The India we don’t know

Images of communal violence and poverty in India are broadcasted around the world, but newscasters never point out the connections between the two. If a group of Hindus attack and destroy a mosque, they describe the problem as purely religious. If a group of villagers have no clean water, they discuss the issue purely in terms of poverty. Rarely does the media explore the roots of religious problems in desperate economic situations. Sushobha Barve’s citizen peace committees aim to cut away the root causes of these conflicts through dialogue. Working in the most violence-ridden regions of her country, she engineers conversations that lead people toward practical solutions.

In fact, well-meaning groups have struggled for years to create successful community-level methods of dialogue and reconciliation for people in conflict. The distinctive success of her method revolves around a simple insight into the nature of social conflict: communal violence doesn’t arise from religious or ethnic difference alone. Most such violence has its roots in the desperation of communities whose basic needs are not met over the course of decades or even centuries. Their grievances stew and intensify, eventually becoming communalized as the blame for years of deprivation falls on an outside group. Sushobha Barva has devised highly successful citizen peace committees in places that have seen ferocious violence. These committees tackle both the material and psychological aspects of conflict. They emphasize to all parties that peaceful cooperative living depends on jobs, stable supplies of clean water, and space for public recreation. Once in place, committees also set up early warning systems to detect the first signs of conflict and prevent it from spreading. Sushobha Barva plans to apply the systems and techniques she developed to communal conflict in the whole of South Asia.


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