Report on the South Asian Seminar "Dialogue of Civilizations and People’s Development"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Inputs by Ms. Jarjum Ete and Fr. Lancy Lobo
Inputs by Ms. Seema Sakhare and Ms. Ruth Manorama
Inputs by Ms. Mohini Giri, Ms. Sherifa Khannam, Ms. V. Geetha
OTHER MARGINALIZED GROUPS
Inputs by Mr. Mohammed Kamruddin and Fr. Edwin
GLOBALIZATION AND THE NATIONAL ECONOMY
Input by Mr. Victor Louis
NEPAL: Inputs by Mr. Bishnu Hari Bhatta and Mr. Mohan Parajuli
SRI LANKA: Inputs by Fr. Paul Caspersz and Mr.Harsha Wanninayake
PAKISTAN: Input by Mr. Farooq Ahmad
CAMBODIA : Input by Mr. Nuth Narang
LEBANON : Input by Mr. Boutros Labaki
Inputs by Mr. Asghar Ali Engineer and Mr. Ravi Prakash Arya
(Folk dances and the Playback Theatre)
Seminar venue: United Theological College (UTC), Bangalore August 1 - 4, 2005 in Bangalore, India
· Association of Rural Education and Development Service, AREDS(1)
AREDS, the hosting organization of the seminar, has existed for more than 20 years now, working for the cause and development of the Dalit communities in Karur area in Tamil Nadu.
· Centre International Lebret-Irfed
A recent fusion between two organizations, the Centre Lebret (founded in 1972) and Irfed (founded in 1958), the new structure called the Centre International Lebret-Irfed(2), is focusing its present activities on “people’s development and the dialogue of civilizations”.
AREDS and Centre Lebret-Irfed have collaborated with each other on different occasions in the past. In 1999, a workshop was organized in Karur, India, to study the results of an action-research project on "Indicators to Understanding the Spiritual Dimension of Human Development”, conducted earlier with groups in Madagascar, Chili and Tanzania.
Very recently, in the context of the World Social Forum 2004 in Mumbai, AREDS and the Centre Lebret-Irfed jointly conducted a workshop on “spiritualities and identities”, focusing on obstacles against dialogue and approaches that favour dialogue.
The current global activity of the Centre Lebret-Irfed and its network takes the form of a series of regional or continental seminars, the results of which will be accumulated for an international impact. This "South Asian" is the second seminar of this type. The first seminar took place in Lebanon in 2003 for the Middle East Region.
Objectives of the Seminar
to gather development actors engaged in social transformation to reflect together, on the basis of their local and regional experiences, on processes of dialogue and the interaction between spiritualities/religions;
to contribute to the solution and the prevention of tensions and conflicts (inter-communal, interethnic, inter-religious) which hinder development processes and countries’ or people’s actions for social transformation.
to have a better understanding of the current, actual threats of communalism, fundamentalism, and the relationship between religious discourse and globalization;
to see more clearly the universal human values as they are expressed in the countries concerned and their cultural context and how these values can be strengthened and serve as a counter-power to the threats;
to transform the proposals resulting from these encounters into material that will allow varied communication modes, intended for direct or indirect beneficiaries and for the wide public;
to come up with concrete common actions, more particularly on the regional level, and strengthen the relationships between the participants and their other networks for future common actions.
Panel Speakers and Participants
The participants were chosen according to the following criteria :
partners engaged in development processes, in concrete actions of social transformation, and with a good knowledge and understanding of international realities
persons active in processes implying relations between civil society actors and public authorities,
animators of NGOs, coordinators of networks linking up a significant number of civil society organizations or associations at regional or national level, capable of echoing back the results of the workshops to the networks they belong to.
persons with experience and have undertaken reflection on religious fundamentalism
representatives of different spiritualities who have experience of living values over their beliefs
those who have transcended the caste system.
Though specifically for the South Asian region, international “witnesses” coming from other regions concerned with the same issues were invited. This, in light of moving towards an international expression while respecting specific situations.
39 persons participated in the seminar:
18 participants from AREDS India (including local staff)
12 participants from other organizations all over India
9 international participants (4 participants from non-Indian SAARC countries, 2 witnesses from other regions, 3 from CLI – Paris)
Though the organizers envisaged the participation of at least one person from all the SAARC countries, only Sri Lanka and Nepal were finally represented. A main factor of the lack of presence of other countries like Bangladesh was the difficulty on the part of the organizers to send out early invitations without prior assurance of funding. For the Pakistani participant however, it concerned more the difficulty in getting an Indian visa which he was finally denied from having. The Indonesian participant had to drop out for personal reasons. Some other Indian participants could not come to Bangalore due to the floods that occurred in Bombay at the time of the seminar.
Preparatory process and continuity:
It must also be noted that the organizers, as well as the speakers-participants, invested a lot of efforts in the preparatory phase of the seminar. The participants filled out a questionnaire which served as a background of their engagement and activities, and a paper on their topic of intervention. As for the organizers, a number of meetings were held to clearly define the central issues that concerned the region, the choice of participants, the preparation of the questionnaire etc.
Capitalization of the seminar experience and results:
This report will serve as the basis of a publication in English, with subsequently be translated into Tamil and French. Some of the papers of the participants are also intended to be used as material for specific publications or websites, like Development and Civilizations, the CLI’s monthly publication.
The participants also gave their ideas (see section on Evaluation and Perspectives) of their own perspectives of action, reflection and networking within the region and on the international level.
South Asian Seminar Programme
Dialogue of Civilisations and People’s Development: “Religious Fundamentalism and Globalisation”
Venue: United Theological College (UTC) 63 Millers Road, Cantonment, Bangalore 560 046, Karnataka, India
4:30 p.m. Registration
5:00 Opening Ceremony
Welcome address: Ms. Christina Samy
Inaugural Reflection: Fr. Mathias Rethinam
Participants are invited to light the ‘lamp’ and to express his or her major concern in relation to the seminar.
5:30 Introduction to the seminar by organizers: Mr. L.A. Samy on behalf of AREDS; Mr. Sergio Regazzoni on behalf of Centre Lebret-Irfed
Inaugural greetings by Ms. Mohini Giri
Inaugural greetings by Ms. Seema Sakhare
6:30 Cultural Performance / AREDS Cultural Team Karagattam dance, Folk Songs, Parayattam dance
Theme of the Day: Fundamentalisms and globalization – Indian Realities and Experiences
Moderators: Fr. R.V. Mathias and Mr. L.A. Samy
9:30 -11:00 Indian realities and experience – General Overview
Labour – Mr. Victor Louis
Dalits: Ms. Seema Sakhare
Women: Ms. Mohini Giri
Tribals: Ms. Jarjum Ete
11:00 Tea break
11:30 -1:00 Sectoral specificity of the realities and experiences
Dalits and Tribals : Ms. Ruth Manorama, Fr. Lancy Lobo
2:30 - 4:00 Women : Ms Sherifa Khannam, Ms V. Geetha
4:00 Tea break
4:30 – 6:00 Other marginalized groups: Mr. Kamruddin, Fr. Edwin
6:30 Playback Theatre, a Spiritual Experience : Ms. Christina Samy
Playback Theatre Performance
Theme : Living together in diversity: Identity and Pluralism
Moderators: Ms. Mohini Giri and Mr. Boutros Labaki
9:00 – 10:30 Synthesis of the previous day
Other South Asian realities
Nepal: Mr. Bishnu Hari Bhatta and Mr. Mohan Parajuli
Pakistan: Mr. Farooq Ahmad
Sri Lanka: Fr. Paul Caspersz and Mr. Harsha Wanninayakke
10:30 – 11:00 Tea break
11:00-12:30 Role of Religions and Dialogue of Civilisations
Mr. Asghar Ali Engineer
Mr. Ravi Prakash Arya
Fr. Paul Caspersz
12:30 – 2:00 Lunch
2:00-3:30 Experiences from other countries
Mr. Nuth Narang - Cambodia:
Mr. Boutros Labaki - Lebanon
4:30 – 6:30 PUBLIC MEETING – Ranson Hall, UTC
8:00 -9:00 Breakfast
Theme of the day: Strengthening Civil Society: Political action and networking
Moderators: Ms. Christina Samy and Mr. Yves Berthelot
9:00 -10:30 Synthesis of the previous day
Plenary: The essence of dialogue
10:30-11:00 Tea break
11:00-12:30 Conclusions and Concrete Plans of Action :
assessment of the seminar
what to do together – nationally, regionally and globally
Civilization is a word that has been on the lips of many people in the West since the attack on the World Trade Centre in September, 2001. New perception of dividing the world into ‘civilized west’ that cherishes the values such as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious pluralism and universal suffrage and the ‘uncivilized east’ that has nothing but hatred for these values emerged. Then there were talks of war of west against east, Christian traditions against Muslim States, Hindu states, Confucian states and so on. Samuel P. Huntington, a Harvard Professor and a spin doctor of the American Establishment for nearly five decades came out with a book ‘The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order’ to explain this theory which says that with the disappearance of the ‘red menace’, it is the clashes of these civilizations that are creating the fault lines around the world. At one point he says that the dividing line in Europe has moved several hundred miles east. It is now the line dividing the peoples of Western Christianity…from Muslim and Orthodox peoples. These ‘clashes of civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace’.
One gets confused over what he means by ‘civilization’. Sometimes it seems to be territorial, like ‘African’; sometimes it is religious, like ‘Islamic’; sometimes it is different sects of the same religion, like ‘Western Christianity’ and ‘Orthodox Christianity’ ; sometimes it is national, like ‘Japanese’. While his difficulties reflect the dubiousness of the idea that the world is divided into separate civilizations, he is not confused over his central concern. It is the fault line between Islam and the west. “Islam’s borders are bloody, and so are its innards”, he argues. He invents an Islam poised to assault the borders of Western Civilization. His anti-Islamic Crusade blinds him from realizing his profound ignorance of the reality of the Islamic world. Islam is living, from Algeria to Iran, its own cultural and political battle between conservatives and Islamic liberals, between and amongst different sects. It is a vertical battle, deep within, not a horizontal one of expansion. As for Western Civilization, Gandhi once remarked: “it is a good idea”.
The confusion and fear bred by the growing intolerance and violence in the world today makes the dialogue of civilizations even more necessary and urgent. For such a dialogue to be meaningful and solutions to be found, it is essential that the dialogue be not disconnected from the economic conditions through which cultures or civilizations express themselves today.
This was precisely the reason why the 4-day South Asian Seminar at Bangalore, India was aptly titled ‘Dialogue of Civilizations and People’s Development: Religious Fundamentalism and Globalization’. It was a part of a series of seminars on Dialogue of Civilization initiated by the International Centre Lebret-IRFED. The first took place in Lebanon in 2003 and brought together Christian and Muslim communities of the Region. The second seminar, held in Bangalore, India from August 1 to 4, 2005 was co-organized by Association for Rural Education and Development (AREDS, Tamil Nadu), and focussed specifically on the theme ‘Religious Fundamentalism and Globalization’.
AREDS offered to organize the second seminar in India where caste and religion based tensions and conflicts are on the increase. While the tensions and conflicts based on caste have a democratic and progressive content in so far as the most oppressed sections of the Indian society- the Dalits- have begun asserting their self-worth, dignity and rights, the ones based on religion threaten to tear asunder the already weakening the secular fabric of the Indian society as the series of unprecedented communal violence the country has been witnessing since the demolition of Babri Masjid by the Hindu fanatics in 1991, culminating in a carnage in the Indian state of Gujarat that saw thousands of Muslims killed, raped and tortured besides millions of dollars worth of their properties destroyed in 2002, would amply testify.
The economic phenomenon called globalization is being increasingly identified as one of the major factors causing the communal and ethnic clashes all over the world. In fact, globalization is itself a kind of fundamentalism as it imposes a single vision of the economic world with ready made market oriented recipes, ignoring the diversity of the national situations. While it has aggravated inequalities between different sections of the people in the same country, the beneficiaries of this process often resort to the use of the religious fundamentalism to divert the attention of the people from the real, material factors that cause social and economic disparities, injustices, poverty and deprivation as testified by the activists who participated in the four day seminar at Bangalore.
Fr. R.V.Mathias of AREDS and the International Centre Lebret-Irfed set the tone for the Seminar and public meeting when he made the following observations: “ Economic globalization uses all its might to promote the ‘ culture of consumerism’ as the ultimate meaning of life. It mobilizes the whole media world and all other technical and scientific inventions to brain-wash systematically the people of the entire globe to accept it as a greatly desirable value” and “ on the other hand, the Hindutva forces come with their provocative slogan ‘we the majority Hindus unite and fight, our glorious past culture and identities are in danger of extinction’.
It was in this context that the thrust of the Seminar and public meeting was set: how each category of people have suffered the onslaught of these fundamentalisms in their own context; how they respond to eliminate the culture of oppressive homogenization; their actions of self-affirmation to defend their cultural identities and the strategies they follow to sustain them; the lessons learned from their actions for our future.
Input by Ms. Jarjum Ete of the Indigenous Women’s Resource Center in the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh
Ms. Jarjum Ete explained the linkages between globalization and the rise of Hindutva fundamentalism as seen from the context of the tribals, as well as the types of conflicts experienced by them in this part of India. She said that religion had never been a priority in the tribal society from which she hails, but in the present transition period religion has become a necessity, not as a spiritual support in one’s life, but because it has become a question of identity. In all these north-eastern states, various communities who had never embraced Hinduism are systematically being pushed to conform to the dominant Hindu creed. Also now, “there are religious beliefs and practices which never had a name in our community. New cults are coming up in every tribe. Like the so-called dhonipalosion. Dhoni means the sun and paloo is the moon. We believe in natural forces but we don’t believe in worshipping the moon or sun”.
