Participants Blog hosted by Center for Conflict Studies at MIIS

Category: Sneha Mahapatra

Reconciliation and the powerful role of interpreting

In yesterday’s session I particularly loved how Prof. Elizabeth Cole made us come together as a group to discuss the various images that showed us how different communities dealt with justice and remembrance. The image for me that was personally striking was of the Comfort Woman Statue, which depicted a Korean girl looking at the Japanese embassy and the patient, modest way in which she was depicted looking directly at the people responsible for the horrors that she, as a representative of the members of her community, were subjected to.

The conversation that we had on the elements of reconciliation and the role that truth telling, justice, reparations, apologies, acknowledgement and commemorations play in the process reconciliation were important for me to understand. When we watched the documentary Pretty Village, I was equally shocked and in agony of how the person in the movie, Kemal Pervanic’s life as a community activist and Bosnian concentration camp survivor was drastically changed forever when his village was one day attacked by Serb nationalist forces. Many of those who survived the initial attack were to die or suffer terrible violence in the concentration camps that were set up nearby, while many people remain missing, their bodies unclaimed.  The film, although serving as a powerful and informative reminder of the tragic horrors the members of the community were subjected to, simultaneously poses the question of what can be done to heal the wounds of this terrible conflict and how to members of the community deal with life in the midst of their tormentors and why reconciliation remains a distant dream.

Such stories, and the other short film that we watched about the lives of Quechua people where horrendous atrocities were committed in Peru between 1980 and 2000 during the armed conflict between the government and Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), a Maoist armed group. Nearly 70,000 people were killed, and thousands of others were tortured and raped. Indigenous people and those who lived in rural areas were hit in particular. The film raised questions on is it enough to have people give testimonials and has it actually unveiled the truth in the path to achieve reconciliation?

This session was transformative and talking to Pushpa in the last session about the challenges to reconciliation and understanding it through the examples of other countries and learning that reconciliation is about truth, mercy and only then can we as a society move toward reconciliation.

Religious Challenges to Peace Building and the future of Water

Todays session started with understanding the various roles that religion plays in peace building.  It was very interesting to hear the various approaches we can take toward viewing the role that religion plays in peace-building.

I liked how Dr. Bock opened the session with asking us what we hoped to gain out of understanding the role that religion plays in peace-building and it was interesting to understand the various responses people had to the question that he posed. The activity then which made us think about a positive and negative impact or role that religion has had in the area of conflict was an eyeopening exercise for me because it made me realize how easy it was for all of us to find a negative way in which religion has created conflict but to think of a positive way in which religion affected conflict was much harder.

Another intriguing term that Mr. Bock introduced in his class presentation was the term “coreligionists” and how it is an effective and important method in promoting conflict resolution because of the power that someone who professes your religion has in using the space that they embody to provokes peoples thoughts and challenge them to re-think fundamentalist.

It was also an engaging topic to discuss about the power that the state has in how religion gets used to create and further perpetrate conflict and whether or not there can be a situation or a state where we can have religion independent of state and whether or not there can be a party that intervene just with the motive of help or can there be a state that is truly secular especially in places where religion has been so deeply embedded within society ?

The next session that we had was on the scarcity of water and the approach of using the 3 Ps being People, Planet and Prosperity to understand how deeply disturbing the water problem in the world is and how we can use methods like rain water harvesting, grey water harvesting and recycling water to use the same gallon of water over and over again was an approach that made a lot of sense and also did a good job of tackling the problems of the 3 Ps and the idea of expanding the pie was definitely a new perspective that gave me a lot to think about.


Gender, Peace and Conflict

Todays session on Gender, Peace and Conflict was deeply informative and transformative. From starting the session with Mrs. Moorti asking us to introduce ourselves using our preferred gender pronoun to getting a better understanding of the third gender and how that is different from sex and the various associations and notions that our context and the environment in which we grow up in. The concept of how “sex mapped onto gender” and how historically traits of what it means to be masculine and feminine have been associated with male and female and how we need to view gender as a continuum spectrum was very interesting for me to learn.

