Who Tells Your Story?

By Srishti Sharma

Watching Hamilton together was one of the highlights of the program. Hamilton is one of the most celebrated and critically acclaimed plays that tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States. My friends were singing its praises and told me that its tickets get sold out months in advance. I had no idea about all of this and didn’t know what to expect. It was time and we comfortably settled in our seats. The curtains drew and before I knew it, I was completely engrossed and in awe of this theatrical genius. I realised what my friends have been telling me about. The theatre was packed and the audience was charged. Hamilton, from an arts and aesthetics point of view is a masterpiece. Everything was perfectly coordinated and everything performed on stage was a spectacle. The story telling through dance, gestures, costumes and lighting was very impactful and resonated with the emotions, mood, actions and situations that needed to be portrayed. The hip hop Broadway was definitely successful in showing the “immigrant inclusiveness”, Hamilton’s contribution in forming the nation and his life journey. He was definitely the hero of the play. My appreciation for Hamilton would be incomplete if I don’t write about its music. The music, the lyrics et al are one of the most inventive and tasteful ever. The songs still play in my head. So impressed was I after watching the musical, that I read a lot about the play. Upon reading I discovered a lot of things that I didn’t notice or overlooked because I was watching it for the first time and was completely taken in by its larger than life portrayal.

Alexander Hamilton is celebrated as a symbol of unity, equality and merit. But, the show is accused of lacking “historical accuracy” and leaving out critical facts from its narrative and is criticised for following a very hero centric approach to glorify Hamilton. In the play, Alexander is portrayed as an abolitionist whereas critics argue that Hamilton was a slave owner and was pro slavery. Even the Schyuler sisters are accused of capturing runaway slaves. It is argued that the play’s representation strategy is to glorify the history and the historical figures. The image of Hamilton portrayed in the musical makes him more relatable yet an ideal national figure. The people who come for the show get charged up with pulsing emotions when they watch their founding fathers contributing for a united nation. The casting of the play is also largely criticised. Despite the fact that mostly all the parts are played by the people of colour (which is considered racially progressive by many), play’s audience remains “resoundingly white.” “This musical gave black people jobs, which was ingenious because it deflected from the material.” The casting was apparently done with the idea of projecting the musical or the story as the one that includes people of colour and is everyone’s story. But, critics argue why no historical people of colour find a place in Hamilton’s narrative? And even though people of colour are cast in the musical, they are actually being erased from the actual narrative. The musical styles are also hip hop and rap which are often associated with people of colour and not with white people. All of this makes me question the way we see things. The ways the things are framed and named always make a difference to how they are viewed. It is all about How your story is told? And Who tells your story?

Needing Each Other

by Srishti Sharma

India is a diverse land. It prides itself in its spiritual wealth and is abode to some of the most powerful religions namely Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Hinduism; which is the dominant religion in India. All these religions each very firmly established in its own special place have different practices, beliefs and traditions associated with them and are strongly tied to the sentiments of the people. What happens when the religions sentiments or beliefs find themselves standing against each other? And each so different and strongly established. There is bound to be conflict. When two rival extremes brush past one another without much understanding of the other, it gives rise to tension and religion is no exception.

There have been many instances in the past where there have been many conflicts and violence between the religious communities existing in India. The riots during partition, Hindu Sikh riots in 1984, Hindu Muslim riots in 2002, Muslim Sikh riots in 2014 etc. have all left a black spot of intolerance on our past. But, it is also a fact that religious communities have been living together and are living together in harmony in India and rely on each other. There are beautiful stories of communal harmony across India that keeps our faith in humanity intact. Recently, Hindus and Sikhs got together and bore expenses to help repair a mosque in Nathowal village in Punjab. Another Muslim man set a touching example when he bid goodbye to his Hindu friend who had no one in his family and performed all the last rites following the Hindu rituals. This shows that religion cannot be a barrier against humanity. Setting another example of unity, Hindus and Muslims guard the Shiva temple in Bhamrawa village in India and together celebrate all the religious rituals. St. Joseph Cathedral and Palayam Juma Mosque in Kerala opened their doors to the Hindu women who wanted to set up stoves for cooking food to be offered to Gods. Hindus and Muslims live together in Old Delhi in peace and are interdependent on each other for business. These are just few examples out of many that love, empathy and humanity know no limits.

