The governments of Bangladesh and India must find rational solutions based on international human rights standards to the cross border movements of people rather than resorting to “witch-hunts” and forced “push-back” and “push-in”, according to a press briefing of the Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA). The briefing also emphasised that both governments must resolve the conundrum of why movement of capital is unfettered and labour is restricted.
The press briefing styled “Journey of Peace: Kolkata to Dhaka” was held in the National Press Club auditorium to mark the departing hour of 34 women peace agents of India who met in Bangladesh on May 14. The 34 women came from different parts of India, from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu. Among them were journalists, artists, film-makers, writers, academics, peace and human rights activists, women’s rights activists and students. The journey was organised under the auspices of WIPSA. Presided over by journalist Nasimun Ara Minu, the press briefing was addressed by Indian human rights activists Kamla Bhasin, Sayeeda Hamid and Mohini Giri, historian and former Parliamentarian Bharati Roy, poet Mallika Sengupta, Bangladeshi Legal and Human Rights activist Advocate Sigma Huda, Advocate Sultana Kamal and others. Mohini Giri, said, “We can form a union of consensus in South Asia with common cultural heritage. War should be waged collectively against trafficking and migration of women and children and crisis of livelihood of people of broader South Asia.” Sayeeda Hamida read out a written statement on behalf of her Indian sisters to the press.
About the background of the formation of WIPSA, Sayeeda Hamida said the mission was to articulate women’s common understanding and aspirations in Bangladesh and India for peace and security in the region. This mission was preceded in March 2000 by a Womenís Peace Bus from Delhi to Lahore right after the Kargil war. Two Women’s Peace Buses returned with Pakistani women from Lahore to Delhi in April 2000, she said.
In accordance with WIPSA’s philosophy, the mission was self-funded. Indian women travelled at their own expenses and were hosted by Bangladeshi women who pooled their hospitality and opened their homes to the visitors.
While in Bangladesh, the Indian women interacted with grassroots level women members of Doorbar, a network of 450 organizations from 64 districts. In smaller groups, they visited NGOs working with grassroots level women and men, such as Gono Shastha Kendra, Nijera Kori, BRAC, Proshika, Humger Project and Research Initiatives Bangladesh (RIB). They met several government ministers and officials, and leaders of Bangladesh Awami League.
Several funcions were arranged for their meetings with artists and writers. A special art exhibition PEACE SONG with paintings of 28 women artists of Bangladesh was held. Sammilito Nari Samaj arranged a photographic exhibition displaying women in struggle since the beginning of the Language Movement in 1952.
The WIPSA members visited the Smiriti Shoudho at Savar and paid their respects to the martyrs of the War of Liberation. They met trade unionists and women workers by courtesy of Karmajibi Nari. An evening of music and dance was arranged at the Mahila Samiti. A lively discussion meeting with students and teachers at Dhaka University was hosted by the Centers for Peace and Conflict and Women’s Studies. They also attended programs arranged by Bangladesh Mohila Parishad, Bangladesh Women Lawyers Association, Narigrantha Prabartana and Nari Pakhkho and visited the Museum of the Liberation War.
“We are opposed to war in the region or in any part of the world. We condemn the indiscriminate bombing of Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the continuing aggression in Palestine. We want a nuclear free South Asia and a nuclear free world for the future generations and ourselves. We demand an immediate end to production of weapons of mass destruction by all countries,” said the Indian and Bangladeshi womenís rights activists in shared unity.
Poet Mallika Sengupta recited one of her poems asserting holistic faith, “We women from Kashmir to Kanya Kumarika rejoicing pluralism in Quran and Gita, In Karl Marx and Kate Millet, In tradition and protest.”
Finally, all raised their voices in slogan, “We don’t want walls of hatred, we want open skies of friendship.”