Friday, October 16, 2009

Peace Channel: A channel for human rights education and peace in Nagaland

The paper which was presented in Budapest Hungary by Fr Anto Paul-

The conflict context or development context of the Naga polity

Nagas are unique people with its culture, people, religion, habitat and worldview and polity but Naga’s context of development or context of conflict and brief history through which it is developing over the last 5 decades as indigenous people with distinctive identity in the international community can only be understood in relation with India which is also developing as the largest democratic and powerful country in the world during the same period. For the Naga the last five decades has been a tragic history of war and bloodsheds without and within that took thousands of lives and generations of youth times. Wisdom seems to have finally dawned upon us after decades of bloody experiences. Today, Churches, factions, political parties, youth, women and all civil society organizations are all working together on the path of reconciliation processes. It is in this context I present you a growing first generation of peace channels that is set to shape Naga society as human rights aware and a strong community while existing as a unique people in the international community. The challenge we took to ourselves today is transformation of Naga society to be a source of human rights awareness and good governance from having been known as the source of insurgency related violence in South Asian region.

Major achievements that inspire us to move on is India government recognizing the ‘Uniqueness’ of Naga as an outcome of a decade long peace talks since 1997. Every Naga today is proud of being Naga as the peace processes has established their identity in the international community. This recognition creates a space to bring together a deeply divided Naga society; across ideologies, factions, parties and tribes as never before. But the path to integration or for that matter coming together of different groups of people and communities in Naga society is beset with huge challenges and problems. The memories of mutual destructions, violence and killings and sufferings between factions, the growing social and economic divides; the so called advance and backward tribes, competition over leadership and diversity of languages, tribe identities and religious differences, the narrow tribal outlooks and related distrusts can prove to be major hurdles. Outside the Naga community how do we relate with neighboring communities without intimidations or threats or violence so so as to have peaceful co-existence where every Naga for that matter people from different neighboring communities feels safe and secure where ever s/he moves in Nagaland and the region. How do we at the same time re-orient the younger generations to a new work culture to get engaged in productive activities from white color job to farming activities and dignified life with sense of community responsibility and duty for making Naga a food secure-self reliant community from an a situation of war-ravaged acutely dependent economy? How do Naga position and respond to India’s Look East Policy frame and development processes from the west on one hand and Chinese and other Southeast Asian growing market influence from east on the other? How does Naga society with its diversely rich natural forest, minerals, herbal, natural and cultural resources contribute to the growing South East and South Asian economy and reap benefits from it for greater development and advancement of its people? These are some of the questions/ challenges beset in shaping the Naga society as we enter the world of 3rd millennium.

Human rights situation

In a region known for it’s racial, religious traditions, linguistic cultural diversities and hostilities where people lived in relative isolation for better part of their history with sporadic contacts for war and /or bartering or trading activities human rights as defined in UDHR (1948) has been a new concept. Our diversities, tribal and factional differences have been great barriers to realization of human rights within communities and across. Furthermore, when different tribes and communities across and with India began to interact or slowly come together from their relative isolations they began do it with hostilities and wars that caused bitter experiences in the minds of the people.

Unfortunately, the fact that Government of Independent India that took over the Nagas against their wills promising fundamental human rights enshrined and rooms for self-determination within its Constitution also became the major source of human rights violation and violence over the last 50 years in its fight against the armed Naga -nationalists. Even after two peace accords Armed Forces Special Power Act (1958) that gives swiping power to non-commission officer to kill on suspicion and rob dignity of people became the most effective instrument of human rights violation still in use in the region. This instrument has been even more lethal and detrimental to human society when it is used across racial and cultural lines – Indo-Aryan forces operating in the Northeastern region of people belonging to Mongoloid of Southeastern Asian backgrounds. This makes human rights movements in the region perceived as anti-India political movement closely associated with the anti-India armed rebellion or secessionists.

Human rights movements in the region have also been closely linked to community identities even when they may have universal appeals. For every community or tribe or political organization there seems to be a human rights organization. The strongest and most influential human rights organizations have also been those that are closely associated to a political or community identity. Naga People’s Movement Human Rights itself has been one of the most pioneering, effective and influential organization in the region. Similarly, there are many other human rights organizations for different communities and their political causes. We also have a regional level human rights network organization but they have been a weak in effects and influence. Besides these each and every ethnic community and tribes have their own alliances and strong in-group solidarity and armed groups with strong political aspiration behind them. These factors further compound the human rights situation and leave no space for civil society movement for human rights and human rights education. Most of the armed groups have zero tolerance against dissidence or differences. Thousands of lives are already lost in in-fighting, political assassinations and factional killings among different armed groups. Such a human right situation makes community or a particular group’s rights more important than human rights of individual persons in the society.