Pointing out the fact that there had been large-scale conversion to Christianity in these states before they got merged into the present Indian State, Ms. Ete said that Hindu ways of life were imposed on the tribals since the Indo-China border conflict in the 1960s. Today, with the Hindu forces trying to resist further Christianization, her state has become the battleground of both the Christian and Hindu forces. The Hindutva forces, instead of addressing these issues at socio-economic and political levels, convert them into religious issues like Hindus versus Christians and Hindus versus Muslims.” All the way from Ayodhya, after demolishing Babri Masjid, the Hindutva elements brought some soil from Ayodhya to Arunachal Pradesh, in a place where they constructed a Hindu temple and started performing Pujas.” They also constructed a Hanuman temple in a green patch in the capital city, a green patch that belongs to Forest department. Suddenly shopping complexes started coming up in this green patch. If a Christian raises this issue, immediately it is considered a Christian issue but not as an issue that affects all sections of the populace.
On the issue of development for the tribals, she noted that the application of modern democratic institutions and processes like elections are new and still need to be understood by the tribal bodies; so far “the electoral process has made the people fight over everything. The same question goes for having a uniform civil code in accordance with the 1950 Constitution. Is this code, that is totally foreign, appropriate for the tribals vis-à-vis their own practices and customs which they understand better?”
The changing forest management policies, provisions and ownership rights of resources have also been a factor of conflict. “The collective management of land, forest wealth and other resources has undergone drastic change and today the northeast of India has become a power-generating unit for the rest of India with the mega hydro-electrical projects being implemented there. But what the tribals get in return is displacement and marginalization. The tribal children are getting education but they are not able to compete in the job markets. The north-eastern states also have to bear the burden of the problems created by illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who leave their country also because of poverty. These kind of conflicts in the face of changing times, values, and needs in tribal societies require dialogue and interaction, introspection, cooperation and understanding.
Input by Fr. Lancy Lobo, Director of the Centre for Culture and development in Vadhodara
Fr. Lancy Lobo, who has done extensive studies on dalits, tribals, OBCs (other backward castes) and minorities, spoke about the systematic hindutvavisation of the tribals in Gujarat and how they were used as battering rams by the Hindutva forces in the communal carnage in Gujarat in 2002, resulting in the massacre and displacement of thousands of Muslims and the destruction of their properties worth millions of dollars.
Adivasis (the use of this term has an ideological connotation: means living in the jungle, by extension uncivilised, and it is the job of Hindu nationalists to civilise them) constitute 8% of the total Indian population. In Gujarat, it is 15%. For the last 58 years there have been systematic displacement of the tribal population from their traditional habitats due to the construction of dams, deforestation, mining, the transfer of land resources to non-tribals and so on, and a large number of them have been forced to migrate to the cities and towns where they literally live in open streets. “Child labour is on the rise and attaining the constitutional objective of universal primary education remains a far cry. The average food security from their own food production in most tribal households has gone down from 90 days to 70 days a year. Water has become scarce, due to the continued degradation of forests and washing away of the top soil. Women and children now face the additional burden of procuring safe drinking water from far away places”.
Instead of addressing these problems, the Congress Party thoroughly neglected the tribals while the BJP-led Hindutva forces succeeded in wooing them into their camps by laying the blame for all the ills of the tribals on the Muslim traders who definitely exploited the tribals and passed anti-Conversion legislations directed against the Christian missionaries. There had been attacks on churches too, since the Christian missionaries carry out developmental work in tribal areas in health, education and income generating activities. In many cases these interventions act as empowering and emancipatory for the tribals and create amongst them awareness of their social conditions. Wherever there are economic rivalries between the Muslim traders and Hindu traders, the weapon of Hindutva was used by the latter to eliminate the former and the tribals became the wielder of this weapon.
The problems of adivasis are associated with Jal (water), jungle (forests) and jameen (land) and not in the least to Hindutva. Transfer of their resources to non-tribal areas is their main question. Instead of addressing issues of political economy, the Sangh Parivar and BJP, whose social base is prominent among the upper castes and middle classes, divert the attention of adivasis to target Muslims and Christians as the causes of their ills. “The BJP with its religious card began to take the pachhat groups (backward classes) under its wings. They have succeeded in first shaping and then directing the anger of lower social stratum against Muslims and Christians, during the last ten years. The BJP cannot afford to lose 15% tribal and 7% dalit votes in Gujarat in a ‘one man one vote’ electoral politics. Their value for tribals and dalits ceases with this interest. Hindutva and a tangible development process of these lower strata are least likely to go together. Congress has kept the tribals in poverty for forty years and lately the BJP has introduced hatred among them for electoral gain. It has been said that poverty and hatred are a deadly mixture directed towards perceived enemies, the Muslims and Christians.”
Fr. Lobo was also critical of the attitude of the Church when the anti-Muslim carnage was going on: ”At times the behaviour of Church personnel looks like they are busy re-arranging furniture inside the house when the flood waters are rising all around the house. Most often Church personnel know what is taking place around them but appear helpless. This may be partly because they are not trained to counter the process of communalization of adivasis. Much of their activity is limited to running institutions. Only when institutional interests are affected then they stir up and try to find ‘peaceful’ solutions. Prayer and fasting are their time-proven solutions. For instance, despite running scores of schools they have not bothered to scan the saffronised textbooks. Moral science and value education are fine, but it is time we introduce a regular programme to fight communalism right in our schools.
In other countries several schools in areas torn by conflict or war have begun ‘peace education’ in imparting the culture of peace, particularly among youth. In villages where divisions of all kinds are found the Church personnel must adopt an inclusive approach to community development and build better rapport with the local people, irrespective of their religion through a variety of means. Participatory development and fighting for justice are perhaps the best remedies for arresting the communal virus and preventing it from spreading further.”
Fr. Lobo also pointed out that while the alienation and deprivation the tribals of the Gujarat experience have preceded the globalization process, globalization has accentuated these problems.
Input by Ms. Ruth Manorama, President of NAWO (National Alliance of Women) and leader of the National Dalit Movement
Ms. Ruth Manorama, one of India’s prominent Dalit/women activists spoke on the globalization and its impact on dalits. First commenting on the caste system, Ms. Manorama noted that “the oldest discriminatory practices one finds in the whole of the earth is the one based on caste, which has already lasted for more than two thousand years. One cannot talk about the caste system in India without talking about a very hierarchical system, a system which is equated to graded inequality. Secondly, endogamous marriages are very important in the caste system; it obliges one to marry within the caste to assure protection. It thus promulgates the racist notion of “purity and pollution”: marrying within the caste ensures the purity of blood from generation to generation; marrying outside pollutes.
This hierarchy also strictly follows the norms of untouchability. Even today, if dalit boys walk in the main streets of the upper caste people, the latter collect their urine in a glass and make the dalit boys drink it. Anything can be done with the dalit women. They can be raped, misused. In North Karnataka, the devadasi system still exists; young dalit girls are dedicated to the temples only for the old patels to sleep with them; the upper caste men in these villages use them even without paying a penny. No Brahmin will do a scavenger’s work (a manual scavenger is someone who cleans up the road, lifts the night soil from the latrines). It is the work assigned to dalits not by a private individual but by corporations and municipalities. Villages are divided into two- one is the ‘village proper’ and the other one ‘a colony’ (dalit ghetto).
There are some 200 million untouchables in India, nicely called ‘scheduled castes’ (the word came about in 1935 when the British government thought that all these marginalized groups must be put into a schedule, so that benefits could be given, like the right to education, the right to vote). Those who are in the Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh folds enjoy benefits of affirmative action but the Christian and Muslim dalits are excluded from this benefit.
Dalits continue to live in extreme poverty. The only exception are those who have benefited from the government policies on quotas in education and government jobs. Dalit children make up the majority of those sold into bondage to pay up the debts to upper castes or creditors. In Mandya, one of the richest districts of Karnataka where paddy is cultivated throughout the year, you have bonded laborers and those bonded laborers are being tied in chains.
The paradox about this is the recent declaration of the Union Minister, assuring the people that in the next five years every one will be having a personal computer. He is not worried whether every one of us would have a toilet nor is he worried whether the sewage system would be modernized so that manual scavenging is abolished. We are 1.2 billion people and within 5-10 years we will have computers because of globalization. But we will not have enough food to eat, and women still have difficulty procuring water… The young Minister for Information Technology says that a personal computer will be available for 6-10 thousand rupees. So I will buy all the computers through SHGs-small savings programmes for the women. They don’t have to have a toilet, because to build a toilet they have to have 10,000 rupees.
Globalization has reached countries at different levels. The beautiful city like Bangalore which is bestowed with world heritage is today filled with such shopping malls that you see in Brazil or Washington… Today Bangalore has been sold completely to the international market in establishing IT. If the multinationals find another country with cheaper labour and shift these industries, all these buildings will be wasted.
It will also strengthen and legitimize the entire fundamentalist attitude … it will never ask, America will never ask what happened to thousands of Muslims in Gujarat. The European Union did not raise this question because we are one of the big commercial places for them. They can sell anything to the rich in this country. Every day they can change cars. If dalits are discriminated so what?
Ms. Manorama drew on the experiences of the movements to show that people’s actions can have an impact. When the electricity sector was privatized in Bangalore, the slum dwellers were asked pay an exorbitant price for the electricity they consumed. The women of the slums marched to the Government Office that was responsible for electricity and water connection and forced the authorities to reduce the price.
Input by Ms. Seema Sakhare, President - Stree Atyachar Virodhi Parishad, Maharastra
Ms. Seema Sakhare, a grassroot worker, is renowned at the state, national and international levels for her social work, spanning three decades in empowering women socially, economically, legally and politically.
While the vast majority of the tribals and sizeable sections of dalits in Gujarat have fallen prey to the ideology of hate propagated by Hindutva forces, Ms. Sakhare from the Indian State of Maharashtra said that the Dalit assertion inspired by the great social revolutionary Dr B.R.Ambedkar was very much in evidence in her state despite the fact that the dalits, especially in rural areas, are subjected to humiliation, harassment, torture and degradation like rape. She said that in all such atrocities, the other backward castes carry out the orders of their Brahmin overlords. In every village dalits erect the statues of Buddha, Phule (social reformer) and Ambedkar with whom they identify, as the symbols of their self worth and dignity and that is why the upper castes, especially those represented by Hindutva forces target these statues and disfigure them.
Ms. Mohini Giri, founder trustee of Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA) gave a general overview of the women’s situation. Women constitute 48% of the population in India, where 18% are agricultural coolies, 11 % widows, 3 % prisoners and in brothels, 1% handicapped and the remaining would be Dalit women. The situation and status of the majority of women is very bad and only 1% of women are able to come to the forefront and express themselves. In the name of religion and culture the women go through horrible experiences. Religious fundamentalism is one such phenomenon that discriminates women, for example: the Godra incident is the face of religious fundamentalism where women were the worst affected. Women in politics have a very difficult time, especially among the patriarchs, often feeling isolated and lonely.
Ms. Giri, expressed, however, a strong note of encouragement, saying that “women have also learned from these experiences. Women in togetherness have done and can do anything they want. Women should gear up socially, politically, economically, in unity. Togetherness is the main component to combat all such illnesses.”
Input by Ms. Sharifa Khannam, initiator of STEPS
An activist from the State of Tamil Nadu, Ms. Sharifa narrated her experience as a woman and Muslim, mobilizing and organizing Muslim women in Tamil Nadu during the last 5-7 years.
Ms. Sharifa said that she started out as an activist in the women’s movement, but given the political situation in this country in the early and mid 90s, she was forced to own up the identity of a Muslim woman, though that identity has never been central to her social activism till then. She realized that within the Muslim community there were all kinds of issues that needed to be addressed, especially the question of gender, because on the one hand, the community itself is vulnerable, and on the other hand, the women in the community are more vulnerable both from within and without.
The Muslim woman suffers from the double burden of discrimination based on religion and based on gender. The Muslim male scholars and religious leaders assert that Islam guarantees equality and respect to women which no other religions like Hinduism and Christianity offer. They also say that Islam accepts widow marriage, the right to property, the right to divorce and so on. It might have been the case during the Prophet’s lifetime, because women then were allowed to go to the mosque and whenever there were any problems for the women, the Prophet clarified the issues. But today the mobility of Muslim women is curbed and she is shackled at her home. Indian Muslim women are shackled from their childhood. The basic right to education is denied and illiteracy is high among them. Muslim men interpret the religious texts and tenets in a way that is advantageous to them. Women are imprisoned in dark pardha and their life is filled with darkness. Though they are Muslims, they are not able to escape from one of the negative aspects of the traditional Indian culture – payment of dowry, which is against the Islamic custom of paying the mahar to the bride by the bridegroom. Mahar is a mere word in this community while payment of dowry is a widespread reality accepted as a compulsory practice. While widow remarriages and divorces are accepted in Islam, in reality men do not favour these practices. There are several instances of Muslim women being sold to aged Arabs and this is because of the very low status of the women in their community. The Muslim women are not even able to cry aloud to unburden themselves. They have to suppress their cries and tears in the dark rooms they inhabit since they are unorganized, marginalized and invisible to the outer world. As per the Indian Constitution, the Muslim citizens, whether men or women, are expected to abide by the personal sharia laws. Quite often even the police personnel hesitate to entertain the complaints lodged by Muslim women or men and refer these cases to the local jamads. Jamad consists of Muslim male leaders who decide on issues like marriages, domestic violence, child abuse and other community issues.
