Mahila Shanti Sena

(Women’s Peace Brigade)

“A continuation of Gandhi’s unfinished experiment with truth”

                                                                                                June 4, 2005

Vaishali Sabha

            The Vaishali Sabha gave us hope that Indian women have the capacity of emerging as a positive social force for creating a new culture. This force has never been used before. If a new and violence- free civilization has to be created, what is needed   is a new and positive force.  With this end in view, an effort is being made to organize woman’s creative power. Mahila Shanti Sena is its instrument.

            People ask ‘What is Vaishali’? What has it do with Mahila Shanti sena? The first thing is that Vaishali   is the birth-place of a republican democracy. Secondly, Buddha chose Vaishali to found his largest Sangh with a membership of thirteen thousand bhikhus to his sangh. Buddha refined and perfected the art of democratic functioning. His principle was; meet, talk and agree. The present day ruins bear witness to the glory that Vaishali once was.

            About forty years before Buddha, Mahavir was born in a nearby village. Vaishali, a large and powerful republic, was also a confederation of 8 republics. There was no Nepal then. So, it was in the large area of Vaishali that Mahavir was born in a village. Quite far from it the dynasty of Shakyas ruled. It was there that Buddha was born. Both were contemporaries but Mahavir was forty years senior. Both preached nonviolence. Later, when Ashoka, the great, succeeded his father to the throne of the Magadha empire, he became the first ruler to embrace Buddha’s dharma. He renounced war and negotiated non- aggression pacts with neighbouring powers. This was the first occasion when an emperor tried to initiate non-violence in foreign relations. In not one of his about 75 rock edicts does he mention Buddhism, his own religion. Ashoka was an example of a secular ruler, always solicitous about the welfare of his subjects.

             It was merely a chance that Dr. Rama Shankar Singh, who belonged to the Peace Centre of McMaster University of Canada, happened to be in India. He came to Khadigram (Bihar), and met us.  We talked. Ideas took concrete shape. The Mahila Shanti Sena was born.

            With the financial help extended by McMaster University and Bihar’s Unicef, ‘Vaishali Sabha’ took place on the last days of February 2002 on the occasion of Buddha Purnima. A training camp was organized. It was joined by one hundred and eight women from Bihar and the North East. The foundation of the Mahila Shanti Sena was laid.

 

 Mahila Shanti Sena Takes Root in Bihar

 

            The message of Mahila Shanti Sena has reached eleven out of thirty- eight districts in Bihar. About sixty- five thousand women have taken part in the programmes of the Mahila Shanti Sena--chiefly rallies and training camps. As many as 4538 Trainer-Cum-Organisers of Mahila Shanti Sena, have been trained till December 2004. They have held their meetings and taken out processions. A few examples such as a rally of ten thousand women at Sasaram, a rally of five thousand at Kudra in the Kaimur district, among others. It is not unusual for thousands of women to gather with one aim at places in districts like Muzaffarpur, Saraiyya, Kanti (Muzaffarpur), Bagaha (West Champaran), Ekma (Saran), Shramabharati Khadigram (Jamui), Patna, Vaishali, Seetamarhi, Eastern Champaran and Kharagpur (Munger). In a state like Bihar with rigid purdah system which forbids free participation of women in meetings and conferences, their participation in such large numbers compels serious thinking as to why these women come at all, knowing fully well that they are not going to get anything material. What after all, do they think and understand and what inspiration draws them to such meetings? Their patience is really worth appreciating when they listen to others for hours together in meetings or conferences and take part in discussions. These illiterate, rural women who mostly remain confined to the four walls of their houses and who never had anything to do with an ideology, why they listen to discussions; what do they get out of these discussions’? They probably feel that such talks hold the secret of their deliverance from the drudgery that is their life.

 

Mahila Shanti Sena Spreads Outside Bihar

 

 In Kumarikata of the district of Nalwadi in Assam the Mahila Shanti Sena was founded in the presence of five thousand women. A number of training camps of the Mahila Shanti sainiks have already been held there. Training camps of Mahila Shanti Sainiks have also been held at Imphal in Manipur and Agartala in Tripura. Mahila Shanti Sena has thus reached the North-Eastern States of India too. A training camp has already been held at Chunar in the district of Mirzapur in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and presently plans are underway to start training camps in the State of Orissa.