The conversations we had about consumer culture and having to accept and deal with the consequences of the assumptions and associations with how we feed into and find ourselves falling victim as consumers engaging with the various products that we buy and why we buy them shows how media as industries cannibalize us.  We need to be aware of and understand how we are under larger institutions and how we as consumers are guided in particular ways because of how the media feeds into certain stereotypes but also creates images perpetrating certain behaviors and ways of being and dressing as norms which needs to be address and questioned before they become deep rooted within us.

Thinking of words other than equality and replacing the notions we expect equality to bring with more effective ways of thinking about how to make affirmative actions to truly uplift women and other marginalized sections of society and not serve as a shock to the system where it completely backfires and promotes further disparity rather than gain and benefit for the intended population.

The idea of how what we see as individual choices and how we need to be aware of what role we are playing in the larger context of how gender and sex plays into how the created and constructed patriarchy further enhances misogynist feminism and the fact that it is women who further become victims because of women and not men who actually feed into the expected rules and regulations that women in certain societies need to follow.

Furthermore it was fascinating to hear Dr. Moorti talk about how historically speaking certain cultures had men dressing in certain ways (like wearing heels), partaking in society has evolved and changed over years and the role that globalization and colonization plays in how communities have been shaped and transformed over years.  Another challenging question was thinking about gender free spaces in society and whether or not they exist- is their any space in society that is free of gender- and I am so glad that this session left me with more questions than answers.


Emotions and Kingian nonviolence

The session that we had with Mrs. Prabha made me very cognizant of the fact that in peace building self care is extremely important  because of how sometimes we do not even realize, even after we have given ourselves the time to think and get the closure we need to heal, that we have overcome the intensity of emotions that we have felt.

I was surprised on learning the various ways in which people were effected by the back to back experiences of going to a prison and then the police station lead to an intense build of emotions for people to have to deal with.  When I heard Vanina talk to Kelly about her experience growing up being half black and half Bulgarian and the fear that she lives everyday with simply because of her father’s skin color, my understanding of inherent bias and the ongoing police brutality in the country became very real. I have many black friends and it is a fear that all of them have to live with and it is just not fair.

When I went back that day, I felt that on reflecting on the intensity of emotions and hearing about what the different members of the group took from our experiences and provided me with a sense of understanding as to what people took away from not only the program but also got to learn about them better.  However I felt very uncomfortable being in the session because I did not want to be the one to claim that I knew where they were coming from and hence I use the word uncomfortable because I did not know how to relate to the intensity of emotions people were feeling.  I was affected by the experiences, but I did not have personal instances to connect the dots and that is what made me feel severely out of place, but at the same time provided for a deeper understanding of how the problems that sometimes seem so distant from you are ones that your close friends might be affected by.

As a part of the  Kingian nonviolence group activity we did the value exercise which opened by eyes to how similar we are as a group, and especially in light of what we learnt from each other once Pushpa made us do the 3 Things you like and 3 Things you want to change in the group- it served as a great activity to realize that even though we had our differences as a group and thought that there were a lot of things that need to have been improved, it was heartening to see that people, because of the values that we shared, had a lot more in common despite of the diversity. It made me more aware of the things that I take for granted in the ones that I did not put down in my top five values, and also gave me the space to hear about what and why people put the values that they thought were important to them.


School to prison pipeline

Getting to ask questions to the CASP people and interact with the mayor for me, was, to begin with, a great point of interest  as in the country I come from it is almost impossible for us as citizens to even get the chance to see our ministers. The fact that CASP puts in the time and effort to engage with members of the community who have been , because of their disadvantaged backgrounds, marginalized and faced hardships growing up was heartening to hear and in the leaders of CASP groups found themselves a safe place to open up, connect with and talk to people who were making an effort to bridge the gap between the haves and have nots.

It was very humbling to see how many people come together with a common agenda to have programs targeted toward uplifting the conditions for the disadvantaged  youth. However to give credit to Lorena’s point on there not being a severe under-representation of youth at the meeting I feel that it was yet again a situation of “giving voice to the voiceless”, where the people being targeted were not part of the process.

