This is a tribute to peace activists from India and Pakistan for their outstanding work in bridging the international divide between the two countries.
Upon nomination by their colleagues and admirers, the Association for Communal Harmony in Asia (ACHA) has decided to honour Dr. Mohammad Arif, Jatin Desai, Ashfaq Fateh, Faisal Khan, Dilafrose Qazi and Awais Sheikh, all peace and harmony activists from India and Pakistan, with the ACHA Peace Star Award 2010.
They now join the ranks of reputed peace, harmony and human rights personalities from India and Pakistan like Karamat Ali, Sayeeda Diep, Dr Asghar Ali Engineer, B M Kutty, Dr Abdul Hameed Nayyar, Dr Ram Puniyani, Dr Lenin Raghuvanshi and Dr Ingrid Shafer from the United States, who have been honoured with this award in previous years.
Also for his services to ACHA, Sharafat Ali of Karachi has been accepted for the ACHA Award.
The awards are given every two years. The ACHA Peace Star Award is given to individuals (and organisations) that have performed meritorious work in the promotion of peace and communal harmony, while the ACHA Award is meant for individuals (and organisations) that have performed substantial service to ACHA.
These Awards do not have any financial value. They have been set up to recognise some of the unsung peace and harmony heroes and heroines and those who have performed substantial
service to ACHA.
ACHA is a 17-year-old, US-based, non-profit organisation which is dedicated to promoting peace in South Asia, and harmony among South Asians everywhere. More information about ACHA can be found at its two websites: www.asiapeace.org, and www.indiapakistanpeace.org
Brief information about this year’s recipients, in alphabetical order, is as follows:
• Dr. Mohammad Arif hails from Varanasi. Inspired by Gandhian philosophy he abandoned his academic career to promote communal harmony, composite culture, secularism and democratic values.
In this pursuit he has built alliances of Dalits, Tribals and minority groups; organised awareness sessions for the media, and seminars, lectures, conventions, training workshops for peace and harmony workers; and street-plays for the general public; developed training modules; published awareness and training materials; established a library of resource materials to facilitate research on and documentation of sectarian clashes; and has founded the Centre for Harmony and Peace.
Some of his initiatives have helped abort severe conflicts in such communally sensitive areas as Varanasi and have aided capacity building in other areas.
• Jatin Desai of Mumbai has been a devoted community activist ever since his college days. He has persisted in his efforts in spite of trumped-up charges of attempted murder and armed robbery brought against him by his opponents.
He has organised Tribals in Maharashtra to help them fight for their land, forest and water rights; Dalits for their right to draw water from the community well; and his fellow journalists to struggle for better wages as well as resistance against curbs on their freedom of expression, threatened by certain fascist organisations. He worked for the restoration of peace during the 1992-93 Mumbai communal riots and bomb-blasts and helped mobilise secular forces during the Gujarat genocide of 2002.
For the last 10 years he has been active in the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), and has visited Pakistan many times, in this regard. To help promote people-to-people contacts and enduring friendship between India and Pakistan, he has organised many meetings in Mumbai and Delhi. Also in 2007, he organised a bicycle march from Mumbai to Pakistan, and helped organise an India-Pakistan conference “A Road Map toward Peace” in Delhi, earlier this year.
Besides, he has been working with other peace activists on developing a mechanism through which fishermen, arrested by the two governments, upon accidentally drifting across the maritime boundary between India and Pakistan, do not have to languish in foreign jails, even after they have completed their terms.
Finally, he has been active in the anti-nuclear movement; is associated with the Gandhian organisation, Mumbai Sarvodaya Mandal; and at least once a week is interviewed on various TV channels on issues like Indo-Pak relations, human rights, and freedom of expression. He has been honoured with the Ram Bapat award for promoting peace and social justice through his writings.
• Since 1992, Ashfaq Fateh of Toba Tek Singh has been engaged in efforts to bring together Muslims and Christians of his area to work on such issues as the rights of minorities in Pakistan, the restoration of the joint electorate system, the abolition of the religion column on the national identity card, and the amendment of the discriminatory blasphemy laws in the Pakistan Penal Code.
In his capacity as chairperson for the Harmony Foundation, he has inspired programmes in government schools to promote peace, to discourage gender discrimination, and to do away with hatred on the basis of religion.
As principal of a high school, for the last several years he has organised activities for students, from his and other area schools, to create awareness of issues related to human rights, conflict resolution, peace, and communal harmony. Starting in 2005, for five years, he served as coordinator for the programmes of the International Young Catholic Student designed to promote peace and harmony.
To promote peace between the two neighbours, he participated in a peace mission to India in August 1998, just after both countries had conducted nuclear tests. Since then he has made several peace visits to India and has welcomed Indian peace activists in Pakistan. He has worked on petitions to ease travel between the two nations.
Earlier this year, on 25 June, under the auspices of Aman Ki Asha, a joint venture of The Times of India and Jang Group of Publication, he led a group of young students to the Indo-Pak Border at Wagah, where they exchanged peace messages on kerchiefs with their Indian counterparts, to mark the passing of the 2010 Queen’s Commonwealth Games baton torch to the other side.
He has served as the national convener of the Bangladesh-Bharat Pakistan Peoples Forum, national coordinator for Friends of the United Nations, country representative for Peaceful Schools International, and country head of Peace Pal International. He has even dedicated his home as Indo-Pak Peace house. He is leading efforts in his area, under the auspices of the Ravi Foundation, to organise the feeding of over 4,000 flood-affected animals.
• A lawyer by professional training, Faisal Khan of New Delhi is a key member of Asha Parivar and National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM) and is responsible for organising and the coordinating their programmes in the states of Gujarat, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, and those in north-eastern India.
He has organised several peace marches and has fasted to draw people’s attention to the victims of communal and gender violence, state repression or skewed development in India. He has led goodwill missions at the recent Kumbha Mela and Ajmer Sharif Urs, where he and his colleagues discussed with groups of pilgrims the importance and ways of maintaining communal harmony.
In 2006, he led a peace delegation to the Kashmir Valley, where he and his colleagues discussed with the common people and political leaders the issues confronting them and the way to confront them. Also he has actively campaigned for peace between India and Pakistan and organised peace marches from India to Pakistan.
• Even in the face of attempts on her life – bullets of the military as well as militants – Dilafrose Qazi has persisted in single-handedly trying to empower women in the conflict-ridden state of Jammu and Kashmir.
In pursuit of this goal, she has established schools for girls, an engineering and technology college as well as embroidery c1asses for women, camps for the medical and psychological treatment of women battered by the daily violence going around them, a dairy farm for rape victims, and rehabilitation programmes for militancy-hit families.
At times, she was ordered to close some of her institutions by militants and religious zealots, and at one time her refusal to act upon such diktats led to the kidnapping of her father, brothers, and husband.
Concerned about the future of young people growing up in Kashmir and in migrant camps in and outside the state, she has endeavoured for Hindu-Muslim amity. She could have lived a comfortable life elsewhere, but she continues to live in Srinagar.
• Awais Sheikh is President of Pakistan-India Peace Initiatives. Just after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, he organised a peace demonstration at the Lahore Press Club, and helped organise as well as participated in a peace march at Amritsar.
He has authored Samjhota Express, a book about peace and friendship between India and Pakistan, which has been translated in Hindi and Punjabi. As a Punjab High Court Advocate, he is representing Sarabjit Singh, an Indian convicted of spying, currently held in Lahore Central Jail.
For his services he was designated Ambassador for Peace in 2007. Also he is the only Pakistani who has twice been honoured by the Bharatiya Dalit Sahitya Academy with the Dr. Ambedkar International Award.