Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai

Report: Peace Centres Workshop

On

Perspectives of Culture and Nationalism

25th – 27th August 2016

 

Venue: Hotel Royal Highness, Near Roopali Cinema, Across Nehru bridge,  Ahmedabad

 

Centre for Study of Society and Secularism started the Peace Centre Project in 2014. A peace centre like the nomenclature suggests, is a centre that would be promoting peace in multiple ways. In the context of this project, the peace centre is less of a physical space and more liberal conceptual space which is a hub of peace activities. The fellows in this project will plan activities suited to the needs and context of the city they work in to improve understanding, interaction and harmony between communities. He will seek help and solidarity from other partners of CSSS and other organizations and individuals working in this field.

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The peace centres have been successful in bringing diverse communities such as STs, SCs, Dalits, Christians, Hindus and Muslims to work together for peace. The centres have created community networks of youth who work as peace guards, keeping check on violence in the area. Dalit, SC, Muslim and Hindu youth have come to build stronger bonds of friendship. Youth who have been part of the peace centre activities have come forwards as leaders and volunteers to carry forward the activities. Participation of women and girls has increased since the opening of the centre.

The Centre for Study of Society and Secularism organised the Fourth Peace centre workshop under the title “Perspectives of Culture and Nationalism” in Ahmedabad from 25th -27th of August 2016. The workshop was formulated on the above topic due to its relevance in the present political situations. The topics were also selected on the basis of the suggestions of the participants in the previous workshop.

The resource persons were carefully selected on the parameters of their expertise in the subject of the session and the language of delivery.

The workshop was devised to last three days with an average of three sessions per day. The resource persons were requested to make the sessions interactive and to moderate discussions along with providing triggers for the discussion. The use of audio-visual aids was preferred over a lecture. The sessions were placed in an order to help form easy linkages with each other. Activities and discussions were also planned to facilitate a more comprehensive understanding of the topics being discussed. The topics covered in the workshop are of relevance to the unfolding political scenarios of present times. The atrocities on the Dalit communities in Una and the counter protests to this have gained momentum. There is news of casualties and gross violations of human rights in Kashmir on a daily basis. Anyone who raises a voice in democratic dissent is being squashed with colonial tools such as sedition. Keeping these various scenarios in mind, the need for the workshop for the capacity building of ground level peacemakers seems extremely necessary. The struggles which have diversified from being single issued to multiple issued have to also be understood from the multiple angles present.

The participants of the workshop include people from various cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. There were a total of 27 male and 9 female participants in the workshop. The participants belong to various peace centres from across the country including Sanghli (Maharashtra), Shamli (Uttar Pradesh), Udaipur (Rajasthan), Ahmedabad (Gujarat), Baghalpur ( Bihar) and Khandamal (Orrisa). The participants also belonged to various ages, the youngest being students at the age of 21 years and senior activists as old as 65 years old. The participants also had a diverse religious as well as caste composition which opened the floor for healthy discussion and debate during the sessions.

All the peace centres work in areas that have in thIMG_1934e past or are at present communally volatile. There have been instances of communal based violence in all the areas which has resulted in loss of life and property. The areas in which our peace centres function also have a diverse

CSSS aims at building capacities of the peace centres working in these diverse setting and facilitate any skill training they require. With this objective in mind CSSS would like to organise a workshop on “Perspectives of Culture and Nationalism” for the individuals actively associated with the Peace Centres. The Workshop was formulated with a certain set of goals we wished to achieve through tithe goals of the workshop are:

  1. a) To develop the perspective of the participants on the politics of identity, understanding of nationalism and secular movements.
  2. b) To facilitate the learning of the fellows and participants on perspectives of culture, hegemony and power structures.
  3. c) To facilitate the development of skills of relevance such as documentation for the participants.