Dr. Laurie Patton in her session talked about ‘pragmatic pluralism’. She described pluralism as the relationship of interdependence between two communities and how one religion needs another religion to be itself. No religion is the same. In fact, the differences are required for the social relationships to thrive. Most of the conflicts that arise because of differences are not religious conflicts. “No religious conflict is purely religious conflict.” There is always politicization of religious conflicts as the political powers use religion as a tool to earn vote banks and turn people against each other for political gains. Despite differences that are played upon, there are common values that all religions have and using this binding thread of commonalities find ways of living together in harmony along with accepting each other’s tradition. “The tradition you were born into was your home… it should be a home with the windows open so that the winds of other traditions can blow through and bring their unique oxygen. It’s good to have wings, but you have to have roots, too.” I believe that though pragmatic pluralism might not been seen as a very comprehensive and concrete long term solution to a religious conflict at macro level, but definitely helps and works strongly at the base where interpersonal relationships between communities thrive, coexist and are interdependent on each other. Hence, building peace in the community. As Eboo Patel in his book Acts of Faith says, “I thought about the meaning of pluralism in a world where the forces that seek to divide us are strong. I came to one conclusion: We have to save each other. It’s the only way to save ourselves.” 

Meri Bhasha (My Language)

by Srishti Sharma

Hello! How are you? , I am sorry, Happy Birthday, See you soon, bye!… come more naturally to me than Namaste! Aap kaise ho? Main sharminda hun, Janamdin Mubarakho, Jald milte hain… the words that mean the same in my own mother tongue, Hindi. In fact, sometimes I struggle to find the right words in Hindi to express myself. I have read more books in English than Hindi. I read only English newspapers and magazines, I am more comfortable in talking in English with my friends and cousins. Not only that, but we text in English. Well that’s the story of most of the urban kids in India. And needless to say all this is a result of how we’re schooled and conditioned into believing how English is superior and mastering it would give us an edge over the other.

While rural India still struggles and is still attached to its Indian roots, urban India has taken to western culture in industry, technology, law, politics, economies and lifestyles, clothing, language… you name it. English is considered a prestige language. It is definitely the tongue of first choice. It enjoys a dominant status over other languages and continues to serve as the medium of instruction in elite schools in India at every level. All large cities and many smaller cities have private, English-language middle schools and high schools. English is introduced right from the start. Some even go to private English language centres or take private coaching to learn the language.  So, if you know English you will definitely find yourself in centre of the circle or it definitely paves the way from moving from the periphery into the circle. Western culture and linguistics are emphasized and Indian languages and culture is getting debased because the west is considered superior. Speaking in English is not just a marker of intelligence but also a marker of class. It is considered the language of the cultured, the powerful and the wealthy. It is a matter of privilege to learn English.

There are more than 700 languages spoken in India. But unfortunately, many of these mother tongue languages are beginning to fade away. In order to grab better opportunities, get better jobs or climb up the socio economic ladder, one needs to be bilingual and master English especially or any other foreign language. So a lot of people today are focusing on these languages and are forgetting about or take less pride in speaking their mother tongue. So, the struggle to keep up with the ever increasing popularity of English and its established status as a superior lingua franca is giving rise to a lot of portmanteau languages like ‘Hinglish’; which is combination of English and Hindi.  And because vernacular speaking is looked down upon and there is no celebration of our own language, Indians try and keep up. The choice of English words and idiosyncratic accents used by Indians are amusing to some Westerners reclaiming their position as the “masters” of the language. 

Are we still victims of politics of the language? Are we still the colonised without even realising it? The answer is yes! Our minds are being played with. But the bigger question here is how do we decolonize our minds? How do break this circle of oppression and create the expansion within the circle itself?  According to Ngugi wa Thiongo “to decolonize one’s mind is a life-long process, as well, systems of domination and subordination are not necessarily easy to identify when situated within unofficial cultures, that is, in interpersonal politics (within the negotiation of relation of power by individuals in interaction.” It isn’t easy and comes with a personal price and takes conscious effort and work. Decolonization is about retrieving and reclaiming what was stolen away from us and regarding and priding on something that is rooted and is our very own. There is value in pursuing what was lost and in remembering and valuing what was forgotten in the sands of time. “Language carries culture particularly through oratory and literature, the entire body of values by which we come to perceive ourselves and our place in our world.” It’s time we started valuing our own ‘Bhasha’ (language).