For the afternoon session we went to Rancho Cielo and I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the various program initiatives that were being implemented as a part of the re-integration process. The entire hands on learning approach with the focus being on expanding exposure for accommodating the various needs of people ranging from culinary to music needs was heartening and encouraging to learn about. The re-direction program targeted toward people from all ages and inclusive of varied learning styles was very impressive.

The student garden that was built by the students and having the extra advantage of the potential of them to be viewed as science classes was an added incentive as well.  Even though transportation was a challenge faced by the people running the program because of the location – it was not a barrier strong enough for the woman running the program to stay strong in her desire to be committed to work with youth who want to make their lives better.  It was so inspiring to hear how some members who became successful within their respective field would come back, share their stories and provide the members of the community a source of inspiration !

The housing facilities being free of cost and very respectable conditions whilst also having the benefit of there being an RA as a part of the program as well seemed to be a very effective way to provide people with a role model as well as structure in order to aim at improving their lives.

Overall for me the most impactful part of the day was getting to meet Mr. Kelly and Mrs. Adele and hear them about talk about their time serving as ex chief and current chief of the Salinas police department. Getting to listen to what they had to say about about the impression people have of the police, being a Latina woman serving in a predominantly male dominated position and providing insight on the  shoot to kill vs shoot to eliminate the threat policy was a huge learning for me today.

The beautiful Rancho Cielo.

Understanding the prison system.

Learning about DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration) was very informative for me in giving context on what I felt was very important in understanding what comes after prison for the lives of the inmates- especially the reintegration aspect .

Traveling to Salinas- I remember vividly approaching the prison gates and feeling very uncomfortable, uneasy and out of place. Why and who I am going into a place to “see” people who because of certain reasons that are unknown to me are living a life that I had only previously read about and what common ground would I find to be able to talk, and even on a deeper level, connect?
Little did I know that the experience would be as transformative as it was.

Initially, when we were just spectators observing what was going on and invading their privacies by “looking inside” their cabins and not having any way of communicating with the prisoners made me feel very out of place. However, after having that experience and then getting to go to the correctional facility where we could interact with the prisoners was a lot more personal.

In the second prison today on asking the question in our little groups on what they felt was a major challenge that they felt was a barrier to disassociating themselves from the hurt and “dysfunctional” families that they come from and find ways to become part of society again, one of the prisoners responded by saying that “it is you, people like you,  who need to stop looking at us like criminals”  That answer completely humanized the experience for me and made me think of how being a member of civil society we contribute to, because of our own prejudices, the ongoing process of former gang members or prisoners being unable to re-integrate back into the society and find jobs or sources of income and end up working as construction workers or fall back into selling drugs.

Also, what I realized was that a lot of people spoke about how difficult it was to find love, to face change and to start afresh because as one of the inmates mentioned “my first and only love has been drugs” , continuing his point by saying that in order to avoid the troubled and damaged system he found that drugs was the only escape and then trying to find a way to do things sober required a kind of special effort that they did not find help or support in being able to do , while others said that they did not want to interact with people of any sort after having been through such violence at such a young age. The sense of freedom that they found in isolation and feeling alone and that they had no friends other than those in prison, which made me think of how much work needs to be done in providing peer support,councilng services and on a larger more grand scale mental services as a part of the healing, rehabilitation process.

Documenting struggles… from story (tell)ing to story (let)ting

The lecture we had on storytelling  was very compelling for me, especially given that I had just finished my internship at the 1947 Partition Archive at the University of Berkeley in documenting peoples stories who had first hand experienced the Partition of India and Pakistan as an oral history archivist , and especially  more nuanced understanding on how perspective in narration shifts when targeted audiences change and the immense responsibility and delicacy with which that translation needs to be dealt with in converting first hand stories to increase the demographic audience.  The idea behind the initiation of the organization was to create a space for the communities affected by the Partition to talk about their stories in their voice, hence I see it more as stories letting being told by the people who feel ready to share personal stories on being affected by their history that continue to shapes our present.


The story of a Partition survivor: her voice- written and spoken. 

