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Creating community peace builders to resolve conflicts in Meghalaya

Author: Rehana Rehman
Posted on: Friday 16th Jun 2017
Creating community peace builders to resolve conflicts in Meghalaya

When the youth of Sobogre village beat up the village elders badly, the situation in the village was very tense. The dispute arose when the elders in the village had passed a resolution that they were not going to fell big trees for commercial purposes and preserve trees along the river for at least 100 yards, which was not agreeable to the younger generation. The youth retaliated and beat up the village elders, which became a major issue.

Rangnan Ch. Momin, community leader from a tiny village of Rapdikggre, situated in the East Garo Hills district in Meghalaya, was invited to intervene and resolve the situation in Sobogre village. People in the neighbouring villages were aware that Rongnan had received trainings in this field. Rongnan very expertly handled the situation by applying the different tools and knowledge that he learnt during trainings on conflict mitigation, mediation and negotiations, organised by ActionAid and was able to bring back peace and normalcy in the conflicting village within one week.

Rangnan Ch. Momin, is currently actively involved in mitigating conflicts arising out of contestations due to access and control over natural resources. Rangnan was trained like many other people on peace building initiatives to handle disputes locally within and outside the communities under the ‘Conflict mitigation through creation of a regional hub on natural resources in Northeast India’ Programme.

Like Rongnan, over 800 people are exclusively trained, impacted and directly influenced on conflict mitigation, mediation and negotiations programmes.  Over 30 such cases are currently under different stages of mediation, as people like Rongnan now taken up peace building measures to address disputes locally, within and outside their communities. These disputes range from contestations around inter and intra village boundaries; disputes around water or river; sand; forest; land; loss of land; floods; embankments and many other resources over and under the ground.  This prevents conflicts from going to courts and becoming larger.

“Though I have handled many cases in the past, I was doing so in my own capacity. After I was trained on conflict mitigation, mediation and negotiation, I learnt the tools and techniques which are important in handling such cases. For example, talking to both the parties separately, understanding their needs and interests, analysing the larger situation to understand if there are any external factors and influence etc. gives a larger perspective in addressing the issues,” says Rangnan.

“With my enhanced skills and techniques I now feel confident and better placed in understanding my approach to handle any situation. It is important that we address these cases within ourselves at an initial stage, or else they become larger and shameful examples in front of others. Many a times these becomes registered court cases and people are sent to jail or police stations. I would like to thank the organisers for this opportunity where I can now be of better help to my community,” he adds.

Abiding by India’s Look East / Act East Policy agenda, the country’s Northeast has become a frontier for the eastward thrust, both in terms of political imagination and logistical implications. Given its location, the Northeast assumes the role of bridging the space between larger India and other Southeast Asian nations. As a result, the Northeast of India is a region undergoing rapid transition. The speed at which it is occurring in recent years and the enormity of it all is difficult to miss whether it is in the construction of infrastructure; or the irretrievable transformation of one of the most fragile and diverse environments in the world; or opening new and reactivating dormant trade routes, as well as facilitating border trade and transit points; or in the migrations of people; or in the nature of political unrest.

It is in the above contexts that ActionAid has been working with some of the most vulnerable communities of the Northeast of India for last two decades. One of the core strategic objectives of the work has been to ensure people’s access and control over resources like land, water, forest, minerals, commons and livelihoods and creating a just, secular, violence free and peaceful society and state. Networks have been built with civil society organisations, media, academics and knowledge institutions to achieve the said objectives. Efforts are also made to engage with Corporates and administrative authorities to initiate a discourse towards new alternatives.  

Thus, ActionAid Guwahati Regional Office, with support from European Commission (EC) and Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) got an opportunity to implement a three year project on Conflict mitigation through creation of a regional hub for natural resources in the north east India. The initiative started from 1st February 2014 in 100 villages spread across 100 villages in Manipur; Assam and Meghalaya.

The focus was to provide a platform for local communities, Community Based Organisations and Civil Society Organisations to become better aware of the links between natural resources and conflicts and enabling initiation of community people, peace inducing development processes for the overall development of the poor. The initiation was carried out through a process of different knowledge and capacity building programmes; participatory vulnerability assessments; participatory audit and value chain analysis of natural resources and a series of awareness generation programmes, so as to enable communities in making better deals with different stakeholders for the overall economic development of the areas and better management of their natural resources.

Overall, the project accomplished satisfactory results with a few tangible achievements that are mentioned below:

  • Over 18,000 documents on divergent issues consisting of research papers; gazetteers, photographs, audio-video slots, newspapers, journals etc. are systematically organized. Out of them, over 7000 database are digitised for sharing of knowledge and use by different stakeholders.
  • Five big commissioned studies were carried out and published, related to issues around land and other natural resources of the north east India. Other work comprises of analytical notes of important natural resources of the region like, forest, water, coal, oil and land, prepared by subject experts; report on the conflict mapping of the north east India; A handbook / training manual on mediation; a compilation on the findings of Participatory Vulnerability Assessments (PVAs) carried out in 100 project villages across Manipur, Assam and Meghalaya; a handbook on Land Rights in Assam; a compilation of Garo customary norms and practices; few case stories and a series of posters.

The broad framework used to prepare these notes shall provide researchers, academics, social activists and the lay readers a sense on the available secondary data and current debates around natural resources and soft copies are available in the North East Resource Hub.

  • Over 9800 people are trained, impacted and directly influenced and over 48500 people are indirectly influenced through the entire course of our action. Regular discussions, within and outside, the communities have helped gain perspectives and understandings of their environment and economy leading to opportunities and possibilities of achieving a better deal for their resources.
  • Over 800 people are exclusively trained, impacted and directly influenced and over 5000 people are indirectly influenced, only through our various awareness and capacity building programmes. Few such programmes were value chain analysis; conflict mitigation, mediation and negotiation on natural resources; discourses on protocol settings etc. The stakeholders ranged from community leaders; members of customary bodies of self-rule/local governance; women’s organisations, researchers, activists, media persons, NGOs etc. which further  enhanced and strengthened people’s  understanding on better management of natural resources and development of their economy.
  • Synergies were built with other networks and organisations across the country for mutual sharing and enhancement of knowledge. Further to this, over 60 members, comprising of individuals and organisations from media, NGOs, academics, community leaders, apex bodies etc have connected together and formed a hub / platform called Solidarity for Sustainable North East (SoSNE). One of the prime roles of members of SoSNE is to mitigate contestations through dialogues / negotiations /mediations within and outside communities and to initiate discourses on the management of natural resources in the region.
  • It is encouraging to see community leaders applying knowledge and tools learnt during conflict mitigation trainings to address local issues at their own levels, so as to handle them an early stage thereby preventing it from becoming big. Project staffs, hub members and community leaders have adopted conflict mitigation measures, within and outside their communities. About 30 cases are at different stages and process of mediations at the time of closure of our action.

At the time of closure in the end of year three, the action had reached at a very strategic point. The momentum of interventions; mutual relationship and confidence building between communities; project team and other stakeholders; the process of in-depth findings; analysis of situations; understanding of needs and interests of different stakeholders, etc. had just begun, when the support ended. Results of investments, in the form of different activities involving community participation, were also starting to evolve at this point. Continuation of this effort becomes extremely crucial to keep the discourses alive in the current context of contestations around issues of land and other natural resources.    

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