On visits to my parents' home, I had many times passed the town of Lahan, but never had the opportunity to visit properly. I was very excited therefore to get the opportunity to go, as a part of a training on 'Peace, Non-Violence and Reconciliation', run by the National Peace Campaign in partnership with the Creative International Forum (CIF). The training was for young people from different political parties and civil society organisations in 6 districts of eastern and central Lahan - Siraha, Saptari, Udaypur, Dhanusha, Mahottari and Sarlahi. The aim of the training was to help the young leaders develop non-violent mechanisms for addressing conflicts and bringing communities together. Lahan is part of the Tarai region, was chosen as it was where the Madhesi movement began. Unfortunately, due to strikes I was able to visit further in the Tarai due to strikes.
What struck me most was about the training was how the participants interacted outside the formal sessions. The participants talked and shared their differences and tried to seek common understanding within the differences. They discussed problems common to their societies and explored the options for solutions regardless of their ideology, caste and identity. In addition, they talked openly and freely no matter which political parties and ethnic groups they belong to in their leisure and free time.
This reminded me of the importance of informal dialogue and meetings. If we can grasp, utilise and convert informal dialogue into formal dialogue and problem solving workshop focusing on specific issues, we can better prevent conflicts from turning violent.
All this comes at an important time in the region. During my visit I was shocked to learn that the divide between the Pahade and the Madheshi communities has continued to widen, with the Pahade beginning to feel insecure in the Tarai (the ICG has a detailed analysis of politics in the Tarai from 2007). Mistrust and misunderstanding between the two communities has been growing, migration of the Pahade communities from the Tarai has increased rapidly, and both communities seem to be withdrawing into themselves. This may create separation and social disorder which would cause fragmentation of the society and may lead to ethnic unrest in Nepal. This is true not only in the Teraibut also in the eastern hills – a region I plan to visit soon - where again there is ethnic based struggle between different groups.
What I realized from the visit is that we need more and more informal meetings, discussions and interactions in the Terai mainly focusing on youth leaders of the different political parties and other youth social workers. I can certainly say that these informal works create platforms for formal mechanisms to prevent ethnic unrest in the Terai and in the eastern hills.