When divisive forces are trying to spread hatred and revenge and thereby spread violence and disharmony in different parts of India, 315 peace loving people came together at Shofar Conference Centre, Gurgaon from January 30 to February 1, 2019 and celebrated peace. The participants of the convention comprised of persons from different walks of life and professions, including students and teachers. They listened to inspiring and enlightening talks by experienced persons and experts. In the light of the insights they received they discussed in groups about the creative ways for building peace. They agreed upon an action plan for promoting peace and harmony in their respective institutions/organizations and places.
Uncompromising punctuality, inspiring talks, active group discussion and inclusive and participatory approach made the convention different from many other conventions. A speciality of the National Peace Convention is that all participants, including the organizers and many speakers register by paying registration fee and meet the expenses of accommodation and travel.
Father Varghese Alengaden had taken the initiative to start National Peace Movement in 2015. The first convention was organized in Indore in collaboration with Rotary International at the end of which National Peace Movement (NPM) came into existence. Thereafter the National Peace Conventions were organized by NPM in collaboration with Rotary International and other like-minded organizations. The second National Peace Convention was held in Dimapur, the third in Goa and the fourth in Kochi.
2018-19 being the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, special focus was given to Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi and their contribution to build peace. There were three talks specifically on Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi. The very fact that the convention begins on the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi by paying homage to Mahatma declares that the peace convention is inspired by the Gandhian ideals.
The curtain for the fifth National Peace Convention was drawn with the melodious and thought-provoking songs sung by social activist couple, Vinay and Charul Mahajan, at the beginning of the inaugural session on 30th January. Their songs helped the audience to reflect on issues confronting the nation and the challenges for peace such as violence in the name of religion, threat to the Indian constitution, suppression of freedom of expression and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor.
The peace meditation guided by Dr. Paul Poovathingal, an expert in Carnatic music, put the participants in right perspective at beginning of the sessions on January 31 and February 01 and helped them to experience inner peace.
Some of the crucial issues disturbing and destroying peace in India and many other parts of the world are unprecedented increase in the gap between the rich and the poor as highlighted by the latest report of Oxfam, discrimination and atrocities on women, disastrous consequences of climate change and religious fundamentalism leading to hatred and violence. The participants of the fifth peace convention were enlightened on how to deal with these issues.
Mr. P V Rajgopal, social activist and Gandhian, in his speech told that there cannot be genuine peace in the absence of justice. In the absence of justice conflicts and violence are bound to happen, he said. By referring to the views of Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda he presented the framework for working for peace. According to Gandhiji whenever we think of an action, think of the poorest and the weakest person we have seen in our life. Don’t think about the biggest guy. Swami Vivekananda had said, “Dear, as long as even a single dog in my country is hungry, my religion will be to give him food. Doing anything else would be irreligious”.
The policies of the country are to be framed in view of the poor and the neediest. From the unprecedented increase in economic inequality it is clear that the economic policies of the country are favouring the rich. He appealed to the participants, “Challenge the system in a non-violent way”. Help the educated young people to go back to the villages and organize people to challenge the policies of the government, he added.
The chief guest of the valedictory function, Jill Carr-Harris, a peace activist from Canada, appealed to the participants to be inclusive in their approach and become justice makers by committing themselves to work for the empowerment of the weaker sections.
“Women have the right to be consoled and loved,” asserted Anuradha Shankar, Additional Director General of Police of Madhya Pradesh, in her keynote address. The police officer cited the example of Gandhi’s wife Kasturba who played a crucial role in India’s independence struggle. “Gandhiji became Mahatma because of the support of Kasturba, Shankar said.
“While Gandhiji learned from the books, Kasturba learned from the book of life. Kasturba had the courage to organize protest of women in South Africa. Similarly she was leading the anti-liquor movement in Bardoli while Gandhiji was leading the Dandi March,” she explained. Somehow women in India lost the freedom and independence that they enjoyed during the freedom struggle and in the years that followed independence, Anuradha Shankar opined. Women have to regain their freedom, she asserted.
Dr. Subba Rao, a Gandhian and a peace activist, in his address said that religion has been a cause of war and bloodshed. He said that all religions teach that God’s presence is in every human person. If human beings become conscious of God’s presence in every human being ( Aham Brahmmasmi) a lot of conflicts and bloodshed can be avoided. We often associate religion with rituals, prayers and practices; but true religion is peace, sensitivity and compassion. Hence the need of the hour is promoting spirituality based on human and ethical values.
The Maoists are concerned with the ever increasing gap between the rich and the poor and they are fighting for justice to the poor and the tribals. But their means is not at all acceptable. How can you kill people, however noble your cause is, he asked? Killing people will only complicate the problem instead of solving the problem. Therefore returning to non-violent resistance as practised by Gandhiji is the feasible and acceptable solution.
According to Shri. Siddhartha, writer and cultural analyst, absence of critical thinking and compassion leads to all kinds of fundamentalism. Hence there is need for motivating people to follow authentic consciousness which is always linked to compassion and critical thinking. Human consciousness has a bright side qualified with compassion and critical reflection/thinking and gray side which is devoid of both. All human beings have the gray or shadow side. It will be preventing them from being compassionate and being critical. It is lesser self. The brighter side is greater self. We must continuously grow to the brighter side, he said.
We need to critically look at the tradition and reject anything that is against human dignity, and human rights. We have to navigate the critical space. We also have to be critical of modernity. Climate change is the result of modernity. As a result we have the issue of climate refugees. We may have substantial reduction in food production in the near future because of the climate change. The present modal of development is going to eliminate human beings from the planet unless we act now. We must fight it at every level, he said.
Hence he emphasized the need for critical reflection and compassion in dealing with tradition and modernity. In the absence of critical thinking religion and tradition can play havoc in society. In the same way application of technology without critical thinking can cause disaster.
Lt. General Syed Ata Hasnain in his speech highlighted the contribution of army in nation building and peace keeping. The army personnel belong to people of all religions, castes, regions and languages, but there is no discrimination based on these elements. “We are primarily human beings and then we are all Indians”, he said. He asserted that the Indian Army is the best example for unity in diversity. The ideal of secularism is practised by the army in word and deed, he said.
When the resources are less and human beings are many there will be conflicts. When army was sent to sensitive areas of conflict he focused on the soft power of army. “I empowered the soft power of the army by organizing and encouraging Sabhavana programmes, women empowerment programmes and improving education through army schools for the public”, he said.
The session “Making a Difference” in which six persons shared their unique interventions in the society for building peace and their life experience, was really touching. The speeches by six students, including a visually impaired girl, on various dimensions of Mahatma Gandhi and his contribution to peace was the most memorable session of the 5th National Peace Convention.
The 5th National Peace Convention was concluded with the participants renewing their commitment to build peace by implementing the action plan they have prepared in state-wise group discussion. Some of the participants said that they not only heard about various aspects of peace building but also they could experience peace during the peace convention because of the harmonious atmosphere that prevailed over the whole process.
(firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 11th February 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 07)