Sustainable peace

Sustainable peace

Even as Assam celebrates the likelihood of the ULFA entering into talks with the Centre, violent clashes have broken out between the Garo and Rabha ethnic groups along the Assam-Meghalaya border indicating how complex the process of bringing peace to the region is likely to be. A dozen people have died in the violence so far and some 300 houses in Assam’s Goalpara and Meghalaya’s East Garo Hills district have been burnt in less than a fortnight. The violence has resulted in displacement of over 50,000 people.

Rabhas and Garos have had long-standing disputes over land and other local resources. While the recent clashes have been described in the media as riots, the violence was not spontaneous. The home ministry has revealed that the clashes were planned and organised. While the ministry’s probe has refrained from naming underground groups that might have triggered the violence, security forces have arrested members of groups like the Rabha Security Force and the Rabha Viper Army for carrying out the attacks.
Conflict between the Garos and Rabhas has turned violent occasionally. However, to describe their relationship as historically conflictual is flawed. The Garos and Rabhas have lived side by side for centuries, interacting and co-operating with each other by and large. If clashes have erupted now, it is because vested interests have mobilised these groups along their primordial identities and triggered conflict between them.

The government has rushed additional forces to the area and issued shoot-at-sight orders with a view to halting the violence and arson. While this might quell the violence, it will not prevent it from erupting again. For sustainable peace, we need to build a culture of peace among communities. This requires a whole range of activities such as peace education, justice, reconciliation and so on. It requires building constituencies of peace. The Northeast has a long history of women being involved in peacebuilding. The role of the Naga Mothers’ Association in keeping the ceasefire alive in Nagaland is well known. Sadly, the immense potential of women as a peacebuilding force has not been adequately tapped. Drawing on this rich resource will help build a lasting peace in the region. Sustainable peace cannot be achieved through an interaction of elites alone. The masses need to be drawn in too.

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