"There is no conflict in the city," was the opening statement by M Narasimha, one of the panelists in a discussion on ‘Conflict and the Future of Bangalore’ organised by Meta-Culture Dialogics (MCD is an organisation working on conflict resolution through dialogue) and hosted by Citizen Matters on 19th October, at Alliance Franchise de Bangalore, in Vasant Nagar.
(16th October was World Conflict Resolution day and MCD has organised a week-long film festival on the topic during Oct 13-19. Preceding the discussion was the Anand Patwardhan film ‘Bombay, our city’ and following it was ‘Fishers of men’ by Ranjan Kamath.)
Fortunately for the small but enthusiastic citizens gathered there on the rainy Sunday evening, the discussion neither ended nor was hampered by the strange opening statement; in fact it made way to the bigger issue of the gap between people of cosmopolitan Bangalore, created because of their different backgrounds.
Narasimha, founder-secretary of the Udayabhanu Kala Sangha, a Bangalore-based, volunteer-driven cultural and social organisation felt that the gap between people needed to be bridged first. He pointed out that "…the gap exists because people do not want to become part of the city. They do not want to learn the language and culture of the city".
While the indigenous language of every city remained one of the ways of connecting with the local people, not knowing the local language could become a divider. Narasimha emphasised that learning the city’s langauge and culture could help resolve some conflicts between people.
The discussion took an interesting turn when panelist Gerald Manoharan, a lawyer by profession, commented that Bangaloreans were escapist cosmopolitans. "We do not want to accept and be part of the city. And we use the word cosmopolitan to escape from this fact," he added. He also said that various organisations worked hard to create conflict amongst people and divide them on various grounds, thereby not trying to bridge the gap but to make it more.
Similar views were expressed by panelist Dr Ambar Abdul Qaiyum, a dentist, educationist, and Trustree of Oasis International School. She felt that the city has seen a change in the values- people displayed more indifference towards others. "People no more care who their neighbour is, how is he doing. No one cares about anyone else but their own self. There needs to be more understanding in people to fight the conflicts" said Dr Qaiyum. According to her, justice was the key element that could make a difference in resolving conflicts.
But another panelist Dr Lakshmipathi C G, sociologist and currently NSS Coordinator for Bangalore University, felt that conflict was not just today’s issue, and had always persisted. And, he added, "…till such time that various people live together there will always be conflict. It can only be handled with better understanding."
M Narasimha: Founder and secretary of the Udayabhanu Kala Sangha, a Bangalore-based volunteer-driven cultural and social organisation, founded in 1965 He was formerly Assistant General Manager at Hindustan Machine Tools. He has been a social worker for four decades in the area of Kannada literature, culture and education.
Dr Ambar Abdul Qaiyum: A dentist by training, and educationist by profession. She is a trustee at the Oasis International School in north Bangalore, and where in addition to regular curriculum, a special course on Quranic studies is offered. She is also pursuing a Cambridge Diploma in Teachers Training.
Gerald Manoharan: A lawyer by profession and works at one of India’s largest law firms. He was previous Bangalore Archdiocesan Youth President, and continues to be involved with young Christians in India.
Dr Lakshmipathi C G: Currently NSS Coordinator for Bangalore University. He is a sociologist by training and has studied caste and sexuality. He has taught for 16 years, and is also a freelance journalist.
Prem Koshy: Owner of Koshy’s restaurant at St Marks Road. He is someone who knows about Bangaloreans really well, who has seen Bangalore grow and is also a promoter of dialogue in the city.
There were many views on conflict from the panelists and the reasons behind it. Adding to them was Prem Koshy, owner of the popular Koshy’s restaurant near MG Road. He said that increasing population gave birth to conflict. "As long as people do not interfere with other people’s lives in a way that disturbs them, there won’t be conflict," he felt.
Earlier, before the panelists made their opening remarks, Ashok Panikkar of MCD laid out the approach for interaction. He noted that this event was not a debate, and rather it was a dialogue. The focus was on trying to understand and help others understand rather than to persuade, condemn or convince.
Once the session was open to the audience, various view points on conflict and its reasons were highlighted. One of the major points raised was that people needed to connect to the city. "People need to feel for the city they are living in. They cannot feel for it in one day, it takes time to understand, learn about a city, develop roots, and then connect to it. This will certainly resolve the conflicts and not feeling connected is the major reason for the conflict," said an elderly citizen.
A young audience member, Rajesh, who looked excited about the connection with the city said that to be a true Bangalorean one needed to see the city and its people closely. Chandrashekhar, another elderly citizen, said that while the diversity of cultures added to the beauty of the city, diversity was not the reason for conflict, but low tolerance was.
Many others in the audience felt that ‘better understanding’ was required. Anand said that it was not just Bangalore but growing cities all over the world were multi-cultural because they offered opportunities to people. "The multi-cultural nature of Bangalore is not something to worry about but we should try to make friends with everyone and still live our own lives," he added.
While Bangaloreans continue to wonder what the future holds for them, here is a question for you: In a city coloured along linguistic, ethnic, religious, and economic lines, what does the future hold for Bangaloreans? What would you recommend to foster inter-community ties?
This was the question Citizen Matters and Meta-Culture Dialogics posed to all the panelists a few days before they came to the session. Now, it’s your turn. ⊕