Thursday, August 21, 2008

conflict transformation - studying gandhi, periyar, ambedkar

21 august, hyderabad, 2008

conflict transformation initiatives has a wide spectrum of initiatives and actions. one area of activity involves working in group settings and facilitating a process of learning, unlearning and relearning concepts, tools, cases, and skills.

it would be safe to assume the term 'conflict transformation' is understood differently by different peoples and institutions, just as the concept 'democracy' is understood and practised differently in different settings. within the field of conflict transformation this challenge of having different 'common understandings' of a concept is welcomed and embraced instead of trying to 'manage' these differences first.

in settings where 'democracy' has been a driving force in liberation of people from colonial, imperial, oppressive, dictatorial, feudal, or despotic regimes - participation in struggle to fight for group rights is a historical given. the injustices people endured, how they got organized, actions that they engaged in, challenges they faced, and their eventual liberation from oppression and exploitation is often used as an example for thinking about "structural injustices" and how many non-violent and violent struggles were waged to assert peoples/nations right to swaraj or self-rule.

many important lessons emerged from India's struggle for independence from colonial rule and other anti-colonial struggles. chief among them is that some democratic nation-states behaved like despots abroad. for Mahatma Gandhi the main reason for this phenomenon is greed, arrogance and not practising love and compassion. another reason is the brokenness that happens to peoples, companies, governments who got "enlightened" and saw that they could deny others right to freedoms and rights that they value and will fight to defend. it was a moral degradation that could not be tolerated and Mahatma Gandhi worked a lot to let the river of morality and ethics cleanse politics and economics.

another struggle for independence from "religious bigotry" and "caste-based oppression and discrimination" was waged within the Indian subcontinent, while the movement for independence was on. E.V. Ramasamy and B. R. Ambedkar are two luminous figures among many others who were engaged in social, cultural and political transformation. the former fondly called Periyaar worked hard to change peoples mindsets and empowering them to break free from the chains of religion/caste based injustices that affected peoples social, cultural, economic, political rights and freedoms. Dr. Ambedkar a constitutional expert tried his best to ensure that the Indian constitution does not privilege those who wanted to sustain injustices and resulting privileges based on their understanding of religion, caste and social status. he also embraced Buddhism demonstrating his conviction that Hinduism that was practised and tolerated in his times and times before him - is incompatible with social equality and justice.

while many unjust practices have been suspended due to protest and reform, caste based injustices continue to this day in India, despite its illegality. privilege, once obtained is hard to give up and efforts will be made to justify, obfuscate and mislead, by people who feel entitled to privileges they have inherited, and by the hubris that sets in which makes it difficult to see different perspectives and realities.

the field of conflict transformation can gain strength by paying as much attention to the life and works of Periyar E. V. Ramasamy and Dr. Amdedkar as is paid to Mahatma Gandhi - for they are responsible in bringing about transformation at psychological, political, social, cultural and economic spheres not just at personal or community levels but at structural levels too. why this recommendation from a peace practitioner u may wonder. so let me share why.

structural level changes or systemic level changes are easy to imagine but difficult to comprehend in the absence of case studies. there is no blue-print for conflict transformation and i think there should not be one. people living in different settings, under different conditions need to determine what changes are required to experience greater justice, equality, freedom, respect of rights, dignity and peace. and people interested in conflict transformation work in the Indian subcontinent cannot afford to ignore the works of above mentioned socio-political leaders. studying their life and work will help the process of learning, unlearning and relearning concepts, ideas, approaches, strategies, and actions for positive changes.

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