In her interview the interviewee mentioned Mr. Saddat Hasan Manto’s play called Toba Tek Singh and alluded to how the Partition, as claimed by Mr. Manto and also depicted in his play wrecked havoc when there should have been none, and how ironically the Partition came about at a time causing division when none should have existed and how tragically people’s lives, identities, and the social and cultural place that they were a part of became shattered, fragmented concepts that we are still trying to make sense of and piece together. In this picture the interviewee talks about her experience at the time of the Partition as documented by her husband about his feelings and struggles in coming to terms with accepting how the decision made overnight by drawing a line was something that became a terrible tragedy and reality that people had to unexpectedly accept and are still facing the consequences of/ is manifested itself in the form of  the estranged relations between India and Pakistan that continue to exist.

However, one personal struggle that I have with this method is the power that language has in re-shaping and re-enforcing certain norms that continue to exist and the very purpose of creating space could be dangerous in how the use of terms in othering  could serve as a way to further solidify positionality in people’s perspectives and places in the context of culture and power dynamics and further perpetrate extremes.
Learning about the approach that this form of peace building adopts in having a community based participatory aspect incorporated in its aim for me and learning about the 4 Cs in the form of Connection, Context, Change and Conclusions, made me reflect, yet again, on the subtelty of dealing with such forms of documenting people’s lives.  Furthermore, because of the testimonial approach that this method while serving a twofold purpose of providing a platform for generating a stronger impact on the community in order to facilitate members in understanding violence and oppression through the voices of the victims and dismantling the earlier topics of hegemony and structural violence by Galtung also opens up avenues for mobilizing people through open dialogue , discussion and communication in how to collectively speak truth to power.

Overall his session and the impact that storytelling, voice and language has in conveying stories to people was very important and doing the activity of talking about how we found our calling helped us understand how we are all part of each others storys and why we tell stories is to not feel alone.

Is it really a world in disarray?

Professor Mary in her talk mentioned something that struck a cord and resonated with me deeply , when she spoke about how the the problems continue to plague disadvantaged populations across the global north and south and it is not because of the fact that we have come a long way in terms of developing technology or being able to tap into more resources, or because we have almost successfully gotten rid of leprosy that the poor are better of than where they were say twenty years ago, rather it was because of the tenacity of the poor that we can attribute or make the claim that the world is better today than where it was.
This reminded me of the book  Nickle and a Dime which claims that the fact is most of the lower paying jobs requiring unskilled labor continue to exploit people at the lower rung of the social hierarchy.

Getting rid of all and any form of nuclear weapons is something that I feel strongly about and the fact that the Indo-Pakistan border is one of the most volatile places in the world and moreover India and Pakistan are some of the most hostile and hence two of the countries most prone to using nuclear weapons makes me think of how much work needs to be put in toward ending the long drawn struggle between the two countries. In order to try and mobilize ourselves toward finding positive peace the transitional justice model of social re-construction aimed at challenging existing structures that have not been questioned. But the question remains still: how?

Another conversation that started in talking about social justice that spurred my interest was the role that forgiveness plays in trauma healing and social justice.  The role that self-forgiveness plays in aiming at deconstructing social structures? How does one give the space and time to someone to heal and try to make a person whole again once hurt?  This made me think of positionality actually arises from situation of conflicts in which issues of communities tormented that have not been addressed continue to stand in the way of conflict resolution.

The question that remains is how privilege becomes a path constructed and eked out where the parties on either side over the years get further pushed away from each other, is it enough to have institutionalized prejudice become embedded in laws and customs, or does this just serve to desensitize and dehumanize human experiences in times of acute oppression?  The idea of transitional justice and how long is long enough in order to bring forth the need for value resolving in promoting positive peace through social reconstruction important.


Peace-building through myriad lenses

From starting off the morning with Jill’s meditation session which gave us the much needed energy for the day ahead to having to reflect on and come up with a six word story to describe what brought me here  and finally the crocodile story- which was our first true experience with peace building and the struggles in the form of compromise and negotiations- and the various values and core issues that come up along with it was a wonderful way to kickstart and help us get into the peace-building groove.

For me, the most hard hitting and personally moving part of the day was when we watched Parzania  and the post movie discussions that followed, which were very insightful of the riots and equally moving because of the personal story that was a part of the narrative. Being from India and not having been as exposed to the brutal and daunting realities of a different part of the country was definitely something that was very eye-opening for me.

