was a position which favoured Pakistan. He was of the view that Kashmir was an integral part of India and only Indians had a right to decide about the future of Kashmir. It was obviously a narrow nationalist position held by him and shared by few people in the country. The meeting was being held in a Hanuman temple. He snatched our signature campaign sheet and started striking out the statement on Kahsmir. He was stopped from doing this after two sheets as he was told that there were other people who had signed the sheets who did not share his opinion on Kashmir and instead agreed with the position of the Peace March. The peace marchers tried to avoid getting into an unpleasant situation with their host for the evening. They tried to reason with him but he was not in a mood to listen to any other point of view.

In the night after the dinner at the Gurudwara his associates joined a meeting that we were holding to discuss how to tackle such a situation in future. Another round of discussion took place on Kashmir and we tried to reason with them that the any possible humane solution to the problem must involve the people from J&K. We explained that the narrow nationalist view held by Indians from outside Kashmir, or for that matter Pakistanis outside Kashmir, was born out of feudal mindset and in a world in which people were more sensitive to human rights violations and also democratic way of thinking, the conventional nationalist Indian and Pakistani view could not be imposed on the people of Kashmir. Also, in a world where economic policy of globalization was taking over, the concept of nation state was weakening and even the two Governments probably realize that staying ahead in economic development was more important than in arms race, taking away pressure from the governments to make a prestige issue out of Kashmir. It was also pointed out that the traditional concept of nationalism was not shared by a major section of the society including dalits, tribals, women, and other marginalized sections, who were busy with more basic struggles for life and livelihood than engage with the question of national pride. They, for example, were not likely to feel the same enthusiasm if India were to beat Pakistan in a game of Cricket compared to people who were close to the ruling class. We don’t know whether this discussion had any affect on the associates of Mr. Johal but he did come to see us off in the morning and seemed to be more calm than the previous evening. He had probably accepted the difference in point of view held by him and us and had reconciled himself with this fact.

Our march while it was in Ludhiana was shown on the national TV Doordarshan news. As we were walking from Phillaur to Phagwara a man, Paramjit, who was in the business of buying and selling buffaloes, after recognizing us came over from the other side of the road and stopped us. He expressed his happiness that such a march was taking place and confidently told us that we were going to get visas to cross over into Pakistan. At that time we knew that the Pakistani government had dashed all our hopes by refusing to allow marchers from Pakistan to cross over into India. But Paramjit’s resolve reflected the opinion of common people that people should be allowed to cross the border freely. Little did we know then that two days later the Internal Ministry of Pakistan would actually grant permission to the Pakistani marchers to join the march. This has also opened the possibility of us going to Pakistan and realizing our dream of a joint march through the territories of India and Pakistan and jointly crossing the Wagha.

As we were walking out of Phagwara towards Jalandhar a man came from behind on a bicycle and got down from his bicycle after stopping next to me. Surjit Singh earns his living as a Tadi Kirtan singer. His wife is also in the same vocation. He first congratulated us on taking out this march. He told me that he had signed our signature campaign which my colleague Chandralekha from Hardoi District of U.P. was carrying walking behind me. He then offered a suggestion with which I was pleasantly surprised. He said that the third point in the signature campaign, about allowing people from two countries to meet freely and, if possible, doing away with Passport-Visa system, should have a higher priority than the first two points. The first point was about two sides resolving their disputes peacefully through dialogue, including the issue of Kashmir according to the wishes of people of J&K and the second point was about doing away with nuclear weapons, land mines and reducing the defence budgets so that resources could be spent on development of poor people on both sides of the border. Surjit’s argument was that for the common people from India and Pakistan the third point was closest to their heart and it was also probably the easiest for the two Governments to agree to. The impact that this could have would also create an atmosphere where the Governments will find it easier to make progress on the first two points. I looked at him in admiration and promised him that I would mention his views in an article. I’m truly impressed by the understanding of Surjit Singh who is a representative of the common people. Only somebody like him could have thought like this because we intellectuals often cannot free ourselves from our preferences and biases. I’m glad I met Surjit Singh, the Tadi Kirtan singer, on my way and thank him for educating me about the priorities of issues as common people see it. I kept cursing myself why I could not see this simple logic when I was drafting the signature campaign text. Anyway, we’re glad that we’ve collected over 5000 signatures on this statement and so far and except for Mr. Johal, nobody seems to have any problems with the point of view that we’re putting forward during the India Pakistan Peace March.

By Sandeep Pandey



The Delhi to Multan Peace March was given a warm reception as we reached Sarhind by the local truckers’ union. Punjab has a rich cultural heritage and we were welcomed at various places by lively poetry recitation, songs and even theatre. Poetry flowed in, hailing the peace march at Sarhind. Famous Punjabi poet Surjit Patra graced the cultural evening at Khanna. Young college lecturer Sompal Heera performed a powerful solo play at Duraha on communal divisiveness. Sompal performed his play again at Ludhiana where university and school students welcomed us with their performances. And in Phagwara a whole cultural evening – songs and play – was dedicated to the peace march.

