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March for Peace & Harmony
27 May to 21 June, 2002, Chitrakoot to Ayodhya

Stepping Up Civic Dissent: Gandhian and Other Approaches to Non-Violent Resistance
A Peace March Against Communal Hatred And Violence

Dear Friends,

The pad yatra is just 60 kms away from Varanasi. Sandeep bhaiya had written an on-site account from the padyatra two days back in Hindi, which has been translated and reproduced below. Please go through it since it gives a better picture and captures and experiences and discussions brewing up there.

The momentum towards Manav Dharam Sammelan is slowly building up. Please do join us at Raja Talab on June 8 & 9, and feel free to contact us for any logistical assistance or help required.

Sandeep's article is attached below. (translated).

best regards,

Sandeep & Arundhati
National Alliance of People's Movement NAPM
A=893 Indira Nagar LUCKNOW-226016. India

A Peace March Against Communal Hatred And Violence Sandeep

We started off in the form of "Shanti Evam Sadbhavna PadYatra" from Chitrakoot on May 27, 2002. It is sweltering hot but splitters of stormy winds and brief spell of rains, have brought some relief to the heat-stricken people. But we find no relief when we read the newspapers. On one side tensions are being made to scale up on Indo-Pak border and situations indicating towards a war are being fabricated, and on the other side in the backdrop of singing Gujarat, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is trying to re-stir communal polarisation on the pretext of "Purna-Ahuti Yagya" in Ayodhaya.

The challenge that faces us is indeed extremely critical with trouble brewing on the borders of our country and communal divide sharpening up inside the nation. After a turn of half a century, it again looks like a conspiracy to divide our country. Our padyatra is an initiative to warn the people of the impending danger and also an effort to prevent the further breaking of our society. People have also begun to understand now that on the pretext of Ram Mandir, their emotions were made to scale high to serve a purpose. When VHP declared to perform Shila Poojan in Ayodhaya during March this year, we responded by organizing fasts and peace marches in Lucknow, Barabanki and Faizabad. Our overall experience from the discussions we had with the people during fasts and marches in March this year and in the past 10 days of this Chitrakoot-Ayodhaya Pad Yatra, makes it ample clear that people are too frustrated and fed up to talk any further on this issue, and want to get rid of those who use religion to serve their political interests.

The Chief Priest (Mahant) of Kamadgiri Pramukh Dwar in Chitrakoot Dr.Purshottam Das, recited his poem during the start of Chitrakoot-Ayodhaya padyatra in the honor of the forthcoming Manav Dharm Sammelan in Raja Talab Varanasi. This is a very moving and sentimental poetry and we have got it printed in form of pamphlets and are distributing it all along the course of this yatra. Clear all-out support of Dr.Purshottam Das to this yatra has definitely fortified the morale of all of us. During the opening ceremony of this yatra, about 400 women mobilized by Vanangana organization took part. Mahant of Nirmohi Akhara also participated in this program. But the environment of this opening ceremony really became very sensitive and sombre when reports of atrocities and abuses on women during communal violence in Gujarat were being read.

People attending this meet could not help but cry unashamedly and unabatedly on this grotesque inhuman violation of each grain of dignity and moral conduct that could be attributed to any religious exercise or human act. Undoubtedly all present, felt miserable with an overwhelming sense of shame on what happened to women during communal violence in Gujarat, that too, in the garb of a religious exercise. As Kuldeep Nayyar says, even the partition riots were not as inhuman and ghastly as the recent violence in Gujarat. After going through the reports of what our women (most of whom were muslim) had to face and undergo during recent Gujarat riots, one thing is certain : it is extremely tough to believe that a human being can commit such acts of sin.

Those who conducted such gory and blood curdling sinful acts of crime on women, neither are Hindus nor human beings in the basic essence of these terms. I am unable to understand how can such a big part of society like Gujarat turn vitriolic and communal to such a high grade-overnight. But this is definitely certain that people in rest of our country have clearly understood the gameplan of hindu fundamentalist forces and have slowly started rejecting Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) in elections. During this padyatra we passed through a village called Dodiya Maafi, which is a stronghold of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh) and in 1992 many people from this village participated actively in Babri-Masjid demolition. The people of this village although still believe that a Ram Mandir should be constructed in Ayodhaya, but are quite vocal that the main agenda of VHP or BJP is not to build this temple but to do politics under the garb of religion. They clearly stated that they can never support the call for violence on muslim population of VHP or BJP or Bajrang Dal, as happened recently in Gujarat. They also said that they will continue to live in harmony and peace with about 20 muslim families in this village and will never be lured again by hindu fundamentalist forces to commit such mistakes as Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. On our way to a village called Dhabhora, we met a Sanyasi-Ram Lakhan Das. He also participated in the Babri Masjod demolition of 1992. So far he has been to Ayodhaya atleast 10 times. But instead of feeling more committed to Ram Mandir movement, he feels exactly the opposite : he feels utterly disillusionized by this mobilization of VHP/RSS/BJP on the pretext of Ram Mandir movement to serve their political interest. He was vehemently critical and angry on the use of religion in politics. He said that he is not going to be a mute spectator or a part of silent majority and will not sit quiet after seeing the atrocities and violence that his muslim fellow-beings had to undergo in recent Gujarat carnage.