In this context, Ms. Sharifa’s organization STEPS decided to intervene and do something for the Muslim women in Tamil Nadu. It conducted a survey on the socio-economic status of Muslim women in Tamil Nadu with a view to empower them. It went on to create awareness amongst them for the last 6 to 7 years.
STEPS was formed to make Muslim women aware of the causes of discrimination and violence against them, taking up their individual issues and helping them find alternatives. It has helped them organize into groups and form associations to articulate their grievances. It has mobilized Muslim women to assert their right to education. It also creates awareness of their political and human rights by providing legal aid and offering counselling for women in distress. To the women who were forced out of their homes due to harassment and torture, short-stay homes were set up. To bring Muslim women into the mainstream and to make them aware of their religious and political rights, jamad committees were formed. Through seminars, conferences and by producing posters, Muslim women have been enabled to narrate their experiences of the social oppression and injustice done to them by their own people. They have spoken of how men in their community distort the personal laws and misinterpret the texts and tenets to suit their selfish interests. This forced Sharifa to read the Koran, hadith and sharia thoroughly to get an in-depth knowledge of the religious teachings and tenets. In doing so, Sharifa realized that the sanction for the one-sided triple talaq resorted to by Muslim men was not in the Koran and that this Holy scripture was very positive towards women and children. The seminars enabled the Muslim women to do the same and bring out those provisions favourable to women.
Ms. Sharifa explained how a Muslim jamad emerged in Tamil Nadu. Jamads are entirely controlled by men of the locality who also control the mosques’ internal affairs. They meet in the mosques and all community affairs including those relating to women are addressed in these meetings, but the women, by virtue of being women, cannot participate in the jamad committee meetings. So even if it is a case of domestic abuse which is being heard by the jamad, women will not get to make their point of view but will have to send their complaints only through other male leaders. They realized that somewhere in the process their points have never been recorded nor taken into account. Neither does the secular state take cognizance of their problems, because every time they try to approach the local police station to file a case, they are immediately asked to seek remedies from their own personal laws guaranteed by the Indian constitution. The demand for a Muslim women’s jamad emerged in this context. “We are believing Muslims, we feel Koran is fair to us, so why don’t we have our own mosque and set up a model jamad or show the people how a jamad should ideally function. This is how it evolved.”
A state level Muslim women forum - Jamad Samithi (Tamil Nadu Muslim Women Federation or Tamil Nadu Muslim women Jamad) was created to ensure the right of Muslim women to reach the doorsteps of the Mosque. A Women mosque has been built. This mosque will meet all the basic requirements of a typical mosque according to Islamic principles. Prayers and rituals as prescribed in Islam are followed with the female imam in charge of the mosque. The premises of this mosque do not serve only as a place for religious practices, it is also a community space where the issues of Muslim women are addressed. It also serves as a short–stay home for destitute women who can learn some skilled work for earning their living independently.
The Muslim women’s mosque is not only a social space but a political one as well and it is something unique and original in the Muslim women movement in India.
Ms. Sharifa also narrated the innumerable threats she and her organization have faced. When the news of a Muslim women’s mosque being set up came out, the conservative ulemas across the entire country got together and condemned it as anti-Islamic. There were threats to the life of Sharifa and the members of her organization. Muslim men launched character assassinations on her and other women. Some of the women were subjected to physical violence as well.
Input by Ms. V. Geetha
Ms. V. Geetha, noted writer and activist from Tamil Nadu, is currently working on the recent history of India, especially in relation to minorities like the Muslim community, in the wake of the rise of Hindutva on the one hand and the so-called international war against the terror on the other.
Ms. Geetha dwelt extensively on the issues discussed by Ms. Sharifa with whom she works closely, stressing that gender issues have taken an important place in the context of post-September 11.
She noted that since the September 11 events, the world has been divided into those who call themselves democratic and civilized and those who are called terrorists or people who do not follow the norms of democracy, with this reading sometimes further simplified into “Islamic terrorists versus the others”. For her, this projection from the media and political leaders shows a monolithic idea of Islam, and an ignorance of the differences between various Islamic societies.
“There is a certain point of view to treat all Muslims as terrorists and Islam as a terrorist religion. What that means for people living in countries where Islam is a majority religion or a minority religion is that they have to answer these charges- am I a terrorist or am I not a terrorist, is my religion open to human rights and democracy or is my religion not open to human rights and democracy. We know that United States has justified its intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq precisely on these grounds that these countries lack democracy and the women there have no status. So for any definition of democracy and civilization, the status of women is being used as an important measure. In this context I wonder what does it mean being a practicing Muslim and a woman. I am a non Muslim and I would like to express myself as a non believer whatever that means though I have been working very closely with Sharifa’ group. I know her for many years but working with her on this issue for the past seven years I also had the opportunity of reading up what women are saying about Islam in the rest of the world especially the countries in the Middle East region and I find a very creative and firm mind in the Muslim societies which we are not told about, which we do not hear at all. The image of Islam we get is the image of Al-Queda type of argument and we don’t even know what the Al-Queda argument is. So we get to have a very monolithic idea of Islam, and we don’t know the differences between various Islamic societies because we don’t know what women are saying and are not told what ordinary Muslim thinks on these issues.
Regarding the issue of male control of the jamad, earlier discussed by Sharifa, Geetha’s opinion is that it is not just an issue of men versus women. Many Muslim men have come to her with their stories saying that because they were poor they did not get justice from the jamad. It is more a question of powerful men using religion and personal law to justify their dominance.
She denies that Muslim women are victims “look at the Muslim women, they are always behind pardha, they lack education, they can’t come out”. Because of her work with them, she affirms that Muslim women are trapped by their poverty (“Muslims are among the poorest communities in India”) and for not having access to education, especially higher education. “We have always seen these women only as victims, victims who can’t speak for themselves. But what we have not seen is that they are not allowed to speak, they are not allowed the opportunity to speak”.
Another point Ms. Geetha made concerned the diversity of Islamic communities and cultures. “Though Islam is one single faith, it has been able to spread to different parts of the world because it could accommodate itself to a wide variety of cultures. What could be common between Egypt and Southern India? Very little. What could be common between say for example a former republic of the Soviet Union and Gujarat. We can’t say that all these are the same because Islam is present in all these regions. But Islam has survived in all these regions because it has accommodated itself to the cultural conditions of each of these regions. Take Tamil Nadu for instance- Tamil Muslims feel as much Tamil as they are Muslims. They take great pride in Tamil Muslims literary works that have been written in the medieval period. So they align themselves not only with the Arab world where Koran originated but also with the world of Tamils of which they are a part. The kinship in the east coast of Tamil Nadu was matrilineal, whereas a lot of the kinship systems in the Northern Africa and Arab region were patriarchal. But Islam has survived in these matrilineal conditions. Even today in certain families the son-in-law lives in the father-in-law’s house. So you have matri-local households. And these are all Islamic communities”.
Creativity of responses
“From whatever little I have read about women in Islam I have found an amazing creativity of responses all across the Islamic regions. In Egypt, for example I am sure Mr. Boutros might know more about this, there has been a tremendous interest in the mosque on the part of the women. In fact there is mosque movement among women. Women are going to the mosque in a big way. They have taken a very keen interest in Koran in a big way. There is a very important move towards re-reading and reinterpreting of Koran in the light of women’s experiences, women’s spirituality.”
“Let us take countries like Tunisia and Morocco where the local customary laws created by the independent countries of Tunisia and Morocco have fused together to form a very interesting amalgam of family laws. This is neither the Shari at nor the civil law. So you have a different experience in those countries. Take a country nearer home Sri Lanka, there is a wide debate on what contributes to Islam. There are very vibrant Muslim women’s groups that are talking about what is Shari at, what is our space in Shari at; then take a country like Iran; it had an Islamic revolution 25 years ago. Most see only the image of women in pardha but Iranian women are constantly asking questions, fighting for their rights, using whatever spaces they have within the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Republic, to its credit, educated all its women. Iran has the highest literacy rates among Islamic countries.
“So people have worked with whatever systems they found what ever cultural spaces they have had to negotiate and argue for their rights. I think in this context one must see the development in Tamil Nadu. It is part of a world historical response to the crisis that Islamic societies have been pushed in and I think it is a very creative response and of course there are differences among the different types of Islam for example. As to Shariat Islam in India, there are imams who have presented very feministic reading of the Koran. If people are interested I can arrange a particular interview with an imam from Lucknow, who has offered a very critical reading of Koran with a feministic perspective. So there are very interesting responses to the crisis within the Islamic society and Sharifa’s work needs to be seen in that context and what I found there is very interesting I interviewed many of the women who are part of that group and I found amazingly interesting responses. Most of them are non-literate or have only primary education or some of them up to secondary school. But once the mosque movement started all of them have taken to the reading of Koran very zealously. Now when there is any meeting or any case to be heard, you will see an amazing sight of all these women taking out Koran and reading out relevant portions from it.” Talaq
“Our friend was talking about talaq and what Koran actually says and these are things that women are using in their favour. Now they are saying how you can utter talaq, when conditions of talaq are so clearly laid out. In Tamil Nadu talaq are uttered in any number of casual base even through internet-email, by phone, by post and the reasons are very economical. The reasons are that men really want to get rid of unwanted wives and that’s why they do it and most of those who suffer are poor women who have no recourse to anything after that. So for many of these women reading Koran is a very empowering experience. And it is like a liberation theology in the making. You can see it happening in front of your eyes- they open Koran and say this is what the Holy Text says and one woman in fact confronted someone who said nowhere it is said that women can have their own mosque. Then this woman got up and said then didn’t all those women visit the Prophet and asked the questions when they go to the mosque to meet him, didn’t Prophet answer all their questions openly.”
Dialogue within Islam
“Therefore, clearly there is possibility for dialogue within Islam. And those of us who know Islam know that there is a tradition of interpretation of Koran in the light of history, not in the light of the text. There is always conflict between these two traditions- the official orthodox tradition and those that constantly work against the tradition. It has been central to Islam in many parts of the world not only in India but elsewhere.
“We have a very dynamic society that is questioning many things but I think the issues raised by women are very unprecedented and still very important. The women are questioning the authority of those who claim the right and authority to interpret Koran to justify polygamy and talaq and so on. What women are saying is that God’s words are inscrutable. At best we are all imperfect human beings, how can we really know what God meant. So all of us are mortal human beings who have written down the things about Prophet. Which means each of us can interpret in the light of our own sense of right or wrong. Nobody knows what God really meant. This is what women are saying.
“The other thing women are saying is in the past women could go straight to the mosques and meet the Prophet and they do not understand why now they have to go through the mullahs. ‘We don’t need you to tell us what is right and wrong about Islam’. In South Asia we have a strong Sufi tradition. Sufis never wanted any intermediary between themselves and their God. Of course there are some types of orthodox Islams who consider Sufis as heretics. But that does not stop Sufism from spreading. In fact Sufism is the face of popular Islam in India. Every major Islamic practice in South India at least is associated with Sufi shrine. Islam spread through Sufism in India, not through a doctrinary approach as some people would like us to believe and it spread at least in Southern India. What Sharifa’s women, the women associated with the mosque movement are saying is that you can’t tell us not to have a direct hot line to god. Simply it won’t work. It is not part of Islamic history and it is not part of any thing that we believe in as believing Muslims.”
Secularism, globalization and the state
“What is also important is the kind of challenge they have thrown on questions about secularism. I think it is important in the context of globalization. With what is happening now, the only way for recovering human dignity are the state laws which guarantee human rights. That is alright for as long as we all believe that the state represents all of us. Our French friends are here. Look at the whole head scarf controversy in France. Can we still believe that the French Republic actually dynamically represents the entire population? Is it truly national? It might be national during the Third Republic, is it still so? It might have been national during the war against Hitler, is it national today? Has it included Muslim interests? Does it include the interest of people of North African origin? I think the question is not to throw out secularism or say it is secularism versus religious laws. We need to constantly redefine the nature of this contract between the states and its citizens. Majority of the citizens feel that they are excluded by the state. Like lot of Muslims feel in India. Then how can we say that state laws guarantee my human rights. Somewhere I am not part of that state system. I am sure people in North East will feel that: how can you drag us into national consensus without making us part of this consensus?
Secularism and Democracy
“This is something that proponents of secularism have to be seriously concerned with: secularism defined for all time or keep defining it for each period in Indian history. I think the challenges thrown up by Islam are precisely of this kind. Because Islam is faith and law, it is faith and legal system. The Prophet was not only a missionary but was also for building a new society with laws for governance. When you have a situation of faith and law all in the same system, there is no point in saying I will have law and keep faith at home. That entirely goes against Islam. That is not going to work. In the Indian situation we try to somewhat arrive at a compromise to guarantee special rights to minorities. Article 25 and 26 guarantee our personal laws and institutions of religious practice. But even then who represents Islam? Is Khalifa a better representative or the Kazi of Madras a better representative? If the system is not democratic then how you do judge who represents is best. So what we should be really thinking about is an interesting system of representing democracy with openness to addressing issues in various means and not just through the instruments of law.