The objective of the peace march strikes a cord immediately with the people of Punjab because as former Prinicipal of Anglo-Sanskrit College of Khanna, Tarseem Bahia, said in his speech there, talking about peace and friendship between India and Pakistan is like evoking the pain which all Punjabi people feel because of partition. He emphasized how it was the joint Punjab which was going to benefit the most if the border at Wagha was opened, by giving concrete details of business potential in a number of sectors, like food grain, automobile, dry fruits, air travel, etc. He thanked the marchers from the other parts of India for deciding to take out this march through Punjab. Income Tax Commissioner from Mumbai, Buta Singh, who is also one of the founding members of the India Pakistan Friendship Forum at Khanna – a unique forum formed at the local level to work for peace and friendship between India and Pakistan – expressed hope that one day buses would ply between Amritsar and Lahore just as they do between Khanna and Duraha today. He had come from Mumbai to especially attend this programme. Surjit Patra enthralled everybody with his melodious poetry. One of his poems asked us not to despair because of spring but wait for the next season and keep a portion of land safe as he was going to bring a sapling for us. In another poem he expressed hope to create an army of people who’ll be armed with musical instruments and hoped to overturn the earth with its help. Before the cultural evening we received a formal reception by the Municipal Council of Khanna.

At Duraha there was a cultural evening planned at the Guru Nanak National College the highlight of which was the play by Sompal Heera, who teaches Punjabi here. He had the audience in rapt attention throughout the play, which ended with candles being lighted from one another and dance to the tune of a peace song. The play was especially written and prepared on the occasion of peace march’s arrival in the city. Sompal is a very simple person and a dynamic actor. We were moved by his gesture.

When we entered Ludhiana we received a rousing welcome on the outskirts by management and workers of G.S. Auto, which manufacture radiators for commercial vehicles. Next day the Non-teaching Employees Union of the Punjab Agriculture University organized a programme for us in association with Students’ Union on the campus. Dr. Arun Mitra, an ENT specialist was our main host in Ludhiana who had mobilized a number of associations, as was obvious from the number of banners in the city at various places, to organize events for the peace march. Later during the day Praful Bidwai spoke at a meeting at Ramgarhia Girls’ College pointing out that if the two governments were considering buying fighter aircrafts from the US how could they be serious about taking the peace process forward. He compared the defence spendings with spending of social welfare sectors by the two governments and highlighted the dismal record of both India and Pakistan when compared to other nations of the world. He also raised the issue of commissions in purchases in Military establishments from a small item as egg to a naval submarine. How long could the military establishments go on fooling the people in the name of security?

While the meeting in Ludhiana at Girls’ College was going on the prospective Pakistani marchers were meeting in Lahore to consider going back to their homes after waiting for about 20 days in the hope that they would be able to cross the border and join the march. Nine of them had received their visas from the Indian High Commission ten days after the march had begun but had been denied permission by the Internal Ministry of Pakistan to cross the Wagha on foot. It also dashed all hopes of Indian marchers crossing over into Pakistan to continue the march there. Saeeda Diep and Aslam Khwaja called on our mobile phone and we put the phone next to the microphone so that about 100-200 people assembled in that hall could hear Saeeda Diep’s voice. She conveyed best wishes for the march on behalf of the Pakistani marchers and expressed disappointment at not being able to join us. It was an emotional moment for some of the Indian marchers present during the meeting. We also conveyed the disappointment people were feeling at not finding the Pakistani marchers in the march and expressed hope that the Pakistani marchers would continue it in a relay fashion once we reach Wagha on 18th April. We could imagine the frustration that these people would have gone through for 20 days hoping each day to hear positive news from the insensitive government officials. We were at least walking and hence did not feel as bad. However, we do feel dejected after it became clear that we’re not going to be able to cross the border on 18th April.

But we are determined to continue the march. The governments can only physically stop the march. They cannot arrest our spirits. It has already become a joint exercise of Indian and Pakistani people and activists and we are together in it. Karamat Ali had said in one of the preparatory meeting in Delhi on February 26th that the march must begin before it actually begins on 23rd March. I think it’ll continue even after it ends.

By Sandeep Pandey



The India Pakistan Peace March has now crossed the Haryana border and entered into Punjab and covered about half the distance of Indian leg, after originating from the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin in Delhi.

As we’re walking some people innocently, with hope in their eyes, ask us whether we are going to cross the border without passports and visas. We wish that it would become as simple as that some day very soon and people will be able to cross the border hassle free. We realize how difficult it is to do this as we deal with the Governments and the bureaucracy on the two sides for trying to get permission for the marchers from the other side of the border to participate in this peace march.

