As the famous maxim goes: peace is more than the absence of war. Peace is far far more and although it is measurable quantitatively e.g. nuclear disarmament rates, it behooves one to qualitatively understand what peace means in different cultures. As an International Psychologist, my realm of influence and contact covers a triangular area of Malaysia, Sri Lanka and India, all three which are considered home alongside academic training focused on Africa. Though conventionally not far apart, the longest side of my home triangle is a 4.5-hour plane ride between India and Malaysia with all three countries accomplishing and viewing peace both in distinct and similar ways.
India by virtue of being the world’s largest democracy gives some credence to its moniker of being the birth place of two major world religions (Buddhism and Hinduism) and its soil spiritually rich. The sheer diversity of India is mind boggling, even to an Indian like myself. There are over 1,000 dialects with 23 languages spoken changing as you cross over from one state to another and though we have a gamut of problems including deep gender disparity and crippling poverty, the fact that violence in some ways is more stemmed than other first world countries is something to be exalted. With a population of 1 billion that is as heterogeneous as can be with Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Jewish juxtaposed with the caste system and added layers of polarized SES living in a diversity of geopolitical regions (Himalayas, wetlands, the Thar desert, the Arabian Sea) we fair relatively well and that is peace as you know it in India.
Sri Lanka has long been pegged as India’s younger brother and the heir to an unfortunate blood bath, steeped in Asia’s most costly civil war (26 years) between two warring ethnic groups: The Sinhalese and Tamil. Here in Sri Lanka the peace is an uneasy brokered one. Understanding and dialogue in Sri Lanka is especially the key to peace, if more people outside also had an understanding of Sri Lanka through its’ complex history and acknowledging that inhabitants have a very different reality than what is portrayed in CondeNast and National Geographic (Sri Lanka! Country of the year 2013!) that could be described as peace in the making. I would encourage people to practice ethical tourism and realise that often there is more that meets the eye than delicious coconut water and pristine beaches as Sri Lankan’s threefold increase in tourism would indicate. Peace in Sri Lanka is fragile but a new breath of hope has been cast with the new president and government coming into office recently, cutting short what many viewed as an increasing despotic reign of the former government. Paradoxically, all ethnicities and political parties united in the face of increasing corruption thereby demonstrating the potentiality of coming together and having a more fully formed and transparent peace for the future.
Malaysia is an example of unity in diversity by fostering a community consisting in some parts Indian, mostly Malaysian and largely Chinese. Yet often actual experience bears difference to what a constitution might declare or what a press release read out loud by the head of state might sound like. It brings into question the proverbial gap between theory and application. Many people complain of the perception that indigenous Malay known as Bumi Putra are unduly favoured via rules and regulations. Malaysia is one of the only countries in the world to not be a signatory on the UN document for refugee reparation and one that is consistently cited for human rights violations regarding homosexuality. My husband and I are intimately involved in the World Economic Forum that releases an annual corruption index where Malaysia ranks high. In fact the issue of corruption is cited often through tears and grief of unimaginable proportions regarding transparency of what really happened to the missing MH370 flight.
Each of the countries I call home are not actively in war like Syria or other parts of the Middle East yet the unease and restlessness India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka radiate creates a chasm between reality and peace. As a psychologist and spiritualist I would say we are far from being at peace in any place and that most countries echo a disenchantment. Not only does peace start from within through individual human revolution, it is also a call to take unrelenting unceasing action for the greater good. Amusingly, even countries are not immune to envy where there is often a mentality of “the grass is greener on the other side”. Countless Indians cite Malaysia’s strict drug enforcement and death penalty as positives to combat a rape crisis whereas Malaysia envies Sri Lanka’s power on the world stage despite its small geographical stature and where Sri Lanka consigns itself to being in India’s shadow in terms of cricket!
I have the privilege of experiencing each country intimately and will continue to contribute, help empower and most importantly listen to each one as a unique part contributing to the sum of humanity. As Nicholas Kristoff once summed up, ‘the media focuses solely on plane crashes and by reporting only crashes it distorts the true picture of how many thousands and thousands of planes take off and land successfully each day’. I view each country in the same manner and though the world is filled with myriad problems, it does not ever alienate a hope and striving towards peace.
Photo caption: Dialogue is the Key to peace: Anjhula Mya Singh Bais & Dr. Vimla S. Lalbhai, educational reformist and Gandhian Activist.
Anjhula Mya Singh Bais,