“In a country like India law is in paper as Ruth was saying, it is fantastic: the constitution of India is fabulous. But look at the conditions of most of the citizens. What does it mean by saying untouchability is abolished and still people have to face so many challenges in every day sense. And in India you also realize that if you are richer, well educated and you can speak in English the law works differently. If you are poor, you speak the local language and you wear funny clothes the law works differently. So the law is not an abstract thing, it works through individual magistrates and policemen most of whom are extremely conservative as far as women are concerned, extremely anti-women. So the whole debate after working with Muslim women appears very unproductive if you insist on secularism and nothing else. What is the secularism you are talking about? Does it work with majority of us? I think that these are some of the very important issues raised by Sharifa and Tamil Nadu women Association of Jamad and these are the issues raised by the feminists living in Islamic culture. Our own neighbours like Sabab Mohamed of Pakistan has raised these issues ; Talal Razad from Egypt has raised these issues and there are a lot of very creative Arab Islamic thinkers today who have a very different model of secularism to offer which has to be taken seriously.
Expanding the dialogue
Globalization is also about building different coalitions. I find some of the most exciting works on the gender are done in the Middle East, by the scholars of the Middle East. Now it is time to have South –South East Asia- Middle East dialogue rather than South Asia- Europe dialogue or South Asia dialogue or what ever it is. Because historically those in South Asia, South East Asia and Middle East are partners, we have old trade networks, we know cultures of each other for several years, several generations and Islam being the largest minority religion here, creative response to the Islam especially the gender question definitely rests on very creative engagement with the Arab and Persian world.”
Inputs by Mr. Mohammed Kamruddin (West Bengal) and Fr. Edwin (Tamil Nadu)
Mr. Mohammed Kamaruddin from Kolkotta gave a detailed presentation of the community services undertaken by various organizations he was instrumental in setting up. With a diploma in Homeopathy and another in surgery, he set up a clinic in a Dalit slum. Then he went on to found the United Brothers Association that took care of the Muslims in the neighbourhood. Vocational Training Cum Education centre, Educational social Upliftment Movement, United Sisters Associations, Miriam Kendra were some of the charitable organizations set up by him and his colleagues to address the needs of women, mentally distorted persons, sex workers etc. Besides that, with a view to fight the religious fundamentalism, he played a key role in the formation of the Umbrella Organization called Central Religious School of development Association. In all his endevours persons from all religions participate.
Fr. Edwin from Kanyakumari has been busy with a unique experiment of setting up of local parliaments, a kind of neighbourhood communities and networking them with a view to make the people not to depend on the existing parliamentary and administrative systems. The objective is to enable the people to address their problems and seek solutions at their community level instead of depending on the political parties.
GLOBALIZATION AND THE NATIONAL ECONOMY
Input by Mr. Victor Louis, professor from Tamil Nadu
Mr. Victor Louis gave an overview of neo-liberal economic liberalization policies pursued by the Indian state from early nineties of the last century.
“The word globalization was used in 1985 for the free flow of goods and services across the border. But in the last twenty years what has happened in the name of globalization is the free flow of goods and services; capital and technology but not the free flow of labor. Globalization with a complete meaning would have involved all the factors of production. But the actual working of it has only helped the First World, it helped the rich in the First and Third Worlds to get integrated while marginalizing the labourers in the First World and shrinking the labour market in the Third world. There is now no restriction on the movement of the capital , any bank is now free to start its branch, any insurance company can start its branch. In India globalization was introduced as part of reform. Reform should mean improvement in efficiency, enhancement of honesty level. But in the name of liberalization taxes on the rich have been reduced, enhancing their comforts and luxuries.
The burden on middle and poor classes has increased. In India, air fare has come down, more airlines are there —you can fly to any part of India or outside India but the bus and train fares have gone up during the last fifteen years, electricity charges have gone up. Multinationals wanted to come to India to make huge profits. They achieved this goal through the new economic policies of liberalization and privatization introduced in 1995. This policy did not have the mandate of the people. No political party has so far obtained from the people whether to implement these polices or not. In fact there were three parliamentary elections since the introduction of this policy. In the entire elections, mandate has not been obtained from the people to implement it. But after the elections, the elected people have been obeying their foreign masters-the multinationals. If any new policy is to be implemented, there should be a country wide debate and during the elections the political parties should seek the mandate of the people to implement it. But this has never been the case in Indian Democracy.
This is not the case with the new economic policy alone. More than forty amendments to the Constitution legislations relating to economic affairs have been enacted in the Parliament in the last fifty years without the mandate of the people. Most of these amendments have been brought about to facilitate the entry and growth of multinationals: for example, amendments to Factory Act, payment of Minimum Wages Act, Industrial Disputes Act, Trade Union Act, Company’s Act, Income Tax Act. There was no single amendment favouring labour. In every annual budget of the Union Government since 1991, tax break-tax concessions and tax rebate for the corporate sectors and the rich in India are being given. There have been drastic cuts in the rates of income tax. As a result the central government has been losing around 10,000 crores per annum. It comes to around one lakh and fifty thousand crores during the last fifteen years.
In this country reform has meant more tax concessions. The income tax concession does not reach the poor. The income tax assesses in our country are less than 3% of the population. So in every budget we are giving more and more concessions to the rich. The globalization theory is that people should have more and more money to spend so that consumption will become an engine of demand. It will pull the economy forward. But what has been happening is that, as more and more concessions are given to the rich, the revenue of the government has been shrinking. Following the central government, most of the state governments are also giving more and more tax concessions and as a result tax GDP ratio has been falling instead of going up. In countries like Sweden, Norway, Finland and other developed countries tax - GDP ratio is 30%-40% or more. In India in 1990 it was 10.5% only and thereafter it started falling 10-9.5% and only this year it is 10%.
To overcome the fiscal deficit, the Central government went for a soft option - borrowing. The correct option would have been to tax the rich. As a result India now has huge external and internal debts and the interests to be paid have become a big burden. This year alone the interest burden on the central government was one lakh thirty thousand crores. India’s debt has crossed fifty lakh crores.
Because the government had no money income it could not continue with some of the social security measures. Already we did not have much of the five year social security plan. Now all the state governments have withdrawn from education. As a result teachers are not appointed. The result —rich people can go to better schools and colleges where they pay the teachers and government-run schools and the government-aided private schools have suffered. Education has suffered a setback. Educating poor children has become a challenge. The irony is that both Dr. Abdul Kalam, the President of India and Dr.Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister are of humble origins and they benefited from the free education in the schools. They did not go for the ‘public schools’. Had education been privatized as it is now both of them would not have been what they are now.
The health sector has also been affected. Doctors are not being appointed, government dispensaries are not supported. Government is withdrawing throughout the country in two vital areas – education and health. All the multinationals have been complaining to our government that there are strong trade unions in this country and that they hinder the industrial development and so they must be dismantled. That is the condition put by them and the government has been trying to dilute the strength of the trade union. Today any multinational can dictate terms to our elected government.
In the last fifteen years one industry that has grown up is IT (information technology) industry. Ten lakh people are employed in it. We have the multinationals as well as Indian companies in this sector. Here not a single union has been allowed to be formed. Even the judiciary in India seems to be endorsing the new economic policy when in a ruling two years ago the Supreme Court of India said that the workers have no right to strike. Now, the religious fundamentalism and communalism which appeared only in certain northern parts of India at varying degrees from 1940 to 1980 has become an all India phenomenon since the introduction of the new economic policy in 1991. The Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992 and it sparked off country wide communal riots. The Kashmir problem got aggravated; there were communal carnages in Mumbai and Gujarat. Due to privatization, the policy of affirmative action that benefited the dalits and other backward castes has become ineffective thus depriving these sections of the population whatever small spaces they could carve out in education and civil services.
Answering questions posed by the participants of the public meeting, Mr. Louis made the following additional observations:
One of the casualties of globalization concerns the natural resources- forests, water. Before the British came to this country, land was common property. People worked these lands and harvested, but the land could not be sold nor bought because it was not private property. It was the East India Company which introduced the whole concept of commercializing lands and now we have the problem of 25% of the population owning 75% of the land, and landlessness has become a major issue. Communal and common ownership of lands still continue to exist in some way amongst the tribals. But this is also under great threat because the new economic policy encourages the privatization of lands; in addition to that, the water resources are being increasingly privatized. Land has been privatized, water is being privatized, forests are under the threat of being destroyed, minerals are being extracted but the tribals are not compensated. Tribals will be pushed out. When the Tatas started their Tata industry in Jemshedpur, there were 37 villages in that area and all the 37 villages were converted into Tata Iron and Steel industry. For each tribal family, an employment opportunity was given to one of its members but the entire tribal population was driven away. Same thing is going to happen now. Today, the organized sector needs skill and even the skilled people are not finding employment unless they have computer studies, communication skills. Tribals who do not have these skills will be at the losing end.
It is true that in the last 15 years, the percentage of women in employment has gone up. Women employment in the 80s was less than 30%. Today more than 40% of women are forced to look for work. They are forced to get out, sacrifice their family responsibilities, and become waged labourers. So the share of women in the work force has increased in the last 15 years. All over the world it is estimated that two million women have become sex workers. If globalization has helped us, it should have eliminated the need of the sex workers at least for economic reasons. But in the last twenty years the number of sex workers increasing -not about Thailand but about different parts of India, different parts of Africa. 90% of the TV programmers, 90% of the films, 90% of the advertisements commodify women. It has not been so bad in the past 1940s,1950s, 1960s. India did not have such nasty advertisements. Today our children are exposed to certain things that we are not able to prevent them from seeing all these nonsense. Some of the TV programmes are 100% against our culture ethos. From any angle women and tribals are under attack. They are losing, they are sacrificing, and they are suppressed. Maybe certain spaces now available for them to speak in certain fora and more educational opportunities are now available for women, not because of globalization but because of more awareness.
Mr. Louis then went on to give his suggestions to improve the situation. Some of them were: 1. WTO,World Bank and the IMF should be brought under the auspices of the United Nations. Poorer countries should have the equal rights as the rich countries. One country one vote should be there.
2. The debt of the poorer countries must be written off. In the last 20 -30 years, poorer countries received two blows-one was increase in price of oil. Unfortunately the Gulf countries did not realize that they were hitting at the poor. By raising the price of oil the Gulf countries got more money, First World banks got more money, First World industrialists got more investments, but the Third World was hit very badly. Then, not able to pay for the oil, Third World countries started borrowing. First World banks and later the World Bank were charging very high rates of interest. As a result Third World countries got into debt crisis. It is a vicious cycle. Therefore the present debt burden is not the fault of the Third World countries. From the last 30-40 years, the debt burden of the Third World countries has gone up from 650 billion dollars to 2300 billion dollars, after repaying 2500 billion dollars, while the World Bank and the IMF have accumulated huge profits.
3. Fair prices should be paid to the Third World countries for the goods and services they export. There is no need for the Third World countries to receive aid from the First World, which is only about 50 billion dollars per annum, if there is equal trade.
4. There should not be patent rights. For many of the inventions and discoveries, First World countries scientists come, do research on our flora and fauna, they get the knowledge of our tribals, they go to our village and get the basic knowledge of our people, then in their laboratories they develop their nuances and they take patent rights. They have monopoly over patent rights and we have to pay very heavy royalty to get that knowledge. Knowledge should be a global property.
In the overall context of globalization and rise of fundamentalism, the participants came forward to share their understanding and knowledge. Their interventions ranged from narrating their personal experiences as activists in a variety of grass root organizations to theorizing their personal and general experiences as well as their responses to the given situations.
OTHER REALITIES AND EXPERIENCES
NEPAL : Inputs by Mr. Bishnu Hari Bhatta and Mr. Mohan Parajuli
In his presentation, Bishnu Hari Bhatt, from Partners for Sustainable Development (PSD) Nepal, noted that communalism and religious fundamentalism have not acquired those dimensions and ferocities that the neighbouring countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been experiencing, though the Kingdom of Nepal is officially Hindu and it has the tradition of Brahmanism being imposed as the way of life as early as 1846. He however mentioned that there have been certain religious conflicts which were propelled by certain vested interests. He also mentioned that there had been fall outs in Nepal of the war of aggression led by US in Iraq. Killing of some Nepalese workers in Iraq in 2004 created communal disturbances in Nepal allowing the Hindu fanatics to attack the masjids, shops and other properties of the Muslims. His paper focused more too on the armed conflict between the Nepalese state and the Maoist rebels due to the actual conjuncture.
SRI LANKA : Inputs by Fr. Paul Caspersz and Mr. Harsha Wanninayake
Mr. Harsha Wanninayake from Satyodaya in Sri Lanka, started with a philosophical definition of Dialogue “Dialogue is giving and taking process, to express and to listen. It is a question of experiencing the other. This can be done at theoretical, logical, intellectual and practical level. Dialogue is relating to the other, by affirming the other”. He went on to say that in Sri Lanka he had tried to understand what the Buddhists, Hindus and Marxists and so on think and learn from their experiences. He said that “ultimately relating to others means working together”.