Nine Pakistani citizens have been granted visas by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad on 1st April, 2005, to join the India Pakistan Peace March, ten days after it began. They have been given visas for the entire route which goes through 12 Districts of Delhi, Haryana and Punjab. However, the Internal Ministry of Pakistan is not giving them clearance to cross the Wagha border on foot. We have also come to know, although this remain unconfirmed, that the Pakistani Government is not able to decided whether it should let this march into Pakistan. Our morale has been very high since the Pakistani Prime Minister had invited a joint delegation of Pakistani and Indian peace activists and extended his support to the march as well as given us assurance that he would grant visas to the Indian marchers. Hence this news about Pakistani Government giving it a rethink has come has a jolt to us, who are already on our way towards Wagha and were hoping to cross it on 18th April with much fanfare. The people who are participating in this march from both sides are social activists, most of whom have already been participating in cross border peace meetings. Hence Pakistani Government’s dilemma is not understandable. When about 5000 people can cross the border to watch a cricket match and they don’t seem to pose any security threat, what is the Pakistani Government afraid of, when it comes to a bunch of peace activists? Or, is it that the vested interests on both sides who do not welcome the peace process are afraid of the initiative for peace process going into the hands of common people? Given the mood of common people on both sides, they have the potential to take the peace process to a point of no return which will ultimately force the two Governments to establish durable friendship and peace. For people not wanting normalization of relationship we must be appearing more dangerous than nuclear weapons who can destabilize the current political equations between the ruling classes on two sides.

In Ambala we were welcomed at the Saini Community Hall. An ex-serviceman, Balbir Singh Saini, who participated in the wars in 1962, ’65 and ’71 and was incharge on loading bombs onto fighter aircrafts, narrated how this fact has always been haunting him, even while he was in service, that the bombs that he was loading were going to kill innocent people like him on the other side with whom he had no personal enmity. He has raised the basic question that we are also raising through this march. As Darshan Singh, a marcher from Sangrur District of Punjab, said in the meeting in Gharaunda, taking the lives of young innocent people for no fault of theirs in wars is inexplicable and cannot be justified. Balbir Singh Saini, said that until there are two classes, one which labours to produce, and other which consumes without contributing to production, a system of exploitation will remain in place which will cause disputes like those between India and Pakistan. He said peace and friendship cannot come without social justice. He expressed reservations about the possibility of durable peace with Pakistan without establishment of democracy there. There was another Sikh gentleman in this meeting in Ambala, a clerk in the local court, who said when he visited Pakistan in 1996 he found the people there very nice and all the propaganda against Pakstanis was false. He said it was the two Governments which were responsible for creating all the trouble. The people never wanted it. He said it was the vested interests of politicians and corruption which were responsible for even problems like starvation deaths in our country. If it was not for them life would be much simpler for the common people. It was impressive to hear such mature views in a small meeting at Ambala.

After the meeting I went out to make a call from a telephone booth. The booth owner Ramesh Saini, when he learnt about the peace march, told us that he would like us to take his message of best wishes to the people who migrated from Ambala to Pakistan. In the morning he came looking for me and handed me a written note from his 94 year old father, Chaudhari Raunaki Ram Saini of Patti Khurrampur Majri in Ambala. In that note he had prayed to the Allah Tala to give long life and happiness to people from Patti Shekhan, Patti Jattan, etc., in Amabala, who had to migrate to Pakistan for political reasons and wished that everybody could live together again. He said he had seen many yatras but was glad to welcome this one originating from the Dargah of Nizamuddin. He further wrote that ‘Pak’ means pure and true Hindus and Muslims are all pure.The partition was accompanied by lot of pain and was imposed upon the people. He said people were one even before partition and are one even now and must fight together to end war and establish peace. At the end of the note he wrote his address so that anybody wishing to write to him from Pakistan could do so – Chaudhari Raunaki Ram Saini, 1124/1, Kaith Majri, Ambala.

Whatever the Governments may think of us, we know that we are on the right track given the public response that this march is generating. In a Gurudwara in Ali Majra a woman bowed in reverence when she learnt about the objective of the peace march. She said our mission was very pure and gave her best wishes to us. It is such support from common people which is giving us strength to march ahead even though we know that we may hit a wall at Wagha.

When we started walking out of Ambala, a young Sikh student of Class IV looked at me and the placard that I was carrying which had a slogan in Urdu language. He told me that he was unable to read my placard. I looked at him carefully. He was curious. He wanted to know what we were doing. I took out a leaflet in Hindi and handed it over to him and explained him the purpose of the peace march. Soon his friends gathered around him. I made him read the leaflet. He could read it with ease. I don’t know whether he understood any of that but I’m sure when he grows up he’ll remember that he once encountered some people walking on the Grand Trunk Road who were going from India to Pakistan. After all, if our generation fails to accomplish the objective of establishing peace and friendship between India and Pakistan, the responsibility will fall on the next generation!

By Sandeep Pandey