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Case #162

Title:
Community-based initiative encourages inter-faith harmony in Indian city slums

Summary:

Community organization helps to prevent and diffuse interfaith violence in Indian city slums. In 1991 St Xavier's Social Service Society, under the leadership of Fr Prakash, began to look into the reasons for the interfaith violence that had plagued the slum areas of Ahmedabad, India for years. Fr. Prakash recalls 'We decided to take a look at the why of the whole thing ...what has to be done to change the situation? We looked at the life of the poor; how they are constantly subjected to many dehumanizing processes."

The range of peace initiatives launched by St Xavier's included street plays, peace festivals and public awareness -- what they called 'myth busting' in order to counter inflammatory propaganda spread mostly by Hindu extremists.

One example of their work in action is when in Shahpur slum in the winter of 1991, a group of Hindus approached the area intent on killing Muslims. On learning of this imminent trouble, the Hindu members of the Shahpur peace committee quickly mobilised, confronting the crowd and saying to them 'you kill us first.' The mob retreated and no violence occurred. As intercessionaries, by physically placing themselves between the mob and their intended victims they were able to prevent violence.

Another example of the work of the peace committees is through 'myth busting.' During periods of increased tension, leaflets are often distributed by extremists in an attempt to incite, usually, anti Muslim violence. When the committee hears of this practice they usually hold a community meeting where the local people have the opportunity to learn whether the allegations are true. The committee then try to identify who was distributing the leaflets, where they came from (usually from another area of the city) and why people feel the leaflets were distributed in the first place.

In this way the community meetings act as a safety valve, allowing the local people to ask questions and learn the truth. The essence of this strategy, according to Fr. Prakash, is 'to counter false propaganda as soon as it takes off -- bit by bit and point by point.'

A measure of St Xavier's effectiveness is that the local authority regularly requests their assistance following a riot. Indeed Fr. Prakash was appointed to an emergency response committee by the District Collector and as such was not only notified immediately of any civil unrest but was also allowed to enter areas off limits to the public during such disturbances.

Comments:

Part of their success must be attributed to their long history of working in the area. They have been in the slums for almost 30 years and thus are not seen as outsiders. Over the years they have gained the trust and respect of sections of the community.

Yet there have also been numerous outbursts of violence that the Society has not been able to prevent, some of which have been very serious. The Society also has only 20 full time staff and operates in just 20 of the 2,400 slums in the city, so their impact is clearly limited.
Location: India
Action: Direct
Setting: Third World
Extent of Action: Local
Issues: Peace/Conflict Resolution
Year(s): 1991
Outcome partially successful
Source: War Prevention Works: 50 Stories of people resolving conflict, Oxford Research Group

Contacts:

See www.cdainc.com for the full text of the 'Local Capacities for Peace Project' analysis of St Xavier's Social Service Society.
Prepared By: rja, 10/01
Rating: 1
 
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