Participants Blog hosted by Center for Conflict Studies at MIIS

Author: Brijlal Chaudhari

Interpreters and thinking about reconciliation

Interpreters: Keeping the communication alive is the key in peace-building. Today, the session with Prof. Jaclyn Harmer & Prof. Laura Burian on interpretation amidst conflict highlighted the importance of interpreters in peace-building. The interpreters can make the communication possible between two or multiple parties who do not speak the same language.

I have had numerous opportunities where I had to consecutively interpret for my work in Nepal. It was a challenging task. Although I was mindful that I am only an interpreter, it was difficult to let go your position in the organization that I was working. This highlights how important it is to be neutral as an interpreter. I also learned that if I am to interpret again, I will speak as the first person. Interpretation is like performing a dance with the speaker and one needs to consider the interpreter as part of the team.

Reconciliation: The session with Elizabeth Cole was very informative. She talked about how evaluation is becoming important in the peacebuilding field. Evaluating the reconciliation efforts or individuals and organizations is an incredible initiative as the individuals need to learn from the past and talk about what works and what does.

She talked about the Contact Theory that is widely used by the peace builders in the reconciliation process. The logic behind the theory is that when we bring people from different groups together, they will get along and understand each other that will increase the trust level among them. Bringing people together means bringing multiple stories and information that will challenge the existing narratives and mindsets.

It was interesting to go over the attributes/conditions and signs of reconciliation that are listed below:

  • an increassed sense of shared future and national identity
  • Trust and increased level of social cohesion among different groups
  • It is a long-term process
  • is multi-generational
  • Re-humanization of others
  • voluntary process (cannot be imposed)
  • binary process (2 sides are involved)
  • there is a tipping point
  • respect for human rights
  • commitment to nonviolent solutions
  • We often say that peace building is a grassroots effort. The NGOs along with members of civil society can do a lot to shift minds and hearts, but leadership from the top has to shift as well. Once again, the political will has to be there.

Flowing to Peace

The session with Prof. Jeff Langholz was energizing and encouraging. I learned that it is not the just identity that people are fighting for. Natural resources are increasingly becoming the sources of conflict around the world. The rate at which the world is urbanizing adding stress on the aquifers, fresh water sources. To keep the population alive in the urban centers, the governments are diverting the water sources towards the urban centers creating haves and have nots. This process is becoming less and less sustainable as the water delivery systems are centralized and monopolized with little room for competition and innovation.

Prof. Jeff talked about the innovation he is leading in the decentralization of water delivery to households in the cities at a cheaper price by reducing the impacts on the environment. The company that he is running with his student is called WaterCity Inc who borrows the idea from SolarCity (a solar company). The innovation is an incredible one. Water is considered as a public good and one only expects the government to take care of such issue as the citizens are paying taxes to the government. However, the Jeff and his students stepped in as a private sector to solve the water shortage issue in the rapidly growing urban centers.

His innovation made me think that when we fail to imagine, we are left with no options. Hence, we continue to experience violence that is structural and cultural. As peace-builders, one should encourage ourselves to engage with various parties with multiple perspectives. It will increase the possibility of imagining further. I am appreciating this program more as it brought diverse speakers from various backgrounds and expertise. It has certainly broadened my capacity to imagine further and not make conclusions right away or get frustrated easily. I am also learning that as peace-builders we cannot take sides. We must understand that till we find the truth, we have to keep the communication open with both parties. The moment we take sides, it will jeopardize the relationship with the second party and possibly the communication channel will end. As peace-builders, we need to keep the engagement and communication alive.


Peace-builders & Challenges to Peace-building

After two weeks of incredible sessions on various topics on peace-building, we had the opportunity to talk about who peace-builders are and what are the challenges. It was a great conversation we had a class as I was able to revisit the knowledge that I had acquired so far from the sessions. Below are my thoughts:

Who are peace-builders?

Peacebuilders are individuals (engineers, lawyers, religious leaders, academicians, human right activists, policy makers, trauma healers, social workers, law enforcement authorities, story tellers, journalists, civil society members, business leaders)  who use their position directly or indirectly to reduce and eliminate direct, structural and cultural violence with an aim to restore the social order and transform the existing human relationships for sustainable peace.

