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PeaceTalks - Preventing Communal Violence



India claims an abiding commitment to human rights, but its record is marred by continuing violations by security forces in counterinsurgency operations and by government failure to rigorously implement laws and policies to protect marginalized communities. A vibrant media and civil society continue to press for improvements, but without tangible signs of success.” -- Human Rights Watch.



Justice and proper rehabilitation have eluded most victims of identity based mass violence ever since Independence. In addition, many communities -- most of all dalits and tribals -- continue to face discrimination, exclusion, and acts of both individual and group violence. Laws and policies adopted by the Indian government provide a strong basis for protection, but are not being faithfully implemented.


Why does this situation persist even though there is a National Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Minorities, and an entire department in the central government for the Welfare of SC/ST, OBC and Minorities?


This session of PeaceTalks was an attempt to explore how communal violence can be prevented. The speakers examined a combination of factors that has led to the outbreaks of mass violence going unchecked. They also shared positive stories about what has worked and how we can build on these signs of hope. Against the backdrop of the Communal Violence Bill, now under consideration, they explored the best way forward.


The Speakers


Harsh Mander spent over two decades as an officer of the Indian Administrative Service. He has spent the last 10 years working through various social organisations on issues of hate, hunger and homelessness. He is currently a member of the National Advisory Council and a part of the team that has drafted the Communal Violence Bill.


Nandita Das is an award-winning film actress and director. She is known for her compelling performances in Fire,Earth, Bawandar, Before the Rains and a number of other significant films in 10 different languages. She was a member of the jury in prestigious festivals like the Cannes.Her directorial debut Firaaq has won several national and international awards. Firaaq is a work of fiction, set a month after the Gujarat carnage in 2002. It is an ensemble film that interweaves multiple stories over a 24 hour period, as the characters from different strata of society grapple with the lingering effects of violence. The film traces the emotional journeys of ordinary people- some of whom were victims, some perpetrators, and some who chose to watch silently. She has been awarded the Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the Government of France for her work. Nandita advocated issues of social concern through her talks around the world. She is currently the Chairperson of the Children's Film Society.


Shiv Visvanathan is Professor at the Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology in Gandhinagar. Earlier he was a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi and has taught at the Delhi School of Economics. He has held visiting professorships at several universities including Smith, Stanford and Maastrich.

Water Conflicts : Quest for Creative Solutions


[Mr. Vivek Bharati of PepsiCo (to the left)  in conversation with Mr. Anupam Mishra of Gandhi Peace Foundation (to the right)]


Access to safe and sufficient supply of water is a basic human need. As the pace of urbanization and industrialization increases, lack of safe and sustainable water is becoming one of the most serious deprivations afflicting people and a source of conflict. If peace is not the absence of violence but the presence of well-being and justice some of the toughest challenges in coming years will be in the sphere of water.

What are some of the creative ways in which these challenges can be addressed?
What can we learn from the principles which governed traditional water harvesting and management practices in India?
What precisely is the nature of conflict between local communities and industry? What does the law of the land have to say on this matter?
In what ways would the terms of the discourse have to be reframed in order to make room for the kind of dialog that can foster win-win situations?



[Ms. Rohini Nilekani of Arghyam (to the left) in conversation with Mr. Ramaswamy Iyer of Centre for Policy Research (to the right)]

Language and Culture: Tribal Struggles and Indian Democracy



[ Dr. G.N. Devy is the Founder of the Tribal Academy in Tejgarh]



[ Dr. S. Parasuraman is the Director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences ]

Languages don't die out, they are killed. As Dr Devy has pointed out, India's 1961 census listed 1652 mother-tongues. By 1971, we grew enlightened enough to assume that we should only list those languages spoken by more than 10000 people; therefore, only 108 mother-tongues were listed. What happens to the speakers of the other 1500+ tongues?


Dr Devy argues that this amounts to killing those languages. If a language is not so listed, the state cannot support education in it, and its speakers are effectively silenced. This has profound implications for India as a democracy. For it undermines the ultimate promise of democracy: that everybody feels like they have been heard. How will these tribes be heard if they have lost their voice -- in the form of their language -- and nobody listens to them? How will they participate effectively in the process of democracy? How can democracy exist if it kills diversity?





And indeed, there is a case to be made that tribal communities across this country have not been heard by the great engine of Indian democracy. For years after Independence, they lost their lands to and were easily displaced by the markers of "development": dams, power plants, the need for timber and mineral resources, etc. The country never slowed to listen to their demands and concerns. Perhaps only in the last 20-25 years has this process of "development" been questioned, though it is still not clear that these communities are being treated substantially better in practice than they were before. But is there a case to be made further from here? Does the rise of the Maoist movement, and the support for it across such a large belt of India, have roots in the way we have paid little attention to the voices of these communities?

The conviction and punishment of Binayak Sen raises fundamental questions about democracy and justice in India. We cannot shy away from asking them and then trying to answer them. Dr Devy's work does exactly this.

