The India Pakistan Peace March is slowly moving forward on the scheduled route. For the first ten days it has been passing through mainly small towns and villages of Haryana. At the Arpana Ashram just before reaching Karnal, the rural women gathered there were disappointed to find that the Pakistanis had not come. They said grudgingly that they welcomed us, the Indians, but they had come there with the curiousity to discover how the Pakistani women were different from them. We told them that we would convey their curiousity to the Pakistani women’s groups and request one of them to visit this Ashram sometime when they are in India. We find an amazing eagerness among people to meet the Pakistanis, even on the roadside. They excitedly approach the two friends, one a Muslim and other a Hindu but putting on a Muslim cap, walking with us taking them to be Pakistanis only to be disappointed when they are told that the two marchers are from India. The bureaucratic hurdles have not allowed the Pakistani marchers to join the march for the first ten days. Efforts are on to bring the Pakistanis to the march and we are hopeful that they will join us very soon. Nine of them had obtained their visas and were awaiting clearance from the Internal Ministry of Pakistan to cross the border at Wagha at the time of writing of this article.

Arpana Ashram in Karnal District is a non-governmental organization with a spiritual leaning. They believe in equal respect to all religions. Their prayer room has a painting portraying pictures of Gods and Prophets, or their names, from all major religions of India. We sang spiritual songs with the inmates of the Ashram and spoke about our objectives. The Ashram community whole heartedly supported the objectives of our march and the inmates endorsed our signature campaign. The same evening in Karnal we were hosted by Paash Library, named after the famous Punjabi revolutionary poet who was shot dead by militants, located in Police Lines, which is a center of Left intellectuals of the region. Police officials were welcoming us here. The library itself has been established by a Left leaning Inspector General of Police in Haryana. It is a unique experiment of how the Government officials can create progressive space within the otherwise rotten system. From a spiritual organization to a Left library, it pretty much covers the entire spectrum of people who are welcoming this peace march.

So far, we have yet to come across a person who would publicly question the objectives of the march. Everybody seems to be in our support. At Nilokheri, an establishment of people who came over from Pakistan at the time of partition, there were people associated with BJP who received us. In the public meeting they hesitatingly cautioned us about the intentions of Pervez Musharraf. However, they appreciated the fact that we were taking a message of peace and love to Pakistan. This peace march is being considered by people to have a holy objective and nobody wants to appear to be opposing it.

That people want peace and friendship is clear beyond any doubt. In public meetings and in private people express the importance of peace initiatives and criticize the politicians from two sides for having not allowed the process of normalization of relations to take place. We passed through Patti Kalyana, a village with a half Muslim population before partition and which witnessed one of the worst communal violence. We were shown the two wells which were filled with dead, mutilated and cut bodies in partition related violence. We were shown the mosque which has been shut down, after some miscreant hoisted a Pakistani flag on it one day in recent past. After having been taken over by the demon of revenge and hatred the people regretted what they did at the time of partition. Muslims who migrated, and their families, still come to see their village from Pakistan once in a while. The families which came from Pakistan and were resettled in Patti Kalyana are called Multanis or Punjabis. They have still not been accepted in the village as integral part of the community. Similarly, in Karnal we were told that because of majority of people having come from Pakistan the city was yet to acquire a culture of its own. In Panipat when we visited the Dargah of Sheikh Sharfuddin Shah Bu Ali Kalandar we heard stories of how the Dargahs were taken over by aggressive Hindu groups at the time of partition and had to be freed only after Mahatma Gandhi intervened.

It is a coincidence that we are being put up mostly in temples, gurudwaras or dargahs. We definitely don’t consider our march to be a spiritual one but we would probably require the combined blessings of all these religious places to achieve our objective.

The most positive aspect about our march is that nobody has yet contested our position on Kashmir. Our signature campaign says that the dispute of Kashmir should be resolved according to the wishes of people of Jammu and Kashmir. Such a stand was considered to be against the interest of India and in favour of Pakistan and the nationalist people within India would challenge it until recently. However, people seem to be realizing that this is unavoidable if the resolution of Kashmir problem is to be arrived at through dialogue and not militarily. Except for the meeting in Nilokheri, where BJP people were present, the issue of Kashmir has not even been raised by anybody. The BJP people were raising the standard concern of how President Musharraf had again emphasized the need the resolve the Kashmir dispute as a prerequisite to take forward the peace initiatives. But this was a good opportunity for us to explain to the people that the issue of Kashmir should not given exaggerated importance and should not be allowed to come in the way of establishing peace and friendship between India and Pakistan. We also explained that there was no need to fear entering into a dialogue on Kashmir with Pakistan. Fortunately for us, Dr. Manmohan Singh had said in a statement the previous day that he was willing to discuss every issue, including Kashmir, with Pervez Musharraf when they would meet. We believe that the atmosphere is slowly getting created for a meaningful dialogue on Kashmir.

By Sandeep Pandey