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Orissa Intervention Programme
17th November 2008 to December 7th 2008

 


State & Regional Dialogue on

 “Creative Engagement of Civil Society in Strengthening Secularism”

Over the past few months, violence has shown its ugly face on the citizens of India terrorising people, threatening people, killing innocent people, attacking religious institutions, and the list goes on. There has been clash among communities either in the name of ethnicity or religion and the ideology of religious fundamentalism; the principles of conflict and the concept of hatred have been reaping greater fruits in this whole saga of violence. Innocent victims had to pay the price in this whole episode. What Samuel Huntington has predicted the ‘Clash of Civilisations’, in a way is taking its deep roots in India with the clash of faiths, clash of interests and clash of cultures as its manifestation.

Nearly ten people died in the communal violence in a village Bhainsa, Adilabad district, Andhra Pradesh during last week, the victims had been from the Muslim minority community. Nearly fifty-one people died in the violence in Assam during last few weeks in Udalguri and Darrang districts in Assam dodged by clashes between Bodos and Bangladeshi migrants, where the victims are the Tribals. The violent episode in Orissa, which has been unabated for the last seven weeks, though there has been an uneasy calmness during last one week, resulted in the killings of nearly fifty people, the majority happen to be Dalit Christians. Besides these major incidents, there have been reported communal violence in the states of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Gujarat etc. Incidents of terrorism and bomb blasts continue to rock both the urban and the rural India, violence has crept into all corners of the Indian society.

Violence on any community is not a mere attack on that community, rather they are violation of human rights and a breach of citizenship guaranteed by the Constitution of India. Even the National Integration Council, which met on the 13th October 2008, under the auspices of the Ministry of Home affairs in New Delhi discussed and interacted on communal violence, and observed that the unity among different cultures in India has been tarnished by these acts of violence. On the whole, these violent attacks on people have loosened the secular fabric of India, which has so far sustained India towards unity in diversity. Violence in the name of religion and caste is a blatant blot on the secular and democratic ethos of our country, and with these inhuman activities continuing, secularism in India is at stake.

In this scenario, several pertinent issues come to the fore, to be discussed and dialogued. Branding communities, terrorism, violence on religious minorities, religious fundamentalism, fanaticism, fascism, forced conversions, violations of human rights, violation of Constitutional rights etc. all added in fading our rich secular heritage in India.

In light of the on going violence in India, and in the backdrop of the above said issues, the role of civil society in promoting the values of secularism and in taking forward the message of peace among communities comes immanent. Time and again, it has been emphasised by the responsible citizens of India that the civil society needs to vigilant in building peace and harmony in times of crisis and build solidarity to communities that have been affected. What is the role of the civil society in strengthening Secularism today? What are the methods for creative engagement of the civil society towards that? What strategies should the civil society needs to employ in establishing peace and harmony in times of crisis and conflict? What is the role of dialogue in the context of violence? How can the civil society exert pressure on the Governments in safeguarding the citizens of India? These are some of the pertinent questions that need to be addressed by the citizens of India. Civil society means all the responsible citizens, irrespective of their religion, region, and affirmations, committed for the values of secularism and democracy.

Therefore, in order to delve on these important questions for our times, the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) Catholic Bishop Conference in India (CBCI) in collaboration with Inter-Faith Coalition on Peace (ICP) is organising a three + one phase dialogue on secularism.

Objectives

  • To engage as civil society in strengthening secularism in the context of violence.

  • To address issues that counters the texture of secularism and human rights in India.

  • To bring out strategies that the civil society can employ in bringing peace and harmony among communities.

  • To exert pressure on the governments in safeguarding the citizens of India.

  • To sensitise the citizens to be vigilant in times of conflict and to become ambassadors of conflict resolution mechanisms in their localities.

  • To give a call to the nation on the strength of civil society and its role in peace building.

Phase I is a Dialogue on “Creative Engagement of Civil Society in Strengthening Secularism” where Interfaith delegation representing all India level talks with Bajrang Dal at Jeypore (Orissa) to be held on the 17 November 2008 and on the 19 November Interfaith faith delegation meets the Vishwa Hindu Parishad at Bholangir (Orissa) and 26 & 27 meeting with Christian community leaders at Khandamal.

Methodology

A group of 30 responsible citizens from all faiths of India will be called for the localised  Dialogue with Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and with affected Christian community of Orissa. Out of which, 10 eminent social activists & human rights activists, who are part of the civil society shall speak on the occasion and set a tone for the creative engagement of the civil society in strengthening secularism in India. There will be an honest dialogue among citizens on the issues confronting secularism. A document on strengthening secularism shall be evolved from the dialogue, which will be circulated to all the civil society organisations, agencies and institutions.

Phase II is a State level Dialogue to be held on 6th December 2008 at Bhubaneshwar, Orissa. To safeguard the values of secularism and democracy are part and parcel of the mission of the interfaith community, and therefore is interested in bringing together the citizens of India for a dialogue on secularism.  The impact of such dialogues will be to inspire the citizens of India to be harbingers of peace and harmony, and to resist and condemn all forms of violence that blots the secular values.

Methodology

Nearly 100 people from all faiths, ideologies shall attend the dialogue on secularism. Out of which, 10 eminent social activists, human rights activists, religious leaders shall speak on the occasion. The national document on secularism shall also be an objective paper for the discussion and direction in this regional dialogue.

