GUWAHATI, (Lissy Maruthanakuzhy) — There is a Chinese saying, a journey of a thousand leagues begins with one step. Conversation has begun at Kokrajhar. A small group of Bodos and Muslims came together at the Bishop’s House, Bongaigaon, on September 1, to discuss together their common destinies. They know that their future is inter-related. History had brought them together, a few tragic events cannot throw them apart.
The dialogue begins at the initiative of Bishop Thomas Pulloppilil and his Peace Team. The Ecumenical Team that Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil had built up in Guwahati too was there to give full support. It was a low-level, low-profile, soft-spoken conversation among persons representing various communities and organizations. There was a personal tone about the entire encounter. A seed has been planted, and it is a seed of peace.
Bishop Pulloppillil felt grateful that so many leaders of good will representing various organizations and communities could come together to make their voice of moderation and mutual esteem heard in an overall atmosphere of anger and mounting tension. The Lutheran Bishop Nityanand Borgoary who presided over the meeting urged that the sober forces in Bodoland work in a determined manner in the cause of peace. “Despite the sad state of affairs, we cannot afford to forger that our destinies are inter-twined. Our wok for peace may be difficult, but I always remain an optimist. The Lord is with us”.
The fresh impressions from the field were those of helplessness and mounting restlessness. Violence continues. There seem to be some forces at work to aggravate the situation, by word and action. Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil insisted that it is precisely in a moment of helplessness that we should help. A balanced opinion should make itself heard. It must become clear that even in the midst of passion and chaos, there are people who think aright and are capable of bringing opposing persons together. “We make a joint appeal that all persons concerned avoid violence, provocative statements and the spreading of baseless rumours”. Media too must speak responsibly.
Meanwhile relief work is going on in very many camps, offered by many dedicated Church groups. Official reports speak of 220 camps and more. Government relief is satisfactory. “But Christian social workers have great credibility among the people”, said a Muslim participant. Even though the interactions are limited, the sincerity of purpose is evident”. Dr. Firoz Ahmed, a well-known social worker from Bongaigaon, suggested a common prayer for peace that would be said by all the people in order to bring people together emotionally and win the blessing of peace from God.
Professor Samsul Haque of the Minority Welfare Committee at Gossaigaon, who is also a member of the local Peace Team there, stressed the urgent need for peace in West Assam. “People are more hungry for peace than for food”. The delegates from Gossaigaon pleaded for a peace-meeting at their place because it is “the most affected area”. It was enthusiastically decided to hold a massive peace rally at Gossaigaon on September 30.
Mr.Goldsmith of the Baptist Church felt happy to be part of the Joint Peace Mission Team from Guwahati. He remembered with pride that it had helped to relax tensions in seven other separate instances of serious ethnic violence, some of them which had carried away upto 500 lives. It had led a delegation even to Orissa (Khandamal) after the communal clashes there. Three years ago it had intervened in a case of conflict between Muslims and Bodos at Udalguri (Assam). “We hope our present efforts will be successful in a similar way”, said Mr. Allen Brooks, the Catholic member of the Minority Commission (Assam), spoke of the Government’s plans for rehabilitation. He called for a sense of realism to combine with optimism.
What was most important at this stage, felt Archbishop Menamparampil, was to bring down what he called collective anger. “Any small thing is enough to make the present anger to explode again like an atomic explosion. That is why we should multiply gestures of good will on both sides. Confidence-building events should be organized. When doing these things, begin with low expectations, but aim high”, he said. It has been decided to hold another more serious meeting in Guwahati on September 22 to take the present effort forward. Each of the participants was invited to carry back a message of peace to his own community on which people could work during the coming days.