Conflict resolution is an activity practised by people throughout the world. The need for evolving peaceful ways of resolving conflicts has become more urgent now than ever with the expansion in the number and variety of conflicts. In order to evolve a common (of course culturally sensitive) vocabulary for expressing and conducting conflict in a creative and peaceful manner, practitioners and theoreticians all over the world are now studying the field of conflict resolution and disseminating the results to aid future practice. This earnestness is motivated by a desire to build a more peaceful social order in which conflicts are expressed and resolved through non-violent means.
While Gandhi is acknowledged as one of the precursors of the conflict resolution movement, there have been very few attempts in India to analyse and advance the field of conflict resolution as such.
Conflict resolution is a very vast field. When we think of conflict resolution, we need to reject first a negative view of conflicts and recognize their potential developmental implications. Gandhi was quick to realize them. He saw conflicts as representing opportunities for radical, yet peaceful social change. Accentuation of conflicts as a necessary step to resolution is a Marxists strategy; but Marxists presuppose the possibility of using violence to bring about an end to conflicts.
The vast literature on conflict resolution that has been produced in the West has reliesed heavily on rational choice assumptions. This approach, which is popular in management sciences and economics, often does not work in asymmetric conflicts, particularly when issues like morality, power and justice also get intertwined with the resolution process.
Serious social conflicts are most often the product of systemic contradictions; only resolution of these contradictions (and reconstruction of failing systems) could resolve deep-rooted conflicts. One can also envision conflict as the product of broken relationships that could be repaired by sensitive mediation and healed by a combination of amity and institutional reform.
Conflict is a major concern of every social science discipline, from political science to psychology, from economics to communications. Conflict resolution has also been a central feature of many professions, including law and diplomacy, management and social work. A longing for justice animates much of the work in the field. Hence ethical issues constitute a key theme in conflict resolution.
Gandhian approach to conflict resolution sought to bring conflicts into the open by challenging instances of structural violence through non-violent means. In the Gandhian dialectic the objective is not to win the conflict but to reach higher level of truth and a healthier relationship between the antagonists. The teachings of Buddha have shown the doctrine of the middle way, and the four noble truths locate the deeper roots of conflict in the perceptions, values and attitudes of the conflicting parties. While this does not ignore structures, the focus is more on changes in self-awareness and the development of self-knowledge. Meditation practices aimed at cultivating compassion are integral to the Buddhist way of peacemaking. For example, core spiritual values coincidentally associated with skillful mediation- justice, love, compassion, empathy, charity, understanding, forgiveness, personal tranquility, respect for people, and comfort with our inability to demand that others change - comprise invisible hands guiding a mediator’s actions. The contribution of other religious traditions to peacemaking also needs to be documented, wherever possible, with suitable illustrative cases.
Terrorism belies all conflict rules and is widely discussed following the September 11 attacks. Terrorism defies attempts aimed at amicable resolution because persons whose identity is secret, conduct it, often for realising objectives that are not clear. Conflict negotiations can take place only when there is an overt agency or person with whom one can constructively engage in negotiations. Terrorism therefore poses a challenge to the field of conflict resolution.
Women are the silenced victims of most conflicts and often it is they who come up with some ingenious strategies for survival in crisis situations. A number of books have been published recently in India providing a women’s perspective on conflict resolution in politically charged conflicts like Kashmir. This needs to be explored further by brining similar perspectives from other places in India and outside. Women are generally excluded from formal peacemaking negotiations. How far militarism and militaristic values informed by masculinity hinders efforts aimed at reconciliation and conflict resolution also needs to be looked into. Environmental conflict and conflict over natural resources like water also pose no less a threat to peace.
Although heavily influenced by the legal tradition, alternative dispute resolution and community mediation is increasingly coming into vogue. Using a number of resources the Panchayat and local notables also engage in local level conflict management. Such practices may not come anywhere near the conflict transformation approach currently advocated by conflict resolution theorists, but are nonetheless valuable as strategies aimed at controlling the litigation spiral.
Communal and ethnic conflicts pose a serious threat to peace. We need to discuss how such conflicts over identity can be resolved drawing on the international experience on this count. The non-profit and voluntary sector as well as sectors like civil society play crucial role in peacemaking in modern times. For many NGOs, conflict resolution becomes a part and parcel of their humanitarian mission. The role of international agencies like the UN and regional organizations like the European community and ASEAN in conflict resolution is widely recognized in recent decades. These international agencies now work closely with the non-profit sector, following the broadening of their agenda from peace keeping to peacemaking and peace building.
Challenges for teaching and learning conflict resolution, right from the school level, also needs to be discussed at length with case studies wherever possible. Since South Asia continues to be an explosive region following the recent nuclearisation and the persistence of a number of ethnic conflicts, we need to focus our attention to this region also.
This volume consists of selected papers presented in the International Semianr on Conflict Resolution, jointly organized by the Institute of Gandian Studies, Wardha and the Fujii Guruji Memorial Trust, Wardha from the 15th to 17th February 2003. The volume is divided into two sections. The first part contains articles dealing with the conceptual aspects of conflict resolution. A section dealing with a number of specific issues, actors and areas in conflict resolution follows it. This volume represents an attempt on the part of the Institute of Gandhian Studies to contribute to the growing literature from different perspectives. We do hope that the readers will respond to this humble attempt with their comments.
We take this opportunity to express our deep sense of gratitude to Chandrashekhar Dharmadhikari, Chairman of the Institute for contributing a brief foreword for the volume and his constant encouragement. We are indebted to M.S.John of Mahatma Gandhi University for his valuable guidance and useful insights. We are grateful to Arunima Maitra for assisting us in the production of this volume. We must also acknowledge the support received from Shrikant Kulkarni of the Institute. Last but not least, we thank Manohar Mahajan of the Institute for the word processing work.
Siby K. Joseph