In a remote part of India, the worlds largest democracy, the democratic process came to a grinding halt recently. On February 23, more than 85 percent of the voters in Nagaland, a region in northeastern India, boycotted the Indian parliamentary elections to show support for a solution"not just an election"to the violent conflict that has taken place in the region for more than 50 years.
Nagaland, also known as Nagalim, is 90 percent Christian (mostly Baptist) and claims no ethnic or cultural connection to India. Since the end of British colonial rule, Nagaland has been involved in a low-level civil war with India, after that country annexed the region. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 300,000 Nagas have been killedmostly by Indian security forces, but a large number have also died as a result of fighting between Naga factions.
According to Rev. Daniel L. Buttry, program director of the Gavel Memorial Peace Fund of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, on the day before the election, "100 percent of the Baptist churches [in Nagaland] held prayer services for peace and displayed white flags for peace. About 70 percent of the homes and businesses had white flags displayed. There were no bullets fired during the whole process. All but the ruling Congress Party withdrew from the election and the other parties wont even run a slate of candidates. Though the Congress Party holds office, it has basically been shown to be invalid.
"The people are discouraged because they thought that India would postpone the election," said Buttry. "Part of that is because of a lack of experience in nonviolent struggle. We have a phrase that we use in the Baptist Peace Fellowship, which really caught the imagination of the Naga people: Peace, like war, must be waged. Its a long struggle and just because you lose one skirmish doesnt mean you quit. The Nagas are coming to realize that they have accomplished something. This was the first symbolic demonstration that the Nagas have ever done and there was a lot of excitement about it. It shows that the church has a role to play in helping to resolve massive conflicts of this kind around the world."
The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Baptist World Alliance, and others have taken a leading role in mediating hostilities among Naga factions and supporting the efforts of the Naga Baptist Church Council to build a "Peace Agenda for Nagalim." The agenda endorses a continuation of the cease-fire among all armed groups and ongoing dialogue between the Indian government and leaders in Nagaland to lead to substantive political negotiations at the highest levels.
The Baptist Peace Fellowship has begun a letter-writing campaign to urge the Indian government to fulfill its promise to negotiate with Naga insurgents about greater self-determination for the region. For more information, contact the Baptist Peace Fellowship at (828) 456-1881.