Monday, March 24, 2014

Pakistan India Friendship Forum

Joe Kalathil SJ

I went to Lahore, Pakistan, in November, 2012. The purpose of my visit was to establish people to people contact between Indians and Pakistanis. The first step was to help both the people of India and Pakistan to abandon the ‘inimical attitude’ they have for one another and start thinking of building bridges not walls between them. This people to people contact was initiated through the senior school students. I took with me 35 letters from 35 Indian students, addressed to ‘unknown friends of Pakistan. In Pakistan I spoke to the students of five schools in Lahore and brought back 92 letters for their Indian friends! A beautiful miracle! Not only students, the teachers also joined in this movement. Some of the trade union activists from Lahore also extended their co-operation for this movement. The positive response I received from the people of Pakistan to this plan was much beyond my expectations.

Again this year I went to Pakistan on 18th of October and returned on 12th of November, 2013.  The response this year was far better than last year’s response. Many more people and organizations showed keen interest in being part of this peace promotion. During the stay of 25 days in Lahore, I visited 8 schools and addressed over 2500 senior students about the urgent need of having and promoting ‘peace’. Practically all the students showed much enthusiasm to become agents of peace by promoting peace at home, in the schools, with friends and in the surroundings. This year I received 250 letters to be delivered to the Indian students who they would like to be their friends. Many also expressed their desire to visit India. Many of them have expressed in their letters their great appreciation for India.
I participated in a number of meetings organised by peace lovers. One of such meetings was that of over 60 ‘non-violent communicators’ who expressed their support to Pakistan – India Friendship Forum. The Magis Group (A Catholic Youth Group directed by Jesuits) of over 40 young men and women and to around twenty seminarians to whom I spoke about the Pakistan – India Friendship Forum too are keen to find ways to live in peace with one another. They showed much interest in this movement and asked in what way they could help this movement. They assured me of their prayers for the success of this movement. Over 12 Christian Agents of Peace (CAP) came together to reflect on the need of promoting peace and harmony. Many of them expressed that the need of strengthening good friendly relationship with India. They also formed a committee to strengthen this work.

Since my visa was for ‘Lahore only’ I did not go out of Lahore though people in Gujjranwala wanted me to visit them. Gujjranwala is city about 60 kilometres away from Lahore. Around twenty-five Christian Agents of peace from Gujjranwala came over to Loyola Hall, Lahore for a meeting with me. Most of them are young people well educated and also studying in the colleges. It was very encouraging to see that they were all very
much interested to take this movement ahead to strengthen the relationship between India and Pakistan. They promised that they would work for promoting peace and will also initiate this movement in Gujjranwala also.

In another meeting for lawyers, they in one voice said that attack on a minority Christian, Hindu and Sikh community will not be of any benefit to Pakistan. Peace is the only way for the development and welfare of the people in Pakistan. They also expressed in various ways that building peace and friendship with India will help Pakistan to make good progress. They promised to do everything possible within their limit to establish and promote peace.

Sr Sabina Rifat runs a women’s empowerment programme in Lahore where 30 young unemployed women were given training in stitching and embroidery in one of the slums of Lahore. It was very encouraging to visit them and to speak to them about the need of promoting peace and harmony. Some of the young educated Muslim women take very active participation in this programme. The commitment of Sr.Sabina Rifat is very exemplary and commendable. I went to Joseph’s colony with Sr Sabina.  Joseph’s Colony is situated in the steel hub of the industrial belt on the other end of Lahore. One has to go through the old city of Lahore to reach Joseph’s Colony. Roads were congested and crowded. Nearly 178 Christian homes were all burnt completely. People lost all their belongings. The assailants threw chemicals on the roof and the walls of the buildings and set them all on fire. Though the reason for such a destructive deed was blasphemy, behind it all seems to be greediness of the industrialists to scare the residents of the colony and chase them out so that they could acquire the land, over 25 acres of very precious land! However, though the people lost everything, they refused to leave and vacate the place. As soon as the fire was put off, they came back and occupied the houses. Apparently the small Catholic Church situated in the colony was repaired well and the Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan inaugurated it, placing a big marble stone on the wall declaring that it was rehabilitated by the CM. The colony consisted of Catholics who form the majority and a few families of Seventh Day Adventists.
Sr.Arsene Yacub took me to the office of Pak-India Peace Forum. They have been working on this for the past 20 years. This year they are having celebrations of 20 years service of Peace between India and Pakistan. They too were very happy to welcome me.

The Dominican Fathers have a ‘peace centre’ rather well established in Lahore. Fr.James Channan, the Director of the Centre took me there to show me the Centre. I also spoke to the community about the work of Pakistan and India Friendship Forum. They too are doing dialogue and peace building in Lahore in a higher circle.

There are several groups who are interested in building peace between India and Pakistan. Many of them are actively involved in this work; many others would welcome such a movement and support it directly or at least indirectly through prayer and so on, though they may not play a very active role for fear of the extremists. They all say that they all want peace and peace and friendship between India and Pakistan to be established. One of the concrete plans which have been proposed was to organize two human chains: One from Pakistan and the other from India and both come together at the international border to form one human chain on the International Day of Peace, on 21st September, 2014. The Lawyers of Lahore have promised their full support and co-operation to make this a great success. In general my visit to Pakistan was very fruitful and fulfilling. I believe peace is possible. People are peace-capable. ‘They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. One nation shall not raise sword against another, nor shall they train for war again’ (Isaiah 2: 3-5). 

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