Upholding Pluralism

by Asif Husain ,Goa
The  beautiful state of Goa  has many  good  initiatives to tell the world about its  social harmony  .  The secret behind  it, needs to be explored and  shared with the other states of Goa. The  “peaceful state” tag needs to be upheld  and  in times  when  politics of hate and divide  is in abundant supply, Goa will have to work over time and  continue the legacy.
Goa  does boast of a healthy  social and communal harmony but every careful student of inter faith harmony knows  how easy it is   for the  mischief makers to  attempt  and   inflict damage. There have been repeated attempts  to  create  discord  and seek fertile minds to germinate  the  seeds of hate.
For the  benefit  of Goa and its  rescue   comes   the vibrant inter-faith  dialogue movement in Goa.  We need to  call it a movement because  it has  been the one-point agenda for many prominent individuals as well as  many forums and NGOs working in this field. There are many small  groups of concerned individuals who are   dedicated to the cause.  Men and women,  religious leaders  and layman, schools and colleges , NGOs and social activists, seminaries, mutts   and madrasas,, temples ,churches and masjids    have played their  role in promoting harmonious relations.
It  would  take  much space if we  list the  names  and activities  of all working towards inter-faith dialogue  in Goa . The nature of the work needs to be  brought  before the general public   and so  a few names will be mentioned  to help the readers to  know the dedication of individuals and organizations  and the  different   activities and programs.
The land of scenic beauty is home to many beautiful   historical  temples, masjids and churches.  The  Christmas  and  the new year  celebrations  has turned the spotlight on churches  and many  wrongly assume that Goa is a Christian majority state.  The number of temples and Masjids  in Goa will surely surprise many. The three communities  along with the Sikhs have lived harmoniously    for centuries together.
The Arab Muslim  traders  way back in the eight century who won the heart of the Kadamba  King and nobles  when they rescued them from drowning in the Mandovi   river have ever since left   many   bright examples of  mutual co-operation , support and communal amity. Muslims have lived side by side with the Hindus and together have  built many traditions of  communal harmony.  The  famous Arab  traveller ibn Batuta  who visited Goa   has glowing tributes  when he refers to Goa as  a land of temples   and Masjids.
The  well organized church in Goa , which has a   separate department to oversee Inter faith relations has played  an important role  in spearheading the inter -faith movement in Goa. Each of its parish and seminaries have dedicated programs   for communal harmony. The churches in Goa do not lose  any opportunity to hold an inter faith dialogue.  The historical old Goa Church hosts  annually an Inter Faith Program where thousands gather to listen to the  representatives  of all the faith who  speak about the need to understand each other . The students of Pilar theological  college  on an average annually  conduct 15-20  inter-faith programs across different colleges in Goa. These Inter Faith Dialogue (IFD) programs conducted by Pilar Theological colleges   have  a “Question and Answer” session after the key speakers have presented their view points.  These sessions  are  very important  because it allows us to understand the thoughts and doubts n the minds of the students .
 At the moment we shall not devote time for the outcome of the interactive Q&A sessions. God willing sometime in future  we could write on this subject. These Q&A sessions helps clarify many doubts. Students  and faculty  participate  in such  programs. A  short skit  or   drama is used to drive home the point  to maintain peace and beware of the hate mongers.  Rachol seminary uses  all the imporatnt national days to unite the different communities.
H.H Sadguru Brahmeshanandacharya Swamiji , founder of International Sadguru  Foundation- India   and Tapobhoomi Goa  has single handedly  organized many important  programs where he has invited many important state and national religious leaders to express unity and diversity. Programs organized by him are very well attended .  He also shares platforms  and stages  when such IFD programs are organized by Muslims or Christians. During  Diwali he sends sweets to all his  fellow Christians and Muslims.
Among the Muslims   a good number of Masjids   have  organized   “iftaar” for all the communities and  have invited speakers from Hindu and Christian communities to speak at the IFD programs. The visit to the masjid premises   by both men and women  of all faiths  helps break many barriers and  clarify many doubts.” Masjid Open House”   for  college   students  and school children  are organized by Students Islamic Organisation of India  to  help them get a glimpse of the  worship rituals and premises. All these efforts  have paid good dividends to  get rid of the negative image  and build a relation based  on mutual  trust .
Students Islamic  Organisation Of India  conducted  “Peace and Harmony” exams to test the knowledge of the college students about each others beliefs, culture and festivals. In this campaign Students were given  books introducing basic beliefs  of all the faiths. This initiative has  helped many students to learn and know more about the neighbors faith.
Jamaat –e-islami Hind – Goa ,has taken one step forward when it  invited members of all communities to come together to address common issues affecting the society. To address the problem of alcohol and drug abuse Jamaat invited religious leaders of all the faiths to  come on a single platform to address it. Similarly it regularly  invites religious as well opinion makers of all communities to come under one platform.  Jamaat has organized many awareness programs for general public  and   remove misconceptions and to understand Islam and Muslims.
Apart from religious organizations  there are many forums that  have taken steps to build inter community relations. The Goa study Group led by  Mr. Eduardo Faleiro  Former External Affairs Minister is yet another forum that   has been working to build inter community  relation  and  co-operation.
The Peace and Humanity Forum – Panjim with  personalities like Prajal Sakhardande, Claude Alvares , Prof Harish Chandra Nagvenkar, Hanif Shaikh and others  have taken the message of peace and humanity to most of the colleges in Goa. Citizens Initiative for Communal Harmony  -led by Advocate Albertina Almeida has organized  seminars and workshops for students and  administrators.  IFDIL – led by Ranjan Soloman   invited Ram Punyani for a students seminar to address the issue of communalism.
There  is  an annual inter faith program organized by the residents of Canacona in south Goa . This inter faith prayer programs  has  religious leaders of as many as 13 different faiths participating.
There  are  many more such   organizations, individuals , forums  that have a  kept  the healthy tradition of organizing regular IFD across Goa. The credit  for the peace and tranquility in Goa goes in a long way to such programs that help to  neutralize the poison of rumor, hate, division  and  polarization. The efforts put in by all are commendable  and needs our moral support. The need of the hour is to organize more such programs. Just  imagine the condition in the absence of such civil society efforts!
Saffronisation  of education and history calls  for refining and developing  effective modules  by civil society to counter such institutionalized misinformation.
In the coming years we will need to think  hard   to bring the communities to interact  with each other and learn about each other’s  beliefs ,scriptures,  practices, rituals and  culture. A diverse country  like India with multiple religions and languages will have to invest in Inter faith forums to bolster the  age old ties  between communities.

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