Talking to the enemy – Training for Manipuri political activists

Five day training in Dealing with the Past, for members of United NGO Mission to Manipur, has been held in the period 23-27th November 2016. Participants of the training were key leaders of the main ethnic groups of Manipur, many of whom also affiliated to political wings of movements maintaining links to underground/militant groups.

A training team consisted of Ivana Franović, Adnan Hasanbegović and Nenad Vukosavljević, peacebuilding activists and trainers from the Centre for Nonviolent Action Sarajevo/Belgrade.

As of follow-up event to a training in peacebuilding and dealing with the past that CNA held in Manipur in February this year, a training with a new group, this time key political leaders of Manipur communities was organised. The hopes of forging an example of constructive dialogue on hot political issues that could tackle deteriorating political situation, were high. Representatives of political groups of Meitei, Naga, Kuki and muslim community worked hard with one another within those five days. It was the background of our regional destructive history that gave us credibility to warn participants off as they entered usual historical or legal arguments.

We told them that they could only beat themselves when they attempt to hammer down their political opponent with such arguments. We offered them to test listening and understanding and they liked it. It might have gotten off too well for the taste of few who at the last day had to visibly make a step back in preferring more formal and less friendly approach. The usual up and down process when fighting your own demons, a process one has to go through if challenged to heal from hatred.

It was an enemy-inclusive dialogue practice that we conducted, not much more and not less than that. Previous attempts to hold talks on such disputed issues ended up in anger, we were told, so this one was a success. Whether the momentum of this encounter can hold and spread it’s influence, will depend largely on the ability to transform the newly built trust into practical action within the given space in the political landscape. And that space is narrowing in last days as the fight about redefining regions within Manipur goes on and violence escalates.