Reconciliation in South Asia: Exploring the Terrain

WISCOMP in collaboration with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), an inter-governmental organisation based in Stockholm, organised a symposium titled ‘Reconciliation in South Asia: Exploring the Terrain’ from March 17-19, 2005 at India International Centre, New Delhi, India.

The symposium brought together over 50 senior and mid-career scholars and professionals to reflect upon the discourses and practices of reconciliation in the context of a plural and multicultural South Asia. It was premised on the understanding that people and countries are held together not simply through political institutions but also through processes and relationships which need to be restored every time there is a breach of peace either within or between states. The processes of reconciliation ¾ of restoring fractured relationships at the personal, societal, national and regional levels ¾ are integral to conflict transformation and peace-building.

The symposium focussed on South Asian responses to protracted intra and inter state conflicts and attempted to map the field of reconciliation. It drew from past experiences and practices in South Asia to examine whether it is possible to build an inclusive vocabulary on reconciliation that resonates for the region as a whole.

The symposium was conceptualised along three major thematic rubrics. These were:

  • Mapping Reconciliation: Opening up Thinking Spaces for South Asia
  • Resources for Reconciliation: Perspectives from South Asia
  • Reconciliation: People, Processes and Challenges ¾ Experiences from South Asia

Democracies in Transition: Opportunities and Challenges for Nepal

WISCOMP organized an international symposium titled Democracies in Transition: Opportunities and Challenges for Nepal at the India International Center, New Delhi from January 22 – 24, 2009. This symposium brought together over forty scholars, practitioners, diplomats, activists, legislative members and women in politics from Nepal and India to reflect upon the processes of conflict transformation and peace-building that are currently under way in Nepal.

The symposium provided space for a repertoire of responses and generated dialogue on the prospects for democracy and governance in Nepal and the South Asian region. It focused on the challenges of constitution building for contemporary Nepal and looked at how different civil society groups including women’s groups perceive their role in the unfolding democratic processes and in envisioning the new Nepalese identity as a fresh chapter is carved out in its political history. The symposium provided a context to examine the conflicts that the newly constituted Constituent Assembly is impelled to address and the approaches and methodologies that are available to meet the emerging expectations of the people of Nepal. The participants at the symposium explored four major themes:

  • The challenges of constitution building in contemporary Nepal
  • Land, Livelihood and Social Justice
  • Security Sector Reforms: Mapping the Terrain in Nepal
  • Nepal, India and the International Community: Building New Partnerships

The symposium was attended by Nepal Constituent Assembly members- Lt. Gen. C.B. Gurung, Hon. Hari Roka, Hon. Mohammadi Siddique, Hon. Pushpa Bhusal, Hon. Sapana Pradhan Malla and Hon. Sarita Giri. Some other eminent speakers from India and Nepal included Ms. Chitra Lekha Yadav (Nepalese politician and former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives), H.E. Dr. Durgesh Man Singh (Ambassador of Nepal to India), Mr. Fali Nariman (Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of India), Amb. K.V. Rajan (Former Indian Ambassador to Nepal) and Amb. Shyam Saran (Former Indian Foreign Secretary and Former Indian Ambassador to Nepal).

Collaborative Research

Attitudes of Teachers in India and Pakistan: Texts and Contexts

During the course of Conflict Transformation workshops WISCOMP received requests from participants for supporting collaborative research projects undertaken by young professionals from India and Pakistan. It was felt that such collaborative projects could enable participants to engage with each other’s worldviews and jointly generate options for the transformation of the conflict between the two countries.

As a response WISCOMP invited applications from the Conflict Transformation Workshop alumni for a collaborative research award. The first in this series of collaborative research was awarded to Michelle Baxter (Program Officer, Action Aid, Chennai) and Zahid Shahab Ahmed (Program Officer, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Islamabad) for their project titled Attitudes of Teachers in India and Pakistan: Texts and Contexts.

The research sought to explore how teachers in India and Pakistan induce “enemy images” in the minds of students, and how this indoctrination influences processes of peacebuilding and nation-building. It also examined the content of history textbooks and their role in perpetuation of hostility between the two countries. The findings of the research were published by WISCOMP in 2007.

Spaces for Reconciliation and Justice

WISCOMP supported Mr. Harsh Mander, Managing Trustee, Aman Biradari Trust, in a project to study processes of justice and reconciliation in Gujarat. Titled, Communal Socio-political Movements in Independent India: Spaces for Reconciliation and Justice, the project had two components.

• Action research that documents the activities of community based teams in Gujarat engaged in processes of reconciliation that include but also go beyond processes of legal justice. The action research was being systematically documented through a monthly newsletter.

• Academic research, which will looked at how practice and theory could be synergized in the new and emerging field of Reconciliation.

Making Women Count for Peace

In the year 2012-13, WISCOMP established a multi-year partnership with Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and five other research institutions in India and Nepal to collaboratively work on the project ‘Making Women Count for Peace: Gender, Empowerment and Conflict in South Asia’. With a focus on contemporary Northeast India and post-conflict Nepal, the project addresses the role of women in governance and politics, particularly within the context of peace and security processes.

The goal is to investigate what women’s empowerment might mean in different contexts, i.e. in protracted conflict without third party mediation in Northeast India, and a post-conflict setting with heavy multilateral and international involvement as in Nepal. The investigators approach this question by studying how gendered political power is transformed in conflict, assuming that differences in the forms and expressions of gendered power relations during and after conflict impact on how ‘empowerment’ might be achieved. By contextualizing and tracing manifestations of gendered political power in conflict as well as post-conflict settings, the project seeks to contribute new knowledge on processes of ‘disempowerment’ and ‘empowerment’ in conflict and peacebuilding.

The project will produce both academic and policy-relevant output, including recommendations to policymakers on how women can play a more prominent role in peacebuilding and how such a role may be linked to the goal of women’s empowerment.

Shanti Malika

A context for skill building and capacity building among diverse women from Nepal

At the request of Shanti Malika, a network of nine organizations working for women’s empowerment, peace with justice through dialogic processes and non-violent strategies, WISCOMP facilitated an interactive meeting and workshop of Shanti Malika representatives in New Delhi. The meeting titled Networking for Peace, was organized at India International Centre in December 2005. The workshop provided a context for skill development and capacity building among women from diverse backgrounds in the backdrop of an acknowledgement that the experiences and knowledge of women activists in peace-building had not yet been able to influence the peace agenda in Nepal. Reconciliation, dialogue, and non-violent engagement formed the conceptual building blocks of this interaction.