Another informative and engaging session filled with learning was Mr. Sanjay’s session on the process and importance of understanding the role trauma recovery plays in peace building.  The cross cutting model and getting a better and more detailed insight into neuroanatomy helped inspired me to do more research on how the working of the brain affects trauma and how various factors like social support, information accessible, genes, nature and self care affect the ability of the brain  to develop under such circumstances.

Finally, todays lecture on by Professor Kent on ODA (Official Development Assistance) touch on many important issues about how communities are affected or secluded in the process by giving us a perspective/lens in the form of understanding participatory action research , power dynamics , random control trials and giving us the example of how to evaluate whether or not racism has been eradicated is something that has no concrete answer.

And so a new adventure begins….

My name is Sneha Mahapatra and I have always wanted to work with women and gender related issues as my area of interest. Being a girl from India, I always wondered what my life would be like if I was born into a family of acute poverty and forced to give up education for marriage. How different would my life be?

“Life is all about taking risks.” But so many millions of people struggle to stay alive on a daily basis, that they never get the opportunity to take that risk! Therefore, I feel privileged that I have been given many occasions to take a risk, and have always wanted to learn and grow with each time I was given the opportunity.

Attending United World College was one such risk, and I am so grateful that I took it. “Understanding that there is more than one way to look at a situation and keeping an open mind is what I learnt in UWC was the biggest solution to solving all issues of discrimination, violence and injustice”. We live in a society of labels that need to be broken. If people realize how similar we are, and that prejudice only exists because we create it then ending discrimination is something that is not a dream. People are divided by thought created because of lack of exposure, not by choice! Hope exists because our generation has the power and resources to “be the change we want to see” (MK Gandhi).

United World College Students on the Great Wall of China, Beijing, China.

After completing United World College, I had the opportunity to do a semester studying abroad doing Semester At Sea with students from all over the world and all over the United States.  This was again a chance to take another risk: a risk to travel the world and do courses that I am passionate about.  To travel to countries that I have always wanted to see through the lens of me being an Indian girl and examine how my identity shapes my world view as a traveler and further to understand how being a woman traveling to these countries would help me better see myself as a woman – an important part of my identity, better. I was visiting these cultures to be challenged and to challenge my ideas of the world and the people in it. To not only see one story and be exposed to what books and popular media tell you about a place, but to live the place through its food, people, religions, political structures and social norms.

This summer I got the incredible opportunity to intern with the 1947 Partition Archive at Berkeley, California, where I played the role of an oral history archivist archiving stories of first hard Partition survivors, whose lives, views and struggles have been long forgotten. “Peace begins with knowing where we have come from and gaining better understanding of how our past shapes our present”- this internship has played a huge role in understanding the India-Pakistan conflict, something I have always been passionate in learning more about. Being from India and sharing a border with a country built on the foundation of and filled with years of hate, distrust, violence, learning about the root cause of the Partition has always been an area of interest for me.

Finally, being a woman brings me to my last point in conflict resolution and understanding – which is women and gender related issues – that have always been a driving source in life. I have seen and interacted with women in some of the most primitive places in India, and their stories have shocked and inspired me. From killing of the girl child to suppression of women in the most brutal ways, there is still tremendous work that needs to be done if India desires to progress and achieve the goal of equality, but more so, equity for all.  However, in the face of adversity the lives these women work toward achieving and do not “settle” to live is remarkable. I have wanted to work with women in areas of health, both general and sexual because of the number of women that face discrimination and are unaware of possibleresources to help them fight against and change oppressive norms in society that, because they were created, must cease to exist. Traveling to Ghana and South Africa opened by eyes to the shattering reality that it is not only India and women in India who face these challenges. Women in these parts of the world as well are denied of the most basic, rudimentary forms of rights and such forms of corrosive oppression only pushes the inhabitants of such societies into further isolation.

I am a firm believer of the idea that there is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Nelson Mandela. Hence, I feeldedicating my life to the cause of working with and not “for” such members of my society fills me with the kind of passion that makes me want to wake up each day and strive to work toward achieving something bigger than myself with purpose and determination.


Torgame Village – workshop “of, with, to and by the rhythms of the women”, Ghana, Africa.


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