In January of this year, Initiatives of Change International hosted a consultation at Asia Plateau, the IofC conference centre in India. It brought together 81 people from 37 countries, all carrying responsibility for some aspect of the work of Initiatives of Change. It was described as a ‘Sangam’, a Hindi word meaning a place where rivers meet. This expressed its aim – to bring together Initiatives of Change across the world in all its diversity and combine our forces better to nourish the people and concerns with which we are involved.
The discussions gave participants an opportunity to hear about IofC work in many countries. Over the coming weeks we would like to share three accounts we heard, from Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. This week we hear from our team working in North East India!
Niketu Iralu comes from Nagaland in North East India. He has received numerous awards for his work for peace in the region:
There are more than 200 tribes in the North East region of India. Many are waking up to new aspirations and struggling to achieve them. This has resulted in continuous instability and violence for more than 50 years, making proper development impossible.
Some of us doing all we can to prevent our region from becoming killing fields. My wife and I have named our home ‘Kerünyü Ki’, in our language ‘a house for listening’. It is built on the edge of a forest. Meetings of Naga tribes and villagers take place there, sometimes with people from our neighbouring States. We offer people the chance to listen, which is the beginning of a response to violence. We find it reduces tension and opens doors unexpectedly to new possibilities. We have seen militant leaders, known for their advocacy of violence, meet with others and seek solutions in silence. They express gratitude that there is a place they can search for better ways for our people.
The President of the All-Bodo Students Union came with 16 of his colleagues for a two-day retreat to learn to listen to ‘the inner voice’. They came, he said, because their people had suffered so much for so long, and they were ready to change if this would end the suffering. The Bodos are a very important tribe. They control the narrow entrance to the North East and can stop all movement to the rest of India for days. The student president persuaded his people to fight for their aspirations without violence and corruption. It has made an immense difference.
This is just one story of many I could tell. Where people obey their inner voice, they find inspiration and a determination not to give up. This change is making an impact on the region. I believe violence has started to be rejected in North-East India. The challenge before us now is to take this experience to other places of suffering in Asia.
Sunny Mawiong comes from Meghalaya, another State in North East India. He is part of a team from Asia Plateau which has been working with Niketu and others in the region, organizing seminars and dialogues in areas of tension and conflict. ‘People from elsewhere in India and beyond have come to help us in this work,’ he says, ‘and this has strengthened our spirit. A lot of communities are looking for alternatives and are responding to the approach which Initiatives of Change brings. I have committed myself to work with leaders in North East India for a non-violent approach and I have found hope for the region.’