By M Ghazali Khan
Braving cold wind and rain at least one hundred South Asian peace activists belonging to different organisations gathered in Tavistock Square in London near Mahatma Gandhi’s statute. This display of anti-war unity in the backdrop of war cries both in India and Pakistan, was part of several similar gatherings organised at the same time in various parts of the world including Karachi, New Delhi, Washington, D.C, New York, Mumbai, Lahore, Boston, Kolkata and San Francisco.
Amid passionate chanting of anti-war and pro- peace slogans, speakers stressed that peace and only peace was the solution to the ongoing tension between India and Pakistan that had almost come to the verge of a nuclear war.
Representing South Asia Solidarity Group, human rights activists and writer Amrit Wilson said that the participants in this small gathering in London were not, “On our own. We are part of a global movement and the message is loud and clear from Indians, Pakistanis, Kashmiris, people of South Asian origin in America and of course here, that people want peace. We have had enough of this situation where war is played out like a drama. Our government seems to think that this is literally just a drama. There is no care how many people lose their lives.”
She said two things were clear, the centrality of Kashmir in this continuing crisis and the BJP government’s desperation and willingness to do anything to win elections. “There have been incursions over the LOC, there have been dogfights, killings, Pakistani prisoner was killed in jail, and so on; and all the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi was boosting his election campaign.”
In Kashmir, thousands have died and continue to suffer, Amrit went on “Peace requires justice and what justice means is end of occupation, self-determination and, yes, friends, ‘Azadi’ [Freedom].”
Hinting at injustices being meted out at various communities within India Amrit said, “Let’s not forget there is another war going on inside India. Just recently we heard that one million Adivasis are to be evicted, displaced from their homes, displaced from their lives…One month ago we heard that 4 million people from the state of Assam were now to become stateless, either bundled into detention centres or deported. We know farmers suicides are so common – they are said to be 45 a day. We know the death of sanitation workers and then day to day we know, of course, about the lynching of Muslims and Dalits. We know of the rapes of women which are supported by the BJP, encouraged by the BJP and even perpetrated by BJP politicians. And we know of the attacks on dissenters whether this is the killing of Gauri Lankesh or the arrest of Anand Teltumbde. So, in that context is India really a democracy? No, my friends, India is a fascist country now. And if you want peace and justice you will have to dedicate yourselves to confronting fascism.”
Professor Dibyesh Anand also spoke. He said: “In India today we are witnessing full-fledged fascism.” Reminding and warning those who were acting as mute spectators to BJP’s fascism he said in 1930s Germany, “Nazis could come to power because opposition was practically paralysed. They were paralysed because they thought others were the ‘enemies.’ They could not see the enemy that was going to completely rampage them.”
Professor Radha Disouza, who described herself as also an activist from Mumbai said, “I come from the Democratic Rights Movement of India. When I say Indians want peace I do not say it as a sentiment. I do not mean it as an academic thing. I know because we have lived and seen people coming out. For example I know when the Bombay happened I couldn’t go home because I was stuck in the town. The next day public turned out continuously in large numbers with white flags. No organisation, no calls, no flags and no banners. People just turned up, some in just white shirts to say that we don’t want war.”
She said that instead of attending meetings and instead of doing whatever a prime minister is supposed to do in a situation like this, Modi made this an election issue which didn’t go well with people. “In some ways the strategy was that they could manufacture a war, unite people [supporting BJP] and come back [to power] in May again.”
She added, “No war is about another country. When people say in se dushmani hai un se dushmani hai this has nothing to do with that. Wars are always about our own internal affairs. It’s a war in India. India has become one of the most violent states against Dalits, against Adawasis, against women and against rationalists… we say quite emphatically we do not want this war inside or outside the country.”
Professor Aysha Siddiqa, from SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) also addressed the meeting and warned of the dangers of nuclear warfare
One day before the meeting South Asia Solidarity Group issued a statement endorsed by ten other organisations urging the, “Waremongers in the Indian and Pakistani Governments to draw back from the brink. The statement read: “Indians, Pakistanis, Kashmiris and UK citizens of South Asian origin issue a statement calling on the Indian and Pakistani governments to work for peace not war “The suicide bomb attack on 14th February, in which 40 jawans of the Indian CRPF were killed at Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir, has been seized on by the BJP government even while the families mourn the deaths of their loved ones, and in many cases against their wishes, to whip up nationalist anger before the general election due to start in April. In doing so the India’s BJP government led by Narendra Modi is recklessly taking the country to the brink of war with Pakistan.
“We condemn the Indian government’s warmongering response to Pulwama (which reached the level of an air-raid across the line of control in Kashmir) and its cynical and shameless use of the deaths of the jawans for electioneering.“We condemn also the warmongering and attacks with which the Pakistani military has responded and urge it to stop further escalation. We call upon the Pakistan government to assert civilian control over its armed forces. The failure to do so is a permanent threat to peace in South Asia “A war between two nuclear-armed countries like India and Pakistan, however limited or short-lived, portends grave danger to the people of the whole South Asian region.We condemn the wave of attacks on Kashmiris – students, traders and others – across India incited by the BJP and carried out by its affiliates. We call for prompt and severe punishment of the perpetrators, and of colluding officials and police officers.
“We condemn the widespread expulsions and arrests of Kashmiri students on the basis of alleged ‘anti-national’ social media posts. We condemn also the death threats against those who have criticised the BJP government’s Islamophobic and anti-Kashmiri policies “We call on the Indian government not to accept Israel’s offer of “unlimited” assistance and not to allow Israel to involve itself in the internal affairs of South Asia.
“No War between India and Pakistan! We stand together for peace!”
The statement by South Asia Solidarity Group London was endorsed by:
Awami Workers Party Pakistan
Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (UK)
Pakistan Solidarity Campaign (UK)
Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) International Department
General and Municipal Boilermakers (GMB) Trade Union Race
All India Progressive Women’s Association
London Black women’s Project
National Union of Students (UK) Black Students Campaign
SOAS India Society
Concerned Students and South Asia Society, Goldsmiths, University of London