Forum in New Delhi on Interfaith Harmony for Peacebuilding and Good Governance

New Delhi, India - Dr. Karan Singh, President of the Indian Cultural Council for Cultural Relations and Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University, spoke to an overflow crowd at the United Nations Information Centre in New Delhi, India on Jan. 4, 2014 encouraging everyone, and especially religious leaders, to have an “open mind and heart” towards other faith traditions.

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Speaking on the occasion of the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week, Dr. Singh reminded the audience that throughout history “people have been tortured and massacred in the name of religion.” This, he said, was because some religions tried to monopolize God and it was precisely this exclusivist mind-set that needed to change.

“Truth is one,” he continued, “but there are many paths to the divine.” Dr. Singh acknowledged multiple causes to violence, nevertheless he held firmly to the conviction that, “Without harmony among the world’s religions peace is not possible.”

The program was co-sponsored by the United Nations Information Centre for India and Bhutan and UPF. Since the international president of UPF, Dr. Thomas Walsh, was traveling to India at this time, the celebration was held in advance of the first week of February, established by a resolution of the UN General Assembly as World Interfaith Harmony Week. Dr. Singh reassured the audience of more than 150 guests that, “There is no wrong time to do the right thing.”

Prior to this Dr. Walsh spoke about a “post cold war religious resurgence.” Religion and spirituality are not outdated, and science will not solve all our problems. So people are rethinking the role that religion occupies in modern society both individually and in global geo‑politics.

“Religions,” Dr. Walsh explained, “continue to play an extremely powerful role in world affairs.” He cited two examples: the current quagmire in the Middle East centering on Syria and the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Concluding his remarks, the president of UPF international noted that, “Father Moon’s call for a religious council at the UN was probably 40-50 years ahead of its time.” Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon and his wife are the founders of UPF.

H.E. Shri. B. P Singh, the chairman of UPF-India and the former Governor of Sikkim, began the program by challenging the august audience to pull down their “mind walls.” Stereotypes and prejudices in our minds are, he asserted, one of the main causes of violence.

But how are the walls in our minds dismantled or broken down? Here Shri. B.P. Singh highlighted the vital role of inter-religious education that should focus on universal moral and spiritual values held common by all faiths.

A member of parliament from Nepal and the president of the Nepal Family Party, Hon. Ek Nath Dhakal, emphasized the importance of dialogue. “Without dialogue reconciliation is impossible,” he said bluntly.

To underscore this, Hon. Dhakal closed his remarks quoting the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. Whether on the world stage or in their communities, religious and cultural leaders have a responsibility to speak the language of tolerance and respect. This is a central message of World Interfaith Harmony Week.

The second plenary entitled, “Effect of Interfaith Dialogue in Global Peace” had the following distinguished panelists:

  • Chair: Hon. Eduardo Faleiro, Member, Global Peace Council of UPF
  • Amb. Ashok Sajjanhar, Secretary, National Foundation for Communal Harmony
  • Father Clement Rajkumar, Vice-Principal, St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi
  • Swami Agnivesh, President of World Council of Arya Samaj
  • Pandit Dinbandhu Pokhrel, Hindu Religious Leader from Nepal
  • Dr. A.K. Merchant, interfaith activist and Secretary General of the Temple of Understanding

The main feature of this session was the lively interaction with a number of students, especially young women, from Amity University. This spirited discourse emerged spontaneously after Swami Agnivesh kindly reminded UPF-India that it must be more gender-inclusive in selecting speakers.

Following lunch, a new panelist was added to the third and concluding plenary. Ms. Apurba Pandey who is doing her masters studies at Amity University was asked to be on the dais. She kindly agreed.

The theme for this session was, “Role of Religion in Peace Education.” The panelists included:

  • Chair: Amb. K. V. Rajan, Member, Global Peace Council of UPF
  • Sri Srivasta Goswami, Hindu religious leader from Vrindavan
  • Dr. Robert S. Kittel, Director of Peace Education, UPF-Asia
  • Ms. Apurba Pandey, student, Masters in Development Studies, Amity University.

This time the dialogue focused on the need for moral and family values, and religions’ roles in advocating, protecting and bequeathing these immutable principles to future generations.

In the course of the day, 19 new Ambassadors for Peace were appointed.

For reports of additional World Interfaith Harmony Week programs in India, click here.

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