JGLS student Parth Parikh (18 JGLS) participated in the “Commonwealth Futures Workshop: Inspiring Global Citizens” held at JGU in February and in the “Re-imagining Peace” workshop in Durban early in March.
The following is a reflection essay written by Parth as part of the Centre for Comparative and Global Education JGU Global Citizens Blog project as he represented JGU and India during the Commonwealth futures workshop series in London, Delhi & Durban.
Re-Imagining Peace in the Time of Corona
The first thing you notice upon exiting King Shaka International Airport is the scent of the sea in the air. The moisture leaden breezy aroma that tantalizes one’s senses and indicates a leisurely pace of life. While walking towards our minibus, my fellow delegate from Karachi remarked “Coming from a coastal town, it reminded him of home”. I laughed, and replied “The only smell that reminds me of my hometown, Delhi, was the carbonic smell of CO and CO2 particles”. With gentle banter flowing as it does among sociable strangers, and nervousness and excitement evident on our faces, we loaded our luggage and set forth for Durban city.
I had the opportunity to visit Durban as a delegate of India and of O.P. Jindal Global University to the third edition of the Commonwealth Futures Workshop organised by the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) in collaboration with the British Council, the Commonwealth Secretariat and Durban University of Technology (DUT). The Workshop was a four-day event, from 11th to 14th March 2020, titled ‘Re-imagining Peace’. All the delegates were put up at the Garden Court Marine Parade Hotel on the Golden Mile beach front in Durban. The workshops were held at the Hotel School Conference Centre, Ritson Campus of DUT.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Workshop, among many, was the diversity of its delegates. There were 38 of us, coming from 13 different countries and our professions ranged from of doctors and technological innovators to Student Unions leaders and social workers from across the Commonwealth. Each one of us was committed to contributing and bringing about a positive impact in their societies using their skills and expertise in their own unique way.
In the opening session, Dr. Faye Taylor, Head of Strategic Partnerships at ACU commented “The main objective of this event is to hold a series of interactions that will make students feel more empowered to go back to their own institutions and make a change in whatever field or context”.
The discussions during the various interactive sessions spanned from looking at the struggles of starting a new business in Zimbabwe, to understanding the intricacies of accountability and fundraising systems of Student Unions in Canada. The delegate from Zimbabwe explained his idea of giving preference to women as employees to reduce their dependency on their male counterpart, while the Canadian representative highlighted the importance of diverting funds for representation of the marginalized. One of the English delegates put forth the importance of equal wages campaign in her country, and was surprised to know that equal wage was not a very prominent issue in South Asian countries. I remarked this was so because our countries are still struggling with preceding issues like female foeticide and girl education.
I believe the main determinant of the success of the long-term goal of this Workshop, of creating more tolerant and cohesive communities, was this diversity of chosen representatives. The confluence and intermingling of different ideas and perspectives from around the globe, on global issues like climate change and gender inequality, was truly inspiring and thought-provoking.
There were a series of panel discussions and workshops held during the event. The unique element about these was that they consisted of eminent local and national leaders of South Africa engaging on a personal level with us. Sumboornam Moodley, a freedom fighter during the Apartheid regime, elaborated on the issues faced while opposing the State, the torture she endured at the hands of the police and what gave her hope during times of desolation and self-doubt. Worker’s Union leader, Desmond D’Sa, labeled ‘watchdogs snapping at the heels of companies’ explained his strategies to collectivize individuals and lead them in a manner to attain a commonly favorable goal. Furthermore, current political and social activist Lukhona Mnguni commented on the lack of access to judicial remedy and justice in South African society and highlighted his initiatives and programs to bridge this gap. It was an unprecedented learning experience for all of us, and I feel their advice, learnings and methods can be used to tackle similar hurdles and issues in our communities.
The Workshop concluded with a visit to the Gandhi Ashram in Phoenix on the 4th day. We were taken on a short tour of the settlement by Ms. Ela Gandhi, who manages the various programs and initiatives of the Settlement. We saw their efficient systems of service and aid for senior citizens, the Mahatma Gandhi Siyazama Service Centre as well as their computer and other educational classes for the local children of nearby areas. The room Mahatma Gandhi lived in was also recreated for the visitors to experience. There was an inspiring talk given by Ms. Gandhi about her life as the granddaughter of the Mahatma, the work she had done for the communities in Phoenix, and the challenges that lay ahead. It dawned upon me that we Indians are ignorant of the impact of Mahatma Gandhi’s work in other countries. Being our national hero, we forget his international significance.
Upon my return from Durban, I had been in a self-imposed quarantine at home, to prevent the spread of COVID 19, should I have been infected by it during my travel. These two weeks, and the subsequent nation – wide lockdown imposed by our Government, gave me ample time to reflect on both the Workshops held in India at O.P. Jindal Global University, and that in Durban, at DUT.
In both these initiatives I was surprised by how much the delegates could relate to each other’s struggles, challenges and motivators, even though we came from different parts of the world. Our societies are not as alien and different as our leaders have us believe. One of my dearest friends at the Durban workshop was a Pakistani doctor from Karachi, and while walking down to the beach one evening we were laughing about the scandal it would create in both our communities if we told them of our friendship.
We also realized that Indian societal norms, beliefs and structures were similar not only to Pakistani societies, but also to South African societies. For example, the acceptance of babas and sadhus in Indian society is similar to the perception of voodoo priests in African societies; skepticism in metros and blind faith in rural areas. Income inequality is also a universal fundamental element of human community living and not specific to region or culture.
The extreme income inequality in Durban, where prostitution is the main source of income for a huge chunk of the female population, was reflective of Delhi with its manicured public areas of Lutyens and Connaught Place while people live among open drains and overflowing garbage dumps in the slums not 10 kilometers away.
Peace is disrupted by the fear that stems from the lack of knowledge and familiarity of another’s culture, from the fear of the unknown. The Futures Workshops brings to the limelight the similarities and differences of our societies and communities. The differences, we should learn from, and the similarities, we should use to build bridges across borders to create a more connected, tolerant and sustainably cohesive world. The more our generations know about the other, the closer they get to peace.