Peacemakers, transforming culture of`violence into peace

Bengaluru: Unresolved conflicts are common at workplaces, communities and homes, which leave victims bitter and hurt. However, Peacemakers, an NGO, has been working at ‘transforming cultures of violence to cultures of peace’, to make sufferers realise that 'hurts' can be healed and 'relationships' can be restored.

Unresolved conflicts are common at workplaces, communities and homes, which leave victims bitter and hurt. However, Peacemakers, an NGO, has been working at ‘transforming cultures of violence to cultures of peace’, to make sufferers realise that 'hurts' can be healed and 'relationships' can be restored.

The founders, Rabbi Jayakaran and his wife Chitra Ramaswamy, who got their masters in Social Work, have been working in the social welfare sector for over two decades. Rabbi started off his career with an NGO dedicated to children. After spending years with different NGOs and interacting with people from different walks of life, Rabbi realised that there was conflict at every level – between husband and wife, parents and children and different communities. Sensing that the root cause of it all was the inability to constructively respond to conflicts, Rabbi started Peacemakers in 2013 ‘in search of radical solutions to conflict and violence’. The husband-wife team has been running programmes on conflict and peace education at colleges and other forums.

A file photo of the jailA file photo of the jail

In 2016, they connected with Andria and Ashmira, Tata Institute of Social Sciences fellows, who were working with women prisoners and were looking for an organisation to share their burden. Together, they evolved the Peacemakers Pehele initiatives focusing on troubled prisoners.

Rabbi said, “When conflicts turn violent, people commit crimes and end up in prisons. For the rest of their lives, they repent their mistakes. We believe that conflicts are common, but certainly people can learn to resolve them. Like all of us, prisoners too need some opportunities to constructively engage and rebuild their torn lives. Because of circumstances or mistakes, they tried to resolve conflicts in a wrong way and ended up in jails. But their entire lives should not be spent in guilt and go waste. They too have a right to rebuild their lives and contribute to their families and society. They want hope and opportunities, and this is where Peacemakers come in.”

He said, “We engage prisoners in life skill and livelihood skill training programmes that help them mend their lives and relationships. When we ask prisoners what they would do if they faced a similar situation which landed them in jail, most of them said they would not take the violent route, but handle issues peacefully."

In one of their programmes – Roopantara, conducted in partnership with the Department of Prisons and launched simultaneously at seven prisons across the state in 2016, Peacemakers interviewed all the convicts who were set for premature release and conducted psycho-social rehabilitation sessions for them.

He said, “After being lodged in jails for years, it is quite common for prisoners to feel scared of life outside the prison. With Roopantara, we assessed their strengths, weaknesses and fears and provided them a scope for accessing their inner mental and emotional strength.”

He said, “Women prisoners seem to suffer more from guilt, shame and anger. They feel rejected and abandoned. Often, their thoughts veer around to suicide. But with our mental health programmes, they overcome such negative thoughts and start realising their potential. We conduct beautician and other vocational courses to make them better equipped to handle life in the outside world.” Peacemakers involve families of prisoners for smooth reintegration into families and society. They provide legal aid and other help for undertrials who are abandoned by their families. The NGO also gives the children and elderly parents of prisoners educational and healthcare support as needed.

Now, Peacemakers have started a new programme for male prisoners with mental health issues in collaboration with the Psychiatric Department of Bangalore Central Prisons. 

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