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D. Krishnan: Address to the International Leadership Conference

Address to the International Leadership Conference
Seoul, Korea, February 6-10, 2011

Tan Sri Dr. Devaki Krishnan, President of UPF-Malaysia, set the standard for women’s participation in public life when she became the first woman to be elected to Kuala Lumpur’s City Hall. She served as a Board member of the Juvenile Court in cities and towns including Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Shah Alam, and Ampang. For more than 20 years she was a member of the Marriage Tribunal for Non-Muslims in Malaysia. Besides her government positions, Tan Sri Devaki has been a committee member of the Interfaith Spiritual Fellowship in Malaysia, secretary/vice president and then trustee for the Pan Pacific and Southeast Asia Women’s Association, and as a committee member of several welfare homes in Malaysia.

It is my great pleasure to introduce UPF-Malaysia as an effective model of interfaith cooperation for peace and harmony. As you might know, my homeland of Malaysia is a multi-religious, multi-racial and multi-cultural country where the adherents of all the major religions live together in harmony and peace. This is all due to the present government of Malaysia to which I am part and parcel of.

When about 60 years ago Malaya got independence from the British, it was written in the constitution that each person’s religion and language must be maintained. Under that understanding the government is kind enough to follow it until this day. You might be surprised how peoplein Malaysia live as one united family peacefully while there are turbulences and troubles are all around the world even in East and West Asia. Nowhere also in the world do churches, temples, viharas, gurudwaras get funds from the government. As the languages to be maintained, we have Tamil, Chinese, Sikh, and other vernacular schools, and the school buildings are paid for by the government. Even community halls, sports arenas, and playgrounds are provided by the government.

At this juncture, I would like to tell you something about myself. I have traveled around the world and been to many conferences, forums and seminars but this is my first time to attend a UPF conference in Korea. I am a politician and pioneer in the city council elections in Kuala Lumpur. I was selected as a candidate for the new independent government as one among three women out of 32 candidates. I was the only Indian woman to be elected, and gained a thumping majority in 1952. As I was a teacher, my students were campaigning for me. After the election, I concentrated on helping the underprivileged, running adult education classes, and obtaining citizenship for Indians.

We were delighted when Father and Mother Moon visited Malaysia. I was captivated by Father Moon’s speech calling for peace and harmony, since my parents had taught me Mahatma Gandhi’s message of Ahimsa or non-violence.

I am pleased that the United Nations have adopted the first week of February as the World Interfaith Harmony Week. UPF-Malaysia enthusiastically supports this UN initiative by hosting an Interfaith Open House later this month which is supported by the Department of Unity and National Integration as well as major interfaith and religious organizations in Malaysia.

The Department of Unity and National Integration under the Prime Minister’s Office has rendered financial, material, and moral support to more than 14 Religious Youth Service (RYS) projects carried out under the banner of UPF Malaysia. These inter-religious service projects which teach our young people to work together in harmony for the sake of the nation help the government achieve its goal of One Malaysia, a political program initiated by the current Prime Minister.

When we take our young RYS participants on an interfaith pilgrimage, visiting diverse places of worship, they learn to understand and appreciate their fellow Malaysian’s faith traditions. Each day starts with morning prayer and meditation during which the participants share their own unique way of reaching out to the Divine.

Overcoming many difficulties during the service hours, they bond in heart with each other and experience the meaning of their own religion teaching them the joy of living for the sake of others. When it is time to say good-bye to their new friends at the end of the project, they realize they have truly become one community transcending religious, racial and cultural barriers. As a devout Hindu, I was brought up with respect towards all the religions. 

Our Holy Scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, says: “In any way that men love me in that same way they find my love: for many are the paths of men, but they all in the end come to me.” This conviction that there is One God but many paths has endeared me to the UPF which has interfaith harmony, mutual understanding and cooperation as one of its core tenets.

As the president of UPF-Malaysia, I can assure you that we will continuously work towards this noble goal fulfilling Father Moon’s vision of a unified world of peace. I cordially invite all of you to visit our beautiful country on the occasion of our international interfaith conference this year.

Thank you very much.