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