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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

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.

The Catalysis

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 South Asia.

The Beginning

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 with Lahore.

  • 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 government.

  • 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.

The Learnings

  • 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 behind.

  • 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 resolution.

  • 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 issue.

  • 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 countries.

The outcome

  1. 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.

  2. WIPSA therefore urges both governments to end the rhetoric of violence and aggression.

  3. 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 addresses.

  4. WIPSA demands an end to violence against women, be it on cultural, political or economic grounds.

  5. There should be a free exchange of newspapers, magazines and books between Pakistan and India.

  6. 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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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 other weapons.

  9. 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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