Bringing an End to Grief: South Asian Women Organize for Peace: Women's Initiative for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA)
by Women's Iniative for Peace in South Asia
The Guild of Service, a group working to help widows in India, has
created a new organization dedicated to bringing peace to Southern
Asia. War is one of the major causes of widowhood. The continuing
escalation of hostilities now including nuclear capability between India
and Pakistan, has moved women in India and Pakistan to work together and
create a new movement for peace in this area of the world.
Although women do not have official political power in India and
Pakistan, these women are drawing on their own resources to create the
seeds of peace in their own countries. By forming the Women's Initiative
for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA) they have begun a fast growing movement.
As part of their initiative they are having meetings between Pakistani
and Indian women, and putting programs of exchange visits between
students. Grief and Renewal is proud to post the following description
of WIPSA's origins, actions, and goals as it was sent to us from India.
Ed. Grief and Renewal.com
WOMEN'S INITIATIVE FOR PEACE IN SOUTH ASIA
As presented by WIPSA
A bloody partition, fifty three years of hostilities, three wars and
innumerable border skirmishes between India and Pakistan were
occurrences which people of both countries had learnt to bear with
patience in the hope that the next year or next month will bring this
nightmare to an end. But the nuclearization of both counties, each
claiming to have outdone the other, has brought this proverbial patience
to an end. The realization has taken root that in this game of
one-upmanship between both governments, the people have been forgotten.
Inexorable fact such as, it is people who make countries, people who
chalk destinies and people who install governments have become embedded
in the popular imagination. Centrality of people can never be overlooked
or undermined; people are at the heart of decisions concerning the
countries which they represent. Consequently, the argument that
political decisions should be detached from public sentiment is flawed
logic that needs to be expunged.
It is for this reason that today, civil society in general and women in
particular, are demanding a space for intervention in the process of
normalization of the relationship between Indi and Pakistan. No war, no
bloodshed and peace at the borders in the first demand. Next, as
commitment by both governments that the nuclear button will not be
pressed, not now, not ever. Finally an assurance by all governments
that South Asia, indeed, the entire world will become nuclear free. The
situation in both countries has thus undergone a sea change. No longer
are people willing to be mute witness to their futures being written and
unwritten and destroyed by governments. They are not hesitant to stand
up to be counted. They are determined to make the world a safe place
for their children to grow in.
In the summer of 1999, when the guns boomed on the Kargil front and war
rhetoric was at its highest pitch, many women, in their separate spaces,
found themselves increasingly disturbed. The naked aggression and
untold suffering on both sides was unnerving. Through the lens of
television cameras, they saw it all; smoking guns, body bags, grieving
mothers and wives- foregrounding the drum-rolls and bugles of valour and
victory. A few women came together with their shares, yet unspoken
grief. From this event was born the Women's Initiative for Peace in
The year 1999 saw the culmination of three programs on Peace involving
WIPSA. All of them exemplified women's intervention and initiative in
creating peace. On August 6th the day Hiroshima exploded peace gathering
were held at many places in South Asia. In India several hundred women
and men gathered at Gandhi Smriti, where Gandhiji, the universal symbol
of peace, fell to an assassin's bullets. At dusk, each one, holding a
lit candle and a flower, pledged to work for peace.
On August, 10th a cross section of women met in a one-day conference"
Women's Vision" A culture of peace" The conference facilitated by UNIFEM
focussed on women's initiative in peace and built consensus on several
key issues which were identified during the course of the day. The idea
of a "Bus of Peace to Lahore" originated at the conference.
On December, 19th women and men were mobilized all over India and in
several countries of South Asia to form human chains for peace. Their
slogan was"Peace for Empowerment and Empowerment for peace". The
purpose of this initiative was to demand a war free and nuclear free
South Asia and indeed, a nuclear free and war free world.
People to People Initiative
It was very evident that women of South Asia were not just making a call
for peace. They were endeavoring to realize it. Since Indo-Pak
relations were at the lowest ebb the people to people contact began
- On March 25th, 2000 41 women comprising a section of activists,
lawyers, writers, teachers, artists etc. boarded the bus for Lahore. At
Lahore & Islamabad they met, talked and listened to intellectuals, human
right activists, politicians, common people finally the CEO of Pakistan
Gen. Parvez Musharaf. It was a journey of discovery of commonalties, of
differences, of issues that hint on solutions in sight.
- As a part of the ongoing process towards a planned strategy to build
the pressure of public opinion a delegates of 64 women from Pakistan
visited Delhi, Agra & Jaipur to interact with women's educational
institutes, Women's Study Centre, minority groups and members of the
- The spontaneity with which people of both Pakistan and India responded
to the people to people contact now charted the course for an action
oriented strategy. This called for channelising political sensitivity
in both countries.
- As a part of careful strategy to comprehend ground realities that
obstacle peace, WIPSA India visited Jammu & Kashmir. This comprehension
called for an informative campaign which would dispel the ignorance
about Kashmir and political parties were called upon to initiate the
healing process in Kashmir while citizens teams should independently
examine the alleged atrocities in the State.
