In a first of its kind of initiative, a community Khap (community council) in Haryana on Sunday honoured Pakistani human rights activist Ansar Burney for helping in the release of Indian sailors held captive by Somali pirates.
Burney was honoured by Gulia Khap, one of Haryana's prominent khaps, in collaboration with an NGO 'Sailor Relief Fund' (SRF) at Laadpur village in Jhajjar district, about 30 km from Delhi. He was honoured for "significant contribution in social sector at global level".
Burney helped six Indian families to get their kin released from the pirates in 2011. One of the captured sailors, Ravinder Gulia, belonged to the Gulia community.
Addressing the gathering, Burney, a former Pakistan federal minister for human rights and advisor to the United Nations Human Rights Council, blamed political leadership in India and Pakistan for creating "unfriendly and tense atmosphere" between the two countries.
"Petty politics is being played by a few political leaders in India and Pakistan to get political mileage for fulfilling their vested interests. This has drawn a line of hatred between two brothers (India and Pakistan) and resulted in unusual and tensed relations between them," Burney said.
People of the two nations not only wish peace but also want to come close to each other, he added.
"In Pakistan, I am labelled as an 'Indian agent' for helping several Indians get justice or bailing them out from crisis. I feel pain and distress when I have to face lot of difficulty and to make so many efforts in getting visa for India."
"Every time, I have to approach the higher authorities to get visa for India but I always feel better after coming and interacting with people here," said Burney, adding that a strong political will is needed from both sides to get the relations better between the two nations.
Burney maintained that several social and human activists from India and Pakistan have been working in the direction of restoring brotherhood, harmony and congenial atmosphere between India and Pakistan.
"I am fully confident that we will succeed in our mission one day and doors of peace will open from both the sides," he said.
Expressing confidence about release of Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh from Lahore jail soon, Burney said: "We have filed an appeal with the president of Pakistan for granting mercy to Sarabjit Singh and I believe that the president will definitely help us by considering the appeal."
It was the first time that a khap panchayat honoured a foreign human right activist.
Haryana khaps are viewed as primarily responsible for encouraging honour killings and caste and community segregation, and for passing strictures against those who do not follow traditional social customs, especially in marriages.
However, in July this year, a khap of women in Bibipur village of Jind district took an unsual initiative and resolved to fight against female foeticide. The village had a skewed sex ratio of only 845 girls for 1,000 boys.
The Haryana government announced a grant of Rs.1 crore (Rs.10 million) for the village following this initiative.
Three other khaps in Fatehabad, Bhiwani and Kaithal districts also followed, announcing their fight against female foeticide.
Haryana education minister Geeta Bhukkal, Rohtak MP Deepender Singh Hooda and National Commission for Scheduled Castes vice chairman Raj Kumar Verka, who were also present on the occasion, appreciated the efforts taken by the Gulia Khap to spread the message of brotherhood and peace among people from India and Pakistan.