Places

by Srishti Sharma

By Srishti Sharma

“It is not down in a map, true places never are.”

I had never viewed spaces the way I do now before Professor Guntram Herb’s session on spaces of domination and reconciliation. I came to realise how spaces become grounds for domination and conflict as well as catalysts for reconciliation and peacebuilding. Spatial imagery can be created through “national” education or the construct of nationalism.  A sense of attachment, belonging and home is created by labelling a place with certain character. National monuments, war memorials, religious places, walls with signs and murals, flags, certain colours, naming of roads, structure etc. and statues are all used to create an idea of a nation that act as a symbolic gesture for claiming the space.

“…Nationalism asks you to believe that the country you happen to live in, by amazing coincidence, also happens to be the greatest country in the world…”

It is also very important to notice that the control of space acts as a mean  to establish social control. And the whole idea of control gives its way to territoriality. “Lands are the result of societies. They are tools for domination and power.” We mark our space, claim territories to which the land of the law applies. Territoriality is “…an attempt by an individual or group to affect, influence or control people, phenomenal and relationships…” Territories are a proponent of power structures and  lead to social control. Sharing of land or territories entails complex interactions between groups and  individuals. We must try and grasp a sense of how a place is structured. It is important to form an understanding of how it can act as a harbinger of either peace or conflict.

Place and space can play a significant role in the process of peacebuilding. Geographically segregated boundaries that often lead to conflict can also be used to reunite people socially. Thus, when the process of peacebuilding takes shapes, a public or neutral place is chosen to formulate it. For instance spaces like ‘the no man’s land’ was recognised as a neutral and needed to be acknowledged by people on both sides of the borders. It helped in communication during  interreligious  or international conflicts. But, can neutrality as a place exist? Who creates or imposes that neutrality? In my opinion, from an ideological perspective an idea of a neutral space is impossible.  All the places or spaces even though we may call them “neutral” are always governed by the belief system and structures of the dominant power, whether religious or rationalist. For attaining peace, neutrality is a very useful and important tool. But it is time that we realise that there is a need to change the idea of neutrality. Neutral places are considered and are perceived as a third space which is void of a belief system. This in turn should be changed.  There should be an attempt towards creating a space where all ideologies are held openly and there is equality. For spaces can definitely be agents of peace.

Por Un Futuro Mejor

by Srishti Sharma

How do you get a pastor, an educator, a retired serviceman, chief of police, the mayor and representatives from different fields to come together in one room at 7am in the morning and share their views in agreement? The answer is simple. They are all dedicated to a common cause and are sworn to the priorities of creating safety and solidarity in their community. Recently, we got to attend the meeting of CASP, (Community Alliance for Safety and Peace) a community safety division that serves as a back bone for the city of Salinas which has had a history of violence. The members of this community decided to come together in unison and took matters into their hands to find solutions to the increasing rates of crime in the city. They chose not to live in terror all the time and a bunch of heavy hitters collaborated together to formulate strategic control plans for violence prevention.

Live share of resources are invested in prevention of violence, intervention in youth activities, law enforcement and helping offenders to integrate back in the community. This response to violence is about aligning efforts around the key focus areas. This community impact approach works effectively and helps in providing a concrete solution. As a response to prevention of violence, pre natal and infant care is provided. Stress is laid on education, after school activities, dropout and truancy prevention and job programs. Faith and community based organizations intervene by getting in touch with schools to help prevent the risk of youth getting strayed to a violent path. Violent offenders are targeted and are helped to come out of the cycle of crime and enter the cycle of care. Efforts are made to help the released offenders re- enter into the community and succeed after prison so that they don’t reoffend. Groups of people who are needy are helped and supported by the organization. But, for a cause so large it is important to pool in from different agencies and include people with positional authority. Is it always that easy? The answer is no! It has its own challenges. First and the foremost it is difficult finding people who think alike and would be ready to work for a common goal or lend support for better good, selflessly. Though cross sector collaboration helps in professional networking and building a strong channel, funding poses an issue as the list of partners change when the funding cycle changes. There is always a fear of sustainability. So, it is important to ensure that funds keep flowing and are evenly distributed. Despite all these challenges how does the CASP keeps going and makes pace?