Beyond the seas, in far off Canada, a two-day workshop was organized on Mahila Shanti Sena at the ‘ Peace Centre’ in Mc Master University, Hamilton. Acharya Ramamurti, Ramgoolam and Krishna Kumar from India participated in the workshop. The workshop discussed the ideology, programme and the need for Mahila Shanti Sena. At the end of the workshop the Mahila Shanti Sena was accepted with its ideology and programme.

 

Neighborhood Building

 

Peace Efforts by Mahila Shanti Sena in Assam

          The Mahila Shanti Sena in Assam did commendable work during days when students and others from Bihar were attacked by Assamese people especially at the time of examination to be held for services in the railways. They thought to take out at least a procession if they couldn’t do something more. As per their decision they took out peace marches in Daranga, Kumarikata, and Tamulpur. The Shanti Sainiks held in their hands placards bearing messages of love, peace and unity. Women who participated in the Tamulpur peace-procession numbered about 500. Influenced by these rallies the local schools and colleges also took out rallies. These programmes had their impact. Peace returned.

 

Some Activities in Bihar

            In different districts of Bihar various items of work have been implemented on the regional and local levels. In places round about Shramabharati Khadigram women of the Mahila Shanti Sena made efforts for the Settlement of mutual disputes out of court. Similarly they raised their voice against drinking and gambling. But the most important was a rape case, which took place in a neighbouring village. The Mahila Shanti Sena took notice and pursued it with the police. The police remained passive. The police became active after this venture.

            The village named Chakramdas in the Vaishali region was made free from litigation and disputes were settled out of court. One or more than one from each of the 57 % of the families of the village has joined the Mahila Shanti Sena. We call this small area peace zone or Shanti Kshetra.

            In Bagaha (West Champaran) efforts have been made to resolve disputes amicably. Relief and rehabilitation work was done during floods and fire. Effective work was ldone in the direction of health, hygiene and other related matters.

 

Peace Rally and Human Chain

            American attack on Iraq created worldwide concern and opposition. So long as wars continue women and children will continue to suffer the most. The Mahila Shanti Sena, in its respective areas, took out peace rallies, made human chains and held meetings in protest. A handbill against war and violence was distributed on this occasion. In public meetings the following declaration was read out: (1)We, women of all castes and religions, are one. If we don’t remain united, we will become weak, and (2) We raise our voice against war, want, violence and crime. We resolve to live as neighbours.

 

Mahila Shanti Sena Self-Help Groups and Voluntary Institutions

            Unemployment is the problem that troubles our Women Shanti Sainiks the most. They want work so that they may earn. But these are questions that defy solution. The question of a woman’s livelihood is linked with the economic policy of the nation. However, women everywhere have started forming self-help groups. This is a good scheme and is sponsored by the Govt.

           

            Many voluntary institutions have played a leading role in the work of the Mahila Shanti Sena. They are: Van Vikas Bharati (West Champaran), ankalp Setu (East Champaran), Nirdesh and Centre Direct (Muzaffarpur), Vasfa in Vaishali, Jayaprakash Bharati (Saran),  Jaya Prabha Gram Vikas Mandal and Swaraj in Rohtas and Kaimur,  Shramabharati Khadigram (Jamui), Sewa in ‘Munger. Some citizens in Seetamarhi and Sheohar have helped in organizing the Mahila Shanti Sena. The Tamulpur Anchalic Gramdan Sangh of Kumarikata in the Nalwadi district of Assam took keen interest in the work of Mahila Shanti Sena. It has spread to Assam and other states of the North-East.

 

Mahila Shanti Sena and Panchayatraj

In 1992 India’s Constitution was amended to provide women one-third reservation in all elected bodies- from village council to national parliament. This amendment in the Constitution has providedwomen with an opportunity to come out of their homes and take part in social activities. The question is that if these women have got elected to panchayat, what will they do there? Many women of the Mahila Shanti Sena have been elected to different posts of Panchayati Raj and some of the elected women have joined the Mahila Shanti Sena. Mahila Shanti Sena members are encouraged to participate in village panchayat meetings.

