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