However much demoralizing and discouraging the situation may be the silent invasion of HIV and AIDS as an invisible enemy that (Nagaland and neighboring state of Manipur being the worst hit states) poses to threaten survival of small indigenous populations from within can only be defended with greater human rights awareness, skills and practices, and women empowerment. Civil society, Church and Women groups must reclaim / create its space and position in the society and be respected and recognized of the critical roles they play in the on going reconciliatory processes of shaping future of Naga.

Human rights dilemma

Human Right Education must equip the present generation with life skills for self protection, preservation and progress and building goodwill and relations with others with different cultural identities in the manner that mutually ensures and enriches human rights awareness and practices. Human rights education must overcome factional differences and inter-tribal feuds, and transcend tribal, communal, racial and cultural diversities and transform the culture of violence.

It may well be said that Naga society has solid foundation for human rights already as results of decades of efforts put in by Christian missionaries, western education and human rights organizations that came along it and nurtured generations of people for over the last one century. This is the strength and inspirations for all of us today as we gather here to recognize and celebrate our strengths for peace, today. However, to prepare the present generation of youth as channels of peace through human rights education and life skills we needed an alternative discourse, a space to experience a culture of peace nurtured with our own local resources. The project Peace Channel is all about this alternative discourse and living new experiences.

Peace Channel: Alternative space

Peace channel began in September 2006 in the state after it took shape and matured from a culture of violence in Nagaland through personal experiences. Peace channel is reaching out children in Nagaland and across states in India and nations making each child a channel for peace. Objectives of Peace Channel are Promotion of peace, love, and justice in conflict; empowerment marginalized sections of society to live in harmony with God, nature, and bringing out the potentials in each of being responsible, transparent, honest and diligent leaders; staying clean of Drugs and pre-marital sex; Facilitating collective learning, sharing for development; Accelerating socio-economic sustainable development for the poor and Facilitating collaboration and networking across boundaries.

Peace Channel promotes belief in One Supreme God: All are His Children; relationship; Mutuality; Co-sharing; Inner peace; Return to the source; Union and Righteousness; Forgiveness and reconciliation; concerns for other while being self responsible; Compassion with adversaries; Working for justice and healing. Propagate spirit of sacrifice for peace; Honoring inherent dignity and worth of every body; Keeping aside petty interests for common good and being Enthusiastic and committed. Voluntary service and Radical commitment to genuine human services; Readiness to accept individuals and communities as they are; Embracing differences and valuing others and Being open to oneself and others; Hospitality to strangers; Pastoral care for all; Reaching out to poor, weak and marginalized; Non-discrimination and Rediscovery of solidarity

Long-term goals include transformation of Nagaland to a place of peace and Making India a model for peace in South Asia. Short-term goals include Setting up Peace Channel Units to form Model Peace Zone; Nagaland People Forum for Peace (NPFP) and Model Peace Region.

Preparing the young generation of children and people in communities towards a transformed society is doen through several activities such as formation of Peace Clubs in schools/colleges and villages; inter-religious dialogue and harmony; Action for locality development; Promoting Art and technique of living together with immediate neighbors; training for youths, students, employees, and professionals; seminars, symposium, training on Life skills; Outreaching to education to less privilege sections of society and Advocacy and human rights awareness. It is believed that through these activities there shall be Peaceful minds; ecumenical Harmony through inter-religious dialogue; Creating peace at homes and workplaces; Dealing with Lust, Anger, Greed, Hatred, Envy, Jealousy, Ill-will, Worry, Stress and strains; Participation in national events and Protection of environment.

Peace Club and its processes:

Peace clubs in school/ Community is the basic foundation for social transformation at grass roots level. It comprises of 15 Members with local contributions and lifetime membership and conducts fortnightly regular meeting. Peace clubs engages in advocacy and awareness; conflict transformation; addressing local conflicts and violence and promoting peaceful co-existence. The club meets 2-3 times a month regularly. Whenever members of club meet they start by greeting one another “Peace to you” and “Peace to you, too.” before sitting in a circle with a light candle in the middle. One among the member in the circle leads a peace prayer in any faith tradition of one’s pursuance and then followed with 7-Step group processes. It begins with a common peace prayer with each member touching the head of the person on the right. Second step is a short meditation which involves silent self awareness, and through breathing seeking reconciliation. Third step is life skills session on the any important situation/ issue/theme. In the forth step members identify a local issue, discuss and come up with a response action plan for implementation. Members then together evaluate the day’s process for further improvement as fifth step. Saying a peace pledge and singing anthem as sixth and seventh step as regular peace club meeting ends.

To conclude a peace channel is a project for social transformation that is inspired by human sufferings and higher values life and employs such methodologies and beliefs harnessed the deeper philosophies of religious scriptures to respond to the contemporary situation of violence culture. The project is a long term engagement with younger generations and civil society community where ever they are in participatory learning and change processes. The project will be successful when one day young people confidently say, “peace pays better in my life” from the present belief that says, “violence pays in life” for all the problems.

Report by-

Fr Anto

Director Peace Channel, Dimapur

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