On the eve of 75th independence anniversary, peace pilgrims from Pune bring message of love to Pakistan

By Beena Sarwar and Priyanka Singh

un ka jo farz hai wo ahl-e-siyasat jaanen
mera paigham mohabbat hai jahan tak pahunche 

Let politicians do what they think they must
My message is that of love, let it reach where it can – Jigar Moradabadi

On a muggy Friday afternoon three weeks ago, three men from Pune walked across Wagah border into Lahore. They carried little baggage but a big dream. In Pakistan for the first time, they are on a historic pad yatra, or pilgrimage on foot, for peace — at least in the three cities they have visas for, Karachi, Shikarpur and Lahore. In each city, they have interacted with members of the public on the streets, as well as at meetings with groups like Rotarians, journalists, and students. The last such initiative was a quarter century ago, in August 2007, led by late Indian activist Nirmala Deshpande, or ‘Didi’ (sister) as activists across the region lovingly called her. 

Joint celebrations

On Sunday 14 August, the pad yatrees will celebrate Pakistan’s Independence day at Wagah border, then return to India to celebrate their own nation’s independence day. They will participate in peace events in Amritsar, meeting up with the Aaghaz-e-Dosti (Start of Friendship) youth group from Delhi. All the marchers will return to the Attari-Wagah border after sunset to light candles in solidarity with activists in Pakistan. This is part of a long tradition of celebrating the two countries’ independence days together, started by activists like the late Dr Mubashir Hasan, Nirmala Deshpande, Asma Jahangir, Kuldip Nayar, and others. 

Peace groups on either side have been doing this for a couple of decades now, even as administrations in both countries try to prevent them.  Former ambassador of India to Pakistan Mani Shankar Aiyar and his “Group of Indian Friends of Pakistan” comprising over a dozen prominent writers, former diplomats, and activists also wanted to be in Pakistan “in the forenoon of 14 August to felicitate Pakistan on the 75th anniversary of its Independence and double back to be in Delhi for celebrations of our own 75th anniversary of Independence on 15 August” (Mani Shankar Aiyar, email, 28 July 2022). 

At the last minute, the visa authorisation didn’t come through.

The food of love

Meanwhile, meet Yogesh Mathuria, also known as VishwaMitra Yogesh, Nitin S. who does not use his caste name, and Jalandarnath Channole. Hailing from the state of Maharashtra, their friends and family had tried to dissuade them from going to the ‘enemy country’.  Meeting people in Pakistan who speak the same language and look like people back home in India was then a rather pleasant experience for them. 

The overwhelming love and hospitality they experienced in Pakistan has exceeded all expectations, they said, speaking at an online meeting of the Southasia Peace Action Network, or Sapan on Sunday, 31 July.  They were then in Shikarpur, a small town in Sindh, invited by Dr Amir Soomro, a physician, an “old friend” of Yogesh. Dr Soomro had visited Mumbai in 2014 and stayed with Yogesh after being introduced by a mutual friend with roots in Sindh. He is the only person in Pakistan any of them had met prior to their visit. The pad yatrees are bound by their love for walking, and for Nirmala Didi and Mahatma Gandhi, they said in response to a question from the Sapan meeting chair, feminist activist Khushi Kabir, a Sapan founding member in Dhaka.

Another binding factor is music. The song they sing on their travels is led by Channole, a statue maker who has lived in the Gandhi Ashram at Sevagram, Maharashtra, for over 30 years. He draws crowds on the streets with his tambourine and music. The lyrics include phrases like:

prem hi pukar ho – let love be the only slogan
sab ko sab se pyar ho – let everyone love everyone
nafrat choRo dunya joRo – stop hate, bring the world together

The refrain is “Jai jagat” — victory to the universe…

Haroon: Ibtada-e-Ishq hai rota hai kya / Aage Aaage dekhiye hota hai kya

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