Likewise the Sadhus-Sants-Pujaris we met during this padyatra were of the clear opinion that the acts and doings of VHP and 'Sangh parivar' are not only a potent threat to our nation and society as such but also to Hindu Dharma in it's entirety. Before this padyatra began in Lucknow two Mahants from Ayodhaya addressed a press conference. Mahant Jugal Kishore Shastri and Baba Bhavnath Das categorically stated that VHP is a terrorist organization and as there is a lot of demand on banning 'SIMI' and "Jaish-ai-Muhammad", similarly there should be a demand for a ban on VHP. They said that VHP workers should be arrested under "POTA" and if there is going to be any genuine effort to find an amicable solution to Ram-Mandir-Babri Masjid dispute, VHP has to be kept outside the forum for discussion. A common human ofcourse never intends to indulge in any sort of violence or conflict-whether it is a communal riot or the war between India and Pakistan.

A common human being is more inclined to live life peacefully and amicably with those he interacts in every day-to-day life. He indulges in violence or conflict only under extreme circumstances and when there looks to be no way out. Otherwise he wishes to live life in harmony and peace. While on our way in this padyatra, passing through the districts of Chitrakoot, Satna, Rewa and Allahabad, we got an opportunity to pass through very remote and interior villages. Vanangana and Sankalp organizations organized many meetings with tribals and dalits. Living conditions here were extremely pathetic and trying. Even safe drinking water was not available. People living in this region have to bring drinking water from far-fetched areas. In many of such meetings people narrated the tale of criminal atrocities, they have to face at the behest of feudal lords or people of higher caste. We got a glimpse of tough and extremely trying living conditions of workers in stone granaries and those who pick tendu leaves (for Beedi) have to live in.

Most often their reaction was that for them their priority is to resolve their daily life issues – and whether a temple gets erected or a mosque, it will make no difference to their daily life. For these people struggling for their daily bread on day-to-day basis, Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid dispute is not an issue they can relate to. They were agreeing to this belief that religion cannot be the root cause of any conflict or violence and similarly those who indulge in violence cannot be truly religious.

Many-a-times I cannot help pondering over the possibility of an informal agreement between Bhartiya Janta Party, it's supporting political parties and the opposition combined, to keep us all distracted towards emotive issues like India-Pakistan tension, communal polarization and religious divide and away from basic issues pertaining to day-to-day life of a common man. This also saves them (the grand union of political parties = BJP + supporters + opposition) the ignominy of being answerable for the plight we are living in today, for which they are wholly and collectively responsible. In a way to campaign for Ram Mandir should be a contempt of court because this issue is still in court of law and judgment is awaited. Even before the court ruling can come, VHP collected over Rs.100 crores from all over the world and began it's grand preparations for temple construction. All this is being done with no clue whether the final judgement from the court of law will come in VHP´s favor or not, and whether Nirmohi Akhada will allow them to build this temple even if court ruling comes in it´s favour. Now this fact has come in open that there is a larger number of Sadhus-Mahants against VHP than are in support of it. So this fact should be made clear that what to talk of VHP representing the hindu community as a whole, it is not even a representative of Sadhu-Sants. VHP – which is merely a NGO – Non-Governmental Organization – registered under the Societies Registration Act of 1860 with due permission from Home Ministry to take financial aid from foreign countries, has used Sadhus-Sants for political gains which created a havoc in our country during the past ten years. But none of the mainstream political parties including those in the opposition, have face enough to publicly question the activities of VHP and demand accountability. The never-ending lust for positions of power in politicians like George Fernandes, Chandra Babu Naidu and Farookh Abdullah, numbed them to compromise on issues of extreme communal intolerance. Other political parties like Congress and Samajwadi parties restrained from openly coming out against VHP because they never wanted to project an Anti-Hindu image and lose out on Hindu vote banks. The inherent fear to lose Hindu votes of samajwadi parties has given communal forces a free hand to indulge in unhindered violence and crime in the garb of religion and politics.

During the process of organizing this padyatra, the most horrifying truth that came into light was the assumption of all political parties, different collectives associated with Ram mandir-Babri masjid dispute and most of the Sadhu samaj that ultimately it is going to be a temple, which will be built on the disputed spot. In Uttar Pradesh before the assembly elections, when Mulayam Singh Yadav incidently crossed paths with Acharya Giriraj Kishore, then Mulayam said to Giriraj Kishore that "Acharya ji, mandir to main hi banaonga" (Acharya ji, eventually I will build the temple). So the race now is who is going to snatch away the credit to build this temple. In the main pamphlet of our padyatra, a poem authored by Dr.Ranjit is printed on the rear-side "Masjid bhi rahe, Mandir bhi bane" (Let the masjid remain, and let us build the temple too).

