How to work for Peace and Reconciliation in North East India
Fr. Benoy Thekkemoolamundayil CMF
Doctorate in Peace and conflict studies
The situation in North East India
Northeast India (NEI) is the homeland of several ethnic groups. The region has eight states with people belonging to various cultures, traditions, habits, languages, and social systems. The majority of the people are of Mongoloid origin from South East Asia. The region shares nearly 98% of its boundary with neighboring countries and only 2% with the Indian Union. Even before India gained independence, people from this region were conscious of their distinct ethnic identity, which only got magnified in the post-independence period.
Regionalism has crept into the region, and national integration is a challenge. The strategic location of the area, sharing its boundaries with many neighboring countries, makes it easy for the extremists to operate from these countries and get aid from them. In addition, the region’s varied geographical, cultural, and linguistic nature makes it vulnerable to ethnic conflicts.
NEI region is considered to be the conflict zone of India as far as ethnicity is concerned. Communities and groups are fighting against one another and the government to have their demands materialized. People from the region blame the governments for their failure to resolve the issues that have been haunting the area for decades. The government’s slow statics can only aggravate the situation in the region, which disturbs the nation’s internal security.
There is a feeling among the different ethnic groups in the region that they are marginalized and not taken care of by the central government. There is also the sense of being looked down on by the ‘mainland’ Indians. There is also a feeling among various ethnic groups that the state governments ruled by the majority group exploit the minority groups. This has made the people more ethnic conscious and united them to fight for their demands.
There have been several ethnic movements in the Northeast for various issues. Though ethnic movements were seen even before the country’s independence, their occurrence became more pronounced and frequent after the independence. One of the main reasons is that the ethnic groups became aware of their distinct identity, which they want to preserve at any cost. Therefore, one can say that most of the movements had their origin in ethnic consciousness and the desire for self-determination. Although the movements began non-violently, when the demands were not met, they turned out to be aggressive.
Today the situation has reached a position where if the government does not grant a particular demand of an ethnic community, they feel that it is a denial of their ethnic aspirations. This, in turn, begins to mount pressure for a separate administrative setup or statehood. On the other hand, it is also seen among various ethnic groups that the successful movement of one ethnic group encourages another to follow the same path, to get things done for them.
Conflicts of this nature in no way facilitate the aspirations of the people and the nation. Hence it has to be resolved and transformed for a better tomorrow. Peace is not something that can be achieved overnight. Achieving it in a heterogeneous society requires time, patience, commitment, perseverance, and willingness on the part of the conflicting parties and the authorities concerned. NEI, a multi-ethnic society, requires cooperation and collaboration from every corner to achieve the lost state of Peace. Therefore, unity among various ethnic groups is a requirement to foster cordial relationships between various tribes and between the states for a harmonious existence.
No conflict in the world can find a lasting solution by force or avoidance. The only way to achieve Peace is through dialogue and reconciliation. Media, being a powerful entity, have the potential to broker the lost unity between the parties in conflict. Trustworthy journalism supports activities that rebuild a peaceful society and attempt to reduce conflict and prevent conflicts from escalating to violence. The media can perform some roles in conflicting situations to facilitate peacebuilding. Since each conflict is unique and dynamic, we need to address each conflict independently.
The media are better positioned to play various roles that would facilitate peacebuilding. An indifferent and insensitive media before, during, and after the conflict contribute to the escalation of violence. The responsibility that lies on the media suggests that unless they actively report for the sake of peacebuilding and highlight peace efforts, the conflict situation will have negative repercussions.
The Church and the Claretians in the construction of a peaceful society
To resolve and transform any conflict, it is essential to involve various agencies that can mobilize the population. It is unfair to blame the government alone for failing to resolve and transform a conflict. Civil society has a more significant role in maintaining Peace and security. It is here that the local Church and Congregation, in particular, can facilitate peacebuilding.
The Missionaries are in a better position to initiate dialogue, provide awareness programs, and encourage common celebrations like New Year, Christmas, and national and local festivals to bring together the conflicting parties. Our visit to the families of different ethnic groups ensures that they are respected and accepted. We can also seek the assistance of government agencies to provide necessary financial support to the victims of violence. We need to empower the traditional institutions to uphold the traditional values and customs of the people without diluting national policies.
We must raise our voices against 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 make the people confident that their voice is heard and valued. Then, we will be in a better position to study the root causes of the issues and make them known to the policymakers and other stakeholders. We can also propose suggestions and possible solutions to the administration.
We can take the initiative in educational and humanitarian activities and health care. But we need to work at the grass root level to understand the culture, faith, value systems, traditions, and even superstitions that impact their way of life. Apart from this, in collaboration with the government, we should ensure ample job opportunities for the youth to engage them in constructive activities. Let peacebuilding be the combined effort of all the stakeholders for a peaceful society.
Fr. Benoy Thekkemoolamundayil CMF