“There is no way to peace, peace is the way”. This famous inspirational quote by Gandhi propelled into action youth in Mumbai in the form of organizing and running a ‘Peaceathon’. Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) and SIES College, Mumbai collectively organized ‘Peaceathon’, a marathon for peace and communal harmony on 22nd February, 2015. The objective of this peaceathon was to highlight diversity and appreciate peace and harmony in society. Youth who as rightly pointed out are a pillar for sustainable peace and thus it becomes so essential to tap their strength and resourcefulness in the cause of peace. About 40-50 SIES College NCC youth worked for more than three weeks to make Peaceathon success. They designed the posters and the peace messages, mobilized other participants, arranged for hydration and refreshments for the participants and designed the T-Shirts with punch line “Peacemaking is not a sprint – it is more of a marathon”
The distance to be covered for this peaceathon was 5kms- from SIES College to Kings’ Circle and back to SIES College. The participants were youth from SIES, Guru Nanak college, D.S Dhonde college, Rotaract club, Red Boys Foundation, NSS and NCC. Apart from this, the locals from Sion and Dadar participated in the peaceathon. Heartening sight was that the non teaching staff of SIES led by example by running the peaceathon, while the teaching staff were cheering it and helping with the organization. There considerable number of women participants. Some children also participated.
The registration for the peaceathon started at 6.30am. The number of participants exceeded the expectations of the organizers as well as the registrations previously received. The sea of youth outside the college and inside the porch and quadrangle of the College was a thrilling sight to behold with around thousand students clothed in their running gear were preparing themselves for this marathon. The college was bustling with infectious energy and enthusiasm. The youth were excited- for many of them this was the first experience of running any marathon. 940 youth registered for the marathon and eagerly waited for the run to be flagged off. Facilitating the peaceathon was a team of 125 volunteers. Meanwhile the participants were kept engrossed by the posters that adorned the walls and gate of the college. The posters conveyed the message of diversity, messages of compassion, love and respect that every religion preaches and inspirational quotes by great thinkers like Gandhi, Rumi, Kabir and Nelson Mandela. The idea of peace was attempted to be conveyed through these posters.
The marathon was flagged amidst lot of zeal and gusto with the youth roaring to go at 8am. The participants started the run. Amazingly, some of them notwithstanding the dug up roads on the route or running barefoot completed the run in less than 16 minutes. The first three winners were youth from Chiplun (one of them running barefoot). The first three girls to finish the peaceathon got the loudest cheers. The volunteers and organizers were cheering the youth who were running back to the finishing line- exalted and exhausted. Hydration was provided at four points during the peaceathon. The police’s support was crucial in cordoning off roads to ensure traffic free roads to avoid any mishaps and regulating the participants. The participants came back to SIES College with a look of tremendous pride, confidence and satisfaction. They all gathered back at the quadrangle in SIES sitting exhausted in groups but relishing this experience together amid laughter and chatter. When the participants returned back to SIES, prize distribution took place where the first three winners got gift vouchers from fitness establishments and felicitated with medals. The first three girls to finish the peaceathon were also given vouchers. The participant who got special recognition was a boy from a municipality school who ran barefoot the whole peaceathon with immense happiness.
The peaceathon was concluded by a small symbolic presentation by children artists from ‘Little Kabeera’ of a plural yet peaceful India. They were applauded and cheered loudly by the participants. Adv. Irfan Engineer was called upon to say a few words where he explained the objective of the peaceathon and how diversity is desirable and true peace is to embrace diversity and respect the different. The participants parted on a sumptuous note after being provided with breakfast.
This peaceathon was an engaging and encouraging experience for the organizers. I say engaging because the volunteers worked very hard to conceptualize the contours of peace and making posters to deliver the message of peace. Considerable thought process, debates and discussions helped emerge with the thought provoking slogans and messages that were written on the posters. This is indicative of the initiative taken by youth to reflect on the social issues today which can pose an obstacle to peace and democracy. Just not deliberating on these issues but also coming up with innovative ways to spread awareness about peace amongst youth. This understanding in youth and its initiate is the most positive outcome of the peaceathon. The response and turn out for the peacathon was inspiring and stirring. Youth from different backgrounds ran together and united for a laborious run for a cause. Some of the messages were as follows:
- Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace
- Peace cannot be kept by force, it can be achieved only through understanding
- When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace
- My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can be only human together
- Anything war can do, peace can do better
- As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality exists in the world, none of us can truly be at peace
- Society equals diversity and inclusion
- No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite..”
For true democracy and communal harmony, civil society should be working in synergy and partnership. A special thanks to SIES College which was so supportive and thoughtful about every single detail. They extended their full cooperation. The Principal and the staff put their best foot forward in taking care of the participants and arranging the logistics so meticulously. The Principal in spite of her other pressing engagements was present personally right from the start to make this peaceathon a success. The other staff with their experience and expertise guided the whole process smoothly and guided the students so well. CSSS cherishes this partnership and would like to explore more opportunities to collaborate with SIES in the future. The police also cooperated and extended their support in terms of safety of the participants by regulating traffic.
Along with these achievements, CSSS had a lot to learn from this peaceathon. In this process, the feedback of the participants was very helpful. It would aid in better organization next time. Some of the important feedback was that the route for the peaceathon must be carefully chosen to ensure a smooth and clean road. This route had some patches of road dug up and some pieces of glass shards. Similarly if there were more volunteers they could be more points for hydration and could have cheered for the participants and encouraged them while running. Also the peaceathon should be planned for a better time and not very close to exams of the students to enable more participation. But apart from this, the participants shared that they enjoyed this run which it fostered healthy competition, peer activity and good health. For most of them it was the first time. It boosted confidence and sense of achievement.