Even the sadhu-sants openly opposing VHP are not able to digest this concept of mutual co-existence of religious institutions. The possibility that a masjid may be re-constructed looks bizarre and 'impossible' to all. This is a matter of deep shame because in other words it is like acknowledging the unruliness of VHP. Knowingly-unknowingly we have granted an honorable position to a terrorist organization which has unhesitatingly made a mockery of government, judiciary and constitution, and therefore VHP is taking full benefit of it's respectable position and abusing the entire system to serve it's vested interests. Before Shila-Daan program of VHP on March 10, 2002, when we wanted to take renowned Gandhian and social worker former MP Nirmala Deshpande to Faizabad to participate in the joint Hindu-Muslim peace march, we were held up by administration at Ram Snehi Ghat for over one and a half hours in the name of 'security'. However when on the very next day Ashok Singhal came to Lucknow, he was rushed from the airport in a car with a blue beacon light straight into the Governor's House. He received Governor's permission and entered not only in Faizabad but even reached Ayodhaya, despite of the fact that Faizabad-Ayodhaya were under declared curfew. Will our administration tell us that on what basis, a head of an NGO (VHP) and it's workers have been granted such privileges and special prerogatives? Towards the end of February, when workers of Bajrang Dal, with a declared purpose of building the Ram temple (which is a direct contempt of court), enter into Ayodhaya with dangling 'Khanjar' or knife, they were provided with security cover of police administration. But the same administration 'welcomed' the workers of CPI (ML) with Lathi-blows, arrested them and sent them to far-away jails, who had assembled in Faizabad with an intention to conduct a peace meeting in a closed hall space during April this year. The administration really has to take a stand now : which type of forces is it going to align itself with? Is it ready to remain a puppet in hands of communal forces? And if yes, then till when!

Since the time BJP came into power, the situation on many fronts has further worsened successively. Moreover, it has done exactly the opposite of what it claimed it will. For instance, it gave a resonating slogan of 'swadeshi' or indigenous goods but in comparison to all previous governments, BJP not only opened up the widest gate for multi-national companies and provided the most congenial environment for them to work in India but also implemented World Bank directives as such in relation to our economy. BJP has always given a reverberating call to safeguard our 'cultural heritage' but the transition during it´s regime is evident right on the front page (and other pages inside) of all mainstream newspapers all of which carry coloured photographs of scantily clad girls, many of whom are foreign models, on the top-left corner. During BJP's tenure in power, the markets got flooded with products, which fail to gel with Indian culture. In 1998, BJP conducted the nuclear tests in the name of 'security and peace' after which all discussions with Pakistan came to a sudden end. Now even the transport between two countries has been stopped. The entire nation is a witness to the reality that because of all steps which BJP took in the name of "security" we are condemned to live in circumstances far more insecure and unpredictable. Any moment the situation can turn explosive!

Similarly BJP used to give this assurance that in states where BJP is in power, no communal riot can take place. But when Narendra Modi decided to run an orchestrated show of communal violence in Gujarat, then such riots and inhuman massacre was unleashed on innocent people that never took place before in our history. When BJP was campaigning for elections to form a central government, it came up with a slogan "Sabko Dekha Bar-Bar, humko dekho ek bar" (You have tried all others many-a-times, now give us just one chance). A vegetable vendor in Lucknow commented on this slogan that "Atal Bihari Vajpayiji ne to ek bar me aisa dikhaya hai ki sab kuch tabah kar dala" (Atal Bihari Vajpayiji has shown such a performance in just one chance that has destroyed everything irreparably). Possibly the citizens of this country will feel that they may never have to bear the tenure of BJP anymore. A sensational statement of VHP's General Secretary Praveen Togdiya did further damage to already disheveled state of affairs in our country. Togdiya said that if Prime Minister orders our armies to march towards Lahore and Rawalpindi, then they will withdraw the Ram Mandir movement.

Such fiery statements are further fueling up tensions and sentiments on the border and inside our country too, which is definitely very unfortunate and more like moving towards self-annihilation. No war or acts of violence has ever given any happiness or solace to anyone. Countless number of innocents will lose their lives. Our women and children face unspeakable and unthinkable degree of crime and abuse. On both the sides there is a heavy grade of destruction and loss of human life. This has been the experience of human history in acts of war and violence. In such grave and sensitive circumstance, such irresponsible and inflammable statements as those made by Togdiya, should be considered an act of crime. Moreover it also raises a serious question : that whether the hindu society, whose emotions were charged to the degree high enough to make them demolish the Babri-Masjid in 1992, and Sadhu-Sants, who are frequently being convened by VHP to seek directions and blessings, agree to Togdiya´s statement that as an alternative to Ram Mandir construction, India should attack Pakistan? And if this is true then not only we are marching towards total devastation but we have also rendered ourselves insane.

(translated, original written by Sandeep in Hindi)
Sandeep, A-893, Indira Nagar, Lucknow-226016. India.
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