                            

Rapid Action Mahila Shanti Sena

          Efforts are on to raise a corps of the Mahila Shanti Sena by the name Tatpar Mahila Shanti Sena or Rapid Action Force of the Mahila Shanti Sena. Women are seen a moderating force in the Indian society and it is felt that women’s involvement before or at the initial stages of social violence breakouts can stop it from breaking out or at least escalating.

 

Women’s Writing Workshop

            Training camps were organized to train selected members of the Mahila Shanti Sena in the art of writing. One of these camps was held at Shramabharati Khadigram on November 5-7, 2005 in which 25 women from 11 distrcts participated while in the other which was held at Patna on January 20-21, 2005,- in which 24 women from 17 districts took part. Help was made available by Charkha, New Delhi. The aim behind this training was to enable women to learn the art of writing news items, reports, case studies and features etc. so that they may prepare good reports of their work and send them to newspapers.

 

Citizen’s Forum

            About one thousand women participated in a peace March of the Mahila Shanti Sena in the district of Saran. Acharya Ramamurti was leading the march. Some citizens were also present in the meeting of this peace march. On seeing the meeting of women and listening to some of the women speakers there, Dr. Vinod Kumar Singh, a 66 year old retired Principal of a degree college, along with four more retired teachers, and two former government servants, also retired, all these together have formed a ‘Citizen’s Forum’. This group has been going to villages, talking to people, raising questions and explaining problems. They have so far covered 25 panchayats in two blocks. A walking tour was organized from October 2-11 ’04. The response of the people was very encouraging. People want their problem solved. People are ready to listen. What is required is people who are prepared to go to the villages and give them ideas.

 

 

Dialogue With Political Parties

 

          With a view to enabling persons of political parties assemble at a forum and entering into dialogue with them, a meeting of political party leaders was convened on November 24, 2002 at Mahila Charkha Samiti, former residence of J.P. at Patna. Persons from 13 political parties were invited. Nine political parties participated. Speaking on the aim of the meeting Acharya Ramamurti said before them, “ The existence of democracy is at stake. Democracy depends on people’s power more than on the power of the state. A road map of Lokshakti (people’s power) we have received from J.P. The need is a plan containing proposals for implementation- a kind of transition plan. There should be honourable cooperation between Lokshakti and Rajshakti for national reconstruction.”

 

 

Publication of Literature for Common People

 

            Books, posters, leaflets, folders etc. have been published from time to time on subjects such a Mahila Shanti Sena, Loktantra,  (peoples democracy), Culture of Peace, neighbourhood building, panchayatiraj, etc. A bulletin entitled ‘ Pados’ (Neighborhood) was published until January 2004 but its publication at the moment has ceased for lack of funds. The English edition has also been discontinued. Some major publications are as follows:

 

1.      Bharat Ka Loktantra: The step- forward

2.      Panchayatiraj Aur Mahilayen

3.      Mahila Shanti Sena

4.      Mahila Shanti Kya Aur Kyon

5.      Naye Bihar Ka Nirman Kaise Ho

6.      Panchayatiraj: Sarkar ka Aur Gandhi Ka.

7.      J.P Ka Ghoshna-Patra

8.      Mahila Shanti Sena: What And Why?

9.      Culture of peace, Participatory Democracy And Mahila Shanti Sena

10.  Shanti Ki Sanskriti, Loktantra Aur Mahila Shanti Sena

 

In addition, some folders and posters were prepared for the training of Mahila Shanti Sena. Some manuscripts are ready in English and Hindi for publication.

 

Declaration of The Mahila Shanti Sena

 

This declaration was first made at Vaishali.

“ We women have come from villages to participate in this rally. We are all keeping silent. We have nothing to say on the top of our voice. But we want that you all, officers and citizens, may heed our silent language and understand it.

Some of us have become Shanti Sainiks. We shall try that every panchayat organises at least one dasta (group of 10) of Shanti Sainiks. More than one dasta can be organised. In a small locality, a panja (of five) can also be formed. Thus the task of building Mahila Shanti Sena in every panchayat has to be completed soon.