Mr. Wanninayake gave a detailed account of the activities and projects undertaken by Satyodaya. It is very important for Satyodaya to be in Kandy because Kandy is the last Sinhalese kingdom and it is in the centre of the country where you have many plantations. It is a major plantation area. In the plantation areas majority of the population are Tamils of Indian origin. In Sri Lanka we find two types of Tamil people. In the Northern and Eastern area they are called original Sri Lankan Tamils, but the Tamils in the Central hills of plantations are called Indian Tamils. There is difference between these two types of Tamil people. Sathyodaya is serving the Tamils in the plantations. While they have no connection with the LTTE separatists, they have to face many problems since they work with the Tamils in the plantations. They are at times accused of being anti-Sinhalese and pro-Tamil. Already thirty three years ago the constitution of Satyodaya claimed that Sri Lanka must be a non-religious country for all the peoples. Any religion, any race, any ethnic group irrespective of all the differences have to live together as brothers and sisters. So Satyodaya has been a centre for bringing together people from different ethnic, religious, linguistic groups and sects. It is mandatory that both Tamil and Sinhalese languages are used in all meetings, workshops, speeches, seminars, and training programmes. Satyodaya organizes celebrations of all the important festivals like Christmas, Sinhalese Visha festival, Deepawali, Saraswathi pooja and many other cultural events involving both the Tamils and Sinhalese.
There is the Sixteen + youth movement, in which any person above 16 years can join. Its motto is: 16+ movements are for peace, equality and love. The members take an oath that they would not practice discrimination against anyone on the basis of race, religion, caste or gender and also to do their best to give women their due place in the society. They work to protect the environment as much as they can. Satyodaya has local mediation boards and links with religious leaders. Elites, teachers, social activists, doctors, intellectuals, estate workers, farmers, three wheel drivers and many others get together to work towards peace. If there is any kind of conflict or riots the members of the organization come forward and encounter the problem. In that Satyodaya plays a very big role and there is the guarantee that with the 9000 people in Satyodaya, there is no conflict.
There are other programmes at Satyodaya like preschools, water and sanitation programmes, life preserving services, economic activities. There is a special one year programme – the leadership training programme. Through this programme, young groups are trained and taught about the political situation, history of the country and the region, even Indian history, the environment, human rights. Those trained are the people who are go to the field and become the organizing forces for the organization. There are also economic activities through which assistance is provided to help people look for a way to have their own income or increase their income. Satyodaya has voluntary donors and its own resources –seminar halls and room facilities and a 7 acre farm. For example, Rs5000/- loans are given to the beneficiaries who are able to save Rs1000/-. This has to be paid back and the money is deposited into their account and not the Center’s, which they can add to and use for their work. There are about 50 people in the staff, but more than 9000 people are reached out to.
Fr. Paul Caspersz, the other participant from the Satyodaya in Sri Lanka, known for his activism amongst the plantation workers in and around Kandy and also for his efforts to bring about harmony between different ethnic groups there, began by giving the demographic status of various ethnic, religious and linguistic groups in Sri Lanka. He said that while ethnicity and religion coincide in cases of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, it is only the Christians who are found amongst both the Tamils and Sinhalese. He lamented over the fact that the different ethnic and religious groups tend to stick to their narrow identities rather than acquiring an overarching Sri Lankan identity. He said that the Christians are also responsible for this, since they chose to remain outside the mainstream till recently, lest their purity would be contaminated. He also said that though the Sinhala Buddhists claim to be a ‘chosen people’, a people chosen by Buddha himself to spread his message in the world, there has been no Buddhist Fundamentalism, since “Buddhism has no defined dogmas or truths like in Christianity or in Islam”. On the other hand , he said that “Because of nationalism, definitely the Buddhists being the majority, they are trying to assert their position as the leading nation in a multi-nation state and it is quite easily understood. Sinhalese Buddhism is becoming an extremist singular Buddhism in Sri Lanka. They think that they are the chosen race by Buddha to preserve Buddhism for the world and the second cause for this extreme singular Buddhism developing in Sri Lanka is the demand by the Tamils for a separate state. In reaction to their demand the singular Buddhist assert that this is a singular Buddhist country. And because Buddhism is always a tolerant religion, it allows other religions to exist, but in reality they say the Sri Lankan nation should be singularly Buddhist.” But it has not created fundamentalism, Fr. Caspersz argued, because the idea of tolerance is still there.
Fr. Caspersz made a very bold observation, that “if there were religious fundamentalists in Sri Lanka today, they would be Christians –the new Christian sects. They make dubious methods to make converts from Buddhism and Hinduism to Christianity. They are very active in plantations because the plantation people are the voiceless and these sects have moved into the plantations today and lot of converts to Christianity have come from the plantation people. I think this would be a violation of human rights to allow them to use unfair and unjust methods by way of lot of money from foreign countries mainly from United States and Scandinavian countries in order to make converts.”
Fr. Caspersz explained the constructive work in the upcountry region of Sri Lanka, a country rife with ethnic conflicts. He said that as a true Sri Lankan citizen and true Christian “our task today in the reality of Sri Lanka is to make all the people feel as one united nation. This is what we are trying to do at Satyodaya, the little organization which we founded in 1972. It is a small organization —interreligious, interlinguistic, interethnic— and what we are doing at Satyodaya is to maintain certain unity among all people in spite of linguistic- ethnic- religious diversities”.
PAKISTAN : Input by Mr. Farooq Ahmad
Mr. Farook Ahmad of Labour Party Pakistan, who was unable to participate in the Seminar as he was denied visa by the Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan sent his paper, which the group decided should be read out. His paper is a theoretical attempt to define religious fundamentalism and the important observations he made in it are worth reproducing, though he is excessively optimistic about the future:
“ Religious fundamentalism is a political movement that tries to take hold of political power, economic resources and social will of nations in the garb of religion. It rejects all the modern political structures, collective institutions, social behaviour and ideological trends. It accepts literal sense of religious injunctions, it imposes supremacy of religious leadership in society and state. Fundamentalism is not related to any particular religion. Almost all the religions in the world have fundamentalist movements. Fundamentalism puts sanctions on human development. Conservatism opposes modernism. Tradition does not accept the necessity of wisdom and reason. It believes that small righteous minority can rule the majority. It interferes in all the spheres of life. Fundamentalism does not accept equality or humanity. Fundamentalism exists in all religions since very long. But its modern forms have its root in the Cold War. During the Cold War, America and their western allies used religious fundamentalism. Thousands of Muslim youth were brainwashed in religious schools. There were about 15000 such religious schools in Pakistan and where about one million religious students received free education and free lodging. After the end of the Cold War these fanatics turned their guns against their former mentors. The U S attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan helped the fundamentalists to reunite through our world.
“Religious fundamentalism existed in Pakistan for a long time. Many religious groups were working to win support from people without much success. It was in 1980s when religious forces began to grow. During these days the Afghan war started and the US, the West and the Gulf countries pumped billions of dollars into Pakistan. They recruited thousands of mujahideens (fighters) and sent them to Afghanistan. Hundreds of religious schools were opened where students were brainwashed. A great deal of money was spent on publishing religious literature which was then distributed among the peoples of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Mr. Farouk Ahmed said that the outcome of the last general elections to the Indian Parliament which saw the defeat of the BJP-led alliance had an impact on the neighbouring countries: “The last Indian elections were an eye opener in South Asia. Contrary to all expectations the fundamentalist forces has to face crushing defeat at the hands of the secular forces. The fundamentalists in Afghanistan also enjoy no mass support. They have lost the voters’ sympathies. Western dress is becoming popular in the capital city of Kabul. Computer centres, internet cafes, video centres are spreading like mushrooms both in Kabul and in Pakistan. In Iran pro-democracy forces are growing fast. Their movement is gaining momentum. With every passing day the fundamentalists are fighting their last battle in every part of the world. Economic cooperation is taking the place of separatism and secularism.”
CAMBODIA : Input by Mr. Nuth Narang, founder of CEDORECK (Documentation and Research Centre on Khmer civilisation)
For the people of India who have been bearing the brunt of religious fundamentalism of the majoritarian variety and equally fanatical responses from the extremist elements from the minority Muslim community, the contribution given by Mr. Nuth Narang of Cambodia contained good news that “ his (Khmer)society remains free of the fanaticisms that are a threat in other areas in the world”, though the overall picture of the present day Cambodia he drew was not all that rosy : “We are now facing a global leveling down, a standardization favoured by the spread of consumption that leads to the substitution of human and spiritual values by material ones. A good example can be the mobile phones: on the one side, they allow people to get closer, but on the other side, they are reveling in the present hunger for consumption that weakens even the fragile balance of human beings in their natural environment”. He said that the tyrannical and barbaric rule of the Khmer Rouge and the twenty years of warfare that severely damaged the foundations of the Khmer society is now followed by “the inconsiderate, massive and sudden irruption of consumption in a country that are was not ready to welcome it as it had not yet recovered from the earlier traumatic experiences of Pol Potist rule… Cambodia is now experiencing a wild unrestrained race towards consumption without having at its disposal the necessary human values that could give a reasonable framework to limit the ways to acquire money. It results in a significant increase of poverty and an inclination to violence, to fanaticism and discrimination entailed by a growing feeling of frustration”. Describing the mosaic-like multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature of Khmer society, Mr. Narang said that the so-called Islamic fundamentalism let alone the ‘terrorism’ is virtually absent in his country. The Muslim community there was formed by the immigrants from Kalantan province of present-day Malaysia in seventeenth century and their religion is so well integrated in Khmer society as ‘Khmer Islam’ that it is impossible to distinguish between them and the rest of the Khmer society. While keeping their Muslim identity through their way of dressing and housing gathered around mosques, they maintain a healthy cohabitation with the Khmer Buddhist population that allows a great stability within the society in relation to religious matters. The financial help they receive from the Middle East countries give them certain benefits which other communities do not enjoy while sharing the same obligations and advantages with the latter. They are therefore well represented within the realms of civil service, politics and trade.
While the aggressiveness with which capitalism is pushed into new areas of the earth under the name of ‘globalization’ which has exacerbated inequalities in the society, it has not been accompanied by religious fundamentalisms of any sort in Cambodia. However, Mr. Narang points out that there has been a spurt in the proselytizing activities of people belonging to certain Protestant sects, particularly amongst the poorest who take part in one or other of the numerous active Protestant churches in Cambodia. This is a consequence of the massive arrival of consumerism in Cambodia and of globalization. Narang, however observes, that most of these conversions are fake and do not prevent the converts from practicing their traditional forms of cults. This observation is very important since many scholars, particularly Mike Davis in his “City of Slums’, have documented the fact that the ‘millennial’ religious sects like Pentecostism thrive on the poverty of many third world people even in countries which are predominantly Catholic.
LEBANON : Input by Mr. Boutros Labaki, president of the Lebanese Institute for Social and Economic Development) ILDES
Mr. Boutros Labaki, an eminent scholar-activist from Lebanon expressed his anxiety about the growing Jewish fundamentalism in Israel and in many parts of US like Brooklyn, in New York and from where the fundamentalists are exported to Palestine and Middle East. This movement supports the idea that Palestine is a prime land for Jews who have the religious duty to go to Israel and to set up Israel and push out Palestinian Arabs from their homeland. These are the forces supporting Jewish separatist colonies in what remained of Palestine territory of 1948 , 20% of it is called West Bank and Gaza. With their provocative words and deeds they put hurdles in the way for peaceful solutions of the present Arab and Israel conflict in general and Palestine and Israeli conflict in particular. There are other Jewish forces in Israel and outside trying to impose their concept and using violence and political assassinations like the assassination of the prime minister of Israel in 1995 and the assassination of four Palestinians in Lebanon in 1995. Jewish fundamentalists participate directly and indirectly in the Middle East and in this way there is tension in Lebanon which was invaded by Israel three, four times in the past.
Mr. Labaki also explained how the Christian fundamentalists, mainly American evangelists are making their strong presence felt in the Middle East. “Christian fundamentalists are also active in Nigeria where they have conversion activity among the Muslim ethnic minority in North Africa. They take advantage of the conflicts between this Muslim minority and Arab majority. They are also active in trying to confront oriental Christians– in Lebanon, Syria, Jordon, and Iraq - in order to make them conform to their concept of Christianity. But their stronger impact is through their Christian embassy in Jordan which serves as a support base for Israeli expansionism and support to George Bush’s aggressive policy against Arabs, Iraq and Palestine and other Islamic parts of the world.”
Mr. Labaki gave a short history of Muslim fundamentalism in the Middle East. Muslim Sunni fundamentalism emerged at the end of 18th century as a force of revivers. But institutionally it was established by Hasan, an Egyptian clerk in the English-occupied Suez Canal in Egypt. He founded the Muslim brotherhood, which is the centre of majority of those who subscribe to this fundamentalist movement. This movement was a reaction against Western colonialism and expansion in all aspects —military and political expansion, economic, social and cultural subjugation. This movement took place because the national secular movement of the Arabs was unable to confront the West. After the Second World War, Arab national secular movements took over and Arab countries got independence. In 1950s Muslim brotherhood were supported and used by the British and Americans to disrupt the unification of the Arab World on secular nationalist ground.
During the 1950s too, Muslim fundamentalist movement was used by the Americans to combat the Soviet Union and its allies, communist movements and regimes, national populists regimes of Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey Yemen, Afghanistan, Algeria, Sudan and the predominantly Muslim-populated republics of the Soviet Republic, Central Asia and other countries.
