February 24-25, 2005
Rama Singh, McMaster University
Over 350 people from all parts of India descended on New Delhi to hold the second Mahila Shanti Sena (Women Peace Brigade) conference in February 2005. The participants included over 100 women from Bihar and the eastern states of India.
The Canadian delegation consisted of Drs. Rama Singh, Graeme MacQueen, Anne Pearson, Harish Jain and Sri Gopal Mohanty from McMaster University, Dr. Reva Joshee from Toronto University, Dr. Lalu Mansinha from the University of Western Ontario. Rachelle Mitchell (McMaster) and Karen Sihra (Toronto) attended as students.
The meeting started with a visit to Rajghat, Gandhi’s resting place, and lasted for two days at the International Youth Centre in Chanakyapuri - a stone throw away from the Canadian Embassy. The Canadian High Commissioner Hon. Lucie Edwards spoke at the meeting and had private conversation with the Canadian Delegation. Former Prime Minister Shri V.P. Singh gave the concluding talk.
The conference was convened to evaluate the three-years of work of the Mahila Shanti Sena and to chart its future course. “It was a very successful meeting and we achieved our goal” says Dr. Rama Singh of McMaster University.
Mahila Shanti Sena was founded in 2002 in Vaishali (Bihar) by Acharya Ramamurti- a revered senior Gandhian and social worker from India, and Dr. Rama Singh from the Centre of Peace Studies, McMaster University. Since its foundatrion in Bihar, the Mahila Shanti Sena peace movement has grown by leaps and bounds and has now spread into all the north eastern states of India beyond Bangladesh.
An important reason behind starting MSS was the amendment of the Indian Constitution in 1992 giving rural villages autonomy in governance as well as the reservation of 30% of seats in all elected bodies for women. The latter amendment has led to the election of thousands of rural women in the village council (Panchayats). As most of these women are illiterate, a little training in the area of peace, democracy and development goes a long way. With this training they develop courage and dare to ask questions in their village council.
Besides formal talks given by prominent people, the program consisted of listening to rural women tell their stories of successes and failures in their attempt to do peace work in their villages. The majority of the rural women are illiterate but their stories bring tears to your eyes. Their passion for peace and a little respect is emotionally overpowering.
MSS consists of at least 5 or 10 women from each village. The membership is voluntary and involves training ranging from 3-5 days in peace, democracy and development. These women take oath to remain non-partisan and work on non-party lines to create peace in their village.
The Conference was co-sponsored by the Centre for Peace Studies, McMaster University and Shrambharati – a Gandhian NGO from Patna in Bihar. Prominent local participating organizations included Gandhi Darshan and Smriti Foundation, Gandhi Peace Foundation, and Association of Voluntary Agricultural and Rural Development Societies.
The financial assistance came from McMaster University, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the government of India.
The next Mahila Shanti Sena conference is planned for February 2006 in Bhuvneshwar (Orissa). Those interested in helping Mahila Shanti Sena can contact Dr. Rama Singh (email@example.com) or Acharya Ramamurti (firstname.lastname@example.org).