An online signature campaign seeking an "apology for the heinous crimes" of 1947, when the Indian subcontinent was partitioned, is receiving a tremendous response from people across borders.
The Association for Communal Harmony In Asia (ACHA), formed in the US in 1993, has initiated the campaign to empathise with and apologise to the victims and survivors of the 1947 Hindu-Muslim riots.
Its petition, launched on Aug 1, has been signed by hundreds of netizens and will be wrapped up at the end of this year. ACHA has as its members Indians, Pakistanis as well as Bangladeshis.
India, after it gained freedom from centuries-old British rule, was divided into two countries on the basis of religious affinities and Pakistan, a federation Muslim majority states, was born. Pakistan was later partitioned to form Bangladesh.
In the frenzy of communal violence, the petition says, around 15 million people were forced to leave their homes. Millions lost their lives. The horrific memories of mass murder, rape, pillage and suffering are unforgettable for the victims.
Sixty years since then, the wounds still ache and people have not been able to live with the rigors of the forced migration. What makes the healing more difficult is that the victims and perpetrators of the crimes were the same.
"The Partition in 1947 was perhaps the darkest period in the history of the region (sub-continent)," says Pritam K Rohila, executive director of ACHA.
Rohila, who was an eyewitness to the atrocities of the partition, feels that reconciliation begins when somebody accepts responsibility for the crime and "no one has so far accepted responsibility for these heinous crimes of 1947".
"We the members of ACHA are inviting people in India and Pakistan to join us in the long-delayed effort by signing our petition of apology to the victims and their families at www.indiapakistanpeace.org," Rohila, who is based in Poland, told IANS on e-mail.
The association, which also includes Pervez Hoodbhoy, a known nuclear physicist and peace activist from Pakistan, and Haroon Habib, a journalist from Bangladesh, focuses on pursuing the agenda of peace between India and Pakistan, rather than "wasting them in condemning anyone and inadvertently publicising the work of hate-mongers", said Rohila.
The association has since 2004 been conducting a campaign to encourage people to organise India-Pakistan Peace Day everywhere between Pakistan's Independence Day Aug 14 and the UN Peace Day Sep 21. The petition of apology is one of the two core elements of the peace day campaign.
It wants signatories to read aloud an "affirmative statement of peace and harmony" every day from Aug 14 through Sept 21.
The statement apologetically says:
"We the members of the Association for Communal Harmony in Asia who have signed believe that the time has come for all of us together to condemn, without distinction, the insane orgy of violence and intimidation that marred the great human divide of 1947.
"We undertake to shun the political use of religion and communalism.
"On the 60th anniversary of our Independence Days, we remember that dark chapter in our history so as to ensure that these tragedies will be neither forgotten nor repeated.
"We regret that our forebears, the colonial British administration and the successor governments failed to prevent the tragedy, punish the perpetrators and/or apologise to you and your families," the petition reads.
"In the spirit of harmony and goodwill among the people of South Asia, and to help build a new South Asian present and future, we grieve together for you. We offer our deepest sympathies and most solemn regrets to you and your families.
"We are sorry!"