We women of the Shanti Sena want panchayatiraj; we seek honest bread. We want peace, security and self- respect. We have our families and their small courtyards but we want that we now step out in a bigger courtyard of society and become full participants in building up a new, happy and harmonious society. If there be unrest in society or poverty in a family, we women have to bear the brunt of both. We want that we may live happily as good neighbours.

We are women, this is not a fault. We are proud to be women. As a daughter, sister, wife and mother our position in society is that of equality.  We should be so treated. We are determined to be treated as equals. When the country is free and independent, there is no reason why any one should be treated as a second- class citizen.

We hope that our silent message will be heeded both by government and society.”

 

After theVaishali Sabha a review meeting of co-workers who had worked with this programme was organized. The whole programme was discussed in this meeting and the consensus was reached that if the message of the Vaishali Sabha was to be carried forward such programmes should be organized in future as well. Care should be taken to make sure that new experiments are undertaken on the basis of the experiences of the Vaishali Sabha, and Mahila Shanti Sena work should be rapidly expanded because this will become the central focus of the new programme. Increasing women’s participation in panchayats through it, bringing about awareness in them so that for bringing about peace in family, neighbourhood and society they may come forward. And preparing them for this work. Efforts should also be made to enable women become self- sufficient, get respect and status of equality in society so that they may contribute adequately to the development of their family, panchayat and society. And they may also develop the capacity to analyse the problems, their primary reasons and finding solutions to them.

 

International Seminar

 

          An International Seminar was organised to evaluate the work and progress of the Mahila Shanti Sena and it was held from February 24-25, 2005 at the International Youth Centre in New Delhi. About 300 people attended the meeting including 100 Mahila Shanti Sainiks and 10 participants from Canada and several members from the Associations of India Development (AID). The meeting was very successful and a number of prominent people including former Prime Minister Sri V.P. Singh, Justice Dharmadhikari, Canadian High Commissioner Hon. Lucie Edwards, Sri B.P. Singh, Dr. Savita Singh and Professor Gangrade participated. In their presentations, the Mahila Shanti Sainiks emphasized the problem of doing peace work in the violence prone region of the north-eastern States such as Manipur,  the problem of unemployment in rural areas and social violence. However, their enthusiasm for the Mahila Shanti Sena was unbound as the organization with its emphasis on social virtues and human dignity has given them a source of hope.

         

Future Plans

 

          The general conclusions coming out of the meeting included: (1) to focus the work of Mahila Shanti Sena in the eastern and north-estern part of India and not spread thin all over India, (2) to find ways and means of creating local employment for women, (3) to find ways of removing local obstacles in the work of Mahila Shanti Sena in certain violence prone regions of north-eastern states, (4) to secure major national and international funding to continue the work of Mahila Shanti Sena, (5) to seek lingages to and support from other like-minded international peace organizations, (6) to develop an international field course on Mahila Shanti Sena jointly between McMaster Centre Peace Studies and Shrambharati, and (7) to explore the feasibility of adopting and using the concept of Mahila Shanti Sena in other countries. 

 

            It was decided that next year’s Mahila Shanti Sena meeting will take place in February 2005 in Bhuvaneshwar (Orissa). A local organizing committee has been formed. It is expected that a number of Mahila Shanti Sena training camps will be held in varioius parts of Orissa in preparation of the meeting.    

 

Friends of Mahila Shanti Sena in Canada

 

          A meeting of the Canadian delegations that participated in the international Seminar in New Delhi and local  supporters will take place on June 4, 2005 at McMaster University. The agenda will be to discuss ways and means for puting some of the  recommendations (# 4-7) coming out of the New Delhi meeting into practice, and to form a local support group of  the Mahila Shanti Sena .

 

 

Contact:

Acharya Ramamurti, Shrambharati, B-173 Anisabad, Patna-2 (Bihar), India. Phone: (0612) 2251066; 9431011337 (cell);E-mail: rammurti_2000@yahoo.com

 

Rama S. Singh, Department of Biology and Centre for Peace Studies, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, L8S 4K1, Canada. Phone: (905) 525-9140 ext. 24378; Fax: (905) 522-6066; E-mail: singh@mcmaster.ca

 

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