Having said this, Mr. Labaki wondered how far it is fair to lay all religious fundamentalisms at the door of globalization, because we find general revival of religion all over the world. The second reason is that the god of science has failed to deliver. The faith we had in science has also been shattered and this is the additional reason why there is the revival of religions. Mr. Labaki also said that the emergence of all religious fundamentalisms can not be linked to globalization since if that be the case one can not understand Jewish fundamentalism. He said he had a problem with the word ‘fundamentalism’ being used in several senses. “When economic revolution was taking place in Iran, American media used certain words and when American media uses certain words these become gospel truth for all. The whole world media started using it without even defining the meaning of it. It includes communalism, it includes revivalism, militancy etc. – all these are put under the umbrella of fundamentalism. It is also not true that only globalization is responsible for that, it is also due to the failure of god of science. It was mere arrogance on the part of rationalists of the nineteenth century to claim that they had answered all questions; the very attitude that we know everything is not the attitude of human beings, it is sheer arrogance –neither the religious person nor any scientist should have this kind of attitude. Scientists have not been able to understand our own body. The research goes on and various aspects come to light.
“The word fundamentalism, has never been precisely defined except for those persons in America who believe in the literal meaning of the word. All other use of fundamentalism is problematic and in Islam it is definitely problematic, because Muslims have believed from the day one that Koran is the word of god. Religion has been used either by powerful or for attaining power. So it has been problematic. Religion should be only a moral guide. Because we want to use it for gaining power we misuse it. Because we want to use it to hide our weaknesses or our interest it causes problem. In the 20th/21st century politicians could not deliver and they could not solve the problem of poverty, and even in India after independence, the Nehruian model was used to solve problem of poverty. It was a very honest part of Nehru. But Nehru was an ideal person, but the other Congress men, army, bureaucracy, they were corrupt so the model failed and poverty continued. Religion becomes a powerful tool for expressing one’s anger and that also becomes problematic. In Algeria for example there is violence because those in power did not allow elected people to form the government and then those people deprived of this legitimate position reacted with the help of religion and the massacre goes on until today since 1991; every day people are being killed. Those people who are involved in the religious militancy in Algeria come from lower middle class and slum areas of Algeria. They express their anger by using religion against the powerful. The complex way of social problem should be properly analyzed to understand how religion can be misused by both the powerful and those who are angry. The so-called the people of religion, the Ulema, priests and pandits aspire to capture power by using religion. We should not make religion a culprit. Religion per se is not the culprit. Religion is an option for the poor, option for justice, option for compassion, but the powerful, the criminals … will never allow religion to be used in its true spirit. People like Gandhi, Christ, were all assassinated because they wanted to use religion for its real purpose. The sociological definition of the so-called fundamentalism, communalism, revivalism, etc came from America first to explain Christian fundamentalism before the same was applied to Iran. When we look into the social aspects of Muslim fundamentalism, we find that it is the ideology of protest against western domination, against corruption.”
THE DIALOGUE OF CIVILISATIONS and THE ROLE OF RELIGIONS
Inputs by Mr. Asghar Ali Engineer, Chairman of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS), and Mr. Ravi Prakash Arya, Chief Editor of the Vedic Science Quarterly
Clash of civilisations or clash of interests?
Mr. Huntington knows that the real forces in the modern world are states and big multinationals. But he wants us to believe that behind them stand different civilizations. As Mr. Asghar Ali Engineer, one of the most prominent thinkers and activists of India has remarked, “The clash of interests is converted into clash of civilizations”. Participating in the South Asian Seminar, he insisted that both religion and dialogue should be put in proper perspective. “Dialogue has to be between equals and also with a view to understand and not reject the other. Dialogue is basically meant for understanding the other religion and civilization, but unfortunately the Western media and some academics in the West particularly in America are talking of the clash of civilizations. In fact the clash of interests is converted into the clash of civilizations, which is very wrong.
Civilizations can never clash. Civilization makes us rational and understanding human beings with refined intellect. If this is the role of civilization, then there is no question of any two civilizations clashing with each other. Prof. Huntington from Harvard has done a great deal of disservice to the cause of dialogue –dialogue of civilizations. In this globalized world today, when means of communications have become very fast and people are opting for economic migration, every society has become multi-religious and so this dialogue is very much essential.
India has been multi-religious for ages. This multi-religiosity, multi-culturalism is rooted in the soil of India. Whereas for the West it is a new experience which came after the Second World War, when various colonies ruled by countries were liberated and the people from the newly independent countries started migrating to their former metropolitan countries. So multi religiosity in the West is still not rooted. The migration of the people from their former colonies is of an economic nature. So people who go there from Asia, Africa —they are Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus and so on— they are not rooted in that society. They go there to earn better livelihood, make more money than in their native country. This adds to the dimension of the conflict and since the West does not have the knowledge and experience to deal with the multi-religiosity in its society, it has developed deep rooted prejudices against Asians and Africans because they were ruled by them. For the West, these people were inferior ones and now they are going to those countries opting for citizenship of those countries. In its own perspective this feeling that these people are inferior remains and the conflicts develop.
For the conflicts to be resolved there should be deeper understanding of the causes of conflicts. And without this understanding, conflicts cannot be solved. And unfortunately, in the case of Muslims, it is blamed on Islam immediately. If anything happens anywhere, if violence takes place in parts of Muslim habitats, immediately Islam is projected as a violent religion, a religion of Jihad, a religion of war. This is very wrong and in this respect also Mr. Huntington has done a great deal of disservice. He has created much more misunderstanding about Islam saying that Western civilization and Islamic civilization naturally clash with each other. That is how he has put the whole thing and again the Western media, with its apparent prejudices against Asians and Africans in general and Muslims in particular, immediately rushes to the conclusion that violence is because of Islam.”
Mr. Engineer went on clearing the misty misunderstandings and patent prejudices against Islam: “ First thing I’d like to assert is that Islam like any other religion like Buddhism or Christianity is a religion of compassion, because four key values in Koran are justice, benevolence, compassion and wisdom. These are the basic four values repeatedly asserted in Koran and these are Allah’s name-Allah is just, Allah is benevolent, Allah is compassionate and Allah is wise. The Arabic words are Adal, Aesan, Rahema and Hakma – these are Arabic words for these four values. So Islam cannot be a violent religion. Basically it is a religion of compassion and peace. Because Allah’s name is peace -Salaam and the very greeting among Muslims is Asalaam alaikum —peace be upon you. Because Arab society was a very violent society before Islam appeared, Islam stresses peace, put peace at the centre. It makes human beings realize the centrality of peace and so greetings were made on the basis of peace, peace be upon you and the person says peace be upon you. This indicates the centrality of peace in Islam.
Majority of Muslims believe in Sufi Islam. The very basic doctrine of Sufi Islam is total peace –peace with all. That is the very basic doctrine of Sufi Islam and the overwhelming majority of Muslims all over the world, from Indonesia to Algeria, believe in Sufi Islam and not in Wahabi Islam as is being projected by Western media. Wahabi Islam tends to stress intolerance rather than tolerance. But that is limited to Saudi Arabia, and in Saudi Arabia too, all Muslims are not Wahabis. It is the religion of the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Wahabi Islam is taught in Madrasas and they teach intolerance towards other Muslims, forgets other religions. Even for other Muslims they teach intolerance and those who are not Wahabi Muslims are not considered Muslims at all and are branded as Kafirs. This has been generalized by Western media.
Terrorism is not a religious response
I would also like to assert that terrorism is not a religious response, it is a political response. If the Unites States, Britain or other countries invade Muslim countries without any cause, without any reason, some people are bound to respond politically to a political situation. They may invoke religion for legitimating their action and we should understand that religion is being used as a legitimizing cover. Those who used suicide bombing on 9/11, 2001 in New York and on 7/7, 2005 in London, may talk of jihad but they in fact are basically responding politically. The Western media puts it as if it is a religious response, religious terrorism inspired by Islam. It is to cover up their own violent action against Muslim countries in Middle East. In order to distract their original sin they talk of suicide bombing as caused by the Islamic concept of Jihad. All those who indulge in suicide bombing are Western-educated youth and not Madrasa-educated. There may be a few Madrasa-educated, but most of them are from Western institutions. Those who participated in 9/11 attack were all trained in the West and they had nothing to do with Madrasas. In the London bombing, we have seen that all those who did it were from Leeds and they were all modern-educated people. No fanaticism was injected in their minds by any Madrasa.
We vs. They : which democracy?
And yet the whole thing is blamed on Islam and even Blair and Bush talk in the language of We vs. They. How can there be any dialogue when they are talking in this language. When you go for dialogue you have to demolish the political divide first. Even the religious divides first. If we talk in terms of We vs. They, then there can be no dialogue, it will create only more and more conflict. After 9/11, Bush said that the Muslims were jealous of freedom and democracy flourishing in America. What kind of democracy and freedom do Americans enjoy when they are destroying millions of people in Muslim countries? How can they talk of democracy, of freedom and they say they went to Iraq for regime change for gifting democracy. The very idea of giving democracy to army officials is itself absurd. In Iraq everyday 50-100 people are killed. This is what they have gifted –violence, violence, violence. The rulers have their own interests, their own compulsions and they act according to them and to cover them up, they use glorious terms like freedom and democracy. When Bush took oath for the second term in office every sentence he was repeating was replete with the words ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy.’ The more he talks of freedom and democracy, the more it results in the enslavement of people in Asia and Africa. America is a dominating force and this is the evil of globalization. This cannot enhance understanding, it cannot result in enhancing contacts, and it cannot result in enhancing interaction between peoples.”
The role of the media
The so-called democracy and freedom are not genuine democracy and freedom because, through the instrumentality of powerful media, our minds are manipulated and we are made to think what the ruling class thinks. People of America are made to think that there is a real threat from Iraq and so Bush justified his war. Media power is tremendous –our freedom, our minds are controlled by this media. Herbert Marcuse, noted American philosopher who inspired thousands of students in the 1970s to revolt against the system talked about two things:
One dimensionality: we think in one direction only. The more modern we are the more one dimensional we are becoming, and
The manipulation of our freedom by vested interests to make us think that we are free people.
The building bricks of civilizations are values
So common people should come together and should have dialogue, should understand each other’s religion. The core values of all religions and this is my inner conviction –core values of all religions complement each other. There are seven values which I identify as core values and these are: - Love, non violence, justice, equality, compassion, human dignity and truth. These are core values. No religion denies any of these values. Maybe in one religion like Christianity love is more central and in another, non violence is central, like in Jainism or Hinduism. Compassion is central in Buddhism, and in Islam, equality and justice are central. But these are complementary values and complement each other. Only when these core values are emphasized can there be harmony between various religions and then only can there be dialogue between civilizations. Vested interests in all religions have misused religion to promote their own interests. Bush calls himself as a born -again Christian, yet he misuses Christianity for promoting the interests of ruling classes in America and reduces Christianity to violence, though the central theme of Christianity, the central emphasis of Christianity is love. Similarly Muslim rulers used violence in order to promote their own interest and suppress the real values of Islam which are justice, equality, compassion, truth. We must understand these values and civilizations are built on these values. There cannot be civilizations without these values. Civilizations are not just buildings and roads. The building bricks of civilizations are values. This is what we should realize and on the basis of these core values we should come together and promote dialogue and constantly struggle against those ruling classes which exploit common people.”
Questions and discussion:
A challenge to religious leaders
While responding to a question from the floor as to why the leaders of a particular religious community fail to own up or reject a terrorist activity committed in the name of their own religion while the terrorists invariably never fail to own it up, Mr.Engineer said: “There are several factors —social, political, cultural, and economic and all these factors influence our behavior. In all violent situations not only Muslim religious leaders keep quiet; same thing applies to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and even Jains who would not like to kill even the bacteria. What happened in Gujarat? There are many Jain munies (ascetics) in Gujarat, but not a single muni opened his mouth even when the pregnant woman’s womb was split open and the fetus extracted. Not a single religious leader spoke against such atrocities .The carnage there was the result of the calculated crimes of the politically motivated Hindus and it was not Hinduism. It requires tremendous courage to speak the truth. Simply by worshipping God, you will not become a religious person. Unfortunately most of us are ritualized religious persons ; we perform certain rituals and we think we have fullfilled our religious obligations. Unless we are committed to peace, non violence, compassion, truth in practice we cannot be true religious persons. Similarly religious persons of Islam also do not respond because of the social pressure, political pressures, political interests. Now, with more and more violence taking place, some religious leaders are showing courage. For example, after the London bombing members of Muslim community in London or England have come together and issued a fatwa saying that the violence of these young men was un-Islamic. Islam does not sanction this. It has happened after so many years because the motivation was really religious or the other probability was fear that there will be a backlash from British society. So to make their position safe they issued this fatwa. The real fatwa would be when it comes from the religious feeling that innocent people should not be killed. Even when Bush and Blair attack other countries, all religious persons should have had the courage to condemn it. That was not condemned even by certain Muslim religious leaders such as Saudi Ulema. The Saudi Princedom has vested interests in supporting the U.S interest and it also kept mum. If you are motivated by religious values, if you are committed, you must open your mouth whatever be the circumstances. When Prophet Mohammed was asked what is the meaning of Jihad, his reply was that the real jihad is speaking truth in the face of the tyrant. How many Muslims will pass this test of speaking truth in the face of tyrant and that is real jihad. It is not taking gun or sword and killing innocent people. It is only a total mockery of jihad. The word Jihad is not used in Koran even once for war or violence. There are other words in Koran for war but not Jihad. Jihad in the sense of war is post Koranic usage in Muslim societies by selfish rulers.
