009251….! This is a telephone number of Islamabad, Pakistan. When the capital of India as well as a relatively peaceful Shillong of Northeast India witnessed communal clashes, I made a call to this number which has a greater significance. It is a call to a person of non-Hindu origin living in Pakistan. Our conversation itself indicates wider connotation of the current situation happening in India. It reflected not only bonding, but also bridging social capital, which is crucial to maintain the social fabric within a society during turmoil situation.
I called to the number on February 22, 2020 and I started, “Is it Jenny Didi? And the response came from the opposite side… Is it Paranjoy? Oh, such a lovely surprise to be able to talk to you after so many years.” She is Jennifer Jag Jivan who is currently the director of a leading civil society organisation working for the interfaith dialogue in Pakistan.
After a few seconds of intense emotional silence, we started talking normally irrespective of our religious and geographic boundaries. Our diverse identities and different passports could not prevent our relationship. I first met her when I went to USA to pursue a Master’s degree in the year 2006. Due to very intense academic and professional environment of the Eastern Mennonite University, USA, I was very confused how to cope up with the situation. Although she knew my religious and geographical identity, it was Jenny Didi who voluntarily came forward to help me. She edited my term papers till midnight hampering her own work. She motivated me by saying that I will slowly accustom with the course. More than anything else, she cooked parathas for me whenever I visited her during that semester. She knew that I love parathas but not able to cook in foreign soil.
She loves her religion and her country. Similarly, I love my country and always practised Hindu rituals. Our relationship still existed over the last 14 years. Very minimal conversations, however relationship still exists. It is because that we could see ourselves through the lens of humanity. The people who are involved in the recent communal violence in New Delhi and Shillong, killing more than 45 innocent lives could use only the identity lens of religion or community. Homes and shops were burnt which triggered more fear and violence among people.
One of the darkest episodes of communal violence of Rwanda highlights that the political and economic elite often uses identity to mobilise and distort social capital as a ready means of achieving their own ends. To prevent these kind of efforts, social capital could be used as an effective tool. Social capital is defined differently by social scientists; however, Putnam (1993) mentions that it is the features of social organisation, such as networks, norms, and trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit. It is a process to reinforce sentiments of trust within a society and improve the effectiveness of communication and social organisation.
Fukuyama (1995) sees trust within a society as a primary factor in its prosperity, inherent competitiveness, and tendency toward democracy. According to him, reciprocity, civic duty and moral obligation are essential to a successful and stable society. The current scenario of India is that there are many activities going on which working towards construction of a bipolar society. Since 1984 Delhi riots, the recent clashes happened in the capital city. The communal clashes just could not be occurred in a day, the social fabric has been hampered may be in last few years.
The trust comes when more civic engagement will take place not within the closed groups, rather it should be with people of diverse identities. It has been evident that violent conflict is triggered by the presence of strong exclusionary bonds combined with a lack of horizontal and vertical bridging links. For example, in the case of Cambodia (one of the conflict-affected countries) the integration of strong bridging horizontal and integrating vertical social capital is still a challenge on the road to sustainable peace and economic development. The important factors which could lead to more civic engagement are the media and the judiciary. The role of Indian media in the recent past is undoubtedly promoting more towards diversion rather integrating bridging social capital. Perhaps, the role of Indian judiciary is also questionable in many cases in the last few years.
It is not only a matter of two cities of India. There should be a process of encouragement initiated to enhance social relations which cross class, ethnic, and gender divides and yet to preserve the primary ties that serve as the foundation of societal life. There should be platforms established that could highlight more towards bridging social capital and mass media should focus on these elements. Media should be be barred from highlighting hate speeches and communal slogans which could hamper social fabric of the society.
On the other hand, the religious institutions should try to work for using religion as a resource for peace rather than a source of conflicts. Many case studies on social capital indicate that mid-level leaders are more effective towards building bridging social capital. It is not the politicians or government officers, rather local community leaders who can be more influential to prevent communal clashes. The leading civil society organisations should come out of their comfort zones and identify these champions of peace builders from every corner of the country to build strong civic network, which could not be easily break by any individual or organisation for their vested interest.
(The author is a Fulbright Conflict Resolution Fellow. Views expressed are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)