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Journey of Peace: Kolkata to Dhaka from 14-20th May, 2003

On May 14,2003 34 women boarded a Bus of Peace from Kolkota to Dhaka under the auspices of the Women's Initiative for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA).

With a deep sense that we need to come closer to our neighbours with whom we share so much history and culture, we undertook this small step just as in 2000 we embarked on the Bus of Peace from Delhi to Lahore. We feel that we are writing a new destiny for the ordinary people like ourselves. It gives us what Tagore calls a sense of mukti and a sense of identification with every particle and blade of our two lands.

These 34 women came from different parts of India -- from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu. Among them were journalists, artists, filmmakers, writers, academics, peace and human rights activists, women's rights activists, and students. One was a former Member of Parliament.

The mission was to articulate women's common understanding and aspirations in Bangladesh and India for peace and security in the region. It was to establish that women have had the highest stakes in peace and the time has come for women of south Asia to lead their respective governments and societies towards not only a conflict free region, but a haven of peace. This mission was preceded in March 2000 by a Women's Peace Bus from Delhi to Lahore right after the Kargil war. Two Women's Peace Buses returned with Pakistani women from Lahore to Delhi in April 2000.

In accordance with WIPSA's philosophy 1he mission was self-funded -- Indian women traveled at their own expense and were hosted by Bangladeshi women who pooled their hospitality and opened their homes to the visitors.

When the Peace Bus entered Bangladesh, the WIPSA members were received at the Benapole border by members of Banchte Shekha, Bangladesh National Women's Lawyers Association and Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights. In Dhaka they were received at Kamlapur Station by a large number of host organizations and members of the press.

While in Bangladesh, the Indian women interacted with grass roots women members of Doorbar, a network of 450 organizations from 64 districts. In smaller groups they visited NGOs working with grass roots women and men, such as Gono Shasthya Kendra, Nijera Kori, BRAC, Proshika, Hunger Project and Research Initiatives Bangladesh (RIB). They met several government ministers and officials, leaders of political parties including the Bangladesh Awami League.

Several occasions were arranged for meetings with artists and writers. A special art exhibition PEACE SONG showcased the paintings of 28 women artists of Bangladesh on the theme of peace. A photographic exhibition displaying women in struggle since the beginning of the language movement in 1952 was arranged by Sammi1ito Nari Samaj. The WIPSA members visited the Shriti Shoudho at Savar and paid their respects to the martyrs of the War of Liberation. They met trade unionists and women workers courtesy of Kormojibi Nari. An evening of music and dance was arranged at the Mahila Samiti.

A lively discussion meeting with students and teachers at Dhaka University was hosted by the Centres for Peace and Conflict and Women's Studies. They also attended programmes arranged by Bangladesh Mohila Porishod, Bangladesh Women Lawyers Association, Nari Grontho Probortona, Sangat and Nari Pokkho. They were also able to see the Museum of the War of Liberation and to attend a reception for members of the civil society.

At the end of five days of intense interaction, we, members of WIPSA, would like to affirm a common commitment that:

  • We are against violence which is perpetuated as a mean.s of resolving disputes in the family, the community and between countries;

  • We are opposed to war in the region or in any part of the world. We condemn the indiscriminate bombing of Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the continuing aggression in Palestine. We want a nuclear free South Asia and a nuclear free world for ourselves and the future generations. We demand an immediate end to production of weapons of mass destruction by all countries;

  • Wars are perpetrated in the name of security of the people; as citizens of South Asian countries we say NO TO WARS;

  • We believe that movement of people's across borders, especially in South Asia needs to be addressed with human understanding of economic and livelihood compulsions. The governments of Bangladesh and India must find rational solutions based on international human rights standards to the cross border movements of people rather than resorting to witch hunts and forced "push back" and "push ins". In this context both governments must resolve the conundrum of why movement of capital is unfettered and labour is restricted;

We would further like to state that

  • We are opposed to all forms of fundamentalisms because they tend to destroy freedom of thought and choice and inculcate fear and hatred in society;

  • South Asia's rich tradition of pluralism and tolerance is being destroyed by the communalization of politics; it inculcates hatred for the "other", it has marginalized and discriminated against minorities and perpetrated violence particularly against women. This practice has divided communities and its violence has reached into our private space.

This journey to Bangladesh is neither the beginning nor the end. Similar journeys will continue back and for the between our two countries as well as in all countries of South Asia to create solidarity for a peaceful resolution of all our problems, for a future of friendship amongst all communities.

To translate our dreams into a living reality we press for the following concrete actions:

  • that all governments in South Asia reduce their defence budgets;

  • that our governments liberalize the visa regimes to allow for greater people to people contacts;

  • that governments make SAARC into a viable and living reality to benefit the people in the region;

  • that both governments and civil society promote exchange visits by students, professionals, workers, artists, political leaders for greater understanding;

  • that both governments and civil society encourage dissemination of information and knowledge of each others' societies through the media -- print and electronic -- and in school and college curriculums;

  • that both government and civil society adopt strong measures in the public and private sphere for tolerance and respect for all.

The growing movement for peace in the region is exemplified by the enormous support this initiative has received from government and non government organizations, women's groups and many other institutions and individuals in Bangladesh. Our historical roots will be strengthened by the friendships we have formed and the common understanding, which has evolved during these few days in our journey for peace.

"We don't want walls of hatred
We want open skies of friendship"

Ms. Nirmala Desh Pande     Dr. V. Mohini Giri
Dr. Syeda Hameed     Ms. Padma Seth
Ms. Kamla Bhasin     Ms. Meera Khanna

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