Teachers for Peace

I was recently asked why peace education is important in our classrooms.

My answer is, it is crucial for disaster management, which is already on the curriculum and a part of our lives. In a socio-political climate where hate speeches, rape, murder, terrorism and intolerance of every kind is rampant, we need to find and stabilise our essentially peaceful identity.

This should begin as early as possible. Young children in the classroom are ideal learners, because they have not yet built walls of difference and fear around themselves and still retain a friendly curiosity about the world. They do not have to unlearn hatred.

I do worry, however, whether we adults, with our outlook already warped by negative experience, can make ideal teachers of peace.  We have much to unlearn, first.

In peace education, we must first regain our own lost innocence and our trust in humanity, and in essential values like acceptance, love, forgiveness and mercy. The barriers of suspicion and instant judgements with which we shut out life must first be broken down.

Let this analysis begin with me. I am a Hindu and an Indian (in that order). Unlike in many major religions of the world, Hindus are born into their religion and do not have to be ceremoniously examined on its tenets and certified fit to be a member. Hence, I remain a Hindu, by birth and choice.

Vis-a-vis the world populations of other major religious communities, Hindus probably count as a global minority. Living in India, a Hindu-majority country, I yet feel my Hindu identity threatened, at times.

Hinduism, regardless of its many sects, proponents and ideologies, has essentially remained liberal and tolerant of differences within and outside itself. Yet, there are Hindus today, who seek to dictate and control individual belief, opinion, lifestyle and expression. They do so in reaction to radicals from another religion, who condemn and belittle Hinduism for the faults of the few. Both these groups propagate dogma that threatens my Hindu identity.

To be a Hindu, today, seems to retain no individuality. Instead, to declare oneself a Hindu has become tantamount to proclaiming oneself for one group or against another group. This very narrow political interpretation of Hinduism constrains my identity. I need to transcend society’s perverse demand to define me as a Hindu. Do my thoughts strike a chord in your mind, whichever be your own religion?

Is being an Indian any better? In the very aggressive and antagonistic world portrayed by the media, being Indian doesn’t so much define you, as categorize, delimit, and pin you down firmly on one side and no other. What one says, thinks, or believes in, may come into conflict with one’s socially-defined Indian identity. This again, is a very narrow, political interpretation of nationality and patriotism.

In an aggressive, conflict-oriented society, one’s public persona finds little scope for positive growth. One exists on the defensive, when every word or gesture may earn one a negative mark from society. While listening to TV debates or watching the news, I feel at times, that some voices drown out others in our democratic urgency for freedom of speech.

What about thinking for oneself? Acting according to conscience? Listening to one’s inner voice? Sacrificing comfort for right? These values are almost extinct today.  Peer pressure is no longer confined to adolescence. It has overtaken media-hounded society at large.

Then, what values is this generation transmitting to the next? One must blend, conform, win the support of a group, for in camouflage lies safety. This seems to be the message from the ‘leaders’ of today.

As any rational mind can see, this overwhelming politically expedient message needs to be countered and contained.

Hence, there is a great need for the reassertion of the Individual Identity, of Self-Definition, and consequently, of Values that enable this intrinsic procedure. This is the only way to grow, to evolve, to exist and to explore and discover in peace.

The Scientist, the Artist, the Philosopher and the Teacher need to reappear in society to re-affirm the great truths enshrined in Science, Art, Philosophy and other branches of knowledge. All that civilization has gained is at risk today, confronted by the chaos and anarchy of mindless but loud violence.

Only the truly noble and great mind can spread peace: not by preaching, but by example.  Can we, as mere teachers, really achieve this? Let us, at least, keep on trying.

Sanjukta Sivakumar

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