Mahila Shanti Sena  - Sarnath Deliberations

(Proceedings of the the Seventh Annual MSS Meeting, Tibetan Institute for Higher Studies, Sarnath, Varanasi, India . February 14-16, 2007.

Prepared by

Dr. R.B. Singh, Dr. K. Sheikh,

Gandhi Institute of Studies, Varanasi, India


Gandhian Institute of Studies, Varanasi

McMaster University, Canada

Shrambharati Khadigram, Bihar And

Tamulpur Anchalik Gramdan Sangh, Assam

Mahila Shanti Sena

Sarnath Deliberations

Under the auspices of the Gandhian Institute of Studies, Varanasi; Tamulpur Anchalik Gramdan Sangh, Assam; Shrambharati Khadigram, Bihar and McMaster University, Canada, the workshop related to Sarnath Deliberations of the Mahila Shanti Sena was held in the meeting hall of the Tibetan Institute of Higher Studies on February 14th, 15th and 16th, 2007. Delegates from different places of eastern India , eastern Uttar Pradesh as well as Bihar participated.

In the opening session of the workshop Prof. Dipak Malik, director of the Gandhian Institute of Studies, welcomed all those present while Prof. Ramashanker Singh of McMaster University of Canada presided.

While welcoming the delegates Prof. Malik spoke in the context of Gandhi and the world situation. He said “After Vaishali we have assembled here in Kashi. It would be much better if on this occasion we enter into a dialogue with Gandhi. In his Hind Swaraj Gandhi presented the western civilization as satanic. When in January 1915, he came to India from South Africa , India was beset with as much darkness as today. But in this condition Gandhi carved out his way with the help and co-operation of the common man. Right from its inception in 1885, the Indian national Congress was nothing but an institution of the elite. But by wielding it as a common man’s institution Gandhi transformed its shape and character and sanctified it as an institution of Satyagraha. The world today is witnessing a new technical institution. We have yet to understand whether we will make it an instrument of peace or put it to destructive uses. Even farmers are adopting new techniques. What was formerly an independent business has been turned into a market today. We have also to take decision about the multinationals as they are seizing and bringing under their possession our natural resources.

United States of America today has become the axis of the satanic civilization but chinks have also started appearing into it. The top economic thinkers of the world today are of the opinion that the U.S.A. is passing through a crisis. It appears crystal clear to me that we will take a turn towards Bapu. The perils of environment and weather toady are gradually engulfing the entire world. We have to decide in this connection as well as what actually we have to do. The Gandhian way in this very context has assumed added importance for us and this is why the relevance of Mahila Shanti Sena has grown all the more today.”

Throwing light on the objectives of the workshop Prof. Ramashanker Singh said that light on the objectives of the Mahila Shanti Sena would be actually thrown by Acharya Ramamurti but there in the workshop three persons namely Prof. Mahanty, Ms. Aishley White and his own self were present. “The very first point that I would like to mention is what those difficulties are which we face during the course of work. We will have to keep these difficulties in mind. Ms. Ila Bahen has come hare for the first time. We have to listen to such persons deeming them as our guide and guardian.

I have had a chance to talk to journalists also but they have taken us as a mere N.G.O. which is completely wrong. We are related to every section of society. We are functioning as a movement . Both Vinobha and Gandhi have spoken about women power in their own way. It were Gandhi who brought women in the national struggle for freedom. After India became free Gandhi talked in terms of setting democracy on the march. Women movements have occurred in other parts of the world as well but their aims were limited. As concerns Mahila Shanti Sena it stands for bringing about a total change in society and creating altogether a new civilization.”

