Cyclists’ Pakistani mission derailed, but not peace message

December 25th, 2008 - 9:51 am ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Dec 25 (IANS) They were on a mission to Pakistan that went unfulfilled. The Nov 26 Mumbai terror attack put paid to the efforts of a group of 33 cyclists from India, including underprivileged children, to spread peace and child rights awareness.But the cyclists, who began their journey from Bangalore Nov 1, are back in the city, happy that at least their message went through thanks to their Pakistani friends.

“When we went to the high commission of Pakistan in New Delhi Nov 29, we were denied visas. We asked them why when we were on a peace mission,” rued sculptor John Devraj, artistic director of Bornfree Art School International (BASI), which organised the rally.

BASI is a Bangalore-based school for underprivileged children.

“The officials at the high commission told us that after the Mumbai terror attacks, it was not permissible for them to give us visas,” said Devraj.

“What if our mission remained unaccomplished, as we were stopped at the Wagah border, a few kilometres from our destination, Nov 30?

“We are happy that at least we were able to meet 40 friends from Pakistan who came to greet us at Wagah, where we exchanged peace messages that had been carried by us from various parts of India,” Devraj told IANS.

The 2,869-km long journey began in Bangalore Nov 1 and passed through several cities, including Dharwad, Mumbai, Gandhinagar, Delhi and Amritsar. The journey was to end at Saiwal, Indian freedom fighter Bhagat Singh’s birthplace, 200 km from Lahore.

On an average the cyclists covered a distance of 100 km a day. The 30-day expedition was named “Peacebycycle”. The 33 cyclists, including 25 youngsters, returned to Bangalore Tuesday.

The youngest member of the group was 10-year-old Gaja. There were two adults from Australia, and one each from Japan and Britain on the mission.

“We had a fruitful journey. In every nook and cranny of India we met enthusiastic people who wrote letters of love and peace to their Pakistani brethren. But unfortunately we could not enter Pakistan,” said Japanese theatre director Mioi Nakayama, 30, who was part of the expedition.

“Pakistani friends who came to greet us also gave us heartwarming letters written by Pakistani people to Indians, talking about the need to bring the two nations closer through peace and love.”

The expedition, apart from focusing on peace, also tried to educate people on the scourge of child labour. In fact, all the children who were part of the expedition were child labourers before joining BASI.

“It was a great experience, meeting and telling people about the need for peace in society. We also talked about the urgent need to stop child labour across the globe. I will carry this experience throughout my life,” said Gaja.

“Throughout our month-long journey we just talked about peace and the need to stop child labour,” said Satish, 16, another student of BASI.

According to child rights activists, India currently has around 50 million child labourers. It has been more than two years since child labour was banned in India. But the practice is still on.

The notification on prohibition of employment of children as domestic help and in restaurants or roadside ‘dhabas’ (eateries) came into effect Oct 10, 2006. Violators face jail for up to two years and a fine of Rs.20,000 (about $420).

BASI uses various forms of art to educate poor children. The school, located at Banjarapalya on Kanakapura Road in south Bangalore, has 180 children on its rolls.

Some of the art forms taught to children include, sculpture, painting, dance, music, theatre, photography and filmmaking, along with reading, writing and arithmetic.

“We have completed a daunting task, especially with children, but the spirits were high as we were on a goodwill mission. We hope to reach Pakistani soil some time soon, when the two nations will be talking about peace, and not war,” said Shivang Patel, coordinator of the expedition and a resident of London.

But as of now, it looks a distant dream.

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