Replying to a query whether or not the Shariat and Hadith approves of fatwa in general, and the fatwa issued by a section of the Muslim clergy against an Indian Muslim woman Imrana who was raped by her father-in-law (according to this fatwa she ceased to be the wife of her husband!), Mr. Engineer said that first of all one should remember that there is priesthood in Islam. “It has developed because other ordinary Muslims were not interested in studying religious texts. As far as Koran is concerned it is obligatory for all Muslims to study it by themselves and they and they alone will be responsible for all their actions. They cannot say that this fatwa was there and I acted like this. This will never be accepted by Allah. Obeying to fatwas is never obligatory; it is no more than an opinion expressed by a learned scholar according to his own school of thought – Muslims subscribe to different schools of thought. In the Imrana case, the fatwa was issued by a Hanafi scholar. He was a Hanafi and so the fatwa was issued according to Hanafi School. A shafi (sic) scholar, he would have issued a totally different fatwa, one completely just opposite to the Hanafi fatwa because both schools take opposite views. For example, Hanafi School says if some woman is raped she is considered to have indulged in adultery which is haram, which is prohibited. Then her marriage will be canceled. What is hallal is canceled by haram. Whereas shafi takes opposite view that the haram that is prohibited cannot cancel what is permitted. So a shafi scholar could have said that Imrana could live happily with her husband. So particular school of thought plays some role, individual plays some role and these muktis , the so-called scholars who issue fatwas are totally ignorant of modern world developments. They have been trained in Madarasas in a very narrow sectarian dogmatic manner. They don’t take other things into account. They simply consult the books of their school to see what is written, what has imam shahi said and what has hanafi said and so on and then they will give their opinion. Imrana did not accept the fatwa. She is living with her husband. The way media rushed and highlighted the Imrana affair gave bad name to Islam and not to that mufti. Muslims are divided into so many schools which hold contradictory views. Even triple divorce –there are very contradictory views. Not all Muslims accept it. Hanafis and shafis are the main schools in India and so triple divorce works. In other parts of Islamic world where Hanafis and Shafis are, there have been triple divorce which were most unIslamic and inhuman. Justice is central value of Islam. Triple divorce has no place at all. It must be abolished right away.
“Indian Islamic scholars-Indian Ulema- are typically a product of Indian society. Indian culture has influenced them as much as Islamic teaching. Two things which together could become the worst doctrinaire. Conservative Muslims learnt through Madarasas and conservative Indian culture. Both influence the scholarly opinion and both together puts women in great disadvantage. Koran gives equal rights to men and women in a most unambiguous manner. The declaration is so clear that nobody can rebut it. Yet in all Muslim societies women have been subjugated or made secondary to men. Koran says what is for her is equal to what is against her. That is, her rights and duties are equal. Despite such unambiguous declaration of Koran the Muslim women do not get equal rights. That is why I become unhappy when media blames Islam or Koran for the condition of women or violence. Unfortunately even Muslims are equally ignorant and they are influenced by their cultural environment, by sectarian approaches developed by scholars over the centuries.”
Religion and Politics
To another question about the way the religious heads in Iran used Islam, Mr. Engineer said, ” We must understand that religion has always been misused by politics and that is why religion should be kept away from politics. If religion and politics come together, it is religion which loses and politics which gains. So we must keep the two apart as far as our secular problems are concerned. We must use religion to enrich our inner wheel and that is what it is meant for and it should enrich us spiritually so that we become humble, helpful for our fellow human beings and that is what religion is.”
Mr. Engineer also dwelt extensively on the Kashmir problem. In replying to a question relating to Kashmir he said that “India has been quite unfair in dealing with Kashmir. Kashmiris rejected Pakistan and joined India on condition that their autonomy will be maintained. India eroded that autonomy over the years. It also committed a greater sin —it did not even allow fair elections in Kashmir and that is what enraged Kashmiri youth ultimately. The legitimately elected and popular government of Farouk Abdulla was dismissed in 1993 during Indira Gandhi’s rule at the Centre and it had a very adverse effect in the minds of Kashmiris ; not only that their autonomy had been eroded but they were also not even free to choose their government. All elections except the one in 1977 during Morarji Desai-led Janata Party Government at the Centre and the last elections in Kashmir, no other elections were allowed in a fair and impartial manner. People say that if fair elections are held problems will cease to exist. If autonomy is given to Kashmir, it would be really great, till then let them hold fair elections so that the Kashmiris would feel confident that they can choose their government. This time they rejected the son of Farouk Abdulla and elected a coalition government. That will go a long way to creating a sense of confidence. The army commits a lot of excesses and that angers people of Kashmir. So the army should be restrained, which is very difficult to do because of allegations and counter allegations and the army always asserts that it never raped women nor killed innocent people, which is not always correct.
Secondly, Pakistan has no business in Kashmir. They had sent invaders in 1948. People of Kashmir led by Sheikh Abdullah had decisively rejected Pakistan and they opted for India. So Pakistan became desperate and sent invaders and occupied a part and now started claiming that Kashmir is a problem. Nehru committed India to conduct a plebiscite but both the Indian and Pakistan governments violated the conditions of the plebiscite. Neither Pakistan nor India withdrew its army. The condition for the plebiscite was that both countries should withdraw their armies from Kashmir and then the people of Kashmir would decide their future status. If a plebiscite is held today I do not think Kashmiris will opt for Pakistan. A plebiscite should be held in all regions of Jammu and Kashmir, not only in the valley which is predominantly Muslim. There are Pandits there. India should have no fear. There is so much diversity in Jammu and Kashmir and that people of Jammu and Kashmir wil,l in any case, not vote for Pakistan. It has become a political problem and now the dialogue should continue. Both India and Pakistan want to exclude people of Kashmir which is not fair. Kashmir is not only a territory, Kashmir is also a people. So people of Kashmir should be free to participate in any dialogue to find a solution. So far, India and Pakistan have taken a position which regards the people of Kashmir only as a commodity to be bartered away between two nations, which is very wrong. If ceasefire is maintained permanently and dialogue goes on, it might not solve the problem in a year or two but over a period of time, it should be possible to solve it and the best solution would be a federation of South Asian countries. All border problems will go and let India and Pakistan, Nepal , Bangladesh, Sri Lanka come together in a federation like the European Union and that is the best model now. When these European nations which were at each other’s throat just fifty years ago could come together why can’t this apply to us too —have a common currency; abolish visa and all other restrictions. The Kashmir problem will be solved automatically.”
Input by Mr. Ravi Prakash Arya
Mr.Ravi Prakash Arya, in his paper presented to the Seminar as well as during his interventions, made a few observations similar to those of Mr. Engineer, though his point of reference was the Vedas and not Koran. He defined religion as “ an institution that works for the teaching and propagation of human values, social justice and spirituality through the peculiar system of rituals and taboos. Thus every religion in the world has two aspects: 1. The Teaching Aspect : All religions teach the inculcation of human values like patience, tolerance, control of mind and senses, non-stealing, purity, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, truth, non-anger, non-violence, brotherhood, fraternity and friendship. They teach a code of conduct for progress and peace. This is known as Dharma in the Vedas. Dharma is often confused with modern day religion. Dharma in Vedas is the name of human values, social duties and spirituality whereas religion is an agency implementing Dharma”.
Communalism and fundamentalism
Mr. Ravi Arya went on to explain why communalism and fundamentalism emerge in the Indian context: “While the teaching aspect is universal, the second aspect -the ritual one - is peculiar only to the religion concerned. When the Dharma is forgotten, communalism and fundamentalism emerge. With multiplicity of religions, India has become a fertile ground for inter-communal conflicts. Religious fundamentalism often becomes a tool for the inter-communal conflicts between religions and castes in India. Mostly, these conflicts are politically motivated. Indian politics has played upon the religious and caste-based data. Politicians are fielded in elections based upon their caste and religions. Petty politicians of different religions and castes, leaving aside a few big leaders, can never imagine winning an election in the area dominated by the people of different castes and religions. Communalism is not practised in the day today life by general public in India, but forced by the politicians for their political gains. The terrorist’s activities in different states of India which are said to be sponsored by outsiders and supported by insiders are also politically motivated. Bordering countries are using religion to achieve their motive of creating insurgency and split along religious lines in India. Most of the insiders who are involved or supporting these activities have also a political mission. They want to be the power centres and so want to be heard by the world as leaders. But they forget that to become a leader through bloodshed is a barbarous act and not a religious act.
“Communalism is also sometimes imposed by religious leaders who are ignorant about the true teachings of their respective religions. There is a lot of ignorance regarding the actual religious norms and teachings. They are very particular and rigid about the external symbols and logos of their religions. For them propagation of religion lies not in the propagation of human values, education and scientific awareness, but in attracting more and more followers. In the era of marketing, they are as good as any good marketer. They feel insecure of losing their followers. This sense of insecurity is another cause of conflicts among religions”.
Mr. Ravi Arya, opposed the concept of “One World’ to ‘Globalisation’: “The concept of modern Globalisation originated out of commercial interest in the commercialisation era and finds its echo in the emergence of multinational companies trying to make more benefits by extending the markets for their products beyond their home boundaries.. Globalisation is undoubtedly a universal phenomenon. The core concept of Globalisation should be ’One World’. Science and technology has achieved its goal so far as the concept of ’One World’ is concerned. Now the world has become very small. Within twenty four hours one can make a tour around the world. The commercial interests have forced the people to come together, and science has helped them to do so.” Dr Arya argued that unless there is one single universal religion which imbibes the best values of all the religions of the world, the idea of one world can not be realised. While he admitted that creating a universal religion is a utopian idea, one should keep trying to create it on the basis of four essential attributes: equality, universal brotherhood, harmonious development and scientific base.
The essence of dialogue
It was agreed to start the last day’s concluding sessions by expressing one’s understanding of the essence of dialogue. This allowed for a common overview, after the two days of exchanges, of the participants’ appreciation of dialogue in the context of South Asian realities, where religious fundamentalism and economic globalization are key concerns.
The following points were raised:
Reducing distance, listening, exchanging views both of practice and theory.
Dialogue means how we are being together, how much we can touch and feel as human beings.
Dialogue involves a sense of respect, honour and acceptance of the others as persons. It should lead to action for transformation.
Dialogue is crucial to break the wall.
Is dialogue possible between unequals? The importance of social justice in fostering better understanding.
More than listening and exchanging with others. It also means experiencing with others, practicing the experience. Getting to work out common enterprises for a new humanity.
Dialogue means relationships and not ego-centricity. Reaching out to others. Understanding others at equal levels, learning from others, enriching others. The contrary of religious fundamentalism and oppression.
Affirming the others, appreciating them, giving them the sense of worth, leading to a new identity. Giving the others the sense of belonging. Stressing more on the positive and less on the negative.
Dialogue between different cultures and values. Without dialogue there is no peace and without peace there is no development.
Dialogue is not a process of integration but of mutual transformation.
Participation and process:
Good experience but missed the presence of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Happy about the strong presence of women.
The combination of scholars, scientific persons and activists involved in local, conflict-ridden situations is an interesting process of exchange.
Happy and satisfied to a great extent. The contributions came not from the head alone but also from the heart.
Limited and late funding was a big constraint in relation to the participation. Our original plans to have a SAARC level seminar could not be fulfilled at the end.
The participants and the experiences they represented were very inspiring.
The personal sharing had regarding the Dalits has been very useful.
Would have been good to have more non-religious, secular, atheist participants. Enjoyed the spirituality aspect.
Empowering process. Good experience of living in diversity but missed the presence of other religious groups like Sikhs, etc.
Learned much about the different religions and had a clearer idea of religious fundamentalism.
Reconfirmation of the importance of going to the people, linking the faith dimension with human realities.
Impressed by the different contributions which were enlightening, clarified issues and were encouraging to go on with the dialogue. Such experiences should multiply.
Bringing out the liberative forces in the teachings of different religions was good.
Learning about the Mosque for women was new and inspiring.
On individual level:
Strengthen dialogue back in own country based on common values, an excellent platform work for the common values of justice, peace and development.
Religion is a tool which can be used regressively and progressively. Religion can be emancipatory.
Inter-faith reflection, which is very much needed in the North East region of India, can be introduced.
Individually share experience and information with other forums, organizations and individuals.
Educate the future priests as humanity oriented rather than fundamentalists. Not conquering identity but stretching out the identity.
Share this experience with others.
Plan to organize a dialogue group (Maharashtra).
Hope we will be able to make good use of the seminar input. The Lebret Centre, though a small initiative, is some sort of a ‘foundation’ to support scholars or activists. Will continue the efforts together.
AREDS will not stop with this initiative but will continue — within its conviction that – small people who are aware and who act collectively will build towards one humanity.
Back in our work place, we work with the youth. We can share this and dialogue with them.
Make use of the participatory reflectory – to take texts from the different religious teachings.
Initiate the use of the ‘play back theatre’.
Actions that could be done on national, regional and global levels:
Meetings involving more countries (South Asia and South West Asia) which have multiple and diverse cultures and religions.
A similar initiative was done in Lebanon. With this seminar in Bangalore I realize the lacune in the Beirut dialogue and how it can be improved.
With AREDS, we can continue to do what is possible. AREDS could be a center of sharing and exchange.
Need to be in touch with each other through important experiences and events. The Lebret Centre can also use the material in their newsletter or publications.