Expressing his idea on the topic ‘Mahila Shanti Sena : Why and Why Just Now’ Acharya Ramamurti, famous Gandhian thinker and main speaker of the session said, “Every adult today has got the right to vote but life has not changed at all. In the middle of the nineteenth century Marx had said that all civilizations in the world so far have been based on violence. While agreeing with Marx concerning this statement of his Gandhi said that such has been the state of affairs in India as well. A society free from violence is still quite distant from us. The point is will man ever be free from violence?... The religion propounded by lord Buddha was the first such religion as spread in other countries of the world without the use of the sword. For the work of Mahila Shanti Sena we have chosen the same area as firstly came under the spell of Buddhism. Not much time has clasped since the inception of Mahila Shanti Sena. Recollecting days of India ’s struggle for independence. I am reminded of the incident when in 1930 Gandhi selected the delicate and young Sarojini Naidu for leading the Satyagrahi raid on the Dharsana salt depot in Gujarat. Gandhi had said that Swaraj was a creative and constructive movement. The Russian revolution too was similar. But it could not become creative and constructive. If the country today needs a creative and constructive revolution who will lead it, a woman or a man? It is now clear that only women can lead a constructive movement. On the basis of some recent happenings in the country we can say pretty much as a proof to this assertion….. Since India abandoned caring for the hungry and the starving, compassion (Karuna) has suffered a severe set back in the country. We have simply become spectators of governmental efforts and look to actions taken by it. The set back to compassion in man brings about decay of Dharma. We have assembled at Sarnath with twin aims in view: Leadership in women’s hands from now on and unremitting practice of compassion in individual and social life. We have to create a new civilization. This task can creditably be performed only by women. Today’s meeting has been convened specifically for this purpose. We have to create a new culture of peace. Let creative and constructive revolution form the topic for the three-day parleys here. Women very much deserve a chance now. Women who are credited to have given society a new life and progeny will now give birth to a new civilization also. I am offering my faith to this vision.”

Professor Nawang Samten, Director of the Tibetan Institute of Higher Studies, told the audience that “Lord Buddha did not deem any man as man’s enemy but the evil in man constituted the real enemy within. We in our ignorance today have polluted the environment beyond measure and this has created a crisis for all living beings. These things have their roots in greed and desire. I am confident that with its small beginnings Mahila Shanti Sena some day will spread world wide.”

Presiding over the inaugural session of the workshop Sushri Radha Bhatt, Chairperson of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi said that “Woman is by no means frail. She is powerful in every respect. But how she becomes a symbol of compassion is a serious point to ponder over…. Reservation should actually be given to those who deserve it but man can attain high positions in life sans reservation. If we can strengthen our minds with peace and compassion we can go to any part of the country wherever the need be.”

The second session in the afternoon of 14.02.2007 was devoted to submitting report by men and women members of the Mahila Shanti Sena from different parts of the country. These reports were submitted by Vishal Nath Rai from Arunacha, Sushri Biju from Assam , Sushri Kamla from Manipur, Mrs. Rashmi Mohanty from Orissa, Mrs. Phoolan Bhattacharya from Tripura and Mrs. Champa from Bihar. Shri Uma Shanker Chaturvedi from the central office of Mahila Shanti Sena threw light on the birth and development of the Mahila Shanti Sena. Ms. Aishley White, research scholar from McMaster University, Canada submitted her Indian tour report wherein she has emphasized women empowerment and establishment of peace.

Shri. Ravindra Upadhyaya, President, Tamulpur Anchalik Gramdan Sangh , who presided over this session , put his ideas related to an assessment of the situation in the north-east and use of science and technique for peace. He threw light on the present situation of terrorism in the north-east, its causes and presented his ideas about providing employment to the rural people through the medium of technique and bringing peace among them.

The third session in the afternoon centered round Indicators and Methodology, the facilitators. Dr. Gopal Mohanty, an ex-professor of the McMaster University, who presided over this session, found evaluation as an important aspect of the Mahila Shanti Sena so that people might know about the Mahila Shanti Sena and how far its work was successful as concerns building up peace. In this connection he emphasized a few steps which included work of the Mahila Shanti Sena and its awareness about participatory democracy and efficiency syndrome. He advised workers connected with the Mahila Shanti Sena to search indicators to facilitate their work in the respective areas they belonged to. Shri. Bhanu Panigrahi, a delegate from Orissa also expressed his views regarding evaluation of Mahila Shanti Sena work. The participants discussed extensively over this. Those participating in the discussion included Shri. Ravindra Upadhyaya. Dr. Ramashanker Singh, Ms. Nivedita Mohanty and Shri. Vishal Nath Rai.

