India’s ‘peace walkers’ walk a bumpy road to Pakistan for peace

CARACHI: At a time when rivalries between longtime rivals Pakistan and India are heated, S. Nitin, an Indian ‘peace walker’, insists his small initiative can still make a difference.

Known as “Gandhi’s Peace Walker”, Nitin, along with two colleagues, is currently visiting Pakistan to participate in various peace rallies in Karachi and Lahore.

“We know the reality on the ground that tensions between the two countries are at an all-time high. But this is the time when peace lovers from both sides must work for peace between Pakistan and India,” said Nitin, who calls himself a follower of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Mahatma Gandhi. Anadolu Agency.

Gandhi, a leading figure in South Asian politics and an icon of freedom in India, was assassinated in 1948 by Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse, who apparently took issue with his stance against the communal riots that rocked India after partition in 1947.

“We carry Gandhi’s legacy of non-violence, which is the need of the hour,” said Nitin, who has stopped using his caste as a middle name. According to him, using caste as a middle name is tantamount to reflecting “a form of discrimination”.

Calling for an “immediate” resumption of long-stalled peace talks between New Delhi and Islamabad, he said violence and wars are not a solution to disputes.

“Both sides have no other choice. Dialogue is the only option because wars have failed to solve the problems,” said Nitin, 31, an engineer by profession, who has traveled 46,000 kilometers (28,583 miles) on foot in 46 countries since 2016, carrying a “message of love”.

Relations between the two South Asian neighbors deteriorated further in August 2019 when New Delhi stripped the occupied Jammu and Kashmir Valley of its long-standing semi-autonomous status.

The controversial decision immediately prompted Islamabad to downgrade diplomatic relations and suspend trade with New Delhi.

Since then, the two neighbors have not missed an opportunity to denounce each other in international and regional forums.

A February 2021 treaty that ended almost daily clashes along the Line of Control (LoC) – the de facto border that divides the scenic territory of Jammu and Kashmir between the two nations – was the only positive development in terms of relationships.

Over the years, dozens of soldiers and civilians on both sides have been killed, while dozens have been injured in the fighting, which has taken its toll on residents of border areas.

“Our goal is to bring people together”

“It is high time for both governments to reduce their military spending and spend more on health, education and infrastructure to reduce the crushing poverty,” Nitin insisted.

The two countries, he added, face a series of common challenges, ranging from poverty to climate change, which they must tackle together.

Vishwamitra Yogesh, another Indian peace walker, said the main purpose of the visit was to bring people from both sides together.

“Person-to-person contact is the best way to move towards peace. It will eventually put pressure on both governments to follow suit,” said Yogesh, 65, who has traveled 17,000 kilometers (10,563 miles) across eight countries to “spread the love” since 2014.

Talk to Anadolu Agencyhe said visiting Pakistan was his “longtime dream”, which has now come true.

Sharing a similar view, Jalandharnath Bhai, the third member of the visiting team, said the peace march is supported by peace-loving people and organizations from both countries, and “we are grateful for that.” .

Bhai, the junior member of the team, crossed three countries singing the song “Jai Jagat”, which means “victory for all”.

“Incredible” response from locals

The trio entered Pakistan through the northeastern border of Wagha, which connects Pakistan’s and India’s Punjab provinces, and will remain in Pakistan until August 14.

Apparently, due to a strict visa regime between the two countries, they only got visas for three cities – Karachi, Lahore and Shikarpur.

“We would like to be able to walk across Pakistan like we have in other countries, but due to visa restrictions we cannot. We will just participate in peace marches in the city,” Nitin said.

The Pakistanis’ response to their march has been “incredible”, he said.

“Pakistan is a totally different country from how it is depicted in the Indian media. We have been received with open arms and hearts everywhere we have gone so far,” he added.

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