FRIENDS OF SOUTH ASIA (FOSA)
working towards a peaceful, prosperous, and hate-free South Asia
home | events | resources | about | contact

Joint Press Release Friends of South Asia and Qaumantri Punjabi Bhaichara Group Of California

PEACE DEMONSTRATORS URGE INDIA & PAKISTAN TO RESUME DIALOGUE


January 27, 2002 Palo Alto, CA

[Questioner:] "What do we want?" [Chorus:] "We want peace! Atal Bihari ... We want peace! Parvez Musharaff ... We want peace!" - Slogan chorus led by Prashant Jawalikar

As the governments of India and Pakistan continue their preparations for war and the tense situation between these two nations threatens to spiral out of control, many people, alarmed at these recent trends, are organizing peace rallies urging the two governments to desist from war. Today, the bustling University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto, California, was the site of one such peace rally, organized under the banner of "People for Peace between India and Pakistan".  More than 120 people assembled at the Lytton Plaza to light candles, sing songs and shout slogans affirming their faith in peace.

"We organized this rally in the Bay Area today as part of a Global Peace Vigil," explained Akhila Raman, a software consultant from Berkeley. "This is an effort across several groups in different cities in the world to hold peace rallies on the same day, and have a common memorandum to present to the two governments," she said.  Similar rallies were also held in several cities in India and Pakistan, including Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Rawalpindi and Karachi, as well as in other cities with substantial expatriate populations, such as Boston, MA in the US.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, the call for peace was supported by two local South Asian groups, Friends of South Asia (FOSA), and the Qaumantri Punjabi Bhaichara Group (the Punjabi International Friendship Group).  Both groups have organized smaller peace demonstrations earlier in the area. 

Satnam Singh Chahal of the Qaumantri Punjabi Bhaichara Group, who also participates in the peace vigils held at the Wagah border between India and Pakistan on the 14th of August each year, said, “We believe that this war-like situation on the Indo-Pak border is a political game of political leaders and we cannot afford to play this game.”  Added Raman, “The aim of this initiative is to put continuous and ongoing pressure on the leadership of both India and Pakistan to resolve [their] disputes by dialogue and peaceful means, and to avoid war at all costs.”  Ali Hasan Cemendtaur, a Pakistani writer based in San Jose, commented that people gathering for the vigil may disagree on how the issues need to be resolved, but they all agreed that the process of resolution should be peaceful and inclusive.

The common memorandum prepared by these groups is addressed to  both Pakistani and Indian governments and urges them to take concrete steps to deescalate the current tensions in the region and establish long-lasting peace.  The memorandum advocates the reopening of all trade and travel links between the two countries and urges the two nations to sign a No War Pact.  As Girish Agrawal from FOSA pointed out, over 10 million people in India and Pakistan have close relations living in the other country but travel between the two nations is very difficult because of restrictive regulations, and has become almost impossible since all bus, train and airplane services between the two countries have been suspended following the Dec 13th attack on the Indian parliament.

The memorandum also included requests for a permanent dialogue process to be set up between the two governments which would allow them to hold negotiations on all outstanding issues such as that of cross-border terrorism and the self-determination of Kashmiris; and also a plea to reverse the arms race and participate in global nuclear disarmament measures.  "Political leaders in India and Pakistan have been talking of hatred for the last 54 years; what issues has this mantra of hatred resolved?" Cemendtaur asked of the largely South Asian crowd assembled in the plaza, "What has this given us in return besides wars, poverty and suffering?"  He said that Pakistani children are being taught that Indians are some kind of monsters who need to be hated and killed, and a similar process of demonization of the Pakistanis is going on in India.  “By bringing together Indians and Pakistanis, we are fighting this polarization that the two governments are trying to create,” he said.

Other speakers also noted the contrast between prevalent poverty in the two countries on the one hand, and the billions of dollars being spent on state-of-the-art weaponry on the other.  Forty percent of India’s population lives below the poverty line, yet 20 percent of the nation's budget was spent on defense in the year 2000.  "If the disputes are resolved by peaceful means, both India and Pakistan can achieve significant phased cuts in defense expenditure and channel the  much-needed money to the social sector," noted Raman.  This sentiment was echoed by Sabahat Ashraf, a Pakistani writer based in San Jose whose wife is from India.  "We should work together to get rid of poverty, we should strive for human rights, and work really hard so that our people can live in peace and prosper," said Ashraf.

Several of the demonstrators carried home-made signs that carried slogans such as ‘Cowards Make War, the Brave Make Peace’, ‘When Governments go to War, Citizens Die’ and ‘No one wins a Nuclear War.’  In recent days, the ‘nuclear option’ has been verbalized by many policy makers in India and Pakistan even as their armies are lined up eye-ball to eye-ball along the long common border.  Diplomatic relations between the two countries have been scaled back following the recall of the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan by the Indian Government.  India has accused Pakistan of harboring terrorist organizations and has repeatedly spurned all offers for dialogue.  On January 25th, India test-fired its intermediate range nuclear capable missile, Agni II.  Pakistan has also reciprocated its readiness for the madness of nuclear war by deploying massive formations of troops and armaments along its border with India, and shortening the time required to arm its missiles with nuclear warheads to a  mere three hours.

"India and Pakistan are on the brink of war," said Satnam Singh Chahal.  "It is incumbent upon all people who are concerned with India and Pakistan to bear upon the respective governments to step back and rethink their approach."  Added Bhanjan Singh Bhinder, also of the Qaumantri Punjabi Bhaichara Group, “It is easy for [the politicians] to make war, because the people who decide on making war don’t even lose a limb or a toe.  The brunt of suffering is borne by the common people, while the cowards who make these decisions go unscathed.”

The crowd gathered for the rally reflected the ethnic, religious and professional diversity that constitutes the South Asian diaspora in the Bay Area today.  There were taxi-cab drivers and attorneys, high school students and university professors, Silicon Valley professionals and housewives.  Many passers-by and students from nearby Stanford University also joined in, enthusiastically taking up the sloganeering and the singing of songs. Towards the end of the rally, the demonstrators took the procession up and down the length of University Avenue and were greeted by many cheering onlookers who joined in the chants, waved and honked their horns in support.

People at the rally took heart from what a peace activist from Oakland, Kiran Patel said, "If we people from India and Pakistan can enter into arranged marriages with strangers, learning to make a lifetime of love and warmth within it and carrying it down to our children, I’ll be darned if we cannot learn to love one another across the border."




© 2002 - Friends of South Asia (FOSA). Site hosted by ektaonline.org