13/08/2016 2:43 PM IST | Updated 13/08/2016 4:04 PM IST

A Gandhi-Edhi Plea For India-Pakistan Peace On 70th Independence Day


'In the dark times/Will there also be singing?

Yes, there will also be singing/About the dark times.'

These soul-stirring lines were written by Bertolt Brecht, the great German anti-Nazi poet and playwright, at a time when the dark clouds of the Second World War had started to hover over the European sky.

The sky over India and Pakistan is not exactly being covered with war clouds. Nevertheless, it is getting alarmingly darkened by the war of hostile words spoken by the hawkish leaders and hyper-nationalist citizens of the two countries. Never quite sunny, the political and diplomatic atmosphere between the two South Asian neighbours has suddenly become very gloomy.

So, should we be singing in these dark times? Yes, we should be singing about these and earlier dark times. And, yes, we should also be singing about the absolute imperative of peace between India and Pakistan.

A good occasion to sing, speak and write about peace is the 70th Independence Days of our two countries – August 14 (Pakistan) and August 15 (India).

A good occasion to sing, speak and write about peace is the 70th Independence Days of our two countries – August 14 (Pakistan) and August 15 (India).

These two days are celebrated with joy and pride in both countries. But how should we celebrate them? By letting war mongers on both sides set the agenda? By Pakistanis glorifying terrorists as freedom fighters in Kashmir? By Indians calling for freedom for Balochistan? By forgetting the communal bloodbath that accompanied the birth of India and Pakistan as separate and free nations? By turning a blind eye to communalists and religious extremists on both sides who spread poisonous feelings of prejudice and enmity between our two countries?

No. The right way to celebrate 14-15 August in 2016 would be to rediscover and reaffirm our shared past – also our shared future. After all, we belong to the same South Asian Indo-Muslim civilisational family. Before the division of British India in August 1947, we were one people, with all the religio-socio-cultural diversity that continues to characterise both India and (sadly, to a lesser extent) Pakistan even today. India and Pakistan became independent and sovereign nations seventy years ago. But why should they remain enemies of each other? In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who remained opposed to India's partition on the basis of the spurious and toxic Two-Nation Theory till the very end, "The division of geography has made India and Pakistan into two separate nations. But why should there be division of the hearts and minds of Indians and Pakistanis?"

Sudheendra Kulkarni
A poster for the initiative.

So, echoing Brecht's (modified) words, why should we not sing about peace and friendship between India and Pakistan in these dark times? Incidentally, August 14 marks the 60th death anniversary of Brecht, whose poems and plays continue to inspire peace activists around the world.

It is for the purpose of appealing for 'aman' (peace) and amity between India and Pakistan that a few non-political organisations on both sides of the border have launched an initiative called the 'Gandhi-Edhi Campaign'. It celebrates the lives, and seeks to popularise the messages, of two great personalities – Mahatma Gandhi and Abdul Sattar Edhi, one of the world's greatest humanitarians who passed away in Karachi on July 8 this year. Both were global citizens, even though Gandhiji is recognised as an Indian and Edhi as a Pakistani. (Actually, Edhi had Indian roots; he was born in 1924 in a village called Batwa in Gujarat, and migrated to Karachi in 1947.)

There were two main reasons behind launching this campaign in the name of Gandhi and Edhi. First, without in any way trying to put them on an equal footing (the Mahatma certainly occupies a distinctive place in the history of humanity), we wanted to use and 'Indian' icon and a 'Pakistani' icon to convey a message of a joint India-Pakistan people's initiative to promote peace.

Both Mahatma Gandhi and Edhi were servants of humanity. They devoted their lives to serving the poor and the needy, without any discrimination on the grounds of religion, caste, ethnicity, nationality, colour or gender.

Second, both Mahatma Gandhi and Edhi were servants of humanity. They devoted their lives to serving the poor and the needy, without any discrimination on the grounds of religion, caste, ethnicity, nationality, colour or gender. A commendable case in point is the Karachi-based Edhi Foundation providing shelter for over a decade to Geeta, the deaf and mute Indian girl who returned to India last year after being stranded in Pakistan for 13 years. "Edhi Saheb loved me like a father and used to take very good care of me," Geeta said, through sign language, when she came to know about her benefactor's demise.

As far as Gandhiji is concerned, he attached more importance to his Constructive Programme (removal of untouchability, serving the sick, eradication of leprosy, teaching children through a new system of education, campaign, empowerment of women, promoting cleanliness and sanitation, etc.) than to his political activities.

