In the session with Elizabeth Cole, we looked at photos of monuments that were memorials for victims and heroes of historical conflicts and genocides. The images that we saw were so powerful and reminded me of the power art can have in making a political and symbolic point by compelling the audience to look beyond what they simply see, something that people tend not to do with simple historic accounts.
In particular, the stepping stones monument, that had the names of the jewish family who were driven from their home was so powerful to me because of how their names were now permanently engraved in the stones. Apart from the most obvious fact that this was in memory of their suffering and lives, the symbolism of their names permanently etched in the stone is so powerful as it reflects the resilience of the people generations after. In addition, the unsteadiness of the stones that stumbles those that walk in ignorance of its message is also so powerful in its mission of remembrance and respect to the lives that these people lived.
This however also made me think about those stories and names that are not etched in stone. Those grandchildren and children and siblings and mothers and fathers who lost their loved ones to genocide and other atrocities, but who don’t even receive any act of acknowledgement, regret or apology. Those that don’t even know what eventually happened to them, who don’t have any closure. Particularly, the video that we watched about the Omarska camp and the fact that after being freed, people were compelled to live life normally amongst those that tortured them, in ignorance of the suffering that was inflicted makes me so angry to think about how we as the public are so discriminatory about who we hold accountable.
This is seen not only in remembrance and memory but also in conflict and development and peace building. If we are to move towards a society that is peaceful and equal, we have to personally do better to strive beyond the rhetoric that is tailor fed to us and seek those narratives that the system suppresses.
I have never been much of an environmental person or an activist, perhaps because I find the whole field extremely overwhelming, even more than human rights and conflict, go figure. With climate change and the other ways humans are destroying our planet, I have a very bleak perspective and hope in the field and of our future.
However, the session with Professor Jeff Langolz made me very optimistic about the field, and renewed my faith on technology and human capabilities to innovate. The fact that one can now make water out of thin air – or more like thick air – is astounding and inspiring. Harnessing energy and resources that are abundantly available and reusable will be revolutionary for the environment and human kind and I am at least positive my children will not be thirsty.
However, things such as solar panels and grey and black water filters are not cheap, especially for developing nations and governments that are already struggling with corruption and inefficient governance. Moreover, with the lack of awareness about sanitation and how such things work, it will be difficult to get the community to buy into the idea of recycling and reusing. Although cheap alternatives have started to be created the process will be long and will need to be accompanied by large scale educational campaigns.
The session with Professor Moorti was very interesting and reopened many questions in my mind that I have had throughout my college career about gender and conflict. I was particularly intrigued by her question about if a space without gender actually exists. Having thought about this a lot, I have come to the conclusion that a place without gender simply does not exist. Gender is perhaps the strongest part of our identity and we as human beings take our identities every place we physically and figuratively inhabit. Therefore, like we can’t separate ourselves from our gender (although there are many valid agreements otherwise, especially in the modern world), we cannot separate gender from situations, particularly in conflict situations that usually affect people as a group and community.
Gender is often an ignored subject when it comes to peace building and conflict; the thoughts that are given to gender at all is the traditional roles and needs of women and men, such as the militarization of men and the physical discrimination of women. Seldom do we address how such conflicts and gender identities and inequity intersect. Perhaps understanding this is what peacemakers have failed to do, as conflict in all its destructive nature is also an effective way to transform power structures and address gender inequities in a long-term manner.
Selfcare is something you seldom think about, as you indulge in things you enjoy or take few minutes of the day to do something that truly relaxes you. It is true that we often take it for especially for those who are workaholics or those that feel a responsibility to continuously work for the betterment of society, however allocating time for yourself to ensure that the trauma you witness and the injustices that affect you are looked after and controlled is so important.
In the session with Prabha, I was so astounded to see the emotions that had been withheld and suppressed not only in my colleagues but within myself as I well. I was unaware of how the week had affected me and how the hectic schedule, heavy content and being so far away from home had truly exhausted me without me being aware. Therefore, when my colleagues started to open up about their emotions and experiences, the emotions that I felt were so strong and uncontrollable that I was completely caught off guard. I had been neglecting myself and my need for self reflection and debriefing and that moment of vulnerability had exposed it. I am so grateful to Prabha for the gracious and warm manner in which she handled the room and all of us in it, and if anything, this experience has brought to light that if I am to continue in this work, I need to make more time for self care, which is not only limited to doing things I enjoy, but actually looking into myself to see how I have been affected.
The panel at the city office after the CASP meeting was really interesting. All members of the panel seemed to have a very strong and genuine desire to help those repressed by the structural shortcomings of society especially in the criminal justice system, a group of the population that are incredibly ignored and forgotten about, despite the fact that these people make up a part of our society.
