1. Peace negotiations are for the most part, focused on the political and economic dimensions. What is your perception of touching deeper and more genuine aspects of reconciliation and how can this be achieved?
It is true that peace negotiations are more focused on the political and economic dimensions. The root causes of most conflicts can be traced to grievances over denial of political rights and economic discrimination. Issue of justice and equity are tied to it. Therefore, reconciliation without justice issues would be incomplete. In violent conflicts – political settlements do not automatically lead to reconciliation between bitter rivals – be they individuals or communities. Hence working with wider communities in conflict situations is desirable for bringing about reconciliation.
Very often it has been found that the hardened positions of the actors involved in the conflict can be traced to personal or one's community or race or national experiences of humiliation, hurt, injustice, discrimination or violence. As a result, the peace negotiations often do not progress till a level of trust and confidence is established between individuals/parties at the negotiating table. The trust building process begins at an inter-personal level but away from the negotiating table through personal work done by facilitators who have built a relationship of trust and confidence with those individuals/parties at the negotiating table.
Through experience I have learnt that one needs to prepare the parties or individuals for a face to face meeting and help them deal with personal anger and animosity to some degree before meeting the "other", so that at least when the two are confronted during the first face to face meeting it does not end up in bitter exchanges forcing the parties to walk away from the table. In the process of preparing the individuals for such an encounter and talks, the facilitator is able to gain better understanding of feelings/emotions in different individuals and sensitize the other side to avoid minefields. As people begin to talk, share and discuss; gradually trust and confidence begins to grow between them and anger, hurts have a chance to be healed.
During my work in the conflict zone of Jammu-Kashmir, where the social fabric is badly damaged and communities fragmented, we had set ourselves to bringing about reconciliation between divided communities. In the early days of our work, on couple of occasions, without doing enough preparatory work, we brought Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims together for a dialogue. Though they are religiously different, they are ethnically same people.
In early 1990's at the start of armed uprising by the Kashmiri Muslims, the Kashmiri Hindus were forced to migrate out of the Kashmir Valley. At our meeting there was angry outburst and harsh words were exchanged that deepened the chasm rather than bring the communities closer. The Hindus blamed Kashmiri Muslims for being forced out of their homeland and subsequent suffering that has accompanied it. Kashmiri Muslims on the other hand retorted there was a design behind the forced migration - to empty out the valley of Hindus, and save them from the harsh crack down by the Indian army to crush the Muslim armed insurgency. The dialogue ended in disarray. We learnt through such experiences how important it was to prepare individual participants to these dialogue meetings for such face to face encounters with the other. Without adequate preparation such encounters become counterproductive for the larger aim of reconciliation and forgiveness.
Besides, those involved in the negotiations, the discussion must go to the interpersonal levels between communities at wider levels, so that a trust, lost over the years can be re-built, and help communities ---see the commonalities between people at the basic human level, rather than their political or economic differences. This can be achieved through smaller gatherings of non-political but influential people from both sides of the divides at Track-II organized meetings, where people meet each other at regular intervals. Such meetings help in addressing anger, bitterness and hurts and create deeper understanding, appreciate the political viewpoints of each other and begin the process of creating social harmony at community level.
In fact such meetings can and have widened the constituency of peace and reconciliation in the conflict situations, to create conducive atmosphere and social base in which all parties involved in the negotiations are helped to enter with positive spirit. Such Track-II and Track III meetings can also throw up constructive suggestions and ideas for the dialogue and peace process as has been seen in Jammu-Kashmir conflict situation where my organization has been running a Track II peace process for the last few years. This social and community backing strengthens the negotiators and the negotiating process.
2. What are the conditions in which, beyond securing the interests of parties to conflict, a process that is centered on a sense of fairness and dignity can be established?
The process of conflict resolution must ensure that equitable and transparent justice for all is made possible. Such a process must also have a plan to strengthen governance institutions that are involved in delivering political, legal, economic and social justice which as seen in most conflict areas are badly damaged. If such institutions are non-existent these must be created, new reforms introduced, so that at the community level people are able to enjoy the fruits of peace in the post-conflict period. In this the issue of compensation to the victims or the aggrieved party is an important aspect and can be looked at as an act of restitution. In India compensation to the aggrieved persons or victims of violence is more readily agreed to than are apologies offered.
3. To what degree is forgiveness an essential dimension of reconciliation? At the root of your political culture and religious faith, what are the principles that either inspire or exclude forgiveness? Which verses or sayings that are part of your personal spiritual heritage could in your opinion have a universal significance?
Forgiveness is a deeply profound spiritual experience for individuals. One thing is certain that it cannot be demanded or manufactured. For those seeking forgiveness as well as those being asked to forgive, it is a difficult inner experience in which individual's have to struggle with personal pride, pain caused through hurt and humiliation, sense of injustice and unfairness. Forgiving those responsible for the wrongs committed against oneself, one's community, as well as identifying oneself with wrong (s) committed against the other (s), are both equally difficult acts that require enormous moral and inner courage. But such experiences cannot be manipulated, orchestrated or used as a political gimmick. If it is used this way it does not work.