- The 4th initiative of WIPSA widened the people to people contact to
comprise academics, professors, teachers, readers of the universities.
This aim was to enhance opportunities for youth to youth exchange so
that future relationship can be built on pillars of authentic
information about each other.
- People to people contact is the surest way to build a pressure of
public opinion for peace which no government can afford to ignore.
- Women though not part of the decision process when it comes to war or
foreign relations are an integral part of the decision for peace. In
fact for the first time women initiated a peace process which is now
snow balling at such a swift pace.
- Historical, cultural and social commonalties ensure that a direct link
of understanding can be built.
- Kashmir is an issue that troubles the peace process. But the optimism
is high that a pragmatic process of compromises can solve the problem.
- The pragmatic view that half a century old distrust must be put
- The approach that India as a vibrant democracy with an industrial,
educational and commercial infrastructure has as much to offer other
South Asian countries.
- The vital need to build a cohesive South Asian identity that will
ensure a greater negotiating muscle on the global stage.
- Above all the realization that despite what successive governments in
Pakistan have reiterated India has no hegemonistic design on Pakistan.
- The vital realization that peace in the South Asia is no longer a
choice but the only reality left for survival.
The immediate course
- A ten day Artists Camp involving artists from India, Pakistan,
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal to be held in Matheran (near Mumbai) The
work done during this period will then be auctioned in Bombay. This
project will encourage artists to harness their creativity for the cause
of peace in South Asia and to encourage dialoguing between them.
- An immediate exchange of small groups of students of schools and
colleges on a sustained basis.
- Development of peace curriculum to be disseminated among institutions
of both countries with special focus on women's role in conflict
- Development of a WIPSA website that will be a medium for exchange of
authentic information particularly on conflict issues.
- Collaborative research on women's issues.
- A special theatre festival on the focus theme of peace involving
theatre groups from all South Asian countries. This will be preceded by
a special theatre bus to Pakistan.
- Development and exchange of WIPSA News letters.
- A combined anthology of South Asian women writers focussing on women's
- To end the sustained campaign of disinformation an interface of
journalists from both countries. As an immediate step WIPSA hopes to
invite journalists from the Urdu press to visit India and comprehend the
gap between perception and reality.
- South Asian Musical Festival involving leading artist from initially
three countries India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to be held early next
year in Delhi. On an annual basis this will be held in all the
- The women's peace initiative has given an impetus to the process of
peace. The warm welcome that the initiative has received bears witness
to the fact that most women on both sides are committed to peace and
reject the prejudices which have partly been state sponsored.
- WIPSA therefore urges both governments to end the rhetoric of
violence and aggression.
- WIPSA encourages responsible media to continue its effort in
promoting peace and urges those who have glorified war and violence to
play a positive role for the healthy survival of this region. We will
strive to form networks of responsible media. WIPSA noted with concern
that this propaganda of violence has also infected popular media such as
film and television serials. In this regard the language used in the
electronic media to communicate news and information has become
incomprehensible and should be made intelligible to the people it
- WIPSA demands an end to violence against women, be it on cultural,
political or economic grounds.
- There should be a free exchange of newspapers, magazines and books
between Pakistan and India.
- WIPSA is convinced that in order to restore the peace of mind of the
people there is an urgent need for confidence building among the
governments and among the peoples of both countries. To achieve this,
several steps need to be taken. Among them are:
- Intolerant militant forces in India and Pakistan have to be
marginalised and the Governments of Pakistan and India urged to remove
all Government patronage to such forces.
- The arms race and nuclearisation of the subcontinent must come to an
end. There are misplaced priorities in a region where injustice,
illiteracy, hunger, disease, child and maternal mortality is a rule
rather than an exception.
- All educational curricula must be purged of inaccuracies, biases and
prejudices. Our future generations should be educated primarily to
recognise themselves as citizens of the world in order to promote peace
among all human beings regardless of nationality, religious belief,
caste, class or sex.
- WIPSA conference is of the view that the prevailing violence, both
internal and external, stems from consistent violation of people's
rights. Both governments either lack the political will, the competence
or sound governance to protect their citizens from becoming victims of
injustice. International instruments are being regularly flouted; they
deserve respect and rigorous compliance. To ensure their sanctity, this
conference demands the establishment of South Asian Human Rights Court
where individuals who fail to get justice within their domestic
jurisdiction can seem redress from this regional institution.
- India and Pakistan should immediately start a dialogue leading to
the signing of a bilateral treaty of peace enshrining principles of
non-aggression, No first and Ever Use of conventional, nuclear, or of
- WIPSA pledges to make peace a reality in the subcontinent.
Regretfully, the prevailing tensions have not allowed the collective
wisdom of women of the subcontinent to surface. Women activists will
mobilize these Women's voices so that they are heard in every part of
the region making it difficult for the decision makers to ignore them.
They shall become the force in steering the destinies of these two great
nations towards peace, progress and prosperity.
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