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Women's dialogue can bridge divide in Kashmir: Academic

By Ajit Jain
August 19, 2009 22:12 IST
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Dr Rama Singh and six academics from McMaster University's Center for Peace Studies in Canada were in Jammu and Kashmir recently for a conference on peace and democracy.

Singh, co-founder of the women's empowerment initiative Mahila Shanti Sena, said the MSS has been in touch with the Jammu University's Gandhi Center and women's center.

"We have been sending students interns there with the help of Canadian International Development Agency," said Singh.

Singh said their group was in Jammu to attend two meetings: A University of Jammu seminar where Dr Anne Pearson of the McMaster University's Peace Studies Center delivered a keynote address on 'Interfaith dialogue today' and the other was the workshop on developing an undergraduate course on the theory and practice of the MSS. The workshop was funded by a special grant from the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute and held at the Government College for Women with assistance from colleagues from the University of Jammu.

The Canadian high commission in New Delhi will fund a conference on 'Peace and participatory democracy: Role of Women and Youth'. Singh said the conference will be organized jointly by the Center for New Literature, Culture and Communication, Jammu University and the Center for Peace Studies, McMaster University. It is scheduled for December 14 to 16 at Jammu University.  

"When I go for this conference," Singh said, "I will invite a few people from the MSS to look how we train women and have some fort of chapter in Jammu involving both Muslim and Hindu women. Our focus will be on peace in Jammu because needs of different states are different. When we go to rural areas, we talk about poverty and illiteracy. In Jammu the need is more about the communication between women from two main faith groups. There are families on both sides who have suffered, people have been killed from both communities. So, if we can bring women from the two communities together, those women can talk. That will make more impact than only talk at the political level.

"Interfaith dialogue and managing ethnic diversity," he added, "will be of major interest in the Jammu and Kashmir."

The MSS was established in 2002 by the McMaster University's Peace Studies Center, and Acharya Ramamurthy, 96, who heads the Gandhi Center near Patna, Bihar. The main objective is to teach women about grassroots democracy. 

"We have been very successful in four provinces in northeastern parts of India — Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura. In these four States, the MSS has become a regular ongoing program. They have a center in Guwahati, Assam. They get money from the Indian government. The place is more violence-prone and so anything you can do to create peace is helpful. So, the Indian government has funded the MSS's work there."

Singh is keen on registering the MSS in Canada as a charity so that donors can get tax deductible receipts.

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Ajit Jain