08/30/2004, 00.00
PHILIPPINES - INDIA - PAKISTAN

Indian and Pakistani peace activists awarded Asia's Noble Prize

Sonny Evangelista

Manila (AsiaNews) - Ibn Abdur Rehman of Pakistan and Laxminarayan Ramdas of India are this year's Ramon Magsaysay Awardees for Peace and International Understanding. Known also as Asia's Nobel Prize, the Ramon Magsaysay Award is conferred by the Filipino Foundation of the same name to people and organizations for their exemplary and selfless leadership. Both men were recognized for reaching across a hostile border to nurture a citizen-based consensus for peace between Pakistan and India.

Upon his retirement as an admiral in the Indian Navy, Laxminarayan Ramdas worked with several peace advocacy organizations, the last of which was with the Pakistan India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy. In 2003 he received the Father Graham Staines Award for International Peace and Harmony.

Journalist and peace-advocate, Ibn Abdur Rehman is presently the director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Last year, he received the Nuremberg International Award for Peace and Human Rights.

"Prejudice is a common human affliction and no society has always been free of it," said Ibn Abdur Rehman during the joint lecture with Laxminarayan Ramdas today. "One of the areas where it has been creating hardships and unhappiness for a large segment of humankind is South Asia," he said, "particularly among the peoples of Pakistan and India, who have had a long history of common struggles and shared triumphs, and who are unable to overcome the effects of deep-rooted prejudice against each other."

After the Partition in 1947 of India and Pakistan, both states "refuse[d] to behave as modern states," Rehman added, "one harboring fears of aggression by the other party, while the other believed the other state could not be trusted. It is this mass surrender to prejudice that has obstructed all efforts at establishing normal, good neighborly relations between the two great South Asian neighbors."

Ramdas, for his part, related the events after the partition: "Horrendous riots and slaughter of Muslims in India and Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. Over 14 million people displaced and nearly one and a half million people killed." However, women's' groups started to play an important role by the mid-80s in establishing friendship between India and Pakistan. This eventually led to the establishment of the Pakistan India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy in September 1994.

Unfortunately, two negative events marred the process of pacification between India and Pakistan: India tested an atomic bomb in May 1998, with Pakistan following 17 days later. These major events, said Radmas, brought a setback to the work of the Forum. These blasts "strengthened the streak of madness in the psyche of the subcontinent's peoples. Faith in peace was eroded by the flush of power."

Through their life-long search for peace, both Rehman and Ramdas believe that dialogue is the most effective means of attaining peace. But, Rehman explains, this must involve broader sections of the population. Especially important, Ramdas points out, are the youth who must be directly involved for they are the ones who often acquire prejudices towards their neighbors from textbooks and media. Talking about a series student exchanges between India and Pakistan, Ramdas said that "[g]etting the youth of both countries together has been a great achievement."

In one workshop held in Singapore, 40 young people from both Pakistan and India issued a statement of Common Ground: "We believe that we have the power to make this generation and the generations to come, the best ever in the history of humanity, or the worst. The choice is entirely ours; we have made the choice for a better and peaceful world."

Ramdas concluded the lecture saying that "India and Pakistan are at a crossroad to determine their destinies. It is imperative that the managers of our future respond to the overwhelming demand of the people for peace. Peace will win and people shall prevail."

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