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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 28, New Delhi June 30, 2018

Standing Firm in Defence of Indo-Pak Amity

Saturday 30 June 2018, by Syeda Hameed


It was 22 years ago on August 14, 1996 when I accompanied Nikhil Chakravartty in a delegation of Citizens for Democracy led by Kuldip Nayar to the Indo-Pakistan border post to light candles to commemorate the Pakistan-India People-to People Mission. It was also the 50th year of independence. Some elders among us recalled August 15, 1947, the day of freedom. With palpable sadness they remembered the killings unleashed on both sides. In the article Nikhil wrote when he returned, he spoke of the ‘message’ given by each one of the three ‘centres of pilgrimage’ we visited that day. First, the Wagah Electropost, second, Golden Temple, third, Jallianwala Bagh. Each epitomised enduring tragedy, acrimony, desecration and mass killing. This sentiment of the scarred face of freedom is immortalised in the lines of Faiz Ahmed Faiz in his poem Subh Azadi:

Ye daagh daagh ujala ye shub guzeeda sahr

Ye vo sahr to nahin jiski aarzu lekar

Chale thhe yaar ke mil jaygi kahin na kahin


Abhi girani e shub mein kami nahin aayee

Chaley chalo ke vo manzil abhi nahin aayee

This scarred light this dappled dawn

This is not the dawn in quest of which

We friends set out, somewhere to find


Black night is still unrelenting

Move on. Still far, that goal

The BSF was kind; allowing us to enter no man’s land after closing hours. But our friends across the border were turned away by the Pakistan Rangers. Nikhil wrote of the irony of Pakistan debarring such cordial expression of friendship while the official demonstration of machismo on both sides was much applauded by visitors and the respective border security. At the stroke of midnight came a message of solidarity from a group of Pakistanis who demanded an end to mutual hate in deference to the popular will of the people. Signatories on the message were Asma Jahangir, Dorab Patel, Mubashir Hasan, I.A. Rahman plus many others. I recall the thrill of listening to songs of Nishant Natya Manch led by Shamsul Islam and Neelima which were wafted by the breeze on the other side; friendly Punjab purvai which the electric fence could not stop.

We, the children of that midnight, have since grown old. Some of the best have gone, some have left us before their time. Nikhil, Dorab Patel, Jusice Sachar and recently Asma. Having spent their best years striving to bring these two intractable nations to their senses, they have quit the game. And the acrimony, hard talk, killings, cross-border rhetoric have escalated to the crescendo. Both countries are hurtling towards extremism taking in the maelstrom flotsam and jetsam. India has begun its election year. Pakistan goes to the polls in less than one month. Both countries are reeling under violence from state and non-state actors. On both sides innocents are casualties. Pakistan is wrought by sectarian killings, India by lynchings on account of cows or caste. Voices of sanity are raised all the time on both sides but nothing is heard above the din of political cacophony.

Nikhil saw a glimmer of hope in the statesmanship of Atal Behari Vajpayee. Even that mould has broken. Where does the hope reside in this region we call Barr-e-Saghir, the Small Continent? Nikhil would have seen it in the young who have inherited our baggage but are still uncorrupted by history. In 2000 a women’s Bus of Peace left Delhi for Lahore when the Kargil war was at its height. We had the blessings of Nikhil and Kuldip. Two stalwarts, Nirmala Deshpande and Mohini Giri, led the delegation of 43 women. In Islamabad we were invited to meet President Musharraf. It was a young college student, member of WIPSA, who voiced her generation’s credo when she told the General: ‘Your generation had done enough damage. Let our generation not haul your baggage; let the youth of India and Pakistan reach out to each other with clean slates.’

I want to conclude my tribute to Nikhil Chakravartty with an account of last evening (June 24) at an Eid Milan held by many organisations at Mohini Giri’s Guild of Service. This Milan was really a call for peace; a call for love during the prevalent mahaul of hate. The room was brimming with people who had come from all walks of life, all communities, different pockets of the city and nearby districts. The overwhelming sentiment was—bridge the chasm between these two beleaguered countries, torn apart by war rhetoric and border strikes. With damp eyes everyone recalled the candles at Wagah. There were elders like Mohini Girl, Dr Sanyal, Padma Seth, Father Bento, Prof Qureshi, middlers like Ram Mohan Rai from Panipat, Veena Behn and Meera Khanna. But most prominent were the youth, mobilised by Hali Panipati Trust and Aghaz-e-Dosti. The latter is a movement spearheaded by Ravi Nitesh and Devika Mittal who have worked on both sides of the border to build understanding through school children. Through art, music, theatre, cross-border friendships have been created and nurtured. As Devika said, the most obdurate sceptics have melted at the persistence of this mission. The film screened on this occasion was Indo-Pakistan Narratives made by Melton Fellows. The documentary is based on interviews with youth on both sides narrating their experiences of learning to know each other and dismantle fear and hate; ultimately getting to love the other. A few clips of old people, some in their 90s who were eye-witnesses to mass killings and mutilation of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. A couple of these were very beautiful and articulate women from Lahore and Karachi.

At the end of the Milan the sentiment was to keep the candles lit at the border, placed there by the hands of youth from both sides. As the rule for ebb and tide of oceans, old people will go and new ones will replace. But the movement will grow. Until governments on both sides understand that this is what people want and it is in the fulfilment of this need that their survival rests.

Nikhil Chakravartty came alive last evening as the youth pledged to take his dream for India to new heights. Ram Mohan recited his favourite lines from Hali Panipati which epitomise the life of Nikhil and need of the hour:

Tum agar chahtey ho mulk ki khair

Na kisi hamwatan ko smajho ghair

Sab ko meethi nigah se dekho

Samjho aankhon ki putliyan sabko

A former member of the erstwhile Planning Commission, the author has been one of the active protagonists of forging Indo-Pak friendship at the people’s level.

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