By Shreeradha Mishra* from India
July 31, 2015

Day 4 at the summer school in Puncak, Indonesia dawned sunny and clear, only to betray us with a heavy downpour later. Well, you can trust to never trust the mountains with the weather! Meanwhile, at the summer school, we had quite an interesting day. The title of the post may have given away the agenda for the day – Pluralism and Peace Building post religious conflicts. Rev. Jacky Manuputty, a “peace provocateur” addressed us. Having worked at the grassroots level as a member of a local community to deal with the post religious conflicts in the Maluku islands of Indonesia, he is well experienced with the process and challenges of peace building.

ZytfqeiJidCHistory has proven how societies have survived by solely depending upon religion as an anchor. When religion becomes the sole source of faith, a situation which threatens or questions the validity of the religion, the result is an inevitable explosion. More literal than metaphorical. Religious identity was the cause for conflict in the islands – a majority Muslim community versus a minority Christian community. As a result of the war, more than 5000 people were killed and about 500000 were displaced between the year 1999 and 2002. The incident was a blow to the ethics of democracy, and a reminder that the citizens of Indonesia still had a long way to go.

Rev. Manuputty and his team’s efforts at peace building, therefore, were no mean tasks. The path was paved with difficulties, which eventually did give them some success, though he agrees that there is still much to be done. Peace building, of course, is a process and cannot be achieved over night. Some of the efforts of his team at bringing the Muslim and the Christian community together included channelizing their differences from being a cause of conflict, to something positive to help the communities co-exist. They attempted this by organizing several cultural events and workshops in which people from both communities participated. They also initiated a kind of ‘exchange programme’, through which they sent a Muslim to a Christian home and vice versa to help negate the prejudices each community had for the other. The program, so far, has been quite a success. In the past, it has not been uncommon for miscreants from either communities to spread false rumours regarding the target community in order to provoke religious conflicts. The ‘peace provocateurs’ counter this by verifying the rumour and using social media and the community radio as modes to communicate that the information was false and simply a ruse to provoke violence.

It was very encouraging to learn about these commendable efforts, and understand that peace building is not just the responsibility of the government but of every responsible citizen. One cannot deny the fact that the growing involvement of the state in furthering these explosive situations by choosing not to act, and therefore acting, masses across ‘democracies’ have lost faith in the promise of democratic governance. We had the chance to read a very intellectually stimulating article by Alfred Stepan, “The Multiple Secularism of Modern Democratic and Non-Democratic Regimes”, in which he makes a bold claim that democracies need not necessarily be secular to function democratically, rather, twin tolerance may be the way forward. He says, “Democratic institutions need sufficient political space from religion to function, just as citizens need to be given sufficient space by democratic institutions to exercise their religious freedom.”

To what extent should the state involve itself with something as private as religion? Paradoxically, how does thestate then deal with religious fundamentalism, where the lines between politics and religion are very thin. More problematically, what if the state itself chooses to take a religious stand, rather than a democratic stand? If I had answers to these questions, I would be rich because I would make a fortune out of selling them as “bestsellers for peace making”. The fact that the conversations around religion and democracy can be very many shades of grey, is an answer of sorts. There can never be a stock solution.

The session today helped us brainstorm about these complex issues of religion and democracy, how far can an individual or a group of individuals go to protect their religious interests and where must the limits be set? At what point does the state step in, or step out? My takeaway from the day was the realization that there is a need for an ecosystem which accommodates the public, private and the religion to co-exist in all their pluralities, however, with limits. I concluded the day with more questions than answers, always a healthy sign to me, which is why I look forward to tomorrow with much eagerness!


*Shreeradha Mishra is currently pursuing her Master Degree in Development at Azim Premji University in Bangalore, India. When she isn’t busy being lazy, she loves traveling, reading, writing and eating cheesecake.