In the wake of recent communal violence in Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal, and other Indian states, the spiritual leaders of India’s Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, and Sikh communities gathered in Margao, in the western state of Goa, on 5 April, to condemn the violence and express their anguish over exploitation based on religion, region, and community.
“We are deeply distressed at the communal tensions that we have seen in recent days. . . . We strongly condemn those who are seeking to inject the portion of hatred into our society,” the faith representatives said in a joint statement. (Matters India)
The leaders voiced their concerns during an interfaith gathering titled “Collective Action for Dialogue and Social Harmony Youth of India: Looking Forward,” organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) in collaboration with Agnel Region, the Society of Pilar, and Bharatiya Sarva Dharma Sansad (BSDS).
Among the religious representatives present at the event were BSDS president Sushil Goswamy Maharaj, Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, chief imam of India and president of the All India Imam Association and Imam Council of India, Reverend Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of CBCI, Vivek Muni, president of the International Mahavir Jain Mission, Paramjeet Singh Chandok, chairman of Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, and Bhikkhu Sanghasena, founder of the Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre in Ladakh.
The heartfelt statement further reads: “Every Indian has his dignity and respect and the right to decide what one eats, to marry the person of one’s choice, to choose the education one selects, and the freedom to practice whatever faith one wishes to profess. We take strong exception to anyone taking control of these individual decisions, be it on the part of the state or by so-called cultural organisations. No one is to be categorised as anti-national or non-patriotic based on his religion, region, or belongingness to a community. Our county cannot progress simply with slogans and promises. A nation can progress only when its people live with each other as brothers and sisters, where egoism gives place to selflessness, hate gives way to love, peace replaces violence.” (The Times of India)
Many faith leaders also spoke in the gathering to condemn the discrimination of Dalits, saddened to see that caste still plays such an important role in modern India society. “We vehemently denounce mobs that go around taking law and order into their hands and appeal that the constitutional norms and articles be respected and implemented in letter and spirit. Dalits be given their rightful place in society,” the statements reads. The faith leaders further demanded that the “rights of the tribals, the marginalized, the workers, and the poor be upheld and protected.” (Vatican News)
India is a multi-cultural and multi-religious country in which the unity-in-diversity model is propagated. The recent communal violence, however, brought leaders together to express their deep worry and concern. As Ven. Sanghasena emphasized, people need to “come out of the mentality that my country is bigger than yours, my God is superior to yours . . . because we live under the same Sun and same Moon on the same Earth.” (Vatican News)
“We call upon all men and women of goodwill to stand up for social harmony. . . . A nation can progress only when its people live with each other as brothers and sisters, where egoism gives place to selflessness, hate gives way to love, peace replaces violence,” the faith leaders concluded. (Matters India)
Spiritual leaders express distress over communal tensions in several states (The Times of India)
Indian faith leaders band together to condemn exploitation of religion (Ecumenical News)
Indian faith leaders condemn exploitation of religion (Vatican News)
Spiritual leaders condemn violence in India (Matters India)