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Tura marches for man of peace, Mandela

People participate in the march in Tura on Monday. Telegraph picture

Tura, Dec. 9: Hundreds of citizens of this bustling town, located in a strife-torn region, today upheld what Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela had been fighting for during his lifetime — peace and tolerance.

Located 323km away from the seat of power in Shillong, people cutting across all ages, communities and creed assembled at the Chandmari playground to participate in an inter-faith march for peace, something the entire Garo hills region is crying for amid the spate of violence, especially the brutality emanating through the barrel of the gun.

The peace march was taken out as a prelude to the opening of the sixth edition of the Tura winter festival. Ahaia, on the theme Give Peace a Chance. This is all the more relevant because Tura and the Garo hills region have reported several cases of violence in recent times.

Rev. Andrew Marak, bishop of Tura, leads the gathering in prayer on Monday. Telegraph picture

As the world was in a state of mourning over Mandela’s demise, organisers refrained from displaying any pomp and gaiety during the opening of the festival. Instead, prayers were held and folk music was performed. Homage was paid to Mandela as his pictures adorned the main stage at the Chandmari ground.

“The Garo hills region was known to be a peace-loving place. That has changed now. Peace has become scarce, elusive and very difficult to come by.” These words by Garo Baptist Convention president R.D. Shira summed up the current scenario of western Meghalaya. Leading the gathering into prayer, Rev. W.R. Marak of the Garo Baptist Church recalled the contributions made by Mandela, and described him as a “great man of peace”.

“We have to follow in the footsteps of this great man of peace as we face much threats and disorder in our society today. This peace march is a plea to citizens to maintain peace, tranquillity and respect for human life,” Marak said in his prayer.

South Tura legislator John Leslee K. Sangma told the gathering that moments like today should give people a chance to think deeply about “peace” while appealing to everyone to be instruments of harmony.

“Let us not only ask for peace from groups which are demanding for the inner line permit or from militants who are fighting for the fulfilment of their demands through the barrel of the gun. Are we also willing to give peace to others?” Sangma asked.

He also said today’s peace march was not a “show of strength”, but to “tell the world what we want”.

West Garo Hills deputy commissioner Pravin Bakshi, while admitting that the region was going through a difficult time, hoped that peace would prevail and said John Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance was still relevant in today’s age. Perhaps the mood in the entire Garo hills region was aptly reflected in the song An Sengriri Aiao Angade. The song expresses one’s happiness to be at his/her birthplace where moments such as the sunset and moonrise are magnificent.

But the song also poses a question. “Once upon a time, our A’chik Asong was peaceful and joyful. Shall we get back those peaceful and joyful days again?” The answer to this question, and the “long walk to freedom” from violence, perhaps, is lingering in everyone’s conscience.