For some peace-builders peacebuilding is a life-long work and commitment. For some, it is a just job. However, once one is directly involved in the peacebuilding process and reconciliation, it is difficult to come out of the scene. I felt that one faces a moral dilemma when it comes to leaving the profession as one has heard the stories of the victims and perpetrators. While working with the victims, the peace-builders are in the risk of becoming victims themselves. One has to be careful in such situations and seek guidance and support from the colleagues. However, the there needs to a safe environment to talk and share.  It got me interested and I want to explore this topic further. Shall we take care of ourselves or the real victims of the conflict? However, I am learning that there is an opportunity cost in prioritizing self-care that involves leaving the peace-building process in the middle.

The majority of the speakers who shared their knowledge, wisdom, and experience with us so far can be categorized as peace builders. The majority of the speakers are using critical peacebuilding lens to seek solutions. It was quite comforting that individuals that constitute peace-builders come from a variety of sectors bringing diverse perspectives and expertise. However, the struggle is bringing all these perspectives together.

Challenges to peace-building?

Peacebuilding is tiring and a long process. One cannot hope to change the social order over night or in a year or two. It is a journey and not competition of race. However, the majority of the peace -building work followed DDR model, a liberal peacebuilding model.  When it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dayton Accords is an outcome of the liberal peace-building model that is based on the idea that democracy and liberal economy will build bridges between the communities in conflict and end violence. The accord failed to reveal the truth, bring justice and heal the wounds of the trauma the victims carry and transform relationships and the existing structures and systems. The critical peace-building approach got my attention and that uses people centered and bottom up approach to peacebuilding where people’s participation is the key. I am still thinking of this method and will continue to do so.

Political will is crucial in setting the tone and environment of trust that can help the truth come out.  Truth and Justice work in an interesting way. They can work against each other, while they can also complement each other. One has to think deeply about what kind of justice are we seeking when it comes to peacebuilding. Do we do injustice to one group by doing justice to another group are some of the questions one needs to keep asking ourselves.

Other challenges, that came out in the conversation are:

  • Budget
  • Patience
  • Neutrality (impartiality & Equi-distance)



Civil Society

Civil Society is an important aspect of any society or state that complements the work of the state in building a strong and safe society. The civil society has tremendous potential to fill the gaps that the state fails to do. The Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP) is a great example of a civil society that is trying to bridge the gaps that state alone cannot do. The meeting that I attended with the CASP members was the most positive thing I have seen in a while. I could sense the synergy that the individuals representing their organizations were wearing.  I also saw various levels of collaborations among the members and the strong will to change the situations in Salinas. The CASP meeting really inspired me to collaborate with people and organizations while working on wicked or complex issues. It also gave me agency to keep work on the issues that I was working in Nepal.



I am really thankful to the SPP program that gave me opportunities to visit Salinas State Prison and Correctional Training Facility. It was an incredible learning experience for me. The two facilities represent a system that is committed to creating a safe and secure society by removing individuals that pose a threat to the society and giving them opportunities to change.

The prison is a great example where the governments are using the DDR model for creating peace and harmony in the society. The prison in Salinas and Correction Training Facility has been able to disarm and demobilize and prepares the inmates to reintegrate themselves back into the society. However, the stories of gangs and how the inmates segregate themselves based on their affiliations to a particular gang made me question the DDR model because the gangs are operating from the prison and are not fully disarmed or demobilized.

The number of people incarcerated in the US is shocking as it is going up every year. Looking deeper, I started realizing that the systems and structures in the US have created many prisons. The majority of the people who end up in the state prison were already living in prison with little support from family. They were already isolated and marginalized with very little security nets. The state prisons are not the long-term solutions to fix the social problems in the poor communities. The state needs to expand its social services and safety nets to engage families with broken homes.

The prisons made me think of how we as individuals also create our own prisons based on our biases. We need to break free of our own prisons that we have created as well. We need to allow diverse perspectives into our conversations. We cannot just celebrate what we have similar with others but, we also need to talk deeply about the differences we have with others with humility and celebrate them.


