Catalysts of peace and reconciliation
The framework of the project
Fr. Benoy Thekkemoolamundayil CMF & Fr. Pelse Onelil CMF
Northeast India, with a population of over 45 million people, comprises eight Civil States: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripuraconsidered one of the most culturally diverse regions of the world. It is inhabited by more than 200 tribes. All of them have their own cultures, traditions, and speak their own tribal languages. The North-East Indian tribes have originated from the ethnic groups of Tibeto-Burmese, proto Austrioloids, and some of Indo Mongoloids. They also manifest a cultural affinity with the neighboring countries. shares an international border of 5,182 kilometers with several neighboring countries like China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. It comprises an area of 262,230 square kilometers. The region is
Some of the harsh realities of Northeast India are deep-rooted emotional distancing from the ‘mainland’ India which in many ways led to the prevailing and longstanding separatist movements and insurgency, a fast-changing demographic situation due to the influx of migrants and immigrants which leads to ethnic conflicts, fragmented polity, mobilization, and amalgamation in ethnic lines, territorial claims and clashes.
Claretians in Northeast India: A Historical Overview
Two Claretian Missionaries came to Northeast India in 1984 and presently, we are serving in SEVEN out of EITHT Civil States in Northeast India Region, having 17 mission centers. Even though our activities in these frontier areas are relatively recent, the growth that we have achieved and the impact we could create is marvelous. The journey was never an easy one. The Missionaries had to face a lot of obstacles, pain, and hardships. Violence and bloodshed occurred at our missions in Manipur state (Naga-Kuki conflicts), separatist and underground movements in our missions in Meghalaya, the Boro-Adivasi, Santhali conflicts in our Kachugaon Mission in Assam are a few instances to name. The following are some models of partnering wherein Claretian Missionaries are engaging actively in promoting peace by transforming ethnic conflicts.
Partnering and Collaborative Models of Reconciliation and Peace Promotion
The 16th Goal of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. Strengthening of inclusive institutions would promote intercultural understanding, tolerance, mutual respect, and shared responsibility. In a conflict situation, strengthening peacebuilding institutions is critical to addressing exclusion and discrimination. This cannot be achieved by the Civil Government alone. Here arises the successful paradigm of partnerships.
Claretians are involved in this conflict-ridden region working in tandem with the civil society agents in promoting peace especially through the efforts of running non-governmental organizations (NGO) registered with the Civil Government (Claretians in the Northeast India Region run 9 registered societies and 1 registered trust). Samir Kumar Das in is work “Policy Studies, No. 42” has enlisted the possible roles of civil society groups in peacebuilding in Northeast India. Peacebuilding in a micro and macro level, official and unofficial level yet with special focus on working at the local level. We can bring conflicting groups to negotiating table, propose possible settlements, and find solutions to micro-level problems. Our registered societies and trust work at every level for conflict resolution. Also, we promote participatory decision-making and responsive public policies by opting to work in the commissions and committees constituted by the Civil Government.
Claretians working with various ecclesial bodies and groups is another way of building peace in the region. One of the recent examples is “Shalom Meghalaya” a local Church body of various ecclesial bodies came together to promote peace in the Garo Hills area of Meghalaya State, which had its impact on many to leave their warring and violent approach to settle for peace. This method of promoting peace is happening in other parts
of Northeast India and Claretians are proactive to such call for peace.
As a Congregation at the service to the frontier missions in Northeast India, we minister to people belonging to various ethnic groups in the same locality. Ethnic diversity is rich and colorful, yet simmered in myriads of problems. Yet, we can confidently say that our Congregation is an effective unifying agent. We bring together people from various tribes or ethnic groups on common platforms; be it for worship, celebrating significant events, celebrating cultures, or joining hands for common developmental goals, etc.
One of the recent prioritized areas of our social engagements is that of working to provide legal identity for all by helping members various ethnic groups to obtain entitlement documents and identifications. In the context of displacements, migration, and immigration, there is every possibility of a loss of identity which keeps a large section of the society away from all development process all because of lack of identity and entitlement documents. On one hand, we build awareness among the people on the need of it and on the other, help people to obtain them from competent offices or departments. This can alleviate the fear of loss of identity which often leads to ethnic conflicts, looking the other with suspicion and falling prey to exploitative acts of dominant groups. Our social service trust NavJan had undertaken a number of initiatives to facilitate peace and development in the region by organizing a blind walk to bring awareness of eye donation, blood donation, drinking water supply to poor villages, and helping poor to get their ID and Ration Cards, etc.
Fr. Benoy Thekkemoolamundayil CMF & Fr. Pelse Onelil CMF