At the PeaceTalks session on the 21st Jan 2011, he was in conversation with Dr Parasuraman, Director of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.Dr Parasuraman is a noted scholar, national and international specialist in human rights, disaster management, global commons and governance. Dr Devy is a scholar and literary critic; he founded the Tribal Academy in Tejgadh in Gujarat.

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What would it take to build a truly dynamic plural and secular culture in 21st Century India?

[Mr. K N Govindacharya, Mr. Yogendra Yadav and Mr. Zaffar Saifullah in conversation.]
Peace Talks is a platform for rigorous reflection and introspection – from a forward-looking perspective. The underlying premise of Peace Talks is that peace is not merely absence of physical violence but well-being based on justice, equity and respect for all.

[ K.N. Govindacharya a nationalist politician ]

Most Indians are familiar with the sharp, opposing and sometimes bitter, responses that the term ‘secularism’ evokes. Some people say that India is already a richly plural and secular country – and this heritage must simply be reaffirmed and protected. Others argue that ‘secularism’ has become a farce, a political ploy, which should now be either abandoned or redefined to ensure unity rather than diversity. The space between these extreme views is rife with powerful and conflicting emotions which, over the last two decades, have bitterly divided not only communities but families and friends within each community.
[ Yogendra Yadav is a Social Scientist and a Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) ]
How do we address these realities in the wake of the Allahabad High Court's judgment on the Ayodhya dispute? The judgment has evoked sharp and differing reactions from within those who stand for secularism. Some feel that this judgment paves the way for the much needed reconciliation. But others believe that this path to reconciliation evades harsh truths and sets a questionable precedent. How does this impact the search for a truly plural and secular culture in the 21st Century?

This session of Peace Talks was aimed at exploring the best ways of working for truth and reconciliation with Mr. K N Govindacharya, Mr. Yogendra Yadav and Mr. Zaffar Saifullah in conversation.

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Progress as Peace - Changing Paradigms

The premise of the Peace Talks series is that true peace is not absence of violence but sustained well-being of the entire population.This session of Peace Talks will explore how the concept and practice of "Progress" may need to be  re-examined and redfined in order to ensure well-being.

Ravi Chopra is a graduate of IIT(Mumbai) and holds a PhD in Material Science from Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. He was one of the authors of the first Citizens Report on the State of the Environment published by the Centre for Science and Environment in 1982. He has done extensive work on reviving indigenous water systems in Bihar and in the Uttarakhand region. Ravi is the founder and director of the People's Science Institute (PSI) is a non-profit research and development organization based in Dehra Doon.The Institute's mission is: "To help eradicate poverty through the empowerment of the poor and the productive, sustainable and equitable use of available human and natural resources." Operationally, it provides technical and managerial support to communities and organizations that work with them; implements development programs and undertakes public interest research. 
The Institute is known in India 's voluntary sector for its pioneering work in the fields of community-led watershed development, environmental quality monitoring and disaster-safe housing. 

Sanjeev Sanyal is a graduate of Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University and then went to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. He worked for thirteen years in Asian financial markets and served as Chief Regional Economist at Deutsche Bank before setting up the Sustainable Planet Institute in New Delhi. He is also a co-founder of the Green India States Trust, a pioneer in the field of Green Accounting, as well as a Honorary Fellow of WWF. Sanjeev is the author of the bestselling book The Indian Renaissance, published by Penguin. He was awarded the Eisenhower Fellowship in 2007 for his work on urbanism and was named as Young Global Leader 2010 by the World Economic Forum at Davos.

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Can there be peace without justice?

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Himanshu Kumar is a committed Gandhian, and a human rights activist who has been working in the  Dantewada region of Chattisgarh. for 18 years. He set up the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) where he has been working to empower tribals, teaching them how to vote and bringing them access to food and healthcare.

In May 2009, a police force of over 500 surrounded Himanshu’s ashram and completely demolished it. Accusing him of being a Naxal sympathizer, they bulldozed the centre he’d spent 17 years building and drove Himanshu, his wife and two daughters out of their home. Today Himanshu is on a cycle yatra across the country explaining the situation of the tribals in Chhatisgarh to ordinary people.


Kumar believes that the government is protecting the interests of the mining lobbies by forcing the tribal population off their land.  These same tribals stand accused of being Maoist sympathizers, but according to Himanshu Kumar, this is nothing more than propaganda for the distant urban citizenry.




Sudeep Chakravarti is a writer of narrative non-fiction and fiction; an independent analyst of socio-political and security issues in South Asia; a columnist; and consultant to media, corporations and think-tanks.

In January 2008 Penguin/Viking published "Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country", his critically fêted work of narrative non-fiction about India’s ongoing Maoist rebellion. It has been said that Chakravati “is one of the most astute (and accessible) observers of Naxalism in India. He has an admirable ability to humanize the story without obscuring the larger issues…”

His ongoing projects include two works of non-fiction related to security in India and South Asia, to be published in 2011; and his third novel, "The Avenue of Kings", to be published by HarperCollins in October 2010.

