“Negative peace is simply the absence of violence. For example, when the Afghan Government and the Taliban agreed to a three-day ceasefire, we had peace for those three days, technically. But we were still constantly afraid, about what would happen after,” Parwiz Mosamim, sitting in Indonesia, explained to his 50-strong audience logging in from India, Pakistan, the UK and other countries this past Sunday night.
Parwiz, an Afghani journalist and activist currently studying Public Administration in Malaysia, was among a host of writers, thinkers, musicians and policy specialist to have shared this common, global stage via Zoom call over the past few weeks. Over the next hour, Parwiz and his fellow speakers — Islamabad public policy analyst Ahsan Hamid Durrani, who has worked with the government as well as think tanks; and Mridul Upadhyay, the India-based Asia Coordinator of United Network of Young Peacebuilders — broke down the more aspirational concept of positive peace. The kind of peace that goes beyond the absence of violence. The kind “marked by socio-economic cooperation, with attitudes, institutes and structures that create and sustain peace,” as Ahsan put it.
This particular panel, on ‘Social Peace and Positive Peace in South Asia’, was the fifth to be put together by a Chennai-Lahore team of two. From April 19 to May 3, Chennai’s Sehaj Sahni and Lahore’s Anam Gill have scheduled nine of what they call Cross Border Sessions — all of them backed by UNESCO’s Category 1 institute Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (UNESCO MGIEP), and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC).
Most of Anam and Sehaj’s sessions revolve around apolitical tools of peace: literature, music, education. But such things cannot help but have a slight brush with politics and history — tied as deeply as they are with the human condition. For instance, later that same Sunday night, the duo brought together three eminent writers from India and Pakistan. Gurmehar Kaur, author of Small Acts of Courage , joined in live from the UK where she is currently based, while Imagining Lahore author , and journalist Haroon Khalid spoke from Islamabad. Anam Zakaria, author of Footprints from Partition , was the third and final panellist, at the session that saw not only the reading of extracts from each of the books and strong callbacks to the Partition, but also deeply personal conversations about clashing mindsets, with many from the audience joining in. The session was oganised in collaboration with The Honest Critique.
Moderated deftly and cohesively by Prerana Srimaal, assistant professor of History at Christ deemed university, this conversation meandered from the rigid definitions and prejudices that each community has about “the other”, to the idea that trauma from one incident can be inherited by, and fester in, the next generation, that did not experience it first-hand.
Back and forth
All this was just the discussion of one night: earlier sessions had covered topics like faith, activism and the role of the youth in peace-building. The latter, in fact, runs as a common thread through all the sessions. Says Sehaj, one of the two curators, “These sessions are the follow-up to a workshop that was held in Sri Lanka in February, attended by youth leaders from the sub-continent. I represented my organisation [the Chennai-based Indian Youth Café] and Sanam was representing hers [the Lahore-based Dialogue Café].” Sehaj says they had been planning such an event, bringing in voices from around the subcontinent to one place for common dialogue. But with a global pandemic and country-wide lockdowns throwing a spanner in the works, they decided to rely on Zoom instead.
The idea, he says, was to rope in as many people as possible to the dialogue. As Prerana had aptly put, “Engagement cannot happen with people who live in the same bubble as you. It has to happen with people who do not think like you.”
To join the sessions, contact Indian Youth Cafe on Instagram.