Art & Architecture
Lifestyle & People
South Asian Memories
the-south-asian.com 7 August 2000
The Agenda For Friendship titled "Together Towards Tomorrow" was presented by the expedition, on behalf of the youth of South Asia to the Prime Ministers of Nepal and Bhutan and to the Foreign Ministers of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Mr. Jigme Thinley, the Head of the Government of Bhutan offered to invite the expedition members to Thimpu for the SAARC Summit being held in the year 2001.
The Agenda appeals to the leaders of South Asia to show vision and political courage and freeze all conflicts for the next ten years, reduce defence spending by 5% a year and divert savings for development works; fulfill the basic needs of the masses during this period; utilise our combined knowledge in areas of space and nuclear science for the benefit of all people of South Asia; expand employment opportunities for youth by lifting all barriers to free trade; evolve a joint education system; allow unrestricted travel; and establishment of a South Asian Sports Academy and a South Asian Development Corps.
According to Sonam Tashi, a young agricultural scientist and the expedition member from Bhutan," In South Asia, we are also united in our problems. So our future is also one. We will sink or swim together. Our people and leaders must realise this fact."
Suraiya Begum, representing Bangladesh, runs a NGO for destitute women and children in distant Phulna. "Travelling through the length and breadth of South Asia I have observed how similar all of us are. Why ? India seems to be a part of Bangladesh " says Suraiya.
Representing Sri Lanka was Asoka, who works near Colombo for Sarvodhaya Shramdana Organisation, a movement inspired by the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and Vinobha Bhave. "For me it has been an opportunity of a life time. Being a devout Buddhist, I worshipped at the Golden Tooth Relic in Kandy, the Mahabodhi Tree in Anuradhapura, the temples at Kancheepuram, Tirupati, Jagannath Puri, Sarnath and Kashi; the Gurudwaras at Patna, Anantpursahib and Amritsar; the chiilas and mazaars of Sufi saints in Bangladesh, Ajmer and Fatehpur Sikri; churches in Dharamsala and Dadar, Nagar Haveli; and meditated in Guru Padmasambhava's cave in Bumtang in Bhutan and the Ashrams in Sabarmati and Shirdi. This expedition has made me aware of the shared heritage of the people of South Asia.," says Asoka reflecting on her experiences.
Veteran film personality Sunil Dutt was with the expedition all along - through thick and thin. "I am a soldier of peace," he says. "When Akhil Bakshi gave the call for the people of South Asia to join hands and collectively work for peace and development, I decided to support his initiative." Throughout the long journey, Dutt captivated large audiences with his emotional oratory that touched the hearts of the people. "Dutt Sahib and his deep commitment to the humanist cause enhanced the creditability of our mission," remarks Bakshi.
Two days before the expedition was to enter Pakistan, the Kargil conflict flared up and, after waiting for a week, the mission was temporarily brought to a halt. The course of events that followed showed how important it is for the people of South Asia to launch a common struggle for peace and development.
When asked if the aims of the expedition will be met, Bakshi narrates the story of a French Marshall who asked his gardener to plant a certain tree. The gardener objected saying that the tree was slow-growing and would take a hundred years to bear fruit. "In that case," said the Marshall, "we have no time to loose. Let us plant the tree this afternoon." Likewise, suggests Bakshi, we all must plant our saplings of peace today.
"On behalf of the youth of South Asia, I can say with confidence that we have had enough of warmongers. We would like our great role in history to be that of peacemakers," says the optimistic expedition leader.
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