Bangalore, November 2006
Conference Report. Bangalore Peace Committee Experiences
Speakers : K. Khader & Anugraha John
Chair person : A.R Infant & Siddhartha
Mr. A.R. Infant, A.D.G.P Karnataka Police was the chief guest invited to speak at this session. In his sharing, he applauded the efforts of Mr. Siddhartha and Pipal Tree who were the guiding force in the formation of Peace Committees in communally sensitive areas in Bangalore immediately after the infamous Urdu riot in 1994. Peace Committees of He quoted the example of how effective the formation of Mohalla Committees (groups formed post Babri Masjid Riots led by leaders like Sushoba Barve to maintain peace and communal harmony in the locality) which has the similar objectives as the Peace Committees. In Bangalore, these Peace committees are locally known as Parisara Shanthi.
He further went on to briefly explain on the background of the Urdu riot, which broke out then because of few Hindu fanatics and fundamentalist opposing the telecast of Urdu news (Urdu is seen as a Muslim language) on the mainstream public news channel, Doordarshan Channel. There were lot of innocent people killed and houses were burnt. At this moment a group/committee for rehabilitation was a must and people from different walks of life, like a teacher, an auto driver, shop owner, labourer, etc all of them worked as a team. Peace Committees started with the rehabilitation process and then gradually started to engage the community in inter-religious and intra-religious dialogue. Over the period of years these Peace Committees grew and are now active in almost five major communal sensitive areas in and around Bangalore. The primary task of the Peace Committees is to engage the community in inter-faith dialogue, pluralism and harmony. Pipal Tree’s approach in this process has been to create platforms for people of different communities to come together to dialogue, work and live in harmony through programmes such as solving the issue of availability of drinking water, sanitation and health. Pipal Tree worked together Peace Committees to put pressure on the government and raised funds and money from the MLA or M.P funds to set up tubewells / borewells in the community. Community toilets, which were constructed then, helped the community and are functioning even today.
Mr. Infant said there are certain patterns in Communal Riots:
1. Riots stirring within the community due to some differences but it subside soon.
2. Riots happening when outside elements (rowdies, goons, etc) play a major role for their own vested interest. In this case, community suffers although it has nothing to do with religion, their problems or differences within the community.
3. Riots that break out due to religious procession on the streets.
Mr. Infant particularly felt that as much possible communities should avoid religious procession on the streets and this is one of the major catalysts for violence. All such procession should be monitored by the Police to avoid violence.
Mr. Anugraha John continued the session by sharing of the Pipal Tree’s present work and involvement of the Peace committees in different parts of Bangalore. He later introduced Mr. Khader, an active member of the Peace committee to share from his experiences. Khader had so much to say but due to time constraints, he shared two very important incidents at Tannery Road and explained the effectiveness of the Peace committee.
One of which was very interesting, an issue in Govindpura a small area in the locality of Tannery Road where violence broke out in October 2005. This happened because some of the Muslim people in that community had built a mosque overnight on a disputed land which apparently belonged to a Hindu. When this person came to know about a mosque being established on his land, he showed up and in his quest and spur of moment throw a stone at the place where people wash their feet prior to entering the mosque. The rumors immediately spread out that a Hindu is attacking the mosque. From the neighbourhood few others joined to attach this Hindu guy and he fortunately escaped. But the peace had already disturbed and later the situation got worse and incidents such as burning down of tires, pelting of stones, attack on vehicles, etc followed. A curfew was declared. By evening the Peace committee members with the help of Police were able to dialogue and sort out the issue. It came to the realization of the Muslim community that those who built the mosque were at fault since the land didn’t belong to them at all. And the owner of the land, mentioned to them if you would have asked us for the land to built a mosque we would have happily given you for free. But how could you build a temple of God on somebody’s land without permission. Mr. Khader quoted from the scriptures that according to Allah this is wrong.
Mr. Khader wanted to share on how the outer elements influence conflicts between Hindu and Muslims. This happened in the Tannery Road area during a cricket match between India and Pakistan which was held at the Chennaswamy stadium in Bangalore. Both Indians and Pakistanis are very excited to watch a match between the two-archrival teams. India won this match and as usual, there were celebration in the streets of Tannery Road area and people started shouting slogans for India and for the Indian stars like Sachin and Dravid. Among the crowd, there were also sarcastic slogans with hatred toward the Pakistan team, principally pointing them as a Muslim team. Obviously, after the investigation of an unnecessary conflict it was found that rowdies, members of some local gangs had planned and organised such a conflict to incite the feelings of the Muslim friends. The violence had nothing to do with the local community members but the vested interest of the gangs.
Mr. Anugraha John in his brief presentation highlighted the work of Pipal Tree in different communities in Bangalore. He further explained that Pipal Tree always believed that Development and Communal Harmony go hand in hand. Pipal Tree has created several platforms for dialogue through taking up common issues where community can come together and work for their own benefit.
He spoke on the recent involvement of the Peace Committee to fight the plight of supply of drinking water to the marginalized community (Madina Mohalla, Idgah Mohalla,etc) in Ward No.93. The community is enforced to buy water at a high cost from local Water Operators. Pipal Tree along with local residents raised the matter with local leaders, jointly signed a petition, and submitted to the Bangalore Water Supply and Sanitation Board (BWSSB) authorities. The BWSSB authorities explained about the pending project, which required approval of the land to build an over head tank and the water to be pumped to this area. Later the Bangalore Mahanagar Palike was approached to get this land approval. Eventually with the help of the Counselor, temporary solution for supply of water was sorted and there is still follow up on a permanent solution. Such incidents bring together people and strengthen their personal relationship and they work for common cause.
After the presentations, the floor was open for discussion and questions.
Most of the participants appreciated the Peace Committee work in Bangalore and realized that Communal Harmony can be integrated in their ongoing programmes as well.
One of the participants raised an important question and asked the participants to analyze the reasons for very few inter-religious conflicts in the villages or remote towns compared to cities and especially slums.
Cyriac immediately responded by saying that the village and small towns are communities which are intact and work together on common purposes. If any problems occur the village would know who did it and can take immediate participatory action. Most of the cases an anonymous mischief-maker from outside disturbs the peace in villages and small towns. Whereas in slums there are lot of political and vested interests for such conflicts and most of the times it has nothing to do with religion.
Baby Paul shared his deep grievance of his home State, Kerala which according to him although being the most literate State in India has issues such as inter-religious conflicts marring the development of the State.