Safety, Securty and Violence

Prof. Ed Lawrence during his session on the impact of conflict and violence on development asked us to look at where there is any relationship between Global Peace Index, Human Development Index, and Fragility Index. It was interesting to see that the countries that were at the bottom of the Global Peace Index also were at the bottom of the list when it comes to the Fragile State Index and Human Development Index (HDI). The most fragile states are generally less peaceful (global peace index) and have lower HDI rankings. It will be interesting to run statistical analysis and see if there is a correlation. The countries that have higher levels of inequality, underdevelopment are more likely to experience violence or be in conflict. The violence or the conflict takes away the majority of the development budget because conflicts and violence is expensive to sustain leaving less money for development work. The lesson that I learned out of this exercise is that underdevelopment, inequality, and injustice that become part of the system or structure undermine the human needs like safety, security (physical, emotional, economic, social). Another thing that became visible to me is that the countries that are very fragile do not have strong safety nets (social, economical) in their structure.  There is an issue of resource allocation as well. The structure does support social and economic mobility. When the structure fails people to imagine and push them into isolation, it increases the likelihood of violence.

We also talked about DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization & Integration) as a direction towards peace. The majority of the states and communities are successful at Disarmament and Demobilization, but Reintegration of the rebels or the criminals into the society has been a challenge. I keep thinking why and started going back to the idea of putting them in different contexts and environments. Is DDR a liberal or a critical peace building method?

Looking at the micro level, William R. Strokes helped me see how violence effects at the individual level.  His story also highlighted the need for safety and security nets. Creating an environment for individuals to imagine and dream is important that emphasizes on human development as well.


Importance of Religious leaders!

I am not a big fan of religious leaders as they exercise tremendous power and represent the guardians of the rigid social structures. It makes me angry when they say that god has chosen them to serve the people and show them light when there is darkness all around them. However, my opinion on religious leaders are starting to shift after hearing father Cedrick Prakash.

It was an inspiring experience to hear Cedrick Prakash talk about the refugee crisis and the work he is doing to restore social order. His devotion for humanity and the values he carries for his work is worth mentioning. I found my values similar to his. I realized how important religious leaders can become in transforming the social orders and systems. The religious leaders have tremendous power to challenge the centralized system that enforces the cultural norm. In the field of peace building one should not ignore the importance of religious leaders as they sit a pile of social capital that can be mobilized for greater good. Hence, we need to build strong alliances with the religious leaders as they could be become the positive deviant for changing hearts and minds.

First Day!

The movie Parzania that we watched on the first day of SPP left me shocked, powerless, and confused. However, it introduced me to the what I had read about direct, structural and cultural violence. The violence that was shown in the movie did not happen just like that. It was planned, the existing political structures and institutions supported it. Similarly, the dominant Hindu culture that has been dehumanizing the Muslims since India-Pakistan partition had endorsed the genocide of Muslim minorities.  The ending of the movie did not leave me hopeful either. Although the Human Rights Commission was able to get the truth from the victims, I am still questioning about the forgiveness and justice aspect of the peacebuilding. India as one of the largest democracy getting away with massacring its Muslim minority does not leave one hopeful. The victims of the violence are still living in the camps that is isolating them further. Such confinement is only making the structures stronger to break and dreams of social, economical, and political mobility difficult to attain.

I am still struggling to understand, the role of media and civil society organizations. Are they part of the sub-systems that feeds the system that Dr. Iyer talked about?  Should they take responsibilities for the deaths of innocent lives? What is independent media and does it exit? Dr. Iyer also mentioned that systems are made of humans not bricks. I kept asking are we changing it?

Dr. Iyer in her session asked us to take a small test that helped me determine my conflict management styles. I scored high on accommodating. I scored well on collaborating. However, I am realizing that I am more of a teddy bear than an owl. I easily negotiate and accommodate when there is conflict or dispute or disagreement. I should work more towards becoming a owl in terms of my conflict management style.

The Alligator Story

The first session of SPP was led by Jill Stoffers. She introduced various team building exercises that were beneficial to me. She started us with a meditation session. She also emphasized the role of mediation in our professional life and the importance of checking ourselves from time to time. This made me think about my life experiences and what has shaped me into the person I am today. The idea of meditation and checking ourselves is so crucial for me. Please see the diagram called the experience ladders below. The diagram illustrates based on our values, life experiences, education, and the environment around us, we have a different set of opinions and one speaks from his or her position. As individuals working in peacebuilding, one needs to be aware of where people are coming from. Of course, differences in opinion means diversity of perspectives. However, I am understanding the need to manage the diversity of perspectives towards collective interests or goals.

