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Tuesday, 4 June, 2002, 21:42 GMT 22:42 UK
South Asia's beleaguered doves
Peace campaigners in Delhi at the weekend
Campaigners say their voice is growing

Despite India and Pakistan being on the brink of war, the region has virtually no effective peace campaign.

Anti-war groups on both sides accuse government and the media of failing to play a responsible role in building public awareness.


There is no awareness at all. They think a nuclear bomb is like detonating a grenade

Mubashir Hassan, Pakistan Peace Coalition
The number of groups working for peace has gone up significantly since India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons four years ago, but they remain largely invisible on the ground.

Peace activists cite a number of reasons for their lack of public support.

Professor Achin Vinayak of India's National Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace sees lack of education as a prime factor.

"There is a great deal of ignorance not only among those who cannot read and write, but even among educated people about what a nuclear war means.

BJP youth wing members hold up a dummy of India's nuclear capable, Agni-3 missile
For many, missiles are a symbol of nationalism
"A vast majority are also poverty-stricken and live in villages.

"The sheer pressure of their everyday problems of existence, employment, food, education, healthcare, etc are so overwhelming that those are the issues that weigh heavily upon them," says Professor Vinayak.

Peace activists say major population centres in India and Pakistan were not threatened in previous conflicts.

Professor Vinayak says: "There is nothing in the lived experience of the people in either India or Pakistan which makes them think that war is frightening, and that nuclear weapons are something that will not leave them untouched."

'Lack of education'

Dr Mubashir Hassan of Pakistan's Peace Coalition in Lahore agrees that the level of awareness in Pakistan about a nuclear war is abysmally low.


Being anti-nuclear has become synonymous with being anti-national

Achin Vinayak,
Indian peace campaigner
"There is no awareness at all. They think a nuclear bomb is like detonating a grenade," he says.

"They don't know it will affect them for generations."

Dr Hassan says it is largely due to lack of education that the media in India and Pakistan fail to play a responsible role.

"The media in both the countries are so proud of their nations being nuclear powers, they revel in the fact that they will destroy the whole nation, or a large part, of the other country.

"Very senior citizens in Pakistan would tell me that we will use a nuclear bomb whenever we are in danger.

"When I tell them that India might do the same, they say, 'So what! We will die!'"

Peace moves 'blocked'

Professor Vinayak is equally critical of the role played by the Indian media and government.

"Even though we are living in a democratic set-up, the elite media and the government have not played an important and sensible role in creating such an awareness.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee arrives in Almaty
Will India's prime minister listen?
"Indian media does not give prominence to peace campaigns at all.

"We hold demonstrations in private schools and colleges, but permission for a similar campaign in government schools is not granted."

A typical example, he says, is blocking a film on nuclear testing made by Anant Patwardhan, War and Peace.

It depicts the nuclear tests carried out by India and Pakistan in 1998.

The film attacks the government and has not been cleared by the Indian film censor for showing in India.

The situation has reached a point "where being anti-nuclear has become synonymous with being anti-national", says Professor Vinayak.

'Shock'

However, peace activists say that calls for nuclear disarmament, however feeble at the moment, are beginning to grow.

Professor Vinayak says he can see the impact of demonstrations and awareness campaigns being organised by his group.

"When we start, people have fairly fixed positions about nuclear weapons, largely influenced by the media, the government and so on.

"But, by the end of the show there is a sense of shock in that they were not aware of the ramifications, consequences and unique horrors of nuclearisation.

"Even those who support India having nuclear weapons begin to realise that this is not something you can do in a facile manner.

"They themselves will then say, 'We don't want war'. There is a kind of sobering influence on their minds."

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03 Jun 02 | South Asia
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