Bangalore, November 2006
Inter-religious Harmony and Religions for Peace and Transformation
India is a country of more than one billion people, the majority of whom are Hindus. But we also have large populations of minorities, with about 150 million Muslims, making this the second largest Muslim population in the world, after Indonesia. There are also many millions of Christians, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. In recent decades, the conflict between religious communities (referred to as communalism in India) have grown substantially and thousands of people have been killed in these religious conflicts. The future of India is bleak if religious conflicts tear the democratic fabric away and create conditions of civil war.
Critical Concerns for inter-religious harmony in India
We are going through a period where fundamentalist forces in the country appear to have weakened. There is even a feeling that events such as Gujarat (2003) have cost the fundamentalist forces dearly in the eyes of the electorate. It is too early to say. If the economic situation deteriorates, then communal issues can be used once again to divide the nation, and divide the poor.
This present period is one of consolidation where the following issues need to be considered for reflection and action :
Religions for Pluralism, Social Justice and Environmental action
While a large number of religious figures within the Muslim and Christian communities have become active and self-critical the same cannot be said of Hindu religious leaders. Most of those from the Hindu community who courageously fought the communal onslaught of the past decade were secular activists. It is time to now draw in more Hindu religious leaders so that Hinduism once again stands for pluralism and respect for all traditions.
So, what needs to be urgently done is to create conditions for pro-active pluralistic interpretations from the different religions. An ongoing network of religious leaders and theologians from all over the country needs to come together to renew the different religions from the perspective of pluralism, social justice and environmental action.
Development goes hand in hand with inter-religious harmony
There are thousands of development organizations in the country doing much good work on structural and charitable issues. While most of them are ideologically in support of communal harmony and an « inclusive secularism », the approach to secularism which combines secular values and religious conviction (unlike exclusive secularism, which is anti-religious) they are still not programmatically combating fundamentalism and promoting pluralism.
The media and communal harmony
The media has by and large played a positive role in fighting fundamentalism. But there is a tendency to put the issue on the backburner when there is no overt fundamentalist conflict disrupting society. Much of the focus on newspapers these days is on entertainment, fashion, commercial films, consumer culture, and sports. Even politics gets less coverage than any of these other issues.
A creative campaign among publishers and editors of national and local newspapers and television channels can keep the enthusiasm upbeat by publishing stories where Hindus have helped Muslims in times of dire need or vice-versa, or cases where Christians have helped Muslims and Hindus. There can be more coverage of inter-religious events. Stories can be done on the problems of implementing anti-fundamentalist legislation that is now being proposed, or issues concerning the formulation of a inter-religious syllabus for schools and colleges.
Advocacy and Communication Programme
Monthly one page e-mail communiqué sharing information, experiences and networking with partners.
Articles written by journalists/action-researchers will be published in the local newspapers/websites/journal.
It is necessary to come out with a training manual for this and train the existing range of facilitators on how to use this manual.
One of the most important methods of conflict resolution is through effective communication channels between different religious communities so that rumours can be squashed and problems solved before they become too big. Communication with police, the media, religious and community leaders is also vital. We will maintain and strengthen our ongoing dialogue with them.
The time has come to play a pro-active role in schools and colleges and introduce inter-religious education that can promote communal harmony as part of the curriculum. We intend to work towards creating alternative curriculam material, which present a more balanced view of religious history, as well as promote respect for all religious traditions.
A creative campaign among publishers and editors of national and local print and electronic media can keep the enthusiasm upbeat by publishing stories where Hindus have helped Muslims in times of dire need or vice-versa, or cases where Christians have helped Muslims and Hindus.
Bringing together different actors on a platform to solve concrete problems.
Production and distribution of a film on Celebration and re-interpretation of festivals nationally.
Lobbying with the government officials, political leaders, police, etc
Peace committee members
Local people and local leaders (Corporators, school principals, local religious leaders)
NGOs such as COVA, Hyderbad, and CSSS, Mumbai, working specifically on these issues at local and national levels