For communities and individuals who have suffered violence and humiliation, process of healing starts when wrongs are acknowledged, regret /remorse is expressed but also in some ways compensated for. There is need to explore different ways through which closures can be brought to the painful past. When individuals come to the point of asking for forgiveness from victims, it means these individuals are taking responsibility for the wrongdoing unconditionally, and are prepared to make amends for the mistakes made or wrongs committed in whatever form deemed necessary. When such forgiveness is asked of the victims, it often does help towards healing memories of anger, hurt, and humiliation in individuals as well as in communities and encourages them in the process of moving on.
But when victims decide to forgive, it means they have overcome inner conflict by breaking free of shackles of victim hood that had made them prisoner of hurt, humiliation bitterness and self-pride. Such freedom from victim hood allows the victims to have a new worldview of the "other" and the world around them.
However, one has also seen instances where without any apologies or expressions of remorse, individuals and communities have found some solace. On the other hand there are also examples where apologies are offered but not accepted and therefore the process of reconciliation remains incomplete.
Those involved in peace building work, often find themselves faced with these questions and dilemmas confronting people from both sides of the conflict. Should individuals/communities/political parties of today, take responsibility for the wrong political decisions or acts made decades ago that have adversely affected destinies of communities and caused immense suffering? Should individuals or communities be held responsible for the act of crimes committed by individuals from his/her community or country? In such cases, who would be the most appropriate person to symbolically take upon his/her shoulders the burden of responsibility to express a heart felt apology to the victim community or country that can act as a balm? There is no universal formula or set answer to any of the above questions. A political leader or an ordinary person both have a place and a role to play in this; albeit differently.
In recent years, some Indian political leaders have made public apologies. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, apologized to the Sikhs in Punjab, in February 1998, for the Indian Government's assault on Golden temple, (the Holiest Place of Sikh religion) under Congress rule and her mother-in-law, late Mrs. India Gandhi. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi had been elevated to the presidency of Congress Party when she addressed the Sikhs. She said that she understood, " the pain and anguish of Operation Bluestar " and added, "As a widow and a mother, I can feel exactly how it hurts…. This should not have happened. " Though not a member of the government in 1998 or in June 1984, Sonia Gandhi was to some extent qualified to speak of the 1984 event. She was the leader of the Congress, the political party that in 1984, her mother-in-law, Premier Indira Gandhi, had authorized the 1984 assault and her husband Rajiv Gandhi, had advocated it.
If Sonia Gandhi's apology did not have the effect that some had hoped for, it was partly because it was made during an election speech. The words of regret she used were not seen as unqualified by those who were at the receiving end in 1984. On the other hand some who thought the assault was inevitable under the circumstances felt Sonia Gandhi had gone too far.
An apology has to emerge voluntarily from the heart if it has to have some chance of healing another's wounded heart.
Two years ago, Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, on the floor of Parliament, apologized to the Sikh community for the 1984 riots, in which nearly 4,000 Sikhs were killed. The riots had occurred under the Congress Party Rule. Earlier individually many Hindus had apologized to Sikhs at inter-personal levels and succeeded in healing several individuals. But an unconditional apology by the Prime Minister, for the acts of crimes committed against a minority community, as head of the Congress ruled government had tremendously positive and far wider community level impact. Although some continue to feel till this day that an apology was not enough, as the main perpetrators of those riots have not yet been punished, hence there is no closure to that painful episode in India's recent history.
Some Indian thoughts and traditions that can have universal value are:
- Self-introspection or "Atmagyan" or delving deep into ones own self, to see ones own self critically, is deeply imbedded in Indian tradition and have universal value. This tradition can make us more tolerant and forgiving. A small prayer like 'Asato ma Sat gamaya, tamaso ma jyotir gamaya, mrityur ma Amritam gamaya' helps one.
- Repentance or Prayaschit (in Sanskrit) for wrong actions or words
- Restitution or making amends to correct the wrong is also accepted in India amongst different religious traditions – Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism Jainism etc.
Despite these ancient traditions the strain of reconciliation has remained weak in India and South Asia that needs to be strengthened and encouraged at inter-personal levels.
4. Does forgiveness require some form of repentance on the side of those to whom forgiveness is offered? Does forgiveness have conditions or is it unconditional?
Forgiveness requires remorse or repentance on the side of those to whom forgiveness is offered. Word for repentance in Indian languages is "Prayaschit". For forgiveness to be accepted or to help produce positive change it needs to arise from a sense of remorse. Forgiveness must be unconditional, and needs to represent total acceptance and responsibility of the acts of wrongdoing. In Indian tradition - "Kshamayachana" is an ancient but commonly used word for forgiveness.
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