The Acha Star Awards for 2010 have been presented to two Pakistanis and four Indians for their work — Dr. Mohammad Arif (Varanasi), Jatin Desai (Mumbai), Ashfaq Fateh (Toba Tek Singh), Faisal Khan (New Delhi), Dilafrose Qazi (Srinagar), and Awais Sheikh (Lahore).
The awards, instituted by the Association for Communal Harmony in Asia (Acha), were initiated as the annual Acha Star Awards in 1996. They are now given every two years after a selection process that begins with inviting nominations (self-nominations are not accepted).
Acha is a 17-year old Oregon-based non-profit, non-political organisation that monitors peace and harmony work around the globe and also works to promote peace and interfaith harmony.
Ashfaq Fateh has been engaged since 1992 in efforts to bring together Muslims and Christians in Pakistan. As chairperson for the Harmony Foundation and principal of a high school he has inspired and organised programmes in schools to promote peace, gender equality, and religious harmony. In June 2010, he led a group of students to the Wagah border as part of the Aman Ki Asha Peace handkerchiefs initiative.
Awais Sheikh is President of Pakistan-India Peace Initiatives. As an advocate, he has taken up the cause of the condemned Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh whom he and other activists believe to be the victim of mistaken identity. He is also author of several books on Indo-Pak peace. Eminent activists rights activists from India and Pakistan who have earlier received this award include Karamat Ali, Sayeeda Diep, Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, B. M. Kutty, Dr. A.H. Nayyar, Dr. Ram Puniyani, Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi, besides Dr. Ingrid Shafer of the USA.
Acha founder and Executive Director Dr Pritam K. Rohilla along with eminent journalist and rights activist I A Rehman, Chairman of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, presented the awards to the Pakistani recipients on February 7 in Lahore. Acha recently joined with Ravi Foundation of Pakistan forces to run a Youth Peace Camp in Toba Tek Singh to impart concepts and skills to promote peace and to address issues of intolerance and violence. Some 25 youth leaders, male and female from various educational institutions and organisations travelled from different Pakistani cities to attend the camp.
Dr. Pritam. K Rohilla, who has a Doctorate in Education, conducted the camp using a workbook titled “Choices and Self Esteem.” He has been visiting both India and Pakistan since 2006 from his base in the Oregon in order to interact with peace and human rights organisations in both countries. Over the years he is happy to have met with what he called “the icons of peace and human rights” in both countries.
Through such Youth Peace Camps, Acha has been addressing the issues of “intolerance and violence” in India (where the organisation has held three camps) and in Pakistan (two camps, one in Karachi and Toba Tek Singh).
At the awards ceremony, Dr Rohilla said that during his travels, he has observed that the youth are taking much interest in learning peace values and, and by doing so, are able to contribute to their society. “I feel my visit is helpful to enable the youth from the neighbouring countries to make a commitment for lasting peace within themselves, families, societies and their respective societies,” he added.
Ashfaq Fateh, who organised the Toba Tek Singh camp, explained that the Ravi Foundation, which he also initiated, has conducted a peace formation programme with youth in the past. The Foundation works “to empower the vulnerable groups of society, including children, women, labourers, religious minorities and those involved in animal rights and protection”.
Fateh, 38, studied civics and human rights at Aga Khan University in Karachi and has been working to promote peace, human rights, especially the rights of Christians in Pakistan. He has also been working against what he calls “the discriminatory laws prevailing in Pakistan.”
“I am pleased that I have been granted the ACHA Peace Star,” wrote Ashfaq Fateh in an email. “I feel blessed that there are people around the globe who recognise the positive work being done in our society. The award is a message for people around the world who want to see Pakistan as a strong and a peaceful country and believe that peace here is possible.”
Cross border peace: Ashfaq Fateh receives his Acha Star award from I. A. Rehman & Dr. Pritam K. Rohilla in Lahore