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I wish to place before the United Nations, an original idea, a global and holistic concept that I have evolved, for declaration of war ruins as “Peace Heritage Sites” in the world—it hopes to become a bold move towards ensuring lasting peace in the world.
To recapitulate the birth of this idea I must take you on an emotional train journey in the province of Kanchanaburi, Thailand. It so happened that I had seen the famous movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, and wanted to see the site in reality. To briefly mention, I may tell you that the Death Valley Railway in Thailand was built under Japanese control as part of their strategic military needs during World War II. What makes it a remorseful story is the fact that 60,000 prisoners of war from four countries—England, America Australia and Holland, were forced and tortured to work on the construction of this railway. They had alongside 200,000 laborers from India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Burma and Thailand. The 415 km railway (303 km in Thailand and 112 km in Burma) was begun on 16th September, 1942 at Nong Pladuk, Thailand. The first Japanese surveys estimated five years as construction period, but the Japanese army forced the prisoners to complete it in only sixteen months on 25th December 1943!
More than 16,000 POWs and 100,000 laborers perished due to starvation, lack of medical attention, torture and disease. Japan was in a hurry. The earth was gaining a railway line, the earth was losing faith in mans’ behavior. The railway passed through the Three Pagoda pass in Sangkhlaburi District, northern part of Kanchanaburi Province and the story of the bridges built over River Kwai made it infamously memorable.
The experience could not have been complete without a ride on the Death Valley Railway. So I boarded the next train at Kwai Bridge Station for a journey, which was to last an hour and twenty minutes. This was on 2nd January 2004. I did not realize then that the memories of this journey would continue to haunt me whenever I board a train. It was as if I was riding trampling human bodies beneath the wheels, hearing anguished cries of POWs and laborers who died while laying the same railway track. The wooden coach, similar to a period coach, made the experience more poignant. In the distance were rocky hills running parallel to the railway line. Between the hills and the train were corn, tapioca and sugarcane fields. Sometimes one would see a bamboo hut in the valley. Thai children waved enthusiastically and for a moment it seemed as if nothing was ever wrong here. Fluffs of the corn-flower lifted from the fields and swam on air currents into the train coach. Inside, they lost their drive and floated for a while before being brushed aside. I was with the environment. I saw that the earth here was red—was it colored by the blood of POWs? I wondered.
The focus light fell now on the Death Bridge. This was a bridge made entirely of wooden logs by 2,000 POWs in just 17 days over River Kwai Noi! How many lives must have been lost here? I thought. The bridge made entirely of wooden logs creaks today. It is a historic site remindful of the plight of POWs and their heroic struggle in captivity. It brings sorrow when you think of them. It is today a living memorial, deserving to be declared a Peace Heritage Site, I thought. Perhaps, this way we can focus the attention of world leaders towards ensuring an environment of peace amongst all people of the world.
Two and a half months later, on 20th March 2004, when I was journeying to Shimla, in India, on the Kalka-Shimla Shivalik Deluxe narrow gauge hill train, a thought streaked across my mind— if one could weave all such war ruins and sites into a garland of Peace Heritage Sites, we could perhaps create a bold anti-war movement. So was concretized this idea!
United Nations has the mandate to accept this unique idea. We need world consensus on the issue and the will and guidance of our leaders and statesmen to carry