To meet the above goals and objectives, the entire workshop was divided into nine different sessions covering an array of topics related to the theme of the workshop. The topics covered during these sessions were:

IMG_1964The session “Global Islam, IS and Terrorism” by Mr Irfan Engineer. The resource person dwelled on the present state of war that is prevailing and affecting lives across the world. The rise and the Notion of the present form of a Islamic caliphate was traced back historically. The secular forces of the Arab Nationalism rose up against the Ottoman Empire, as a response to which the Empire declared itself a caliphate and demanded allegiance of Muslims across the globe. The Marketed fear of the “Muslim world” should be seen in a Pre and Post 9/11 timeline. The amicable relationships that the U.S.A had with the Taliban or other Islamic fundamentalist forces before 9/11 is interesting to dwell upon. The using of these communities as foot soldiers in America’s war against USSR during the cold war has been come out as a documented proof. However, the perception of the Muslim world as being the greatest threat to people at present is not just misleading but is factually wrong. The trend of using and twisting the information present to justify Islamophobia was also talked about. The ammunition market and who benefits from the “war against terrorism” was discussed elaborately. The Pre and Post-cold war era and the shift of the world from a bipolar to unipolar power structure, gave rise to the New World Order. The origin and causes for “Islamic radicalisation” in the Arab world was talked about. U.S.A’s foreign policies and its linkages with the various developments in the “war against terrorism” were explained.

The session “Nationalism” was again facilitated by Mr Irfan Engineer. The session started by talking about the various types of nationalism that exists. Cultural nationalism as is seen in the Jewish Israeli notion of a nation. Natural citizenship to such states on the basis of the religion or culture they belong to is a trend usually seen in cultural nationalism. The present model of “Hindu Rashtra” is mimicking the same and not an original epiphany as the Hindu nationalists claim. Building up from there, the resource person also gave an introduction to the three major perspectives on the origin of Nationhood, namely, the Primordial, Modernist and Engaged Perspectives.

IMG_1993“Gendered Culture: Placing Gender in oppressive ideologies” was facilitated by Dr Mallika Sarabhai, a renowned classical dancer and a gender rights activist. The various ways in which gender manifests itself in society and also our daily lives was discussed. Everything right from language to the way we dress and how we dress is subject to gender norms and roles. Patriarchy and gender binaries manifest themselves in almost every aspect of our lives. Gender and the evolution of our understanding of the concept from being binary to being fluid were presented with examples. The new gender movements that have been fighting for the rights of LGBTQIA+ and other non-heterosexual, non gender binary communities are examples of the changing notions of gender. Culture as a perpetrator of patriarchy, gender binaries and roles was elaborated in the form a discussion.

IMG_2012“Introduction to Culture: Culture and State” was taken up by Mr Hiren Gandhi and Ms Saroopben. The resource persons have extensive experience on working with culture and are referred to as cultural activists by many. The concept of culture in contrast and relation to civilisation was discussed by the resource persons. Building from there, the concept of state, its evolution and rationales were discussed. The purpose of the state and dethroning of the state in the global economy was discussed in relation to the use of culture as a tool for retaining power. Culture defines the existence of a social being. The foundation on the basis of which a person relates to other people with macro structures is culture. Culture is dynamic, and can never be uniform all across. The concept of state has also evolved with time from the feudal forms of governance to the present democratic secular republics. State, has and should have minimal role to play in the culture of people. Constitutional values and morality in such interventions should hold primary importance, as is seen in the banning of Sati, of Child marriage etc. However, the use of the state’s control over culture manifests itself in the form of using it as a tool of political and communal polarisation is rampant. In times of rapidly decreasing power of the state in global economies where economy, polity, security and welfare are all subject to forced conformance by international bodies and neo-colonisers, the state uses culture to politicise for political gain.

To complement the discussion on culture and state, the next planned session was on “Hegemonic Culture: an Introduction”. The resource person selected for the same was Mr Sanjay Kumar, a professor of Physics in St. Stephens, Delhi. The resource person carried forward the discussion from the previous session and discussed the concepts of ideology, state, power and hegemony. The idea of an ideology, when becomes hegemonic not just restricts our worldview but also leads to fundamentalism in various forms. The creation of continuous counter hegemonies is hence extremely important to tackle fundamentalism. The concept of hegemony and counter hegemony can also be related to the Hegelian concepts of dialectics. The right wing Hindu forces have been successful in creating the counter hegemony of a “Hindu Nation” as opposed by the concept of a democratic secular nation. There are various processes in which they have done the same. The various processes of creating hegemony such as historicisation, naturalisations etc. were elaborated upon. The envisioning or creation of a historical framework, as seen in the “Golden Age” for hindus can be an example of historicisation. Creating counter hegemonies and the role of social justice movements in doing so was discussed.

