North East Institute of Social Sciences and Research (NEISSR), Dimapur organized Peace Knit, in collaboration with Peace Channel, Dimapur as part of a NEISSR fest celebration on 11th December 2021at 9.30 a.m. on the theme “Storytelling for Peacebuilding in Communities.” The seminar had threefold objectives, namely: to locate the place of storytelling in the peacebuilding approaches of John Paul Lederach; to know how storytelling can counter stereotypes and build empathy and genuine relationship in communities; to have a greater understanding of how storytelling can be promoted as an effective tool for peacebuilding in communities.
Dr. C.P Anto, the Principal of NEISSR, Founder and Director of Peace Channel in his keynote address stated that storytelling is one of the best means to build peace, reconciliation, and rebuilding lost relationships. In order to achieve this dream of our people in the state and the region, NEISSR has introduced “Peacebuilding” as one of the most important subjects in the institute. Highlighting the three levels of storytelling he asserted that peacebuilding is a way of life and should be our philosophy of life. Recounting the origin of storytelling that traced back to the 19th century he cited the examples of Rwanda and Cambodia, which after the genocide used storytelling as an effective means to healing and reconciliation.
Rev. Fr. Joseph V.J. the Coordinator of Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies, NEISSR, who spoke on the topic “Locating Storytelling in the Peacebuilding Approaches of John Paul Lederach” began his presentation by clarifying the concepts of storytelling and peacebuilding. He stated that although storytelling means telling a story or narration of a story, in the context of peacebuilding it doesn’t mean the narration of an imaginative story, but rather the rendition of one’s own true story. Every person or community has their own story to tell and understanding stories from the perspective of that particular person or community will help the other to empathize with the storyteller and decolonize one’s mind and build peace.
He then explained that Peacebuilding is the process of establishing a durable or lasting peace between the conflicting parties and it is a long-term process that includes trauma healing, conflict resolution, reconciliation, community strengthening, and civic education. He further stated that Peacebuilding is needed in all communities, not just for those emerging from war or conflict but also where there is discrimination and stigmatization against people living with HIV and AIDS, persons with disabilities, other marginalized groups, etc.
After clarifying the concepts of storytelling and peacebuilding Fr. Joseph said that there are various approaches to peacebuilding and perhaps the most popular among them could be those proposed by John Paul Lederach, an American Professor of International Peacebuilding, whose approaches are known as top-level, middle level, and grassroots level approach. The top-level approach refers to the peacebuilding efforts made by the top-level leadership which involves military, political, religious leaders with high visibility and they focus on high-level negotiations, ceasefires, etc. The middle-level approach consists of efforts made by middle-level leadership comprising individuals representing NGOs, educational institutions, humanitarian and relief organizations, the academia and the media, etc. for peacebuilding, and they focus on problem-solving workshops, training in conflict resolutions, peace commissions, etc. The Grassroots level approach refers to the efforts made by the grassroots leadership which consists of local leaders, leaders of indigenous NGOs, community workers, local health workers, refugee camp leaders, etc. for peacebuilding. The Grassroots approach is more community based and the grassroots-level leadership represents the voices of people who are directly affected by the conflict. They focus on local peace commissions, grassroots training, prejudice reduction, psychosocial work in postwar trauma, etc. Applying the peacebuilding approaches of Paul in Healing, Restoring and Rebuilding, etc. can be considered as a bottom-level approach to peacebuilding.
He then stated that storytelling is a powerful tool for the grassroots approach to peacebuilding. He cited the example of Rwanda where storytelling played a significant role in building peace between Tutsi and Hutu after the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
He concluded his presentation by stating that Naga communities at present experience various kinds of conflicts, such as Indo-Naga conflict, factional conflict; inter-tribal and intra-tribal conflicts, denominational conflicts, discrimination at various levels, etc. Due to such conflicts, every person and every community has their own painful stories to narrate. Such storytelling not only brings healing in the life of the narrator but also creates empathy in the listener, which in turn bridges differences and builds peace between persons and communities. In this context, he also mentioned a few practical tips for storytelling for peacebuilding, namely: Preparation; Rapport building; sincerity in sharing; attentive listening; non-justification; empathy and understanding; Apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
The special resource person of the day, Ms. Susan Lotha, started her presentation with the recent incident that took place in Oting Village and recounted her personal story from a similar incident that occurred on 27th December 1994. She recounted how remembering that day grieves her to this day. She asserted: “To tell one’s story is a human right” and we all have our story to tell. Briefly explaining the personal atrocities of her past life, she underlined how dark incidents of life can affect human thoughts and behavior, spur reactions either to oneself or to the injustice done. Ms. Susan also added that human beings have a choice to be happy and allow peace and transformation or to be unhappy and unforgiving irrespective of situations and circumstances. She emphasized that the manner one responds to the challenges of life matters the most. Letting go is one of the steps to healing and further asserted that sharing stories will help one to come out of one’s fear. She reminded the participants that “Until we have peace within ourselves, we cannot give peace to others.” She ended her sharing with a verse from the Bible taken from Proverbs 24: 17-18 and underlined the need for collective healing in the Naga Society.
The Peace Knit 2021 was concluded with Q and A session moderated by Ms. Pitsala Sangtam, Kiphire District Coordinator, Peace Channel. The main points that emerged from the Q&A session were: For peacebuilding, stories must be told and listened to in their proper perspective if not it can cause conflict and violence. This requires more forums in Naga Society where ordinary people who carry the pain of Indo-Naga conflict can share their painful stories of life with the Indian Army and various insurgent groups, which in turn lead to collective healing and peace in Naga Society.