Share the importance of having such deliberations in more countries. On the one hand the Lebret Centre has difficulties in supporting researches financially but the area of research related to such topics is necessary. We should find the means to organize support for such alternatives.
The foreign donors’ attitudes and values have to be challenged and the Lebret Centre should try to do something on this line.
We should go into identifying such initiatives – take stock. Share the same at the different levels.
We should not restrict initiatives within this network alone but join other groups for dialogue at different levels.
The dialogue should be taken up on the regional level within each country like in Nepal, in Pakistan.
On the global level, we would need to share with each other the problems, materials and tools, and for this the Lebret Centre is can be very useful.
Need to continue to experience based on Beirut, Bangalore to Africa in the next proposed events. It should also move to Latin America and Europe for global network and to enrich our debate.
We should also use mass media like television and think of international personalities who could animate the process. There is a need to come out with concrete ideas and solutions to the conflicts and to have impact. Ideas, good or bad, shape the future and make impact. We should push these ideas finally hoping that they reach the places where they should reach.
The cultural activities in the form of Folk Dances (Parayaatam, Karagaatam) and songs performed by the AREDS Cultural Group highly animated the seminar. As well, Christina Samy from the Society of Women in Action for Total Empowerment (SWATE) introduced the use of the Playback theatre in community activities and made the participants themselves experience the activity.
FOLK DANCES OF TAMIL NADU
Tamil Nadu had developed the art of entertainment to its pristine heights at early age. The three- modes of entertainment classified as Iyal (Literature), Isai (Music) and Nadagam (Drama) had their roots in the rural folk theatre like Therukoothul. Many forms of group and individual dances existed with the classical forms for popularity and sheer entertainment value. Majority of these dances are still thriving in Tamil Nadu today. Some of them are vanishing.
Karagam is a folk dance with musical accompaniment, performed balancing a pot on the head. Traditionally, this dance was performed by the villagers in praise of the rain goddess, Mari Amman and river goddess, Gangai Amman, performed with literature with water pots balanced on their heads. In ancient (Sangam) literature, it is mentioned as ’Kudakoothu’. This dance has two divisions - one, Aatta Karagam and the other ’Sakthi Karagam’. More often it is danced with decorated pots on the head and is known as ’Aatta Karagam’ and symbolizes joy and merriment.
— The former is performed only in temples, while the latter is mainly entertainment in nature. This is one of the more popular rural dances today. Earlier it was performed only with accompaniment of the Naiyandi Melam but now it includes songs also.
Karagams were once performed for mulaipari ceremony when the dancer carried a pot of sprouted grains on his/her head and danced, balancing it through intricate steps and body / arm movements. Today, the pots have transformed from mud pots to bronze ware and even stainless steel in modem times. The pots are decorated with a cone of flower arrangements, topped by a paper parrot/ flowers. The parrot/ flower rotates as the dancer swings along. This dance is very popular all over Tamil Nadu, though its birthplace is said to be Thanjavur. Most artistes hail hom Thanjavur, Pudukottai, Ramanathapuram, Madurai, Tirunelveli, Pattukottai and Salem. An individual or two persons dance this dance. Both male and female performers participate in this. Acrobatics similar to circus are included -such as dancing on a rolling block of wood, up and down a ladder, threading a needle while bending backwards and so on. In this performance it is a symbolical note that "Oppressed and marginalized should come out and should see the light".
Thappaattam / Paraiyattam
Thappattam is a drum dance art of Dalits . Thappu is the name of a rhythmic beat instrument and Thappattam is practiced among the suppressed classes of the people who are treated as ’Untouchables’. The caste system in Indian society is justified more by Hindu religion and has a social sanction. This art is dishonored by the caste Hindus because a particular caste community plays it. In early days, this art was common to all. After the entry of Arians it became an art of particular section of people who were expected to announce the death of the person / animal in the villages by the upper caste group.
There are so many rewards and awards to the artists who play Thavil, Miruthangam, and vioIin etc. But Government does not recognize this nor encourages this art. The subt1e form of dance accompanied by captivating music, is an ancient rural folk art, which is even now popular in urban slum areas in villages.
Nowadays, this ancient art with captivating music is getting its spirit with new values like ’liberating beats’ of Dalits. AREDS cultural team and emerging Dalits movements are taking efforts to revitalize this art form. AREDS cultural team also demythologizes that women can beat ’parai’ if she gets the chance.
1. Ms. V. Mohini Giri, Delhi
Social activist, writer, scholar and a leader in the women’s movement, has been a strong voice for women, peace and justice in India and South Asia. Former chairperson, National Commission for Women – 1994-1998, founder Trustee WIPSA 2000, a nominee of the Women Nobel Peace Prize.
2. Ms. Seema Sakhare, Maharastra
President - Stree Atyachar Virodhi Parishad, Maharastra Though basically a grassroot worker, she is renowned at the state, national and international level for her social work in empowering women socially, economically, legally and politically. Founder and president of the Legal Literacy Movement for Women and the Vidarbha Association for women’s studies and research.
3. Ms. Jarjum Ete, Arunachal Pradesh
Chairperson of the first State Commission for Women in Arunachal Pradesh, represents the Indigenous women’s Resource Centre (IWRC) a North East regional body based in Shillong, Maghalaya, as its president. An erstwhile business person turned activist for the last 20 years, she has headed the tribal women of her state under Arunachal Pradesh Women’s Welfare Society (APWWS), which is 25 years old. She is also the secretary of the National Alliance of women (an alliance of regional women’s groups from all over India) Keen on political leadership, participation and empowerment of women, she is also the honorary chair of The Hunger Project in Arunachal Pradesh providing leadership skills enhancement trainings to the elected women leaders in the panchayats in AP.
4. Mr. Victor Louis, Tamil Nadu
Professor now for 35 years. Some 7 books published and more than 70 papers and articles written. Keynote address delivered in more than 100 conferences.
5. Ms. Ruth Manorama, Karnataka
President of NAWO and Leader of National Dalit Movement. NAWO (National Alliance of Women is an umbrella organization that emerged after IV International Women Beijing conference. Also a nominee to the Women Nobel Peace Prize.
6. Fr. Lancy Lobo, Gujarat
Lancy Lobo has a doctorate in sociology from the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. He is now the director of Centre of Culture and Development, Vadodara. Earlier, he also served as Director, Centre for Social Studies, Surat. He has conducted extensive studies on Dalits, tribals, OBCs, and minorities in rural and urban Gujarat. He has authored five books and more than fifty articles in professional journals. He is editing a volume on “Anatomy and Geography of Riots: Gujarat 2002” He was an International Fellow of the Woodstock Theological Centre, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. during 1999-2000.
7. Ms. Sharifa Khannam, Tamil Nadu
Initiated STEPS to ensure social justice and gender justice for the victimized women of all sections of the society. In 2001, she received the Manava Seva National Award as the best social worker. She was also awarded Desasnehi National Award in 2002.
8. Ms. V. Geetha, Tamil Nadu
Writer, historian and translator. Interested in issues of gender, education, history – writes / teaches on these subjects.
9. Mr. Md. Kamruddin Sahabuddin, West Bengal
President of the United Brothers Association since last 20 years. Secretary of CIPODA – Central Inter religious Pool of Developmental Association since last 10 years – working for Inter religious communal Harmony in West Bengal. Assistant to Brother Gaston Dayanand since 1972 at Seva Sangh Samiti, Howrah.
10. Fr. Edwin, Tamil Nadu
Edited “Health Action” a monthly for health activism. Pioneered Basic community Movement in India. Secretary, Neighborhood community network, an organization that promotes direct democracy and sociocracy. Organized thousands of neighbourhood parliaments for children, adolescents.
11. Mr. Bishnu Hari Bhatta, Nepal
Director, Youth Volunteer Programme of Partners in Sustainable Development in Nepal, has worked more than 15 years in this field with different international organization including US Peace Corps, Save the Children, Students Partnership World-wide. He also participated in different conferences, workshop and presented the paper in the national and international levels. He is also president of Lions Club in Nepal and life member Red Cross Society and many other national trusts.
12. Mr. Mohan Parajuli, Nepal
Chairperson of PSD, Nepal. Has been engaged in Training and Development in different organizations for more than 15 years. Works with SNV – Nepal (a Dutch Organisation), Student Partnership world-wide (a British Organisation).
13. Fr. Paul Caspersz, Sri Lanka
Jesuit Priest, born in 1925. In 1942 he refused a scholarship to enter the University of Ceylon on the results of the London Matriculation Examination in order to join the Jesuits. In 1949 he obtained the Licentiate in Philosophy in India and in 1953 the Licentiate in Theology in Italy. In 1957 he obtained his MA in Politics and Economics at Oxford and in 1969 also in Oxford the Advanced Diploma in the Sociology of Education. From 1958 to 1971 he taught and was Principal at the Jesuit College in South Sri Lanka. In 1972 he co-founded the Satyodaya Centre for Social Research & Encounter in Kandy, Sri Lanka. He has remained there ever since as Coordinator, researcher and writer.
14. Harsha Wanninayake, Sri Lanka
Born in 1965 in the northwestern part of Sri Lanka. He obtained a degree in Geography in 1993 from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. While working as a research assistant at Geography Dept. of the same University, he applied for a post of Research Assistant at Satyodaya with the idea of being a social activist. In 1994 he joined Satyodaya fulfilling his wish. He became the Secretary and Administrator of Satyodaya in 1996 and continues in office. He was trained in Management of Voluntary Organisation at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA), Gujarat in India. Also he followed the National Diploma in Human Resource Management at the National Institute of Business Management, (NIBM) Srilanka.
15. Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, Maharastra
Born in 1940, and took a BSc. in Civil Engineering from Vikram University. From 1980 he edited the journal The Islamic Perspective, and during the 1980s he published a string of books on Islam and communal violence in India, the latter based on his field investigations into the communal riots in post-independence India. By 1987 he was well enough known to receive the Distinguished Service Award from the USA International Student Assembly and the USA Indian Student Assembly. In 1990 he received the Dalmia Award for communal harmony and in 1993 was awarded an honorary D.Litt. by the University of Calcutta. 1992 saw the destruction of the Babri Mosque and provided the impetus for the foundation by Engineer in 1995 of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS), of which Engineer is still the Chairman and which has been the organizational focus of his work since then. The objectives of CSSS are to spread the spirit of communal harmony, to study problems in the area and organize inter-faith dialogues. To this end CSSS undertakes research, organizes seminars, conducts training and mass awareness programs, publishes books and pamphlets and networks with other organizations. Through CSSD and otherwise Engineer has given many lectures and been involved in many workshops (some abroad, mainly in India, some for the Indian police) promoting communal understanding and harmony. He has published 47 books, many papers and articles, including those for scholarly journals. He edits a journal, Indian Journal of Secularism, and a monthly paper, Islam and Modern Age. Through the 1990s, Engineer received a number of awards, including the National Communal Harmony Award in 1997, and the USA Award from the Association for Communal Harmony in Asia in 2003. Engineer is a Bahra Muslim, and an important component of his work has been both to promote a better external understanding of Islam and to critique some of its manifestations from the inside (for example, Rethinking Issues in Islam in 1998). His progressive interpretation of the scriptures has often brought him into headlong conflict with the orthodox clergy at a great personal risk. Post-2001 some of Engineer’s work has addressed the issues of globalization, Islam and terrorism, but most of his work has remained focused on the communal situation in India and, to a lesser extent, its relations with Pakistan.
16. Dr. Ravi Prakash Arya, Delhi
Chief Editor : Vedic Science Quarterly and International Foundation for Vedic Science, Inc. Canada. General Secretary, Indian Foundation for Vedic Science, India. Life Member, World Association for Sanskrit Studies. Member, International Vedic Vision, New York. Publications: 23 Books running into 40 vols. and 13 tracts on Religion, Vedas, Vedic Philosophy, Culture, Vedic Astronomy and History, 50 Academic and Research papers in various national and international Journals.
17. Mr. Boutros Labaki, Lebanon
Civil engineer, economist, sociologist. Director of research at St. Joseph University in Beirut. President of the Institut libanais de développement économique et social (ILDES). Vice President of Centre International Lebret-Irfed for the Middle East. Was Senior vice president of the Council of Development and Reconstruction of Lebanon (1990-2000). Books published : Introduction à l’histoire économique du Liban (1974) – Education et mobilisation sociale au Liban (Frankfurt, 1988) – Bilan des guerres – 1975-1990 (Paris, 1993).
18. Mr. Nouth Narang, Cambodia
Took his university studies in Paris, France, and with the war in Cambodia, stayed there in Paris until 1992, date of his return to Cambodia. Lecturer at the “Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes of the Sorbonne University, he founded a Documentation and Research Centre on Khmer Civilisation (CEDORECK), in light of the events in Cambodia. The Centre was transferred to Cambodia in 1994. Today, the Centre pursues its work along cultural basis. He participated in the first Government of Cambodia from 1993-98 as Minister of Culture, and continues to develop cultural action through the Centre, despite the weakness of its resources. He published books and articles, the more important ones being:
Angkor Silencieux, (Silent Angkor) in 1986 in French, translated into German
La Cité hydraulique angkorienne (Angkor’s Hydraulic City, in Khmer in 2003).
 - Ranganathapuram, P.O.
Karur District, Pin- 639 2108
Tamil Nadu, India
Tel. + 91 4324 250618 / Fax: + 91 4324 250617
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 - in 2006, the name changed to "Développement et Civilisations - Lebret-Irfed" (DCLI)