HYDERABAD:Born in Burma and working in Thailand, concern for refugees has always been uppermost in Thawar’s mind. “I hail from Kachin state of North Burma where the fight between the ethnic population and the Burmese government military forces has been a part of our daily routine. The conflict arises due to the demands of the ethnic people to form a government in the divisions controlled by them, emphasizing the need for federal democracy.
The religious conflict I saw in India is something new to me,” says the peace worker who was in Hyderabad during the riots which broke out in old city.
He is part of a group of 20 international students, who are on a visit to the country as part of the School of Peace Program started by Max Ediger who lives in Cambodia and works for the Interfaith Cooperation Forum.
The visitors, all aged between 20 and 30, are drawn from different countries, many of them first or second generation witnesses to conflict in their home countries.
“The program started in 2006 with a gathering in Bangalore. Every year, we take in 20 participants and the funds are made available through donors who are interested in giving to the cause of global peace. The process of selection is restricted to word-of-mouth publicity and encourages students and activists who are already working in this direction,” says Max who has designed the 14-week program, which focuses on conflicts arising out of identities.
“The problems faced by ethnic people and tribals in India are similar to those faced by native Americans. The rights of the indigenous people are the first to go in the name of industry-centred development,” observes Erica from New Mexico, USA.
She also admits that indigenous people also share similar cultural values across geographical locations.
The participants are on a visit to the four southern states of the country and visited regions in Kerala and Tamil Nadu populated by specific ethnic groups and tribals. Though the religious divide is obvious in India, Khamsa, a student from Laos, observes that though India is the homeland of Buddhism, there is little evidence to suggest the fact.
Hyderabad though, put most of the students at ease. “The pace here is frenetic but there is hardly any inkling of religious animosity in the city though we hear there was a conflict,” says Rachel from United Kingdom.