Centuries of social and political exclusion and discrimination of the waste majority of the population in Nepal have resulted in an armed conflict (1996-2006) led by the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) against the Hindu Monarchy. After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was reached in 2006 the country was transformed into a democratic republic. The decisions for a federal system seemed to be one of the answers to the root causes of the conflict. However, the implementation of the peace agreement has been challenged by opposing political interest and the deep feelings of grievances, anger and frustration of many of Nepal’s more than 100 different ethnic groups. The failure of the new government structure to address the conflict’s root causes led already to a second conflict dynamic in the Madhesh region in 2007 and partly again in 2015.
A major milestone was recently reached when local elections – that have been contested for 20 years – were held in six of the seven newly formed federal provinces in May and June 2017. The high voting turnout of more than 80% shows people’s interest in deciding for their leaders. To avoid a repetition of violent escalation in the Terai region such as in 2015, the government postponed the elections in one of the provinces (number two) to September 2017. If constitutional amendments, which have been heavily claimed for, will still come through remains unclear, just as the question whether executive power really gets transferred to the federal level.
The national level transitional justice process to deal with crimes from the armed conflict is moving at a slow pace. So far, none of the perpetrators from the armed conflict have been convicted. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) have collected conflict-area related complaints in 2016 and are supposed to enter a phase of deeper investigation before publishing their results in 2017. However, the lacking political will presents a continuous obstacle to serious investigation.
Reconciliation processes and a meaningful transformation of mindsets and structures, which foster the mechanisms of exclusion, discrimination, corruption and poverty, are still missing in Nepal today. This makes the current political and societal situation a very fragile one. Recurrent violent clashes and conflicts are indicating the need of a more fundamental transformation.
The project “EnActing Dialogue” is a joint project of CSSP and the Nepali NGO Pro Public with the goal to promote a bottom-up approach to reconciliation and healing. Pro Public has created networks of dialogue facilitators and local dialogue groups from 2012 to 2014. Dialogue groups of former PLA-combatants and conflict victims started to break the silence about the armed conflict and shared their personal stories from the present and from the past. Since 2015, CSSP is supporting the wider outreach of these dialogue initiatives at district and national level through theatre-facilitated dialogue. Theatre art has proven to work as a strong social connector in Nepali communities. CSSP is building upon this capacity to strengthen empathy and social cohesion across former conflict lines as a measure for violence prevention.
The project started by introducing Playback Theatre as a dialogue approach that combines public storytelling and improvisational theatre. Among others due to the work of CSSP, Playback Theatre is now accepted and appreciated as an effective dialogue process that connects communities and provides space for sharing emotional experiences related to the armed conflict and its root causes. Playback theatre has been established as “Chautari Natak” in Nepali language: The Chautari tree is a crucial public spot in almost every Nepal village where people come to take rest, meet others and even settle their conflicts.
The project uses theatre art, poetry and music to bring the deeper layers of meaning behind the individual stories, which are shared during the sessions, to the surface. It results in the reduction of mutual fears, stereotypes and prejudices and supports the search for new identities. Telling personal story brings relief to audiences and empathic listening recreates broken bondages in the community. It helps to restore the past and to imagine a joint future.
The selected communities are located in: Banke, Bardhiya, Dang, Rupandehi, Mahottari and Udayapur. In each district a team of 8 dialogue facilitators is actively engaged in organizing the Chautari theatre events.
In 2015 and 2016 documentaries have been produced to show the dialogue process of a Playback Theatre performance as well as the impacts of the dialogue work in the communities: