Opinion Makers Light Candles To Call For

A Violence-Free Society

“Preach Peace, Reject Violence, Resolve Conflict.” With this call, the Centre for Development and Peace Studies (, an independent peace and conflict research centre based in Guwahati, northeastern India, observed the International Day of Peace or World Peace Day, along with the rest of India and the world on September 21, 2008.

Peace and social activists, former insurgent leaders, academics, journalists and development experts attended a round-table in the city organized by CDPS to mark the occasion in the backdrop of insurgency and ethnic strife afflicting India’s Northeast and the efforts by the government and non-government agencies at peace-making.

CDPS Director Wasbir Hussain, who outlined the significance of the International Day of Peace, said: “No one has the right to indulge in violent acts, but everyone is free to call for peace, individually or collectively. Even expression of an idea to achieve peace can create wonders and lead to a violence-free society.”

The Roundtable began with the ceremonious lighting of candles by the gathering, led by noted Gandhian Natwar Thakkar. Thakkar, a Gujarati by birth came to Northeast India at a young age of 23, and since then has been living amidst guns and violence.

“Having lived for more than fifty years in a region wrecked by militancy, I firmly believe and iterate that violence is outdated and it is non-violence which is the ultimate arbitrator,” he averred. He said that history took a new course when Mahatma Gandhi showed the world how the mighty British Empire could be forced to leave India without the use of any weaponry.

This, Thakkar said, was later successfully applied by Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and many other leaders in a series of developments around the world thereby confirming the validity of non-violence. Calling himself a dreamer, the ageing Gandhian believes that society and humankind are in a continuous process of evolution. “A day will come when we will ultimately evolve into a violence-free society,” the Gandhian hoped.

Dr Udayon Misra, sormer professor of Dibrugarh University, a premier institution of higher learning in eastern Assam, and a political commentator, sharing his thoughts on World Peace Day said: “While talking of violence we should also include in it the root cause of violence like poverty, inequality and deprivation. Denying someone the basic rights of life does not signify peace.”

Misra said society can never be rid of violence unless a distributive system of state justice is put in place. He said that militancy and all other types of violence, including Naxalism (Maoist insurrections), is seen to be rooted in deprivation among other things.

Echoing his sentiments Dilip Patgiri, a youth activist belonging to Assam Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) said that among the three forms of violence, namely direct, structural and cultural, it is the second which is of utmost importance. “Structural violence is most relevant as the saying goes that there can be no smoke without fire.”

Patgiri, who is also a member of a peace panel set up by Assam’s frontline separatist group, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), said that those who have taken up arms basically want to change the structural basis of the state and do away with inequality and flawed distributive justice. He also called upon all state and non-state actors to heed to the United Nations appeal to observe September 21 as World Peace Day and mark the day with cessation of hostility.

Former ULFA publicity secretary Sunil Nath welcomed the UN appeal but debunked the ‘root cause’ theories of the other speakers (unrest or violence triggered by grievances and aspirations) and said that to achieve their goal, the militants have to resort to alternative forms of campaigns. He said that to achieve one’s objective violence is not the only method available. “It is a method, but not a desirable one,” the former insurgent leader concluded.

Other speakers like Aneeta Dutta, a development activist attached to the Rastriya Gramin Vikas Nidhi (RGVN) and Professor Anuradha Dutta, categorically felt that while women are always in the forefront when leading mass movements and agitations, they invariably lag behind in the corridors of power or when making policy decisions. They felt this is a worldwide trend and can be seen in the insurgent organizations as well.

Dutta said that to achieve a peaceful society, the isolated womens’ organizations should be brought together on a common platform and made more meaningful. “All through they (women’s groups) have been trying their best to address issues in order to keep peace in our conflict ridden society as best as they can,” she pointed out.

At the intense discussion, two noted editors of Guwahati-based newspapers P. J. Baruah of The Assam Tribune and Prasanta Rajguru of the Assamese language daily Amar Asom, besides S. G. Kashyap of The Indian Express underlined the necessity of harnessing the moderate Muslim voice in India.

Seakers like Dr. Noni Gopal Mahanta and Dr. Akhil Ranjan Dutta from the Gauhati University expressed their concern about religious conflict. “Religious terrorism in India must be tackled seriously as Assam is also a victim of it,” Mahanta said. Dutta felt that the UN appeal should seen in totality and must not be seen as directed at a section indulging in violence. “Peace does not mean absence of war and even issues like land-people relationship must be tackled if peace is to prevail in Northeast India,” he argued.

Retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers, who had held key governmental positions, like H. N. Das and CDPS President Topan Lal Baruah speaking on the occasion regretted the fact that governance has been unable to move with the changing times which in turn has led to infringement on peace.

“Governance has failed and deteriorated, and along with this deterioration and the changing times, the government has failed to shoulder the responsibility and deliver,” Das, a former Chief Secretary of the government of Assam, said. Baruah felt that the government should address the myriad issues seriously and sincerely and see how best they can be resolved so as to keep peace and harmony in society.

The meeting signed off with vibrant painter Noni Borpuzari’s reflections on peace which he otherwise expresses on canvas and the artist’s views on violence and its impact on society.

International Day of Peace: A Backgrounder

The United Nations International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by resolution 36/67 of the General Assembly to coincide every year with its opening session in September. In 2001, through resolution 55/282, the Day was fixed annually on September 21 and was meant to become a day of global ceasefire and non-violence. It is also an invitation to all nations and people to honor a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day.

The UN resolution invites all Member States, organisations of the United Nations system, regional and non-governmental organisations and individuals to “commemorate, in an appropriate manner, the International Day of Peace, including through education and public awareness, and to cooperate with the United Nations in the establishment of the global ceasefire.”

A day like World Peace Day can hope to achieve the following:

At the most basic level, the day calls for 24-hours of worldwide ceasefire and non-violence
It exists to give people a chance to call for peace, individually or collectively
In countries that have witnessed an extended period of peace, it is first and foremost a day for people on which to truly appreciate how fortunate this is, that it is important to work to maintain peace, and that it should never be taken for granted.
It is also a day to educate oneself about all those not so fortunate people who are living in conflict areas, and to express solidarity with them
It is a day to let political and communal leaders know that peace should take a central position in their policies
In conflict areas, September 21 also offers some concrete possibilities. It might provide a symbolic moment to start peace processes or negotiations. It gives added force to a call for peace and ceasefire. When the ceasefire is honoured, it provides an opportunity to access areas that might otherwise be closed off, to bring people there food, medicine or other necessities