Values are what they use as a shield to march on. Finding common values and placing them in the centre is used as a long term yield investment in fight for hope. Making space inclusively and including diversity to re-establish values of relationship helps in overcoming challenges. Collaboration is good but cooperation becomes a challenge so there is no one person calling the shots. All decisions are done collectively. Ideologies are separated from values and listening to one another is respected and used as a catalyst to bring about a good change. And all this for por un futuro mejor, a better future for they believe that when the community becomes stronger, the evils become weaker.

Prisoners Of Thoughts

By Srishti Sharma

Last few days haven’t been easy. I was caught in the web of emotions and was struggling to get out. There was a lot to take in. I was posed with some very important questions; answers to which aren’t easy at all, thoughts that I had to grapple with and stories that were to be heard, felt and understood. All this and more pushed me to the quest of finding. When a person commits a crime, it not only causes harm to people, but to relationships and the community at large. Our response to crime as a community is to see the offenders getting punished for the crime. Snatching the freedom and putting the offenders behind bars seems like a just solution. For justice must be done. But, is it the end to all the problems? Will it stop people from harming other people? Probably not! How can this harm be repaired? We must reflect.

Hearing Julie R Martinez and Cheryl Kaiser really moved me and forced me to think about profound ideas of forgiveness and embracing solutions which would serve as a greater good for the society and would build peace. Lack of hope leads to many bad decisions. When a person gets trapped in the muck of violence, abuse and crime, it is difficult to find a way out. People who have themselves been victims of sexual abuse, violence or social discrimination often resort to crimes and view it as a survival tool for revenge. Who doesn’t crave structure, support or stability? But, when that’s taken away, it often leads to disturbance and displacement. Ripple effects of which can be directly seen in the social order and in destruction of peace. As a society, we must learn to separate the crime from the criminal. Cutting of the branches won’t help when the problem lies in the roots. It is important to understand that the perpetrators might be victims themselves. Restorative justice focuses on repairing the harm caused by the crime and reducing future harm. Bringing the victim and the offender face to face, requires offenders to realise the harm they have caused and for the victim to understand the offender’s state of mind. This in a way is a chance for the offenders to repair the harm they have caused as most of the times they don’t know how to get out with honour and safety even though they repent for their deeds. “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.” When we allow a person a second chance, offer them more choices, promise them integration and reduce the lack of isolation there’s definitely a hope of a better community.  But, restorative justice, a completely different way of thinking about crime and our response to crime is not easy to accept at all and has its own challenges and limits. Do victims get compensation that is in line with their losses? Some of the crimes are very grave ad cause serious rifts. Is the damage done repairable? Isn’t it a damaging process as the victim has to relive the trauma and perhaps be manipulated to reach reconciliation? Does the offender really feels the guilt for the crime or succumbs as his fears are playing off? These are pertinent questions. Though restorative justice in many ways can help start a change, but its immediate acceptance to nature of all crimes is debatable and is a bumpy road to walk on.

It all comes down to choices in the end. It all begins and ends in the mind. We have the power to choose to forgive or to seek vengeance; the power to choose crime or compassion no matter what the circumstances are. What we give power to, has power over us. “We can be in the prison, yet be free or be outside and still be imprisoned.” The search for meaning will forever continue and when we will come to understand ourselves, we shall be free. We, the prisoners of our thoughts.

An Opportunity For Change

by Srishti Sharma

Environmental wealth or scarcity has always given rise to conflict. Our history is sprinkled with instances where countries have fought over natural resources. Population growth, urbanization, rising consumption, climate change, environmental degradation, and new technologies for the extraction and processing of natural resources have led to large scale environmental damage and are a source of major conflict across boundaries as everyone wants to get their hands on the available natural resources. Out of land grabbing, sand mining conflicts, industrialisation of fishing, fights over fuel etc. water conflicts are major and most commonly heard of.

