Aaghaz-e-Dosti’s Annual Peace Calendar Launch: Endeavoring Towards a Peaceful Coexistence
Aaghaz-e-Dosti is an India-Pakistan peace initiative of Mission Bharatiyam (India) and The Catalyst of Peace (Pakistan). The annual launch of the Peace Calendar is a bookmark event among various other peace activities organized by the initiative.
First launched in January 2013, the Peace Calendar has entered its fifth year in 2017. It is a unique attempt that tries to remind the two neighbours with much of shared history and culture, that there is much in common that connects, than what separates them. It is a humble attempt to remind those on both sides of the fence that a calendar is not just a mere bunch of dates on a piece of paper, it can also serve as a messenger of peace, humanity and love that binds all in invisible yet strong threads.
This year, after having been launched in Lahore, Toba Tek Singh and Peshawar in Pakistan; the Peace Calendar was launched in New Delhi at India International Centre Annexe on January 14th, 2017.
Along with the launch of the Peace Calendar, a discussion on the theme ‘Sharing of Hope for Peaceful Coexistence’ was held. The event saw the presence of eminent speakers including Dr. S.N.Subba Rao (Veteran Gandhian), Dr. Syeda Hameed (Member of the erstwhile Planning Commission and Peace Activist), Ms. Kamla Bhasin (Peace and Women’s Rights Activist) and Colonel (Retd.) Virendra Sahai Verma.
The event began with Late Colonel Mandeep Singh’s daughter, Gurmehar Kaur, recalling the memories of her father’s presence and his loving embrace, before she and her family lost him in the Kargil War of 1999. She recalled how she, at the tender age of three, could not comprehend the uncanny silence of her father on his deathbed and how for many years to come, her innocent questions were fed by her mother’s assurances that it was just a bad dream. After many years, when she witnessed on television the similar painful cries of the families, who had lost their children, brothers, fathers, husbands, their loved ones in Uri and Pathankot, all her childhood memories rushed back to her and an excruciating cry deep inside, made her understand the violence, death could bring.
With a heavy heart, as her throat choked with emotions, she made a plea for peace and asked us all to question and understand the immense futility of hatred, violence and war, wherein only the humans and the humanity is defeated.
Next, two Pakistani students Bharat Kohli and Suneel Nand, studying in the South Asian University, New Delhi, shared their experience of being in India, which they termed ‘wonderful’. Talking of the importance of platforms like the SAU, they held that such platforms offered students from different SAARC Nations not only an opportunity to avail quality education, but also taught them the importance of strengthening the neighbourly bonds of friendship, respect, acceptance and accommodation.
Next, the Peace Calendar was unveiled and launched by the guest speakers.
The four panelists, all stalwarts of the movement for peace in South Asia had very many insights they shared on the peace process and its importance. Dr. S.N. Subba Rao, a Gandhian in its best sense, was the first to share his experience and views on the theme of the event. He spoke of ‘Jai Jagat’ in the same breath as ‘Jai Bharat’ and ‘Jai Pakistan’. With the call of ‘Jai Jagat’, he tried to highlight the importance of universalism, as against parochialism and narrowness in views and boundaries.
Asserting that ‘mere absence of war is not peace’, he argued that as ‘war begins in the minds of men’, so should peace. He lamented that there were huge efforts towards fueling the war industry, as against the minimal efforts towards peace. With this, he shed light on the importance of creating more ‘peaceful minds’ and facilitating the birth of “Peace Preparation Laboratories” like Aaghaz-e-Dosti and expressed hope for its growth.
Kamla Bhasin, a crusader of Indo-Pak peace since 1975, began by appreciating Aghaz-e-Dosti’s efforts and wished that more of such events were highlighted and aired by the media houses, who more often than not, are engaged in hate mongering, when it comes to India-Pakistan relations. Talking about the divides existing at various levels between and among individuals, she held that these are not natural; she held that nature, at the most, creates differences, which are transformed by us humans into inequality at various levels. She argued that war creates an artificial divide of “us v/s the other”, of “we v/s them”, wherein these “others” are not considered human enough and are often treated with discrimination. With this she tried to argue that labels are a social construction, as nature does not put labels, nor does it create hierarchy among and between people, and hence, pointed out that there was nothing natural about the various existing hierarchies based on gender, religion, caste, nationality etc.
She also spoke of the dangers associated with the Military-Industrial Complex that made immense money out of war, whereas, there were only limited money and efforts directed towards building peace.
Moving on, she spoke of the work of her NGO-Sangat that since its inception has worked for Human Rights, Peace and Democracy and had been engaging women from the South Asian region in interactive sessions towards building peace.
