Living in peace and harmony has been a quest of human beings ever since they began to live in communities. Human beings have an intense desire to be related with others and to live in harmony with others. At the same time, conflict has been an inevitable part of social life. Often people resort to the use of violence for resolving conflicts. After the Second World War the world nations became aware of the urgent need for resolving conflicts without resorting to violent wars that result in widespread death and destruction. That is how the United Nations Organization (UN) came into existence in 1945.
Despite the existence of the UN, limited wars have taken place in different parts of the world. Since the end of the Second World War in 1945 there were about 250 major wars in which 50 million people have been killed. The destructive power of weapons has grown a lot during the twentieth century. Unfortunately, people's ability to resolve conflict has not made the same strides. Expenditure on defence of many countries has increased enormously. The defence budget of India for the year 2019-20 is 4.31 lakh cores, about 15.47% of the total expenditure of the central government. Total world military expenditure rose to $1822 billion in 2018, representing an increase of 2.6% from 2017, according to the data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Some poor countries are using their scarce resources for buying weapons instead of fighting poverty. This tendency clearly shows that the fear of war is increasing.
Peace is not mere absence of war. Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, once said, “We will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights." Peace has different dimensions as individual peace, cultural peace, social peace, ecological peace and political peace. The threats to peace include religious fundamentalism, hatred against particular ethnic or religious groups, widening inequalities, violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Whenever there is unprecedented growth of the threats to peace, there is need for enhanced and vibrant efforts to promote peace. The year 2014-15 witnessed extraordinary spread of the venom of hatred and revenge against particular ethnic and religious communities in India. The result was serious trust deficit among the various communities and increased use of violence. Simultaneously efforts were also made to denigrate the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Against this backdrop Fr. Varghese Alengaden, the founder of Universal Solidarity Movement (USM) of Value Education for Peace, took the initiative to organize a National Peace Convention in Indore under the auspices of the Committee for Peace and Conflict Resolution of the Rotary International. Fr. Varghese is the chairman of the Committee for Peace and Conflict Resolution of the Rotary District 3040. The convention started on 30th January, the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. One of the goals of the peace convention was the promotion of the values of Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace.
First National Peace Convention, Indore, 2015
250 persons, including Rotarians, social activists, educationists, NGO representatives, students, authors and journalists participated in the Convention. Talks by eminent personalities like Sri Thushar Gandhi, Sri Eduardo Faleiro, Ms. Medha Patkar, Rtn. Ashok Mahajan, Dr. Jill Carr-Harris, Ms. Anuradha Shankar IPS, Dr. D P Singh, Sri. Shravan Garg etc. motivated the participants to work for peace. Participation of people of good will from all religious faiths reiterated the urgent need for coming together for cultivating and nurturing peace in the place of violence and strife.
At the end of the convention the participants unanimously resolved to launch a National Peace Movement and decided to hold National/International Peace Convention every year, starting on January 30, the day of Mahatma Gandhi’s martyrdom and concluding on February 01. National Peace Movement was formally launched on 16th April 2015 with the vision of building a civilization of love founded on diversity.
Second National Peace Convention, Dimapur, 2016
The second National Peace Convention was held at Dimapur, Nagaland with the participation of 210 persons from 16 states of India. The choice of Dimapur was in view of giving impetus to the efforts to build peace in the conflict ridden North-Eastern states. The participants reflected and discussed on peace from different perspective after listening to eminent personalities who are involved in the field for peace building in their own unique way.
Third National Peace Convention, Goa, 2017
The main focus of the third National Peace Convention held in Goa in 2017 was on the role of justice, compliance with Human Rights and respect for pluralism in building and promoting peace. 270 persons from 18 states of India reflected and discussed on peace from different perspectives and prepared an action plan to be implemented at the state and the local levels.
Fourth National Peace Convention, Kochi, 2018
The fourth National Peace Convention with the participation of 372 delegates from 15 states of India was held from January 30th to February 1, 2018 at IMA House (Indian Medical Association) Kochi. Participation and sharing by more than 50 students from different schools and colleges reflected the young India’s earnest desire to uphold India’s core civilizational value, ‘ Vasudaiva Kudumbakam’. Interaction with persons belonging to different states, religions, cultures and professions and exchanging views helped the participants to understand the peace building process.
Fifth National Peace Convention, Gurgoan, NCR, 2019
2019 being the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi, the contribution of Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi was the focus of the deliberations and discussions of the 5th National Peace Convention held at Shofar Conference Centre, Gurgoan, NCR, from January 30 to February 01, 2019. It is worth mentioning that about 25% of the participants were students from different states of India.
Sixth National Peace Convention, 2020 in planned to be held in Bangalore in collaboration with Christ University from January 30 to February 1, 2020. 500 participants are expected for the convention.
Specialities of National Peace Convention
· All participants pay towards the expenses of the convention in the form of registration fee, besides meeting the cost of their travel and accommodation. This indeed is an expression of their passion and commitment to peace building. No fund is solicited either from government or any donor agencies for organizing the convention.
· All participants, including most of the speakers, participate fully in the convention. Close interaction among the participants belonging to different regions, religions, languages etc. in itself is a nation building process.
· 25 to 30 percent of the participants have been taking part in all peace conventions so far. For them, participation in the peace convention is an annual pilgrimage.
· A core group of 20 to 30 persons meet every month in Indore or in any of the neighbouring towns under the banner, Peace Committee Meeting. Besides reviewing the progress of the preparations for the National Peace Convention, they plan and implement activities at the local level.
· Organizing the peace convention is a collaborative effort by different organizations, including Rotary International. A local organization or institution with the support of a local organizing committee takes the responsibility of making the local arrangements.
· At the end of the convention an action plan is prepared by the participants and it is implemented at the state and local levels. They include organizing state level conventions, organizing peace rallies, conducting speech and essay writing competitions for the students and the youth in the educational institutions on peace building, inter-religious harmony and the contribution of Mahatma Gandhi to peace building and promoting the reading of the auto-biography of Mahatma Gandhi. Every year new activities are added to the follow up activities of the National Peace Convention.
Increase in the number of students and teachers participating in the National Peace Convention, is a very positive sign. The students and teachers share their experience of the National Peace Convention in their respective schools, start peace clubs and initiate activities for promoting peace at the local level. Thus the young generation is being motivated to become peace makers. Many other participants also share their experience with their friends and neighbours and take part in the efforts for promoting peace in their localities. Increased interest in the participants in reading about Mahatma Gandhi and his contribution to peace building is another concrete result of the National Peace Convention.(Published on 11th November 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 46)