There can be no life without water and there is nothing more valuable than this natural gift. Though plenteous, the sources of fresh water are limited and increasing demand due to population growth is a chief cause of concern. The regional and seasonal availability and quality of water have been impacted by climate change and environmental degradation. Rapidly increasing competition over water use has led to conflicts and sometimes violence.

Whether it is the unilateral irrigation plans altering the flows of the rivers, coupled with political tensions between the countries, that have strained relations in the Euphrates – Tigris Basin shared between Turkey, Syria and Iraq; Iran and Afghanistan’s water disputes due to agricultural expansion and dam construction or the long-standing conflict over water from the Kaveri river between the Indian states Karnataka and Tamil Nadu etc. dispute and conflicts over water across the world are commonplace and need to be resolved. Though straight of the edge modern technology can be a prospective solution in future where individual needs can be satiated but, it is not an answer that can be relied on. The methods of rain water harvesting, humidifiers and fog harps seem like a very utopian idea and have their own limitations. They cannot be viewed as a viable solution to solve water conflicts at least in the near future.

In order to resolve an environmental conflict, the first step is to develop an understanding of the context in which we operate. Breaking down what the conflict is and then defining it comes next. The other important step is to identify the stake holders involved in the conflict. That entails evaluating each individual stakeholder’s needs, interests and positions. Recognising the actual reason of conflict between two parties and mapping it helps keep a balance between the different needs of the individual stakeholders and the possible scenarios to reach a solution or agreement. The connection between societies and the environment is perpetual and we are inevitably tied to the environment.  The natural resources available to us help form social cohesion even though we constantly fight for growing needs. These competing needs and wants that lead to conflict and tension can be steered in a beneficial and restorative way and can lead to stronger more long lasting solutions that would reunite the communities and restore social order. The very thing that causes conflict can be used as a way of seeing interconnectedness of structures, behaviours and relationships and interdependence on each other.  It can help in forming shared solutions that are much more plausible and are good for the people and planet alike. Conflict itself isn’t always negative, it’s just an opportunity for change.

Almost Home.

by Srishti Sharma

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”

-Maya Angelou

Belongingness is such an irreducible human need. According to Abraham Maslow, after the physiological and safety needs of an individual are met, he or she desires to form associations and seeks to belong somewhere or to someone. There is a strong natural desire to be accepted by family, friends, peers, community etc. Individuals form relationships with people around, with things around and with their social environments. People are always scared to dissolve the bond that they form and once the bond is broken, it causes great amount of damage. Breaking off an attachment causes pain that is deeply rooted in the need to belong. And even though Dunbar limits the number of people with whom we can maintain stable relationships to 150, on a deeper level there is always a need to make more and more connections; connections not only to people but to places.

Being born and brought up in a particular place doesn’t necessarily make you belong there. Physically spending few or many years may not lead to forming an association to that place or in establishing a sense of belonging. Then what does it take to belong to a place? How long does it take to become native to a place? Does moving to a new place help us belong? We were faced with these questions in Prof. Manwelyan ‘s class. Answers to these are not easy to find. We enter a new landscape in hope of finding ourselves and to feel a sense of belonging. We take along our own culture, language, religion, beliefs and experiences to the new place and try to embrace the new that awaits. Challenging as it might be, the new place definitely brings in a lot of excitement at first as you have left behind all that bothered you and are now exploring all that is different. As the time passes by, the new is no longer new. The excitement wearies out. You start questioning yourself whether you belong to this new place that at first seemed very exhilarating.

We are all lost in the metaphor of our own experiences. We leave behind the known, the problematic and move towards the glorious, a possible respite. We migrate to a new land in search of better opportunities, to evade discrimination, to find a safe haven, to feel free, to avoid bitter family experiences, to heal from past traumas or to start afresh. But, a lot is lost as everyone is vying for dominance. It’s rare that one gets completely accepted by the new world even though the individual changes the way he/she acts, behaves and expresses.  Torn between the old and the new, we find ourselves nowhere. We cannot completely relate to either the new or something that was our past. We never find home. We never find just one home. There are a thousand different places we call home, full of crowds of strangers that enter our life and experiences that fill and shape it. One day we will find where we belong, one day we will be home.

