In 1992, when serious religious conflicts rocked Bangalore, Pipal Tree (a non-profit organisation under which Fireflies comes) rushed to work in the affected areas. The most badly hit people were, as usual, the poorest. In many slums people were killed, stabbed and raped, and hundreds of houses were destroyed or burnt. Pipal Tree initially distributed food and clothing to the affected people. Later Pipal Tree worked with the different religious communities to restore confidence and build peace. It took several years to do this.
To begin with we helped create “peace committees” in the slums. Each peace committee had a number of young men and women (from the age of 25 to 40 years) who lived in the affected area. It also included teachers of the local schools and local police officers. The peace committees met every day during the crisis and tried to solve the problems. The problems included medical assistance to the wounded, financial assistance to those families who had the breadwinner killed, and assistance to rebuild the huts that were burnt or destroyed.
We also found that the Muslims had many grievances against the police. Muslims felt that the police were prejudiced against them, used arbitrary violence against them and arrested them without reason. They wanted the police to drop the cases against those Muslims against whom they had no evidence. Pipal Tree organised many public meetings with the police and the slum communities to remove these misunderstandings. At one meeting more than thousand people came. The chief of police of Bangalore city came with all his main officers. The local Member of Parliament was also present. The chief of police admitted to the people that the police had made many big mistakes. This calmed the Muslims down. He also promised to look through the list of Muslims who were arrested and charged with inciting violence and remove all the names of people against whom there was no evidence.
In one of the slums there was a rumour that the local mosque was stocking guns that were meant to be used against the police. The Hindus in the area got agitated. Finally the peace committee spoke to the priest of the mosque and got his permission to get a delegation of Hindus to inspect the mosque. The Hindu delegation checked all the rooms of the mosque and found no weapons. This helped to calm the Hindu community down.
We have many such examples to show how the ‘peace committees’ helped to solve problems and prevent conflict.
We continue this work in the following ways:
• Peace committees in the city of Bangalore which are actively involved with promoting harmony, nurturing diversity and developing conflict resolution skills.
• This includes the creation of ongoing communication with different sections of society so that rumours can be squashed and problems can be solved before they become too big; it also means effective communication with police, religious and community leaders. Most problems can be solved through effective and humane communicating methods.
• Appreciating diversity through celebrating each others festivals. People are able to appreciate each other when they can celebrate each others festivals together. Therefore Hindus will invite Muslims to join them in the celebration of Diwali; Muslims will invite Hindus and Christians and others during the feast of Ramazan; Buddhists can invite all others during Buddha Jayanthi.