India: A country of violence or a country of peace?

by Michael Connellan, Jeevika Trust Trustee

Sadly, violence has been a common theme in news reports from India in the first months of 2016.

February saw at least nine people die in Delhi and Haryana as members of the Jat caste rioted over the government’s job quota system for people of different caste groups. The deaths came after police were reportedly given shoot-on-sight orders to quell rioting.

The same month saw political violence as well as caste violence. Lawyers, who were chanting nationalist slogans, assaulted a Delhi student who had been arrested for sedition. Lawyers shouting ‘traitors leave India’ also engaged in violent tussles with supporters of the student and with reporters covering the story.

India’s caste system, and the associated politics and tensions, are often very difficult for foreigners to grasp. And the sight of lawyers acting as political thugs outside a courthouse seems downright bizarre to the outsider. But it is not unprecedented in the country.

Gandhian non-violence – as a response to the British Raj and to internal tensions between Indians – is of course one of the celebrated philosophies that the country gave itself and gave the world. But so often, it still feels in very short supply.

Violence and the threat of violence permeates the lives of millions of residents of village India, where victims often have no access to the services of a trustworthy police force.

I remember spending a day in a village two hours outside of Delhi where a Jeevika Trust partner organisation was supporting villagers living in extreme poverty. We asked village leaders about the main challenges they faced. We discovered that nearby farmers were threatening to attack women villagers with sticks, over a dispute on where sewage should be stored.

India is one of the world’s worst countries to be born a woman. Jeevika Trust’s work to empower women in India’s remote rural communities focuses on boosting their ability to maintain a livelihood and reducing their risk of hunger, exclusion and violence. Read more about our work with rural Indian women.

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