Chardi Kalaa in the Midst of Extreme Adversityby JASTEENA KAUR DHILLON It has been a great life so far, well that is the way I feel when I sit with my "chai" on my cushions on a quiet Saturday morning at home. I am elated to know that I am healthy, motivated and content with all that is around me. Am I? Then it starts, the faces and voices of people who have seen hunger, death and desperation every day of their lives, creep into my mind. It is at this point I fear that my "positive attitude towards life" might falter, but it does not; it gets stronger. Life is good, I say. So I ask myself, how is it possible to be able to remain in a state of having a positive attitude towards life, or as a Sikh would say, live by the principle of "chardi kalaa!" After letting these thoughts of violations against people and conflict in communities to which I have been witness, circle in my mind for a while. I stop and turn my thoughts to the people who have suffered these violations and live in a perpetual state of conflict and remember that even in the face of fear and despair, each and every one of them smiled and said to me, "Don't worry, dear, it'll all work out!" That led me to the question, why and how can they remain so optimistic when, in some cases, they have lost all that is dear to them personally and communally. They are amazingly strong and grounded, even when the seeds of their strength are seemingly gone and the earth has moved under their feet. I ask this question of all the people who have touched my life when I was working in places such as racially segregated South Africa, ethnically cleansed Bosnia, Tsunami ridden Indonesia, war-torn Sri Lanka, violence-ridden Iraq, famine-ridden Sudan and topsy-turvy Afghanistan. But it still burns in my mind as an irresolvable conundrum. So I turn to myself and look inwards at myself to see if maybe I can use my own experience as a lifelong field worker in some of the worst and inhuman places to see how my optimism survives in the face of being a witness to some of the most heinous and horrific violations that have happened in our world. I start with my personal principles - the ones that have marched with me in my travels and held me together in crisis and conflict, they are: empowerment, righteousness and humility. They all give me the "chardi kalaa" of life! Being held to this principle has enabled me to live through and witness some of the most tragic events in the history of conflict in the last 15 years and keeps me going. It has enabled me to complete my missions, even when it seemed that there was no hope. I ponder this only for a little while before I realize that it is as simple as that, internal strength allows you to externally preserve! What is more is that once you realize the strength is there within you. It can take on a life of its own and move you to resolve by the sheer force of positive energy and commitment to ideals that one has within oneself. Believe me, this can change even the most intractable situation into a liveable one for you and those you are committed to help. Now, that is something to live for, I say! And it all makes sense again ... that is how "chardi kala" works! I hope to follow this piece with a series of articles at regular intervals, looking at the lives of people through the eyes of a Sikh witness, at their ability to survive the conflicts and disasters in Bosnia, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Sudan and South Africa; their strength and resolve to overcome war, disaster, terror, social, economic and political upheaval and make huge achievements in conflict-resolution and peace-building globally. More soon ... BIO Jasteena Kaur Dhillon is a Sikh-Canadian/ Briton who is currently engaged by Harvard University in their State-Building and Human Rights for Afghanistan/Pakistan program as a research fellow looking at issues of rule of law, formal and informal justice in the context of human rights in the tribal areas. Her overall research and advocacy research interests centre on international law, justice and human rights in conflict, post-conflict and transitional countries and regions. Jasteena is a graduate of University of Toronto and the University of Windsor Law School and holds a Master's in International Law from Leiden University in the Netherlands. She worked in Canada in the community development and advocacy sector on issues such as violence against women movement and discrimination against immigrants and refugees from 1989 till 1999. She started as a Student Activist in the South Asian student movement in the University in Toronto and continued after graduation as a Community Advocate and Counsellor at Toronto area women's shelters and crisis centres for rape victims and youth. After leaving Toronto in 1990s to work on children's rights issues in the context of the South African constitutional process, she continued to work globally on international legal and development issues in conflict, post-conflict and transitional crisis areas around the world, including in Afghanistan, Southern Sudan, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Bosnia, Croatia, Occupied Palestinian Territory, South Africa and India in international non-governmental organizations, the United Nations and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. She has worked specifically on rights and development for women, children, refugees, IDPs in conflict and post-conflict settings, with a special emphasis on issues ranging from development of rule of law institutions and governance, the role of customary and sharia legal systems, human rights and humanitarian law , duties and responsibilities of national and international actors in building judicial and political institutions and civil-military interaction strategy and tools in the evolution of states and regions from crises to stability. October 27, 2009 Forwarded by forum member Tejwant Singh Malik.