The Flight of the Dove: Building Cultures of Peace in the Classroom
WORKSHOP FOR STUDENTS ON APPRECIATING DIVERSITY BY MS. SHREYA JANI
(As reported by Aastha Sethi)
“What does it mean to be an Indian?” This is a question that most of us would not ponder upon in our day to day lives. But according to Miss Shreya Jani, the founder of Peace Trust, India, this is precisely what we should do to achieve peace. Miss Jani conducted a workshop for Lady Shri Ram College’s initiative ‘The Flight of the Dove- Building Cultures of Peace in the Classroom’ and addressed a gathering of over 50 students from around 15 schools across the city on ‘Appreciating Diversity’.
Miss Jani questioned the children on their feelings about their country: What does the phrase ‘Unity in Diversity’ mean to them?, Why do they consider themselves to be Indian? etc. to make them realize the importance of questioning old practices, breaking stereotypes and thinking rationally to achieve peace and maintain stability in our lives. For example, the word ‘Communalism’ has a negative connotation only in India. In the rest of the world it means ‘living together as a community.’ These subtle differences in cultural and regional interpretation of linguistics are significant.
We are a country of several communities. Though peace prevails, there has been no shortage of violence too. Thus, violence strikes as being something negative to us. However we should question such connotations and their origins. Similarly, the idea of ‘nationalism’ stops dialogue. But, we can’t engage in useful dialogue when we can’t think beyond our perspective. That is the problem with the idea of modern nation states. Moving further, Ms. Jani added that problems arise when we don’t question what is practiced. Ms. Jani put forth a couple of astonishing examples. One, not many know that until recently Hindus didn’t carry with itself a religious connotation. Two, people ring bells in temples all the time but no one stops to question what does it mean? Why do we do this? In fact, ringing bells in the temples symbolizes a genuine effort at awakening our inner sacredness. But do we do it with this intention?. This is the problem. If we don’t question what we are told or asked to do, it just becomes a part of our culture, our personality and our sub-conscious.
The influence our sub-conscious has over our behavior was demonstrated to the students with the help of an activity.The students were asked to make to make figures of six people: – an immigrant, a doctor, a terrorist, a nurse, a politician and an Indian, and then asked to examine their partners’ drawings. A striking stereotype came forth here. A huge majority of people had made impoverished, distorted figures of immigrants, the terrorist was associated with Islamic symbols and the nurse was predominantly a female. This activity brought forth the idea that we carry certain stereotypes in our mind without even being consciously aware of them.
Ms. Jani shared her own experiences too. One of the most thought provoking was the story told to her by a soldier in the Assam rifles: A Maoist insurgent was believed to be hiding in one of the villages near the battalion; the army went to arrest him; the Maoist handed over a grenade to a seven year old boy and asked him to walk towards the army men; as the boy walked towards them, the captain was faced with a tough choice of whether to save himself and 15 other soldiers with him or to save the boy.; But nonetheless, he decided to save his battalion and thus in this face off an innocent life of a 7 year old boy was sacrificed.
Ms. Jani asked the students what the students would have done. Some were in favor of the captain, some condemned him. Some of them said he should have found out another way. By this anecdote, Ms. Jani tried to highlight the fact that we need to stop thinking of the world in ‘Whites’ and ‘Blacks’ or ‘Rights’ and ‘Wrongs’. If we label people of another community or country as being of one particular type, we restrict ourselves and hinder peace. The captain was not completely right or wrong. It was a decision made in split seconds. Therefore we need to open our minds and analyze the situation instead of labeling or judging. Analyzing the circumstances behind every action and rational thought is what will solve our problems.
To conclude the workshop a documentary called ‘Naata’ based on the efforts to bring communal harmony in the slums of Dharavi. The documentary was about Bhau Korde and Waqar Khan, activists and residents of Dharavi. After the 1992-93 riots, they came together to produce a film called ‘Ekta Sandesh.’ They traveled with a projector and a screen to show the movie to the people of Dharavi. Parallel to their story is the story of the life of the two filmmakers themselves who are married but are from different religions and are also immigrants in Mumbai. The documentary answers what it means to be an Indian, a question asked in the beginning of the workshop. As a famous thinker puts it, “Being Indian is like being part of an ocean. Rivers come with their own nature but they become one with the ocean. The ocean doesn’t take away the rivers’ identity nor does the river try to dominate the entire ocean.”
And Ms. Jani concluded: This is a beautiful concept which we all need to keep in mind and carry forward so as to achieve peace in its true form.