The panel consisted of the Mayor of the city, the head of CASP and the founder of an NGO that helped children who had witnessed domestic violence. It was really remarkable to note the rapport that they already seemed to have within themselves despite each of them working in different sectors albeit in the same field. Such collaboration in the area of public service and social work has always been crucial for not only the efficiency of the work but also its sustainability. In my country, there is an extensive network of NGOs however their relationship with political leaders have always remained contentious. When I interned in Kathmandu this summer, there was always an implicit understanding that the government, rather than being a source of support, is always an impediment and should be engaged as little as possible.
Hence, seeing how the government, at least at the local level, was going out of the way to support not only its own programs but also independent ones like CASP was a refreshing change for me. It made me reflect on the Nepalese government where corruption is so high that let alone fund independent ventures, the government barely allocates resources to its own programs on even the most basic public services.
It is very evident, that till the political institutions that are in place to take care of people as a whole do not realize their job and the role of civil society in it, we will remain in a society that neglects the needs of many, and is unable to do anything tangible even if the neglect is not purposeful.
The visit to the prison was emotionally draining beyond what I expected. I had been to prisons in Nepal before when I was 15, and to be honest, prisoners there are treated worse, but in a way, as the interactions had been extremely impersonal and the way the police talk about them very dehumanizing, I failed to recognize how deeply problematic such dynamics are.
Going to the prison and meeting prisoners really transformed how I saw or dismissed prison life as normal or almost a consequence of their actions. Again, when it comes to self-reflection, this experience and listening to the stories and opinions of my peers, brought to light how one can be aware and cognizant of structural and systematic issue with society and its institutions but still not fully empathic of the situation. While the trip to the maximum security was as I had expected: tense, awkward and slightly uncomfortable, talking to the prisoners in the correctional facility not only moved me but also made me hopeful for the world if we are just able to move past structural boundaries. Listening to the prisoners at the facility and the presentation they prepared highlighted to me how despite the crimes they had committed, how human their wishes, their concerns, and their insecurities really were. In fact, in the smaller groups, most of the people who spoke, talked about how their main regret was letting down their families and in particular their children as well as how this was this was a huge motivating factor to improve themselves and get sober/reformed so that they could be the kind of positive role model that the children have. Although their remarks and experiences did reflect the lack of support that prisoners get in the U.S. after coming out of jail, I was still astounded at the resources and support that did already exist in the prison system for someone looking to reform. In Nepal, prisoners are looked as nothing beyond the crime they commit and what they do, and such programs in the jails are not even thought as deserved let alone as a right.
Perhaps when we as Nepalese, look at the cyclic nature of poverty, lack of education, violence and crime beyond our own prejudices, we will develop compassion and empathy for people who often are unknowingly and often knowingly a victim of it.
The first day of the program, one of the most interesting activities we participated in was the alligator story where we made value based judgements to determine the levels of fault of each of the characters in the story. As I worked on the rankings, after some minutes of thinking and making judgments, decisions came very easily to me. In fact, I expected everyone in my group and in general to have similar if not the same rankings as mine.
Within my group, we had very similar rankings but where we differed was the difference of faults between the character that asked for sex in return for his favor and between the character that beat another up. For me, I chose the latter as the worse behaviour, simply because one character, however immoral his intentions, gave the option of choosing to take his offer or not, whereas the guy who resorted to violence did so, unprovoked and out of his place. None the less, when my group members, all of whom were liberal college going females chose to rank the first character as the worst one, I understood where they were coming from and their reasoning. However overall in the class, I was very surprised to see how the rankings differed. Some ranked the friend who had not helped as the worst while another ranked the man who rejected his lover due to the infidelity as the worse, both instances, I felt that people chose their own emotional reactions rather than objectively analyzing the situation. In my opinion – and I have reflected on this a lot – a bad friend in no way is at more fault than someone who beats up someone else, whatever the reason, or someone who asks for sexual favours. Similarly, rejecting/loving someone is one’s prerogative, and while that might make him a bad human being, it doesn’t make his behavior the worst. People used their values and sentiments to make such distinctions and in this regard, I felt, values were not of much value.
Emotional Baggage Claim Area
Notably, this made me think about how often we use our experiences and past emotions to project blame and judgement on characters and how emotions often cloud our opinions in such cases. I am probably guiltier of this than anyone else, as I am very fast to make judgements about situations without hearing out the whole story. This activity forced me to separate myself from the situation, perhaps because of the absurdity of the story, and try to look at the story with an objective meter. I will definitely try to do the same in more emotionally charged scenarios in the future and perhaps make decisions that are as logical as they are reasonable?
