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PROJECTS 2016-2017: Bike Tour for Peace

Assam:  Yearning for Peace

As part of its end-of-year reporting, The Washington Post named Assam, one of seven states in the anomalous North East India, as one of the most under-reported conflicts in 2014. 

This area of India has endured decades of internecine violence resulting in more than a half million deaths and hundreds of thousands displaced.  Governed under special provisions of the Indian constitution, the tribals of the North East have suffered from central and local governments' corruption, nepotism and inequitable distribution of resources, favouring some tribal groups over others and fomenting violence amongst and within the largest groups. The result is a region that is both rich in resources and impoverished through the diversion of energies into conflict.  More recently, responses to migration from neighbouring countries has exacerbated the violence. 

Bike Tour for Peace!!

 What a crazy idea!  How could a bunch of young men on bikes with their teacher make a difference in a region wracked by decades of civil war, violence, atrocities and the frequent use of the bandh (meaning ‘closed’ in Hindi and referring to a tool of protest used by political activists, disrupting economic and social activity and often turning violent)?Interview with four of the 2014 Bikers for Peace, from which the quotes are drawn.

Their teacher, Woba, was an observer/participant in a training in a Partera conflict transformation training in Guwahati in 2013, one of 40 men from a half dozen communities in conflict in search of non-violent solutions to seemingly intractable violence.  Woba and another colleague, Panger, were astonished by the methodology and were inspired to respond. 

Woba returned to the school where he teaches and began to talk to his family, friends, colleagues and his students about what was going on inside of him and his determination to respond.  As a peace activist since his youth and, like many Indians, with a modest motorbike for the family’s transportation,  he came up with the Bike Tour For Peace.  In April of 2014 it happened.

Click here to support this project!

None of the student riders had any experience on a bike; all of them had to figure out how to find, salvage, borrow or build a bike as well as how to keep themselves fed and their machines fuelled for the two-week ride.  They planned meticulously – a route that took them to ten communities in four states, enough of a welcoming party in each town to find food and a bed for each, and meetings with every sector of the population:  youth and women’s groups, political and insurgency movement leadership, mosque, temple and church leaders, community and business groups, and  ending each visit with a press conference to discuss the impact and results of their visit and to document the response of community leaders.

Over 2500 km later, marked by broken bikes, saddle sores, fear-filled, late night arrivals in insurgency-dominated towns, they arrived, weary and a few kilos lighter, for a final gathering in Dimapur, Nagaland, where they were met with hundreds of people, including 70 members of the media, who had documented in glowing terms their unique model for peacemaking. 

But it didn’t end there.  Communities in conflict have asked them to continue their accompaniment of them, to assist them in finding that peace.   ‘We continue to be involved in the conflict between [one tribe] and [another tribe]; even the conflict between [this tribe] and [the other tribe], we are now negotiating!  We are also involved with the Muslims and the Hindus; struggling has been taking place for a long time.’ 

They are 16 young men changed irrevocably by the experience, with a new commitment to be peace-makers, to be agents of change and of hope in a region torn for generations by violence. They want to bring an end to it. 

And so they are planning Bike Tour for Peace 2015!  In December FIFTY young (and a few not-so-young) people will once more take a Tour for Peace, visiting more than twenty communities in all seven states of the Northeast.  And there will be women!  ‘Where are the women?’ they would hear during their stops in towns and villages in the April.  ‘We have a role to play, as well!’

In May, Partera staff will be working with the 2015 bikers on the skills of non-violent direct action, some of whom will also be taking part in a new Masters in Peace Studies Programme with courses in Human Rights and in Conflict Transformation which Jeanette and Lee will be teaching. 

Thousands are now joining the Peace Tour Facebook page, spreading the word - and young people are answering the call to be peacemakers. The grassroots are rising up!  Years of negotiations have brought the region no closer to peace.  A recent visit by Prime Minister Modi once more dashed hopes for peace from above.  Movement leaders are struggling to find consensus amongst themselves. 

And so the people are rising up to lead the way. 

But it cannot happen without the support of many others who equally yearn for peace.   Any donation is welcome but you may be interested in knowing that:   

  • $180 will help one of those 50 men and women to borrow, repair, rent, salvage, and keep fuelled and in running order for a month (for 50 bikes $9,000) –
  • $70 will pay for food, fuel and accommodation, as well as incidentals for one of those 50 men and women over approximately 30 days and 6,000 km ($2,000).
  • $220 will support 1/50th of all of the costs of training, communications, the complexity of time and materials needed to organise meetings in each of the towns they will visit, college staff support and time, trainers’ accommodation, travel and materials for trainings in non-violent direct action and conflict transformation. ($11,000)

  Click here to support this amazing project!  (Total Budget:  $20,000)