Concluding the session Acharya Ramamurti expressed his ideas with the following main points:

  1. What the factors are which resist change in individuals and society. These should be extensively studied.
  2. We need to develop a new definition of nationalism inviting special attention to change of heart, change of character and change of endeavor.

On the second day of the workshop (15.02.2007) Ms. Ila Bhatt, President of the well known organization, ‘SEWA’ and chief speaker of the fourth session dwelt upon her experiences of the organization. She said “Ultimately economic issues arrest the main attention of the people in society and only economic power rules supreme. We have here talked about functions of civil society and social change. But my main attention is devoted to providing work and livelihood to the needy and attaining economic strength. I also believe that the Indian bureaucracy should be civil enough to give their utmost attention to social service. The most antagonistic organization to SEWA is the trade union. They neither believe in give and take nor share their bounties with the laborers. Woman today is in the frontlines to work for society. Means of production are safe in her hands. Woman is working responsibly in her own home and family. She will lose nothing of the household but will bring gains from outside…… As concerns my view Mahila Shanti Sena is a movement. My suggestion to it is that if it wants to avail anything from SEWA, it must form cooperatives. These cooperatives may be small or large as the need be. Let Mahila Shanti Sena forge ahead through these as medium.”

Discussion followed Ms. Ila Bhatt’s peroration. Through questions and answers delegates tried to understand one another. Presiding over the session Dr. Ramashanker Singh said in his submission, “Onwards whenever we assemble anywhere let us focus our attention on major things. At that time what we will need more and more are the ideas of Ms. Ila Bhatt and other well-known social activists like her.”

The fifth session of the workshop focused the Mahila Shanti Sena and the social media. Shri. Sanjay Asthana, the chief speaker of the session and director of the Varanasi Media Institute, put his ideas on the Mahila Shanti Sena and the role of the media. He brought before the audience the deplorable position of not only the distressed, dispossessed and the exploited sections of society but even the middle class who have all been pushed to the margin. Sheer neglect is the fate of any talk of original change or reform in society coming from anywhere. Such talk fails to get any space in the newspapers. Newspapers today are under the octopus grip of the market. The dire need of the day is that society builds its own alternate media system wherein the feelings and aims and aspirations of the common man find full focus in newspapers.

This session was chaired by Prof. Dipak Malik. He said that after 1991 the erstwhile history of India had been dispensed with and a new dispensation had been brought into existence through a coup under which the media too had  undergone a radical change. Media today was entirely anti-people and pro the ruling power. In such a dastardly situation Mahila Shanti Sena was a ray of hope.

In the post lunch and the sixth session of the workshop discussions were held on Peace and Women. Expressing their views on the role of Mahila Shanti Sena in bringing about peace, Prof. Anuradha Dutt, an ex-professor of the political science department of the University of Guwahati and the chief speaker of the session said, “For the last forty years one of the things that has been upper most in my mind is how to bring women out of their confinement in the kitchen. History too is not much vocal about women. Women had an impressive role in the movement that swept Assam on the question of foreigners and outsiders but when an accord was reached concerning the movement, women had no place in it. Boys and girls in Assam ’s present ‘Bodo’ movement have been placed in two cadres. Nagas in Assam have formed Naga Mother Association. The crucial question, however, is: Can women become a constructive force for peace? States in this respect have utterly failed. Both Naga and Bodo women today are engaged in different types of peace efforts. Mahila Shanti Sena must take up constructive activities and from this viewpoint Mahila Shanti Sena women have a special role to play. Time has actually come when women have to take part in politics also.” Students, both boys and girls, named Mr. Mushtaq, Mr. Jahoor, Ms. Asma and Ms. Ambreen, all from Jammu and Kashmir also participated in this discussion. Expressing their views on the state of affairs prevailing in Kashmir today they emphasized the need for peace in Kashmir also.

