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DECEMBER 8, 2008
Email: friendsofsouthasia@gmail.com

Indians and Pakistanis hold vigil in San Francisco to mourn Mumbai, call for countries to work together

India-Pakistan Peace Vigil

San Francisco, CA. Dec 6, 2008:
On a cool, windy Saturday afternoon, about 80 bay-area residents, including South Asian Americans of Indian and  Pakistani descent, as well as other members of the  community gathered on the steps of San Francisco's City Hall to express their grief and commemorate the victims of the terror attack in Mumbai. They also mourned the victims of recent ethnic violence, terrorism and war in the South Asian cities and regions of Peshawar, Karachi, New Delhi, Guwahati, Orissa, Islamabad and Bajaur.

Attendees, holding signs reading "Indians and Pakistanis United for Peace and Justice" and "We are all Mumbaikars and Karachiites", among others, said that they want to send the message that in these challenging times it is critical that people from nations at odds with each other recognize each other's humanity, shun jingoistic nationalism, and work together for peace.

The event began with two minutes of silence for the victims of the terror attacks in Mumbai. Yasmin Fatima, an Indian American member of Friends of South Asia, urged the governments of Pakistan and India to address the root causes of violence in the region -- poverty, inequality and injustice. Syeda-Reshma Yunus talked about seeking peace that included justice for all, and about what it would take to work towards such a peace, including forgiveness. She said: "We do not have time for protracted grief nor for thoughts of revenge.  Now is the time to wipe away our tears and roll up our sleeves to work in solidarity towards peace."  Ijaz Syed, a Pakistani American activist, expressed his concerns about the tense, almost warlike, state of affairs between Pakistan and India.  He pointed out that nerves are so on edge in the region that a "prank call" to the Pakistani Prime Minister's office, by someone pretending to be the Indian Defence Minister, resulted in Pakistan putting its troops on high alert.  Ijaz said that war in the region was simply not an option as neither country could afford the human or economic costs, and because of the potential for the use of nuclear weapons.  Ijaz also expressed his deep admiration for the calm and resilience of the people of Mumbai in their response to the provocation of the terror attack, and to the subsequent attempts by various political interests to stoke passions.

Brian Malovany, a local Jewish activist who has worked on issues of peace and justice in Israel & Palestine, spoke about lessons to be learnt from the heavy-handed nature of Israeli and US responses to terrorism, and urged India and Pakistan to seek a measured approach instead.  Brian also spoke about his time in India as an exchange student this day 16 years ago when the Babri Mosque was demolished by mobs, unleashing a wave of violence.  He hoped that forces that prey upon people's fears to instill hatred would be marginalized.

Ramkumar Sridharan, a San Jose resident, said that the people of South Asia were coming together everywhere, not just in San Francisco, with similar messages. He talked about a South Asia Peace Vigil being held in New York City the same evening, where attendees called for a need for peace. Ramkumar read from the statement issued by the organizers of the NYC vigil, urging the Indian government to not go down the path of suspending civil liberties and imposition of draconian "anti-terror" laws, similar to the USA-Patriot Act, that do not increase a country's security but do end up being used as a tool of state repression against religious and ethnic minorities.

Farrukh Shah Khan, President of the  Pakistan American Cultural Center, called on the Government of Pakistan to work with India to resolve all open issues. He said that all peace-loving people must unite against extremist and fundamentalist forces in order to build a livable world for our children.

Hemang Kapasi, a community organizer with Asha for Education and a San Francisco resident who grew up in Mumbai, spoke about his witnessing the demolition of the Babri Mosque 16 years ago as a cultural tipping point in tearing apart the secular fabric of the multi-religious community in Mumbai. This led to citizens of different communities live with constant suspicion and fear. He talked about the reasons why young people get lured into violent ideologies, and the need to address this through education, development and justice for all South Asia.

The evening concluded with the lighting of candles; and the reading of poetry and songs in various South Asian languages, all speaking to a common message of peace and justice.  Attendees at the event expressed the feeling that this was not the end, but a beginning -- of healing of wounds and of working together to address root causes of all violence in the region. And recognizing each other's humanity was the first step.

This vigil was endorsed by a broad coalition of organizations, representing a diversity of communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, including South Asian American community, student & professional groups such as Friends of South AsiaAlliance of South Asians Taking Action, Association of South Asian Political Activists (UC Berkeley), and South Asian Bar Association of Northern California; Jewish Voice for Peace (San Franciso/East Bay and South Bay chapters), which works for peace, justice and human rights in Israel & Palestine; Pakistani American community groups such as Pakistan American Cultural Center, Pakistan Science and Engineering Foundation, Pakistani Tehreek-i-Insaf, and Asian American Network against Abuse; relief and educational non-profits such as Indian Muslim Relief and Charities, South Asia Disaster Relief Coordinators and ASHA for Education (San Francisco chapter); and local peace/anti-war groups such as South Bay Mobilization and the San Jose Peace and Justice Center.

2008 - Friends of South Asia (FOSA). Site hosted by ektaonline.org