The session on technology was extremely interesting and made me think about how the advent of social media is extremely relevant and an important issue in today’s political world. Primarily, social media has become extremely effective platforms of awareness spreading and mobilization to increase support and empathy for humanitarian crisis and conflict victims. Such social media spaces are now filled with newspaper articles, pictures, videos, first-hand accounts and debates about such intervention creating traction that is measurable and more tangible in comparison to the effect of traditional media sources. In addition, the rise of social media alongside technology, primarily with the portable phone, has increased information dissemination and gathering significantly, with citizens on the ground serving as constant sources of information and graphic media. While before the public was extremely dependent on print and electronic media as the source of information and perspectives on world events, today, our social media serves as a constant barrage of ground level reporting and first-hand accounts from people all over the world experiencing and witnessing the crisis.
Particularly, social media has proved its value in helping put forward the viewpoints and experiences of the victims of such crisis themselves, holding aid agencies and intervening governments more accountable to their actions and its consequences in foreign soil. With interventions easily falling into hero-victim narratives, the advent of social media has allowed for a more nuanced understanding of both the hero and the victim. This was notably seen in the Libyan civil war where social media played an extremely crucial role, both in mobilizing people for the rebellion, but also once the rebellion was underway, in shaping how international media portrayed the Libyan movement and its people. Rather than painting Libyans as traditional aid recipients that are vulnerable and weak, western media, that followed Libyan twitter presence and interacted with such people in these platforms, portrayed them as politically engaged and dynamic. Libyan distrust of NATO and distaste for its bureaucracy was also picked up and reflected in western coverage of the intervention. Therefore, technology in today’s world has really empowered people from being the audience to being the reporters. Something, the world is better for.
Today, when we turn on our devices, tap into news cycles or even discuss world events, statistics and numbers litter our conversations about everything going around the world. We read about the Holocaust and watch movies about the Civil Rights Movement, cognizant of the struggles of our ancestors but fortunately and blissfully ignorant about the devastating and incredibly taxing experiences individuals had in such times of history. Even today when we sit behind our TV screens and computer monitors learning about things like the Syrian civil war and child trafficking in South Asia, we feel a fleeting moment of horror, but like most things, these incredibly tragic individual experiences of people take a back burner in the mundane details of our lives.
Watching the movie Perzania and the talk from POW veteran Philip gave me very similar feelings of guilt in both sessions and highlighted to me how we often get desensitized by the statistics and pictures and stories that are thrown at us everywhere we look. I had heard of the Gujarat riots and was horrified with the extent of casualties and fatalities in 2002, but watching the movie made me really reflect on the individual experiences of the victims of the crisis and how we often look at crises at a superficial level, bringing out our sympathy, but seldom, our empathy. Similarly, hearing Philip’s story about is experience as a prisoner of war, both during his 8 years of imprisonment with the torture methods as well as afterwards, made me think about how we take war and its violence for granted, almost discounting the lives of the soldiers due to the nature of war. I also realized how I actively seek to shut myself off from these kinds of details because of how they affect me emotionally and make me feel helpless in a brutal world. Perhaps we are desensitized from such conflicts because we only engage in information that is dehumanized, lacking identity and mathematical,
Moreover, both sessions compelled me to think if maybe opening myself up to these experiences and stories, other than making me feel helpless, which it did, also empowered me past my ignorance as I experienced empathy towards the individuals caught in these national headlines. Knowing the harrowing experiences behind such over publicized narratives, allowed and forced me to reflect deeper on such conflict and its many facets. Perhaps, rather than shielding ourselves from what makes us uncomfortable, exploring individual perspectives and details of the story alongside the larger narrative is what today’s audience truly needs.
In some way, we’re all dreaming in Perzania’s of our own, but we need to actively seek to wake up from it to one day perhaps ensure that we’re in living in one.
As I pack to make the 34 hour journey across the world to New York, and then another cross country one to San Francisco, I reflect on my college career, and how in the span of the past three years, through my experiences both academic and professional, I have not only learnt so much about everything around me, but completely transformed my world view to one that is more nuanced and perceptive. If anything, these few years have taught me the value of unique and intensive opportunities of unabridged discussion and sharing, and that is why I am so excited about the peace building workshop.
Looking at the bios of the participants, the program is promising in not only its caliber of faculty and teaching, but also, in the opportunity to tap into the diverse backgrounds, life experiences and consequent diverse world views of my fellow colleagues.
I have always been very interested in peace building, especially in its intersection with human rights and development work. Especially after living through the civil war in Nepal and how the 10 year war ravaged my country, broke down the institutions and value of accountability, the notion of peace building has always been of academic and personal interest to me. This summer I worked at Forum for Women, Law and Development, where I created a gender audit tool for the new constitution and created projects and proposals for women’s rights. Working in the field really showed me how the lack of peace and stability can break down not only a country’s political institutions, but even social ones.
Finally, In the past, I have taken many courses on civil wars, development, the middle east and other issues that have a deep link to peace building and its various facets. My interest in world issues and its inherent link to peacebuilding is another key reason I want to learn more about it in more depth.
I look forward to get started and learning from everyone!