Presiding over the session Shri. Rama Chandra Rahi, Secretary of the Central Gandhi Nidhi, New Delhi, laid stress on women’s role in weaning society away from violence and exploitation and taking it towards peace and non-violence. Women abound in feelings of love and compassion. Starting with their own selves they have to go upto the level of the whole creation. The Mahila Shanti Sena has to reach wherever violence occurs. With such ends in view service and training must go hand in hand. “Our empathy must be with the hungry man and we must put  in all efforts to see that none remains hungry in our vicinity. Mahila Shanti Sena, therefore, has the responsibility to carry out economic programmes. Mahila Shanti Sena must also take into its purview social evils. What is of utmost importance is that our momentum must not be impeded.”

This was followed by an open discussion wherein Messrs. Krishnakumar, Brajesh, Niti Bhai, Kamaluddin Sheikh, Arun Kumar, Ramashanker Singh and Ms. Kanchan Bala, Acharya, Muniza Rafiq Khan, Jagriti Rahi, Kamlavati, Radha Bhatt and others participated. Ideas and points that emerged from the discussions are as under:

  1. Mahila Shanti Sena must have its annual meeting wherein main problems of regions should be focused.
  2. The Rapid Action Force must be supported with a bag containing books on different subjects for information. For economic cooperation 50 paise or a handful of corn should be requested from every individual. This will constitute financial help to Mahila Shanti Sena and people will feel tagged to it also.
  3. Every member of the Mahila Shanti Sena must have an identity card with provision for renewal.
  4. Mahila Shanti Sena should find publicity among youth especially college and university students.
  5. Female illnesses and diseases must find speedy and effective treatment.
  6. Adjoining and nearby villages with the Nepalese boundaries must be saved against Nepalese insurgency.
  7. Pressure groups on Mahila Shanti Sena’s behalf should be formed to checkmate casteist rumours.
  8. Every Mahila Shanti Sena member must keep a diary wherein important things should find mention on a daily basis.
  9. All Gandhian Institutions should be linked together and they should function jointly with a common minimum programme.
  10. The Mahila Shanti Sena should have its committee on the national level and this committee should provide guidance to Mahila Shanti Sena members engaged in the movement as also people in general.
  11. Mahila Shanti Sena should take up handicapped and mentally deformed children also.

In the afternoon of the seventh session of the workshop discussions were held over Mahila Shanti Sena relationship with other social organizations, financial cooperation and work ahead. This session was chaired by Ms. Phoolan Bhattacharya, a well known journalist of the north-east and one having abiding interest in the Mahila Shanti Sena. Dr. Ramashanker Singh tendered the following suggestions:

1.      Number of such villages should be increased where hunger does not prevail and none goes hungry. Mahila Shanti Sena is obliged to see that none in the village is hungry.

2.      Regional conferences should be held in collaboration with local voluntary organizations and social groups.

3.      Lecture series should be organized in universities to help create new leadership.

4.       Literature should be produced for the use of Mahila Shanti Sena and knowledge-fairs should be organized.

5.      A news bulletin should be brought out for the use of Mahila Shanti Sena to help disseminate Mahila Shanti Sena news, ideas and activities.

6.      For financial cooperation whatever is feasible should be done but the contribution of Re. one, that is, each one rupee one, should not be overlooked.

In her presidential address Ms. Phoolan Bhattacharya drew attention of those present to the fact that people had started believing us. What was needed was that Mahila Shanti Sena work should not be mere ostentation and show but instead should have a genuine streak of social consciousness. What was deplorable was that now child bearing and rearing them up was becoming a burden for women. This dreaded situation must be ended. What was actually needed for women today was that they should have qualities of leadership and they should come forward to lead.

