Dr. Richard Devadoss (2nd from left) with Pakistani participants in a cultural dance

Breathing Peace

At the outset, congratulations to MPI on reaching the historical milestone of 20 years of involvement in peacebuilding and creating peace activists throughout the world! Keep carrying the baton to achieve the 30th, 40th, and more anniversaries.

I was the lone Indian in the 2011 Annual Peacebuilding Training. Reminiscing about the three-week training brings back a flood of memories. The first memory that stands out is that we were breathing peace during the entire Annual Peacebuilding Training, whether it was the opening ceremony, the courses, the interactions with the batch and roommates, the cordial relationship we had with Chris and the Team of Trainers, or the cultural evenings. The events and processes were intricately woven together to create and promote a culture of peace.

Richard Devadoss in center of people holding handsThe first cultural evening was named “Rice and Curry” or “Hot Spice.” The performance was by the lone Indian (myself) and three Pakistanis put together as a team (see photo at the top of the article). Oh, how we gelled together as we walked the ramp and danced the Bhangra (a Punjabi dance) well into the night with all the participants joining in! Yet another affirmation that all people love to live, co-exist and celebrate life in togetherness and Peace.

During the field-based course Approaches to Grassroots Peacebuilding: Interreligious Dialogue and Zones of Peace, we stayed with the families of the ex-MILF cadres and listened to their reasons for and experiences of the armed combat they had with the Philippine Army. This course also allowed us to meet with representatives from the Government, the Philippine Army, and the ex-MILF cadres, which was a unique experience.

Richard Devadoss at a white board explaining DalitI gained immensely in both theoretical and practical ways from participating in the courses. The other courses I chose were Peace Education: Concepts and Approaches; and Trauma Healing and Reconciliation in Divided Communities.

For me, the training at MPI in 2011 was simply not just one more training in which I participated. It was special, unique, complete, and practical. As a peace activist involved in capacity building of next-generation peacebuilders, and in promoting the sub-Dalit* group and inter-caste inclusiveness among youth in workable ways, I still utilize the insights and learnings from the 2011 Annual Peacebuilding Training in the capacity and peacebuilding programs and processes as well as other assignments in which I am involved across India.

Dr. Richard Devadoss is the Director of CORNERSTONE Trust in Chennai, India; and the Convener for the South India Coalition for Land Rights, an advocacy group.

* The term Dalit means “oppressed,” “broken,” or “crushed.” Indian society is divided into a four-fold hierarchical caste system based on birth. Dalits are considered to be so impure and polluted that they cannot belong to even the lowest among the castes. They are outside of the caste system. Although the Indian Constitution considers all as equal, and untouchability is a crime, Dalits continue to be victims of untouchability, discrimination, and atrocities. The term Dalit has now come to symbolize a movement for assertion, equality, dignity, and identity; and for the eradication of the centuries-old oppression under the caste system.