Phase III Symbolic action during Christmas where all faith people can jointly celebrate Christmas.

Summary Report

from meeting on the

Peace Mission to Orissa

ICP Office, November 27, 2008

 

1.   Strategic issues to focus on for the peace delegation going to Orissa.

The context in Orissa is complex. The reasons for the conflict are both long term and resent. Some of the deep rooted tensions are connected to issues of identity and cast, and will demand a more long term peace process to be dealt with. ICP will now give priority to issues that can have a more immediate effect on the conflict to avoid more violence and with a focus on establishing a platform for further peace building. ICP will coordinate the visit of a peace delegation to the most affected districts in Orissa to address the issues of tension and contribute to calm and conflict resolution in the area.

The Peace Delegation of 15 persons will consist of religious leaders representing the Hindu-, Protestant-, Catholic-, and Muslim communities. Local elders and religious leaders will join them in Orissa. At least four women will be part of the delegation. They will during the period of December 1st to 7th visit Kandhmal, Phulbani, Jalpiguri, G. Udiagiri, the most affected districts, and the state capital of Orissa Bhubaneswar. The delegation will try to meet with all the relevant actors and affected communities in order to try to bring the parties together on some key issues.

Main objectives:

-     Facilitate the issuing of a statement by all involved parties to stop all violent activities and commit themselves for jointly working for lasting peace in the state.

-          Facilitate and mediate an agreement by all parties on key issues for addressing the situation and follow up.

-          Establishment of peace committees in the most affected areas.

-          Provision of humanitarian assistance to all, not only for selected communities.

-          The establishment of some basis for efforts leading to lasting peace.

-          Provide the relevant actors in the state with recommendations to secure a good process, including the government.

Key issues the delegation will work on:

1.   Establish agreement among the parties on the fact that the Hindu leader, Swami Lexmanananda Saraswati , was killed by a political Maoist group, and not by some activists representing the Christian community in Orissa. This is a fact that has been established by the government through police investigation.
 

a.   By agreeing on this issue, some of the rationale for continued attacks on Christians will be removed.

2.   Meet with the affected communities on different levels to further develop the understanding of the conflict situation.
 

a.   Efforts will be made to secure that also women will be able to tell their stories, including the perspective of gender based violence, and make sure their suggestions for how to address the situation and secure lasting peace will be taken into account.

3.   All parties should agree that formal investigations and establishing justice is to be handled by proper government authorities and not by common people taking violent action on their own.

4.   The different faith groups should develop and agree on a common code of conduct for conversion that will not reduce the human dignity of any person and faith community or humiliate people of other faiths.
 

a.   This agreement should be issued on a jointly signed statement.

5.   All parties should agree to avoid derogatory and militant language in general, used to humiliate and wrongly portrait each other.

6.   All parties should agree that humanitarian assistance should be given on bases of need and not be conditioned to what faith-community people belong to.
 

a.   The delegation will try to meet with all the main organizations working with humanitarian assistance to convince them to establish a common coordination and to abide to the principal that humanitarian assistance  should be given based on need and not be made conditional to people’s spiritual or political affiliation.
 

b.   The delegation will try to convince the humanitarian actors to apply a holistic approach, and be sensitive to the context of conflict, avoiding that the humanitarian assistance exacerbates tension and rather contributes to providing stability and a conducive environment for peace making. The delegation will have members that are trained in conflict sensitive programming, the “Do No Harm” tool, and will offer training for the humanitarian actors if there is a need.

7.   The delegation will ask the parties to agree on setting up peace committees on district level in all the affected areas. The peace committees will be linked to the traditional Panjhait – existing village council (e.g. village council for 5 to 8 villages).
 

a.   The delegation will try to see to that these committees are put together while they are around. The committees will be interfaith, both men and women will be represented and efforts will be made so the general population will feel that they are fairly represented.  
 

b.   The peace committees will intervene if new tension is developing, and will be a place where people can come and share their concerns and complaints.
 

c.    The peace committees will monitor the security situation and, if necessary, appeal for extra measures to be taken through the Panjhait structure.
 

d.   The peace committees will advice humanitarian organizations to secure that humanitarian assistance is being distributed in accordance with the principal above, and will be monitoring that.
 

e.   The peace committees will also be monitoring that whatever the parties and the interfaith peace delegation agree on is implemented accordingly. 

 .    The delegation will ask the state government to make sure that sufficient security is in place so that internally displaced refugees will feel confident moving back.
 

a.   The delegation will suggest that the Commission for Minorities, or some relevant body outside of the state, monitor whether sufficient security is in place or not before the displaced population moves back.

9.   The delegation will try to have all parties to agree on implementing a joint peace conference in Bhubaneswar on t7th, where the aim is to issue a common declaration approved and signed by all the relevant conflicting parties reflecting the issues above for the wider community, and hopefully paving the way for resettlement of the displaced people.

 

ICP will commit to preparing a capacity building program for the Peace Committees to be implemented in 2009 to strengthen the capacity and role of these committees.

 

ICP will make sure that proper documentation of the peace mission will be secured so that the lessons learnt can be shared.

-          end    -
 

 

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