A River That Isn’t Easy To Cross

By Srishti Sharma

It was the first day of the class and Eva Gudbergsdottir got us started with an interestingly challenging exercise. It was the Alligator River Story that got us all thinking. Ranking the five characters in the story from the most offensive to the least objectionable one wasn’t that easy as it appeared. We had to think, defend our ranking and validate the rationale behind it along with coming to a consensus with our teammates. I could well relate the story with our daily happenings and to the larger spectrum of peacebuilding. Every day, we are faced with the challenge of passing judgements based on the limited knowledge available to us and we try and justify those judgements using the lens we view them through. Whether it is nations at war with one another, people in conflict or Abigail and Gregory’s story, we are constantly questioning who did what? Who harmed whom?  What’s the degree of the damage done? Et al. Drowned in dilemmas, rinsed in reasoning we try to arrive at an answer we can vindicate.

These dilemmas, these disturbances are good as they make us think and reflect. Not only do we have to be critical about our reasons but accept other’s reasons for their choices. I feel it all boils down to individual values, beliefs and ethics. These personal values are the bedrock for how we decide what is good or bad, right or wrong and justified or unjustified. These values that are often shaped by our culture, religion, gender identity, social placement and education, guide our judgments and behaviour. The ingrained personal value system and the worldview that we hold serve as a compass in decision making and we should be cognizant about that. Hearing others out helps in understanding a different perspective and gives an insight into their values and beliefs as individuals and what they prioritize and why they prioritize one over the other.

When I have to analyse a situation and reach a conclusion based on the information available to me, I find myself torn between pragmatic outlook and the sensitive approach to reach a decision. There’s always a moral conundrum when these two collide. From reaching one shore to the other, to reach a right decision, we have to cross the river which is full of doubts, prejudices, biases, limited understandings, discrimination, presuppositions, power structures and other obstacles. This river isn’t easy to cross. In our pursuit to make correct decisions we will be asked to make some compromises just like Sinbad who made use of Abigail or receive no help in the time of moral conflict from people we might rely on. We all have Ivans in our life. Then there would be some who might stand up with us but might resort to or suggest a different way of handling the situation which might or might not be appropriate, just like Slug did. But that river needs to be crossed; a decision needs to be made. Pause. Take a moment. Reflect. We can always try to bridge the gap with collective understanding of things, by respecting each other’s experiences and perspectives, accepting values and impartial reasoning. And this bridge, that we build together accepting and regarding each other’s value system and perspectives, I believe will not only help us reach the other side of the river, but will be a hard one to be washed away.

Understanding Peacebuilding

By Srishti Sharma

Peace, such a common word is deceptively simple. To achieve peace is to achieve calmness and tranquillity but that doesn’t happen without stirring our souls. Peace to me is something that destroys barriers, respects differences, celebrates freedom, leads to wellbeing and strengthens inner spirit. I have had the experience of working with children from various backgrounds. And the environment that the children grow up in has a direct impact on their understanding and development. “Adults and children alike, if they are caught in a cycle of violence, they begin to expect it and accept it.” The children who grow up in safer and more conducive environment have a stronger sense of self-worth and are more accepting of people and things around them. As an educator it is my duty to understand children, be aware of their problems and to educate them as a whole. Last year, the Delhi government launched a ‘Happiness Curriculum’ in the government schools to promote holistic education by including meditation, value education, and mental exercises in conventional education curriculum.  It really made me question is this how happiness can be taught and why incorporating peace education into the school curriculum is not thought about instead in Indian schools? Even though providing quality and safe education to children and knocking down conflicts is the need of the hour. It is the schools that are responsible for laying the groundwork for future social actions and making responsible citizens out of students.

Image result for indian children and peace

I am interested in working on developing and strengthening ideals of peace as a part of educational curriculum in Indian schools but lack academic backing for the same. Becoming a part of the Peace Building Program will help me develop a better understanding of the discourse of peacebuilding, equip me with the knowledge of practical tools and help me connect with potential strategic partners who can help support peacebuilding endeavours by bridging the gap between theory and practice. I am looking forward to being a part of this group learning process and tapping into groups’ collective wisdom, experience and skills to understand the concepts, frameworks and approaches of peacebuilding and shaping my own ideas.

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