'Women playing vital role in Indo-Pak peace'

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New Delhi, Dec 21: Women have played a ''significant role'' in the Indo-Pak peace process that has reached an irreversible stage, according to a just-published book.

Women in the two neighbouring countries continue to contribute to the peace - building efforts despite the hostile and indifferent attitude of the two governments towards them, says the book, titled ''Women: Building Peace Between India and Pakistan.'' ''Today, the peace movement in India and Pakistan is at a stage that no government will find it easy to roll back. But it has been a long and slow process, pushed back ever so often by hurdles...Women have played a significant role in this,'' it says.

The 245-page book, which is the result of a workshop held in Montreal, Canada, on the subject, details women's role in the efforts to normalise relations between India and Pakistan since 1979. The workshop had been supported by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Their role had its high point when 41 women boarded the Delhi-Lahore ''peace bus'' in March 2000. ''The peace bus was a moment of high visibility that thrust a contrast to the war hysteria into the popular arena, building on the tarnished bus diplomacy of (Prime Minister Atal Bihari) Vajpayee's National Democratic Alliance led government,'' the book by Shree Mulay and Jackie Kirk said.

It had come ''amidst the intense rivalry and demonization of the enemy country being propagated and perpetuated by both the state governments.'' Through the escalating tension during the 1998 nuclear tests, the 1999 Kargil conflict and the exchange of nuclear threats in the summer of 2001, women and other peace activists had ''tenaciously held onto their peace efforts.'' They had held informal talks, reached out across mental and state borders, mobilised against war, nuclearisation and militarisation and linked peace with wider issues of access to natural resources and livelihoods, food security, secularism and dmocratisation, the book said.

''In March 2000, militant nationalism, anti-India/anti-Pakistan sentiments had reached a peak and any dissent risked being branded as treason; 41 women boarded a bus from Delhi, bound for Lahore. These women were from all walks of life, some of them with roots in Pakistan. ''The peace bus was greeted in Lahore by thousands of women holding candles. Later, 64 women from Pakistan visited India.

Rejecting the walls of hatred that were being created by the governments of the countries, women's groups declared 'Hum sarhad par dewaar nahin, us dewar par padi daraar hai (We are not the wall that demarcates the border but rather the crack in the wall).

''In their interactions, women clearly defined their vision of peace,'' it said.

Such an initiative was not a sporadic event but had evolved out of the formation of Women's Initiative for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA) when guns were still booming in Kargil.

Disturbed by the atmosphere of high pitched war cries, of television images of smoking guns and body bags, a few women from both sides joined the struggle for peace by holding candlelight vigils, demonstrating against their governments, and mobilising for the peace bus.

Their demand was 'peace for empowerment and empowerment for peace.' Similarly, in Baluchistan, women activists took the lead in protesting against the nuclear tests in Changai hills of the province, linking it with regional discrimination and the denial of democratic rights, the book recalls.

Besides these visible efforts, women have been active in myriad peace initiatives between India and Pakistan. The South Asian Women's Forum, formed in 1979, represented one of the earliest of such initiatives, it says.

Since then, several delegations of women from diverse backgrounds have crossed the border to unite on common issues and platforms.

They include women NGOs, writers, activists, academics, students, film-makers, workers and peasants, the book points out.

Women have also mobilised in large nmbers along with other civil society groups and activists to support people-to-people inititives, like the Pakistan-India Peoples' Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), Pakistan Peace Coalition, and the South Asia People's Action Network, the book says.


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