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Pak journo on “Peace Boat” denied entry to India

Kochi: Indian Customs and Immigration authorities denied entry permission to Pakistani journalist Ms. Zainaba Fatima Shah on board of “Peace Boat” when it reached Kochi port in South Indian State, Kerala, on September 16.

A Lahore-based journalist, Zainaba, is one of the 8 journalists among 548 passengers of various nationalities on the "Peace Boat", which started its 39th global voyage from Tokyo, Japan, on September 1. The group of journalists, including those from areas of mutual conflict and mistrust like Palestine-Israel and India-Pakistan, is headed by Ved Bhasin, editor of Jammu-based Kashmir Times.

When all other passengers went out of the ship at Kochi to visit and study different localities and topics in the south Indian state of Kerala, only Zainaba was discriminated against and sent back to the ship only because she is a Pakistani. The port authorities quoted rules and regulations of "security" which do not permit Pakistanis to step into Indian soil on temporary visits.

"I have to obey the rules. Therefore, I had to quench my thirst to see India by looking at the Indian shores standing on this ship deck", she said. 

The experience was an unexpected rude shock for Zainaba. For, among all the passengers, it was she who was most eager to visit places in India and to interact with local Indians. Kochi is the only port where the "Peace Boat" touches in India. 

"Despite our language, food habits, dress, and skin color being the same, lot of obstacles are there separating us", said Zainaba whose grandfather, Dr. Asif Shah of undivided Punjab, stoutly opposed India-Pakistan division in 1947. Although she follows her grandfather's vision, the Indian experience hurt her deeply. According to Zainaba, she accepted the invitation of the Japanese NGO to join the 100 days global voyage primarily because it would provide her a chance to see India. However, what greeted her at Kochi port was a firm denial of entry with an equally firm order not to step on Indian soil. 

The Japanese NGO "Peace Boat" has special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of United Nations and seeks to establish a global network among people and NGOs working for peace, human rights, environment and development. 

Ironically, the study list itinerary of "Peace Boat" passengers in Kerala were a programme of “home stay” with local families at Ambalamukal near Ernakulam, which was meant to exchange preparations of Japanese and Keralite food, identify local dressing habits, a visit to historical places in Fort Kochi, and also to know "Art of Living" course--all of which are so innocuous and come nowhere near to cause "security" concern objections against Zainaba's entry.

After this fourth trip to Kochi, the "Peace Boat" left Kochi September 17 afternoon. Launched by Japanese NGOs in 1983, the "Peace Boat" has so far took around 15,000 people to more than 100 ports spread over 50 countries through its 38 global voyages conducted so far. The current trip will conclude at Tokyo on December 9.

¯ Mukundan C. Menon

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