“I am born to be a peacemaker, not a terrorist,” are the opening lines of 43-year-old Altaf Sufi when he visits children in schools to interact on peace and humanity. Kashmir-born Sufi walks on foot from city to city “to spread the message of peace”.
Currently in Mumbai, Sufi has walked over 7,500 km since 2010, when he first started his campaign to spread the message against terrorism.
“I left Kashmir at the age of 18 after I saw years of violence. I could not focus on my studies and abandoned education right after Class VIII,” he says.
This was the 1990s when tension between India and Pakistan was at its peak and scrutiny by the Border Security Force was frequent, adds Sufi.
On September 24, 2010, he started his first walk from Mumbai to Kashmir, covering 20-30 km each day, and stopping in towns and cities to visit schools and request principals to let him speak with the students. He reached Kashmir after one and a half year of walking through Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Himachal Pradesh.
“A lot of youngsters join terrorism after getting misguided. I want them to make the right choices, know that terrorism is wrong,” Sufi says, explaining why he interacts more with children. He sleeps on footpaths, under trees in forests and sometimes at homes of people he befriends on the way.
In 2012, he walked from Himachal Pradesh to Kashmir. In 2015, he started his most recent walk from Goa to Mumbai, which took nine months and ended recently.
This time, he walked along with a trolley carrying 12 street puppies that he encouraged people to adopt to promote love for animals.
The food that he ate would either be given by people en route, or he would visit dhabas. During his interactions with people on the road, he would explain his origin and the significance of peace. “It is all the more important at the time of international terrorism,” he says.
In Mumbai, Sufi slept on footpaths until a week ago, after which he moved to the house of a friend. He has until now visited over 100 schools and claims he has got support from all religions in his campaign. Sufi is yet to decide on his next destination.