Freedom fighters fight for peace
Times of India - 22 March 2006
by Abantika Ghosh
There are 11,000 letters from Indian children to their 'friends" in Pakistan, and the largest love letter in the world.
But this unique initiative by 'Friends Without Borders' to foster ties between two distrusting nations is not just about half a dozen foreign nationals urging children to write.
It's also about 12 freedom fighters at Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, who have put their hearts into letters to freedom fighters in Pakistan and to president Musharraf.
There's this school teacher from Chandigarh, who has just one plea: "Please, please, ensure my letter reaches somebody like me in Pakistan."
And then there are the two businessmen from Mumbai who got to know about the project through word of mouth and turned up one day with their own letters to Pakistan.
Among the huge piles of letters Friends volunteers will carry to Pakistan on March 24, are about 100-120 from adults in India, who wrote not because they were asked to write, but because they wanted to.
Says John Siliphant, in whose mind the idea first germinated more than a year ago: "The freedom fighters' gesture was so touching.
I had been working with them before starting this letter-writing project and when I told them about it, they just sat down with a pen and paper among the kids and wrote.
There were even people writing to Musharraf about how the two countries should reunite, not necessarily into one country but may be as brothers."
Many of the "adult letters" are addressed to Musharraf, which, John says, gave rise to the idea that maybe, the Indian President and Prime Minister could be persuaded to write to Pakistani children. Musharraf can also be requested to write to Indian children.
A meeting with Manmohan Singh is on the cards to discuss the idea. On the Pakistan side, the project has already caught the fancy of foreign minister Khursheed Mohammed Kasuri.
But it's really the thousands of "ordinary people" who have made the project worth the effort.
There have been instances of teachers begging John and his friends to let them sign the perimeters of the "largest love letter" (the inner pieces of the letter will be donated to Pakistani NGOs for the tarpaulin to be used for sheds for disaster victims).
Strangers have begged to help. Like Sukhbir Singh, a night manager at an Amritsar hotel, who has been working 15-16 hours over the past few days just to help in the project.
Talking to The Times of India, Sukhbir said, "I had just met them on one of my off-days when I had come for a walk to Jallianwala Bagh. I was touched by the efforts of foreigners to bring India and Pakistan together. I wanted to be a part of it."
Yoomi Lee, a member of the Friends core group, recounts how Inderjeet Singh, an auto agency owner at Khasa, insisted on housing the 15-member team (including the cart-pullers) for the night in his small house during the walk to Wagah.
"For two days, he was working just to make us comfortable because he believed in the cause," Yoomi says.