SAVE Peace in times of terror

It is better to sit together at a table and talk and argue than to stand at an open grave and cry

Samarth Pathak Delhi , Hardnews

Ajmal Amir Kasab. The lone surviving terrorist of 26/11 impacting India-Pakistan relations has changed VK Sharma's life forever. Kasab killed his son Chhotu at CST railway station.

"We heard gunshots and started running down the platform. I was holding Chhotu's hand. In the melee, somehow his hand slipped and we were separated. I cried out for him, searched for him amongst the flood of people. And, then I saw him lying at my feet. I rushed him to the hospital. The doctors said he was dead. I could not believe it. They showed me the bullet injury. His heart had been torn out and was hanging from his chest," recounted Sharma, his voice trembling.

"I wish the bullet killed me," he murmurred. His younger son was kidnapped when he was five. He still remains untraced. "Chhotu was the apple of my eye... a very good child. My wife keeps crying all day. My daughter is still in a state of shock and denial. She even keeps a plate for him at dinner time. It will take her long to come to terms with this loss." And, then his eyes flash revenge. "People like Kasab deserve no pardon. He should be hanged in an open field like the Azad Maidan of Delhi in full public glare," said Sharma.

Terror strikes leave in their wake such ravaged souls seeking revenge. Terror begets more terror -- that's the global reality. In such a scenario, Dr Edit Schlaffer's words ring in the truth. "It is better to sit together at a table and to talk and to argue than to stand at an open grave and cry," she felt.

And, with this objective, Schlaffer founded SAVE -- Sisters Against Violent Extremism. A group of 35 women from across the world came together in November last year in Vienna to launch SAVE under the aegis of Women without Borders. The aim: to promote a network of women committed to end violence in all its forms.

SAVE is the first all-women anti terror platform in the world and strives to highlight the power of women in promoting peace. After all, it's the woman as a mother can mould minds of her children, impact their lives, teach them values. If she is successful, then the mother can play an important role in holding back youths from walking the path of terror. Hence, SAVE.

Already, SAVE has got in its fold mothers from Israel and Palestine who lost their children in terror strikes. Take, for instance, Robi Damelin of Tel Aviv. Her son David was killed in an attack by a Palestinian sniper at a checkpoint in Israel-occupied territory. Yet, she empathises with mothers and youth on the Palestinian side. Today, Robi has accepted she can't see David again.

Najwa Saadeh, a Palestinian mother, lost her 12-year-old daughter Christine when the Israeli army opened fire at the car in which the family was driving. Neither of these mothers seek revenge. Together, Najwa and Robi have come out for peace and reconciliation. At SAVE, they found solace by sharing their grief with others like them. SAVE helped other victims of terror, too, to learn from their spirit of forgiveness.

For Hadiyah, a young English woman, SAVE was like a peace balm. Just a few years ago, she was part of Hizbut-Tahrir, which wants to establish an Islamic state across the world. She admitted her indoctrination made her a machine of terrorism. She was not aware how the world lived.

"As an Islamist I was convinced that only Muslims were affected by the events in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Today I know this is no question of religion. It is now time to turn to the Islamists and show them that they do not have to exploit the emotions of the youth and to inflame their anger. Humanity is ready to decisively stand up against terror," she believed. SAVE helped her realise this. Hadiyah is now actively involved with the activities of SAVE and is helping victims come to terms with their tragedies.

SAVE came to India after the gruesome 26/11 attacks. The India chapter was launched through a series of workshops and conferences held in major cities across the country. A six-hour workshop was held at the Institute of Social Sciences (ISS) in New Delhi on January 29, 2009, on the eve of the 61st Martyr's day commemorating Mahatma Gandhi's assassination.

Women from all walks of life (including academics, representatives from NGOs, UN organisations and media) participated in the event. A short documentary film by filmmaker-publisher Archana Kapoor, who heads the SAVE initiative in India, was screened to raise the consciousness of people about terrorism.

The symposium fuelled discussion and exchange of ideas on various aspects of terrorism. Dr Abha Singh, director of Amity Institute of Psychology and Allied Sciences, proposed the introduction of a peace curriculum in schools. This would help young minds imbibe the concept of non violence. ISS director Dr George Mathhew spoke of how panchayats could be involved to further the cause of SAVE.

A workshop was held at DPS RK Puram where students interacted with SAVE members and put forth their views. Dr. Shyama Chona, Principal of DPS RK Puram, agreed to start a students' network: Schools Against Violent Extremism.

Speaking about SAVE, Archana Kapoor said, "Our endeavour is to unite women from all over the world against terrorism. We intend to create a platform where women can voice their opinions and grievances. And, they can get support and help from other members, too. It is a lobby for peace and justice. The role of women in a household is very crucial. They are the first to know if something is wrong with any family member. They are quick to hear the alarm bells. Then, it is up to them to control and prevent male members from treading the path of violence."

The next stop Lucknow. A few months ago, Uttar Pradesh was dubbed as the ‘terrorist hub' of India by the BJP. Accused of many blasts across India, in fact, belong to UP. So, this was the obvious destination for SAVE. A conference was held at the Lucknow University on January 31, 2009 to mobilise women and youth for the cause.  University teachers, representatives from NGOs, students and mediapersons attended the event. This women-centric initiative won appreciation in a University campus which is perceived as male-dominated.

According to Schlaffer, "We want to sensitise the youth against terrorism. We need to reach out to young minds and involve them in a positive dialogue. That is why, we plan to tie up with universities and schools in India to sensitise the future generations." Kapoor added, "The next generation are the students of today. They are the most susceptible to violence and its aftermath. All over the world, we find most suicide bombers are children or adolescents. This is because their minds can be easily influenced by hate-and-violence rhetoric which turns them into weapons of terror. SAVE strives to encourage thoughts of peace, love and non-violence among the youth to counter their vulnerability."

Nishi Pandey, director of UGC Academic Staff College of Lucknow University, expressed the need to train women and empower them. University teachers, too, would be taught how to handle violence and unrest on the campus. SAVE would promote research studies in order to start a curriculum at the Institute of Women Studies in the varsity. The last leg of the SAVE India launch series was held in terror-ravaged Mumbai. SAVE members met victims and survivors of the terror strikes. This was an "unnerving experience", said Kapoor. The brave exterior of the victims shattered once they began recounting their horrifying experiences. All who listened could not hold back their tears. This was the first time the victims got a chance to interact with the media and share their grief. SAVE tried to let victims share their grief to lighten their burden. And, offer other members a chance to feel the pain of those who lost their loved ones to terror. Like VK Sharma.

The SAVE initiative received tremendous response. Now, it is all set to go around the globe with its efforts for peace and harmony.  SAVE has already launched its UK and Belgium chapters. This summer, SAVE will be launched in the Middle East and France. SAVE also plans to reach out to women in the Northeast and Kashmir, living in the shadow of terror for decades now. Buoyed by the DPS RK Puram experience, more schools will be included in the SAVE platform.