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Chaired by Asad Ahmed, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Harvard University

Yasmin SaikiaHardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies, Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict; Professor of History in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, Arizona State University


The scholarship on post-conflict resolution is growing and the new questions and discourses on peacemaking forefront non-western perspectives. Although the earlier focus of scholarship on the usefulness of truth and reconciliation commission, war criminals tribunal, implementation of human rights and international monitoring remains relevant, there is also a need to move beyond these existing models to explore the alternative indigenous language of justice derived from other sources, such as religion and culture. This exercise is particularly relevant in the context of postcolonial South Asia where religion and ethnicity have played divisive roles in enabling violence.

In this paper, I focus on the memories of survivors – victims and perpetrators – of the 1971 war of Bangladesh raising fundamental questions of peacemaking from an Islamic perspective. Highlighting the historical construction of an ‘enemy’ that was victimized during the war, I probe perpetrators’ understanding of violence that is differentiated from “duty” and the religious grammar of peace that suggests an alternative thinking beyond violence. Paying particular attention to the concept of insāniyat, humanity, that survivors recall was lost in violence, I examine what perpetrators deem gunah (sin) and their desire to do tauba (repent) for delivering insāf (justice). Emphasizing survivors’ renewed humanistic understanding based on religion, I ask: In what ways can survivors’ alternative discourses open the space for dialogue for writing larger histories of peace in the region? Can the religio-cultural vocabularies of repentance, tauba, and principles of justice, insāf, based on the concept of haqq (rights) serve for peacemaking between Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India? Is religio-cultural method of peacemaking relevant and useful for restorative justice of huquq al-ibād, rights of people? What are its implications for decolonizing the notions of justice and rights in the subcontinent?


Co-sponsored with the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University