Hence, the Gandhi-Edhi campaign sought to highlight their common message that the true meaning of patriotism (in India as well as in Pakistan) is commitment to humanism – specifically, peace among nations and communities, and compassion and care towards those in suffering and need.

Sudheendra Kulkarni
Children from a madarsa in Kurla, Mumbai attend the launch of the Gandhi-Edhi campaign.

The Gandhi-Edhi Campaign held an all-religion meeting in Mumbai last month to mourn the death of Edhi. Swami Sarvalokananda, president of the Ramakrishna Mission in Mumbai; Bhante Tejinto, a Buddhist Monk; TRK Somaiya, president of the Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal; Dr Zaheer Kazi, president of Anjuman-I-Islam; Naushad Ali, president, Kalidas-Ghalib Cultural Foundation; Dr Zeenat Shaukat Ali, eminent Islamic scholar; Maulana Shafiq, president, Minhaj-ul-Quran, Maharashtra; and I spoke on the occasion.

We showed video messages from several distinguished Pakistanis – among them, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy a globally renowned Pakistani filmmaker who has won two Academy Awards for her documentaries; Ali Zafar, a popular Pakistani actor, singer and musician; Sana Mir, captain of Pakistan's women's cricket team; and prominent lawyer and activist Jibran Nasir. We also received messages from Gautam Bambawale, India's high commissioner in Pakistan, and Abdul Basit, Pakistan's high commissioner in India.

The function was organised by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) Mumbai, with which I am associated. Our public policy think tank has been engaged in varied activities aimed at contributing to peaceful, friendly and good-neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan. Our latest initiative is the establishment of the Mumbai Karachi Friendship Forum, which seeks to revive the rich shared history between the two Gateway Cities of India and Pakistan. There exists much scope, also a pressing need, to strengthen the common cultural lineage, social bonds and potential business cooperation between the two cities.

The Gandhi-Edhi campaign held another public meeting in Mumbai on August 13 on the eve of the Independence Days of India and Pakistan. We took a pledge on the occasion, which read:

We, the People of Mumbai and Proud Citizens of India,

united by the unbreakable bonds of our shared civilizational and cultural heritage with all our neighbours in South Asia, take the following pledge as we joyously celebrate our motherland's 70th Independence Day.

  • We shall strengthen communal harmony, national unity and integration; and safeguard secularism, social justice, gender justice, economic justice and other basic ideals of the Indian Constitution;
  • We gratefully salute all the martyrs and heroes of the freedom struggles in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other SAARC countries, and work for the realisation of their noble dreams, firm in our conviction that the destinies of all the South Asian countries are intertwined.
  • We shall re-dedicate ourselves to service of humanity, in the best traditions of Mahatma Gandhi, Abdul Sattar Edhi and others who embodied the common principle of all religions that serving the poor and the needy is the highest form of worshipping God.
  • We call for peace, normal and good-neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan, and among all the countries in South Asia.
  • We call for the elimination of terrorism and religious extremism from the sacred soil of India and Pakistan -- and the rest of South Asia -- affirming that nonviolent acts of love, compassion and humanitarian service without any discrimination are the best ways to defeat hate and violence.
  • We urge the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan to immediately resume bilateral talks on all outstanding issues, with a result-oriented focus on ending terrorism; finding a just, peaceful and lasting solution to the Kashmir problem; reversing the costly arms race so that scarce resources are used for meeting the needs of the common people in both countries; and removing all hurdles in people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges.
  • We urge the governments of India and Pakistan to take the lead in, and work closely with other governments in South Asia for, making the forthcoming SAARC Summit in Islamabad a big success, thereby opening a new era of all-round and accelerated cooperation for prosperity and progress of all the people in the entire South Asian region.

We pledge to continue this campaign through 2016 and beyond.

* * *

In November this year, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) will hold its summit in Islamabad. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend it. However, if the dark clouds of verbal war between India and Pakistan persist, the SAARC Summit will become a fiasco. The entire South Asia will be a loser. Therefore, on 14-15 August, the people of India and Pakistan should urge their respective governments and prime ministers to resume constructive and comprehensive dialogue at the earliest. Indeed, India, as the natural leader of South Asia, and Pakistan as the host of the SAARC Summit, should make special efforts to ensure that the Islamabad summit becomes a success.

Let us together create a future worthy of our civilisational past, so that the people of India and Pakistan (along with our regional neighbours) can sing: "Saare jahan se acchha, South Asia hamara"!