We also worked on the alligator river story. We had to rank the characters in the story based on their behavior and responsibility. As individuals, we ranked the characters differently because every member of our group was seeing the issue from their position on the experience ladder. It was incredible to see how we see the same issues differently. The best part of the exercise was to climb down the ladder of our experiences and find a common ground that was difficult to get to. Getting down to the common ground was not impossible either.  I wonder when it comes to our needs, how much can we negotiate and come down.

Although the alligator exercise was for team building purpose, I could not stop thinking about the context of the story. The alligator story was designed to simplify the story and come up with conclusions. I learned that before we make conclusions or simply things one needs to look at the context or the environment. In the story, there was no bridge on the river that prevented Abigail and Gregory from being together. The river and the alligators in it are like our social structures or borders that do not allow people to meet. Hence, I see the need to overcome our blind spots and look beyond what our eyes can see or ears can hear. One needs to be careful about our proximity biases as well. Below is a video that illustrates that we have a selective attention that does not allow to see the gorilla in the room.  Hence, as peace builders, one needs diverse perspectives and ideas that will make up for our blind spots or biases. Please do watch it.



Hello! My name is Brij Chaudhari. I am a second-year student at MIIS studying Masters in Public Administration. Prior to Middlebury, I was in Montreal for a year as Jeanne Sauve Fellow. I have worked in Nepal with a grassroots NGO called Sano Paila (A Little steps). Along with the non-profit, I also started a cooperative that gives its members opportunities to save and invest in their dreams. The work that I was doing in Nepal was about integrating the underprivileged and marginalized population in the life of the society and restoring dignity in their lives. I learned that cultural, social, political, and economic structure that I was working in is very rigid as the mountains.  I saw fatalism, apathy, and lack of agency in the population that my work was serving. Though my work had impacts on people’s lives, I was getting burned out. The decade long Maoist insurgency did shake these structures but did not completely replaced them. However, the new institutions and policies emerged to include the others (the population that was left behind by the old social, economic, political and cultural structures) and nourish all Nepali lives. In reality, the drivers of these institutions are the same. Integration of the marginalized, the vulnerable and the impoverished population that was suppressed by the elites is still a challenge. I dream of a place where all forms of lives are nurtured and want to explore the Gandhian philosophy more. I also hope to explore indigenous methods of conflict resolution and peace building that is homegrown and not too foreign. I also want to explore the vicious triangle of violence and the virtuous triangle of peace in various circumstances.

As I was doing the back ground readings for this course, The Needs Theory, Cultural & Structural Violence article reminded me that I have been living in a world that is constantly experiencing violence and conflict. I started asking why the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas have always ignored the Dalits and the indigenous in Nepal? Can we full fill needs of all the human beings including all forms of lives? In a Buddhist majority Myanmar, the Rohingyas are still stateless with no formal identity, why? Bhutan will never take back the refugees it created in the 1990s, why? Will the Gorkhaland be an independent state in India? Why has the world ignored the sufferings of Kashmir? Why will the Kikuyus always favor a Kikuyu in Kenya?  How long will the Kurds fight for a sovereign Kurdistan? What is a legitimate government? If someone is killed by some, it is a crime and why is it not a crime when a state is directly or indirectly killing millions? Thinking of all these issues gives me a headache and forces me to shut myself and not discuss these issues. However, I want to move out of this apathy and gain back my agency to act and contribute in building institutions that are participatory. SPP is a great opportunity to discuss such issues.

I grew up in the southern plains of Nepal. I have seen my grand parents waiting for the monsoon rain to plan their crop. They have taught me humility and patience. My mother has taught me kindness and compassion. She never sees a difference between her own kids and the hungry visitor. She feeds all of us on the same floor. Hope the SPP will help me use these values in my professional work and help me find the strengths to hold the values that are non-negotiable. We talked about values in “Story Telling for Change,” class that I took with Dr. Pushpa last semester.

I am really looking forward to learning, growing with SPP.


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