Catalysts of peace and reconciliation
The vectors of the project
Fr. Benoy Thekkemoolamundayil CMF & Fr. Pelse Onelil CMF
Promoting and Celebrating Cultures: Lack of awareness of cultures leads to conflicts. One’s own cultural affirmation leads to the suppression of other cultures. Rather than being entangled in dominant and submissive culture nitty-gritty as a unifying agent, we serve to enrich cultures by celebrating them. One cultural trait is not a threat to another, rather it serves to compliment. In our educational institutions, parishes, and formation houses, we have ethnic day celebrations, celebrating the rich and colorful variety of cultures of various tribes. Venturing into researching of cultural practices of various ethnic groups, offering subjects, courses and study materials on cultures, presenting works on anthropology and cultures through journals (eg.InterViews by St. Claret College, Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh), ethnic day celebration at our various centers of learning), inculturated prayer and worships, etc.
Education as a Key to Achieve Peace and Reconciliation
Goal 4 of the SDGs, says, “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Education is inevitable for the achievement of a peaceful and just society with strong, inclusive, and efficient institutions. Education at all levels can play a major role by creating an environment where children understand, learn, and uphold the values like peace and non-violence. The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) in collaboration with the Calorx Teacher’s University, which organized a one-day workshop on “Education for Goal 16” in Ahmadabad, India, attempted to look at education through the prism of SDGs to bring about reforms in the field of education. Inclusive schools, human rights education, alternative systems of education, promotion of awareness of cultural diversity, skill development and training centers promote peaceful living together with a quality life.
There is a need for a critique of the curriculum from the SDG lens. The promotion of reconciliation, peace, and human rights should become the content and aim of education at all levels among all sections of society. Positive depictions of global cultural diversity will produce citizens who will be educated, respectful, and tolerant.
As per the latest statistics of the Claretians in Northeast India, we run 49 schools and one college catering to the educational needs of almost 29 thousand students from the pre-primary level until the undergraduate level. Each of these institutions, without any exception, provide quality education to students from multi-ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Here, education promotes and celebrates diversity. Hailing from diverse ethnic backgrounds with a lot of painful memories of ethnic clashes, these students find their school life as a “looking ahead in the same direction”; the direction of peace and reconciliation with a wider understanding of global cultures. These students are better equipped to be participatory and collaborative agents of development and peaceful co-existence appreciating cultures.
Conflict Transformation and Peace Building Process
According to the propagators of Conflict Transformation theory like John Paul Lederach, conflict transformation identifies and addresses the root causes of the conflicts non-violently and creatively by building relationships that engage all the parties involved, to find a lasting solution to the problem. It is indeed a long journey together with the actors in the conflict to accept and accommodate each other for a peaceful co-existence. Together with the structural changes, conflict transformation envisages spiritual healing, which is unique in the process of peacebuilding. Conflict transformation plays a major role in ethnic conflicts in finding a lasting solution to the problem. As agents of conflict transformation, we identify the following “measures to go ahead” in our attempt to bring about peace and reconciliation in Northeast India.
The Missionaries are in a better position to reach out to people belonging to different ethnic groups as we cater to the entire community. In a place like Kachugaon’s mission in the state of Assam, where several conflicts took place on ethnic lines over a period, we have been successful in reaching out to various communities by initiating dialogue, providing awareness programs, and encouraging common celebrations like New Year and Christmas. We have been helping the children of various communities to get educated in our school. By our visit to the families of different ethnic groups, we ensure that they are respected and accepted. We have also sought the assistance of the government agencies to provide necessary financial support to the victims of violence.
Apart from these, we also try to provide employment opportunities to people with the help of other non-governmental agencies. The self-helping group that we have introduced in many of our missions, especially in the state of Meghalaya, enables the people to stand on their legs.
We need to empower the traditional institutions to uphold the traditional values and customs of the people without diluting the national policies. It is imperative that we raise our voice against any sort of abuse, exploitation, and injustice done to anyone in our vicinity. We can be channels of peace if only we understand the root causes of the conflicts and address them by involving the actors in the conflict. We need to take the people into confidence that their voice is heard, and they are valued. In the background of ethnic conflicts and violence in Northeast India, at the various forum of the Congregation, we have been proposing to establish a Peace Centre to offer peace studies and Gandhian methods thereby developing a pool of expertise in preventing ethnic conflicts, bringing warring parties to negotiating table and healing the wounds of ethnic conflicts and displacements with systematic programs and activities. We need credible facilitators, animators, and interlocutors to bring about peace and reconciliation.
There is much to be done in achieving positive peace in the region. A lot more collaboration and efforts are to be taken by the missionaries in attaining sustainable development goals. Accountable and inclusive institutions should be put in place to ensure participatory decision-making and responsive public policies. It is also imperative that we provide legal identity for all, including birth registration so that people feel recognized and accepted. We can always look ahead with hope and trust in the Lord that our efforts and the efforts of so many good people will find its desired fruit.
Fr. Benoy Thekkemoolamundayil CMF & Fr. Pelse Onelil CMF