The closing function of the workshop was held on 16.02.2007. Throwing light on the historical significance of Sarnath the Sarnath Declaration highlights the following points:

  1. Our work is to devote ourselves for a violence-free life. We want such life in our households and neighbourhood as is peaceful and free from violence.
  2. For us this entire creation is our neighbourhood. Differences and diversities exist in such a vast neighbourhood. But the whole creation points to one creator.
  3. Our first concern is for such a war-free world where peace reigns in the family and neighbourhood.
  4. In the world of today alternative lies between total peace and total annihilation. In such perilous times if we women proceed jointly and unitedly we can become a great creative force.
  5. We have to learn to say ‘No’ to violent feuds and disputes. This ‘No’ is symbolic of our firm determination and reminiscent of our resolve.
  6. Time has afforded this great opportunity to we Mahila Shanti Sena  members for developing a peaceful and rich life. We can present a specimen of a new culture of peace and participatory democracy.

Justice Chandrashekhar Dharmadhikari was to deliver the valedictory address of this function but due to some personal reasons he could not come.  In his absence Acharya Ramamurti delivered the address.

 Drawing attention of those having witnessed the initiation of the Mahila Shanti Sena and its gradual development, Acharya Ramamurti reminded the delegates of the communal riot in Noakhali, Bengal, in 1947 when Gandhi said that who knew that he would prove to be the first and last Shanti-Sainik but if from somewhere Gandhi’s soul might be witnessing that day’s function and had done the  same about the previous ones, he would surely come to realize that he was undoubtedly the first Shanti Sainik but by no means the last…….. What actually is the difference between democracy as practised by Vaishali and the one as espoused by the Mahila Shanti Sena? Answering the question Acharyaji himself said that Buddha’s dictum was:  ‘Meet, talk and agree, that is, go on talking till an agreement is reached.’ Mahila Shanti Sena also pins its faith to this dictum and not to that democracy which is based upon majority and minority opinion. Gandhi had given birth to political nationalism but this sort of nationalism today will not meet demands of the times. Today the entire life of man has to be freed from violence. If we failed to do meaningful efforts in this direction the world will condemn us as good for nothing. We have to go much beyond Gandhi and have to continue doing so. Jayaprakash had given new dimensions to this movement by calling it Sampurna Kranti or Total Revolution.

Highlighting the historical importance of Sarnath Acharyaji said that if a new civilisation had to be initiated no better place could be found than Sarnath. About three thousand years ago Sarnath had presented those sublime words of Buddha, the Enlightened One, which can very well form the basis of a new civilization. The world today is gripped by a world-wide violence. Who will deliver us from this fear and who will take the first step in the direction of deliverance? Acharyaji pointed out that from the viewpoint of creating a new civilization and also for taking the very first step, Sarnath excels all other places. Acharyaji further remarked, “It is an article of faith with me that members of the Mahila Shanti Sena this time will not only give birth to children but will also give birth to a new civilization.”

The programme was conducted by Prof. Dipak Malik, while Dr. Muniza Rafiq Khan, Secretary, GIS, offered thanks to the participants as well as to all those who worked to make the workshop a success: The function ended with the world peace song : ‘Hum Honge Kaamyaab;…… that is, We shall overcome.’



Nivedita Scudder from Unnayan, Orissa wrote the following message on the Sarnath deliberations:

Banaras was the setting for a session of sharing and brainstorming on the present status of the MSS and its future. And what a session it was! An honest, down-to-earth, from-the-heart sharing from all the participants. There was concern but also immense satisfaction at the impact of the training amongst women at the grassroot level. Like Rashmi said, it seems to touch the very soul of the women so that they feel empowered in the true sense of the word.

Through sharing we learnt the different shades of violence and conflict: political, gender, caste, religious or economic, that exists in different the states and the trauma experienced by women in these areas. The courage of the Shanti Sainiks in the face of such grave and complex situations and the strength of their conviction in the Mahila Shanti Sena process was an eye-opener for us.

In spite of inadequate funding much seems to have been achieved in this short span of time and going by the commitment of the group the MSS movement for peace and harmony is set to grow from strength to strength. We have returned to our work encouraged and inspired. Gandhiji will not be the last Shanti Sainik, for thousands of women in rural India will continue his work and carry the torch for peace and harmony.

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