Indians and Pakistanis Unite for Peace and Justice
By Girish Agarwal, et al.
Pictures above and below: Pakistani and Indian Americans participating in a peace rally in San Francisco
On a cold, 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 Defense 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 interest to stoke passions.
Brian Malovany, a local Jewish activist who has worked on issues of peace and justice in Israel and 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, an Indian American who grew up in Mumbai, spoke about how the demolition of the Babri Mosque 16 years ago tore apart the social fabric of the multi-religious community in Mumbai and resulted in people of different communities viewing each other with suspicion and fear for the first time. He talked about the alienation caused by poverty and communal discord, which in turn resulted in people being lured by violent ideologies. He talked about the need to address this alienation at its roots - by providing education, development and justice.
The evening concluded with the lighting of candles; and the reading of poetry and songs in various South Asian languages, all speaking of 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 made possible by a broad coalition of organizations, representing a diversity of communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, including South Asian American groups such as Friends of South Asia and Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, Jewish Voice for Peace (San Franciso/East Bay and South Bay chapters), which works for peace, justice and human rights in Israel and Palestine, Pakistani American community groups such as Pakistan American Cultural Center, Pakistan Science and Engineering Foundation, Pakistani Tehreek-i-Insaf; student groups such as the Association of South Asian Political Activists (UC Berkeley); relief organizations such as Indian Muslim Relief and Charities and South Asia Disaster Relief Coordinators; and local peace/anti-war groups such as South Bay Mobilization and the San Jose Peace and Justice Center, among others.