Article: Why Peace Activists Speak in Times of Peace and also Conflict
The relations between India and Pakistan have gone for a toss again. The current situation is very tense. While the Government of India has explicitly said that it does not intend to go into war, there are people and media within the country that are advocating war, and even creating rumors and fabricating news that point to the necessity of war. A similar situation exists in Pakistan. Indians are citing Uri Attacks and Pakistanis are citing the Kashmir crisis to attack. Both are citing these incidents as well as those of the past to instigate their governments to attack, or as they believe, to “attack back”.
In these times of jingoism, any voice of peace is intolerable. We peace activists are of course quite accustomed to this. In times like these, we are the first group available for public to vent their anger. A Journalist asked us why we are “silent”; why “our” methods have “failed”. People have been asking us if we still want peace. We get tagged on social media websites in posts about the bravery of soldiers, their great sacrifice and the need for war to avenge their deaths. We receive pro-war, anti-peace jokes and get added on newly-formed whatsapp groups for the sole purpose of torturing us and to convert us into war mongers. Every single person acquires an authority to question us. People suddenly remember that we work for peace, and are specifically called, messaged and given lectures. We are subjected to snide comments even by our family members.
While accustomed to this to the extent that it doesn’t hurt us anymore, it always makes us curious. We fail to understand how in the two countries where peace education and peace efforts are discouraged, mocked at and devalued, peace activists suddenly become so important that reports are written with comments from us. How do we suddenly become so important that our opinions start to matter so much?
People question our methods and ask why they failed, while ignoring the assumption that peace activities are encouraged and implemented throughout the country. It clearly reflects on their lack of basic knowledge about peace building and the role of peace builders. Peace building is a process. Peace cannot come overnight. In the societies which have glorified war and violence for so long, where aggressive nationalism is so ingrained and when peace is also linked with several other issues like religion, it is not so easy and simple to work on peace-building. Peace-building, especially by the civil society also works at the level of people. Civil Society activists are not involved in decision making directly by the State.
Another related and very popular misconception to discourage us is to believe that people have no role, and that all the problems are between states. Is this really true? Do people have no role to play? We live in a culture of conflict even when there is no direct, military clash. The stereotypes and misconceptions about people across the border are used to sustain conflict. The misconception that the people across the border are our enemies is used as fuel in the war industry maintained by both countries. It is also wrong to put the entire blame on politicians. Politicians do make efforts for peace but for that, they again require consent. While the state manufactures consent, it is also dependent on consent. If the people are advocating war, it is very difficult for the state to adopt methods other than war. The state also needs the consent of people in the decisions that it takes for solving issues of conflict. A state may take a strong decision but people who live in a culture of mutual hatred and suspicion may not accept it. It is important that the people of the two countries also learn to accept, view and understand different perspectives, the need to negotiate and resolve conflict for peace.
The people of both countries need to understand the role that they play. Even if the states are in conflict with each other, the people can counter it by promoting peace at the level of people in both countries. The people should not be provoked and should not pose as a threat to the people of the other country.
A more basic issue is that people do not understand what peace and peace building mean. Peace is seen as something weak, peace building means doing nothing at all. This emanates from the lack of understanding of peace building and conflict resolution. A State has many ways to respond to threat by another country. The inter-dependent global world offers many options and war being the extreme one has also always proved to be futile. War cannot be the permanent solution. In fact, it is no solution at all. In the context of two developing nations, it will be disastrous for us to go to war. In the context of two nations which are nuclear powers, it can be fatal for us to go to war. Peace activists are not against taking action, they are against war.
We understand that it is easier to target us, render us responsible for answers. It is easier to ask us questions as opposed to the states, as to why their methods fail. Why is it that despite heavy military deployment and investment, there is no peace? Why is it that the talks which happen so rarely and with so many conditions fail to materialize? Problem is not with the talks, problem is with the way they happen and the lack of implementation. There are too many questions and there should be, but the questions need to be directed at the right people.
Peace is a process and we with all our limitations are and continue to work for an environment that targets hatred, the least one can do is not to condemn or accuse us.
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