Both the panelists, Dr. S.N. Subba Rao and Kamla Bhasin, left the gathering spell bound with their respective songs, ‘Jai Jagat’ and ‘Jaana Shehar Lahore(y) Jaana’, in which the entire hall followed them with much enthusiasm.
The next speaker, Colonel (Retd.) Virendra Sahai Verma, who along with Nirmala Deshpande, a renowned social activist and Gandhian, had founded a peace initiative called, ‘India-Pakistan Soldiers Initiative for Peace’. This was after he had served in the two wars of 1965 and 1971 between India and Pakistan, wherein he witnessed the agony and loss that accompany war; it was this realization of the folly of armed combat that facilitated the culmination of ‘India-Pakistan Soldiers Initiative for Peace’.
He highlighted the necessity of understanding that though military victory would remain the major goal of the Army, sustenance of peace was a must for the long term coexistence of all.
The last, but as they say, certainly not the least, panelist of the day, Dr. Syeda Hameed, expounded the significance of the call for ‘Jai Jagat’, in the times when instead of expanding our identities; people, nations and territories were going narrow. She highlighted the need for adopting a broader point of view and expressed faith in humanity, stating – “yehi hai ibaadat, yehi hai deen-o-emaan, ki kaam aaye insaan ke insaan”.
Moving on she talked of the innocence of paintings by young minds that had not yet been affected by the venomous notions of hatred. She further enriched the discussion by sharing her own experiences of being engaged in peace building efforts between India and Pakistan for decades, and expressed hope in continuation of such efforts by many other organizations and initiatives, like Aaghaz-e-Dosti.
The school students from Gyan Mandir Public School – Tanvi and Yashasvi Singh and from Indraprastha Hindu Girls Sr Sec School – Divya Sharma and Yugantika whose paintings had been featured in the Calendar were awarded certificates. They presented their innocent and unbiased perceptions on India-Pakistan, talked about the inspiration behind their paintings and the importance of acceptance and peace. Their teachers – Ms. Anju Anand from Gyan Mandir Public School and Ms. Jigyasa Gupta from Indraprastha Hindu Girls Sr Sec School had also enlightened the gathering about the importance of peace education.
After the inspiring speeches by the guest speakers and insightful reflections by students and teachers, some people who had contributed to the Calendar initiative were also invited to share their experience and thoughts.
Abhilasha Sachan representing Project Khel, Lucknow, shed light on the role children could play and the meaningful contribution they could make in propagating the message of peace. She shared her experience of conducting workshops with children, who she considered were brimming with beautiful and innovative ideas. She tried to outline the importance of honing and channelizing these bright young minds towards the goal of attaining peace.
A teacher and peace activist from Chandigarh, Ms. Astinder Kaur, shared that she has a ‘family’ in every province of Pakistan since the time she decided to open her home and heart to this initiative. She asserted that without having gone to Pakistan ever, her bond with this neighbor had been such that she became ‘khala’ of hundreds of children from there. She expressed hope in the young minds of today, who she wished would build a better tomorrow, with a new direction and shape.
All the panelists, the speakers, some from among the audience present in the event shared their views and experiences of visiting and of being received and embraced with open arms and hearts, in Pakistan. Some recalled and cherished the small yet friendly gestures from ‘bhutta’ sellers, from ‘dhaba’ owners in Pakistan, who refused to charge them for food, for they treated them as their friends, neighbors and guests from India.
These instances are not mere stories, but are much more; they exemplify an innocuous bond of friendship, humanity and love that binds the people now separated in geography, but still one at heart, knowingly or unknowingly.
The fifth Peace Calendar Launch, New Delhi, saw a plethora of views and experiences being shared. A genuine hope for a better and a peaceful tomorrow was expressed, that could and would be shaped only by continuous efforts via uninterrupted dialogue and interactions between those on either side of the fence. The event, on the whole, highlighted the significance of understanding that peace is the only alternative, a shot worth taking and an investment; and the patience and support of all the people present reiterated that however easy it may be to hate and create differences, to love and come together as one is more human.
The official coverage partner for Delhi Launch Event was Zephyr: The Film and Photography Society of College of Vocational Studies (CVS).
Report by: Sanjana Arya (Delhi team member, Aaghaz-e-Dosti)
Posted on January 18, 2017, in Events and tagged 5th Indopak peace calendar, Col Virendra Sahai Verma, Delhi Launch of IndoPak Peace Calendar, Dr S N Subba Rao, Dr Syeda Hameed, India Pakistan Soldiers Initiative for Peace, IndoPak Calendar, Kamla Bhasin, peace calendar, Project KHEL. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.