Reaching the one hundred day mark on this yearlong Jai Jagat Global Peace March feels like an achievement. We have been walking on the central plains in India for three-and-a -half months: beginning from on 2nd October, 2019 in Delhi, and covering 25 kilometres a day, staying in different locations every night and meeting hundreds of people in the course of each day. With over the 1900 kilometres under our belt, we’ve got a “worm’s eye view” of people’s lives. Step by step, village by village, city by city connecting with the actions of so many people, it has been an amazing view into the daily lives of such a diverse population. This is very different from the “bird’s eye view” which tends to see things from aerial heights without touching the ground realities. The Jai Jagat in every step ‘touched the ground’.
The Jai Jagat march has been spreading Gandhi’s message of “on the move for justice and peace” directly impacting over 100,000 people during the course of the walk and trained nearly 5,000 young people and sensitized 25,000 school children on nonviolence. In addition, the Jai Jagat elicited a heartfelt response from tens of thousands of people as we walked across the five states of the country. It became apparent early in the march that Mahatma Gandhi still lives in the hearts and minds of so many Indians, which is not always reflected within the social media or political discourse.
As the trip progressed, the throng of people increased in size and became so large by the third month, it felt like a throwback to black and white movies of the Freedom struggle: people with Gandhi caps and white kurtas filling the roadways and moving in fast motion. What is so interesting about people in India, is that they are so moved by oral communication. The way messages are spread through word of mouth still continues to be very common. As we walked by so many people, there was the sense that the event was being transmitted organically as well as through the media.
The first leg of the journey was four months in India from Gandhi’s resting place in Delhi to his Ashram in Sewagram, Wardha. There was an outpouring of support in the form of flower garlands, welcome tika on the forehead, daily solidarity meetings, provisions of food, and accommodation. This was a tribute to Gandhi’s message that it continues to nurture and have relevance and resonates with common ordinary people. Taking up a kind of tapas (renunciation) like an 11,000 kilometre march demonstrates how a Satyagraha is carried out. In the process it wins the hearts and minds of many Indians.
The fifty marchers that are part of this yearlong march were a mixture of international participants from seven countries (Argentina, Kenya, New Zealand, France, Spain,
Switzerland and Canada; as well as members from 12 states of the country representing all ages and segments of society. All of them were lining up behind Gandhi’s perspective in every way that they possibly could. It was inspirational to watch how they lifted people’s spirits through slogans, songs and speeches.
The march went through Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Much of the 100 days was in Madhya Pradesh and as we traversed 13 districts we found ourselves in dozens of forest areas, and in this process we became acquainted with different tribal cultures. We were serenaded with music and dance and got a glimpse of their community life. Also many nights we stayed in the hostels of young Adivasi students where they gave up their beds to host us. They were curious about Gandhi and our mission and we had a chance to talk and interact with many of them.
Experiences with Tribal Communities
When we stopped for the night in villages of remote living Adivasis, we were continually reminded of their plight. Annihilating peace loving people like those seeking refuge and livelihoods from forests by displacing them to cities is a grave insensitivity. Common people are hasty to label Adivasis as “drunkards”, when this is part of the deep marginalization that persists and symbolizes their perceived alienation. The Jai Jagat counteracted these arguments by making the claim that adivasi people may be weak in terms of their economic means but they have community based music and dance and a collective cultural life connecting directly to nature, which gives them deep peace. Also in the age of reducing the carbon footprints it would be foolhardy to remove Adivasis for they are the guardians of the eco-resources on which all humankind depends. In fact we need to recognize Adivasis as having the capacity to set things right. More importantly they teach us how to create peace with the earth. With this information we tried to sensitize non-Adivasis communities and policy makers whenever the opportunity arose on the march.
Centre for Peace and Peace Ministry
A significant gain during the course of the march was the inauguration of ‘Centre for Excellence on Nonviolence and Peace in Higher Studies’ in Samrat Ashoka Technology Institute, Vidisha. The centre will facilitate training and research on how nonviolence can be incorporated in engineering and other technical sciences. An initiative to establish Peace Ministry was also announced by the Rajasthan government earlier during the Jai Jagat’s visit to the state while Chhattisgarh government is expected to make an announcement for a similar endeavour in the forthcoming Peace Conference in Wardha, the last stop of the Indian leg of the march later in the month. These are accomplishments of the Jai Jagat vision to introduce nonviolence in governance and establish Peace Studies in universities and other educational institutes.
The ‘Warp’ and the ‘Woof’
There were two other distinct threads, the warp and the woof, that create this 100-day March. Firstly the warp is the meeting of thousands of children and young people, mainly from schools across the Hindi heartland. We sang songs, recited slogans, spoke about the objectives of the Jai Jagat and got them to engage in projects. On top of this, we met with 25,000 young people between the ages of 14 to 20 in Chindwara on the 7th of January. This was presided by the Chief Minister.
What this Chindwara event raised was that education goes hand and hand with development of a society. Because we saw organic agriculture in Hoshangabad along with cows in many cowsheds, and the multiplication of use of cow-dung for making milk products and natural fertilizers, this was a way to expand the bioresource development while taking care of animal population. We saw students of medicine, engineering and business interested in nonviolence with relation to their studies.
These short interventions with young people were aimed to help them to think about peace, to have them set up peace clubs and to encourage the teachers to bring peace into their curriculum. Although we do not have the possibility of following up, we have put together some guidelines for peace clubs to give to the schools.
The second thread (woof) was the interactions between Jai Jagat as a social movement and the different organs of the state. One of the aims of the Jai Jagat is to make the State less violent. One example of this was the assistance we received from the police force. Generally we think of police as being ‘anti-people’. But watching how the police worked with the Jai Jagat to control traffic was worthy of attention. We were marching with flags and banners and were using up half of the road. This meant that two-way traffic was confined to one side of a double road. The police were responsible for maintaining the safety of the marchers. In the process the police became impressed with the discipline of the marchers and the caring attitude of the leadership. This led them to want to interact with the marchers. We found in many places the police came to bring bananas for snacks and to help serve the roadside tea. As a result the Superintendent of Police from Betul District, concluded in one of our sessions, that the good relationship with the marchers was very important for building trust with the larger community locally. We saw this example of the community policing as a state becoming more nonviolent.
The Jai Jagat Global Peace March is nearing the end of its road in India and will soon be going overseas to begin the long march from Iran through ten countries to Geneva over the course of nine months. It is planning to take the many learnings from India through the other countries to Geneva. The marchers are also open to new innovations from other countries. It is hoped that the march will be as rich and exciting as has been in India over these last 100 days.
The article is written by Ms. Jill Carr-Harris, International Coordinator, Jai Jagat