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