Diversity walk is an activity regularly carried out by the Ahmedabad Peace Centre. The concept of the diversity walk was coined to allow people to participate and understand historical syncretic tradition. Mr Hozefa Ujjaini who is the mentor of the Ahmedabad Peace Centre facilitated and moderated the walk. There are many places in cities which are of importance to secularism and syncretic tradition but which get faded away with time. Places of religious worship, the foundation stone of the city of Ahmedabad, and educational institutions were part of the walk. The places visited included a church, a mosque, a synagogue and an interfaith worship place. The common architecture of the places of worship was pointed out by Mr Hozefa.

IMG_2165The session “Culture: Caste and affirmative action” was taken up by Mr Ghanshyam Shah. Mr Ghanshyam Shah is a noted academician and has written extensively on caste and related issues. The discussion started from talking about the cultural aspects of caste. Culture and not religion as the major perpetrator of caste was discussed. Positive discrimination as a tool for representation more than upliftment was discussed. Merit is a concept that is possible only in a society or state where true equity and equal opportunity has been achieved. The demands for the end of reservation deny and are blind the fact that people of different socio-economic backgrounds with different set of privileges and marginalities cannot possible compete on an equal footing. The concept of merit and how it is detrimental to the idea of social justice was placed in context.

There was a session by Ms Neha Dabhade (Deputy Director) and Sai Bourothu (Programme Coordinator), CSSS, on “Documentation”. The session covered the formats of the various reports and recording that have to be communicated by the peace centres to CSSS. Narrative reports, financial reporting and Media documentation were covered during the session.

The valedictory session was taken up by Dr Ram Punyani on the topic “Contextualising Nationalism”. The birth of Indian nationalism and within that the advent of Hindu and Muslim national identities was discussed. The Allegories of nationhood and their transformation as seen in the changes of “Bharat Mata” over the decades was discussed. The issue of sedition and anti-nationalism was discussed further. Kashmir and the historical symbolisation of it as the nation’s pride were elaborated upon. The history of Indian independence talks about how Kashmir had the right to be independent. The double standards that were followed in Kashmir in relation to what was done in Hyderabad has to be taken into account. The human rights violations that have been rampant in the valley were discussed along with the brute force with which every democratic dissent has been squashed in Kashmir historically. Kashmir is a political issue and not a communal one. The brutal amount of force that is being used in Kashmir to break down any democratic dissent is barbaric.

 Feedback (Quantitative)

  • Out of a rating of 1 to 10, where 1 is the least and 10 is the maximum level of satisfaction from the workshop, the participants rated the workshop at average of 8.06.
  • 3% of the participants classified as the medium (Language) of discussion was “Very Good”, and 36.1% categorised it as “Good”.
  • 1% of the participants suggested that the expected subjects were covered by the workshop.
  • 1% of the participants opined that the sessions were long in their duration, 5.6% suggested they were short and 83.3% of them coined the timing as adequate.

Feedback (Qualitative)

The participants appreciated the topics covered in the workshop. The use of audio visual aids and interactive sessions was commended. The sessions on Nationalism and Global Islam by Mr Irfan engineer were opined to be extremely informative and much required. Mr Ram’s session on “Contextualising Nationalism” received an overwhelming response from the audience. The Diversity walk helped greatly in understanding the concepts of culture and hegemony that were discussed in the previous sessions. Some of the participants suggested that the topics covered in the session were really broad as compared to the time allotted for them. Khandamal peace centre also suggested that there should be a separate workshop in Orrisa for other ground level peace workers.

 

Outcome (Expected)

The expected outcomes of the workshop are as follows:

  • The transfer of skills and knowledge from the participants to their field settings.
  • To use the information in their future events and activities.
  • Conducting trainings and workshops on the topics in their field setting to be able to train more peace activists on ground.
  • Broader analysis and understanding of the unfolding political scenarios being reflected on the work the peace centres engage with.