A former career journalist, Sudeep started out in 1985 at the South Asia bureau of The Asian Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company. He joined India Today as Business Editor in 1991, and left in 2002 as an Executive Editor with India Today Group. He was also Director of the India Today Conclave, a major global platform for dialogue that he blueprinted and established.

He joined Hindustan Times as Consultant Editor in 2003 and was part of the group’s think-tank for a year. While at HT Media – and since – he has since helped to launch several India and global media initiatives.

Sudeep is an alumnus of Mayo College, Ajmer and St Stephen’s College, Delhi. He is a professional member of the World Future Society, Washington D.C; and trustee of Coastal Impact, a not-for-profit he recently co-founded with fellow scuba diving enthusiasts in Goa, where he lives.

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PeaceTalks is a part of CfP's Secular Rethink project --- a  dialogue-based process of asking how we as Indians can live our lives peacefully alongside others who eat, speak, think or pray differently from us.

India struggles with problems of inequality and separatism. Violent conflicts around caste, class, region, gender and religion are reported as sensational news but seldom addressed in a thoughtful manner, with the intention of finding peaceful solutions.

PeaceTalks is designed to address these issues. To find creative answers and share examples of what has worked. The initiative seeks to explore innovative, sustainable solutions to the violence around us and to promote conversations that help in resolving these issues peacefully. We want to invite some of the best minds in the country to speak on a range of issues that affect us all. We want to create a space for intelligent discussion and thoughtful exchange of ideas for constructive action.


On a regular basis, a speaker (or speakers) will be invited to present a talk on a theme relevant to our times before a small live audience. CfP will invite outstanding thinkers, writers, sociologists, political scientists, philosophers, activists etc. to address these sessions. 

We aim to make PeaceTalks a highly sought after monthly event in Mumbai, drawing a diverse crowd – from bright young students to respected academicians, from well-known activists to unknown members of the public.


Each session of PeaceTalks will be filmed, edited and diseminated as DVDs, on YouTube, websites etc.


The first of the series of PeaceTalks was held on Monday,  9th August 2010 
The session had Sushobha Barve (Executive Director, Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation) in conversation with Farooque Shaikh, actor and activist. Sushobha, who has just returned from Kashmir, talked about the root causes of violence and issues of identity with Farooque.


After the presentation/s, there was an interactive Q & A session with the audience

(Executive Director, Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation)

When people of a region or a community are angry and frustrated, said Ms. Barve, the first thing they need is to be heard.  The justification for their anger, and the merit of their demands can be addressed later. But we have to begin by creating spaces where anger, grief and tensions can be expressed in a safe and non-confrontational manner. In this respect, she made two interesting distinctions:

* between debate, where participants score points, and dialogue, where
participants seek to understand other viewpoints.

* between the need for justice and the need for reconciliation.

Her talk was topical because for the last ten years the focus of her work has been in Jammu and Kashmir; and as she said, over the last few weeks "Kashmir has been in the news for all the wrong reasons", with a few dozen Kashmiris shot dead by security forces.
[Farooque Shaikh actor and activist] 

Yes, the problems of the Kashmir valley are complex but at present they are compounded by the feeling of young Kashmiris that civil society in the rest of India does not care what happens to them. This is why, said Ms Barve, it is imperative that people across India show the people of Kashmir some empathy about the loss of young lives. Political disagreements about how to resolve the problems of Kashmir need not prevent us from reaching out to the people there at a purely human level. This very act itself is far more powerful than we imagine.

Still, such initiatives from citizens are a necessary but insufficient condition for peace. For there to be peace in Jammu and Kashmir, Ms Barve said there must be, among other things:

* Accountability (of the security forces and of the government), and more generally, better governance in J&K 

* Forces to be trained in better methods of crowd control

* A resumption of the dialogue with Pakistan

* But perhaps above all, sincere and persistent efforts to settle the political issue of Kashmir.

During the communal riots that struck Mumbai in 1993 Ms. Barve led a team of social activists who worked for harmony in Dharavi – where some of the worst acts of violence had taken place.

When Hindus and Muslims were brought together for a dialog in Dharavi the gathering at first seemed explosive. Muslims lashed out in anger since they had borne the brunt of the violence. But once the anger and hurt had been expressed and heard with some degree of empathy, spaces for dialog opened up. In due course leaders of both communities collaborated and Hindus stood guard to ensure that the Friday namaaz at the local mosque took place smoothly. In return Muslims worked to restore normalcy in Hindu dominated areas.

Ms Barve reminded the audience that communal riots are entirely different from the situation in Kashmir. Yet it is her experience after the riots in Mumbai, the examples she mentioned to us, that she draws on in her work in Kashmir.



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