A TIO Report
REPORT FROM BENGALARU, INDIA
This report was written and edited by: Dr. Abraham Karickam (URI Asia executive secretary), Biswadeb Chakraborty (URI national coordinator), Subhi Dhupar (head of Reporting Committee CC, liaison officer, North Zone, India, Asia), P.K. Ramachandra (CC member, South Zone), and Savita Malpani (CC member North Zone).
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The 6th National Assembly of the United Religion’s Initiative (URI) India was held at the Ecumenical Christian Center in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) in south India, November 20-23. Set in the midst of nature, the architecture of ECC offered a perfect serene environment to discuss, share, and pragmatically offer solutions for a more peaceful world.
Based on the 2015 theme “Strengthening Bonds for Interfaith and Intercultural Relations,” the Assembly sought to advance and strengthen the key objectives of URI as an interfaith bridge-building organization, supporting URI’s cultivation of peace and justice among people by engaging them in local and global groups called Cooperation Circles (CCs).
This people-centric approach towards peacebuilding and interfaith harmony was exemplified by the diversity of 150 delegates from India, Bangladesh, and Sri-Lanka attending the conference. This diversity was also clear in the action areas people committed themselves to in seeking an end to religiously motivated violence.
In the process the Assembly focused on nourishing, empowering, and corroborating within the network of CCs. By promoting the ideas of partnerships, exchange programs, and interconnections among CCs, the URI India team sought to energize the network and enhance the capabilities of our membership.
The light of hope and strength at the beginning of the Assembly was lit by a well-known Indian jurist, the Honorable Justice N. Santhosh Hedge, formerly of the Supreme Court of India, along with URI trustees Dr. Kazi Nurul Islam (Bangladesh), Swamini Adithyanadaji and Swami Vrajapati Das (Multi-region), Ravi Kandage (Sri Lanka), and Prof. John Kurakar (U.S.).
Sessions were guided and led by URI leaders in Asia including, Biswadeb Chakraborty, Dr. Jinwol Lee, Dr. Abraham Karickam, Qutub Jehan Kidwai, and Sadanand Biswas. Dr. Karickam, URI Asia’s executive secretary, along with C.N.N Raju, chair of the URI South India, led the Assembly’s planning team.
Peacebuilding as a Process
Peacebuilding cannot be understood in terms of a race that has a finish line but as an ever-continuing process which can be reviewed for growth indicators. The Assembly reviewed the goals of the 2014 National Assembly in Amritsar. These goals included learning to spread awareness about other faiths; building interreligious research libraries; and ensuring the free flow of communication. Though the Assembly came up with positive responses to each issue, the most interesting reports were about the ways the URI team had been able to come up with interfaith centers in Kolkata, Jaisalmer, Dhaka, and the Peace Building Institute in Kerala to promote the idea of interfaith building.
Several sessions were designed to energize the network of CCs and connect them across the India network. Amongst these was highlighting the work CC members have done in the past year. This came across through detailed presentations that were made from the four zones in India – North, South, East and West – along with the teams from Sri-Lanka and Bangladesh. Secondly, interfaith elements, project planning, and evaluation training sessions were undertaken in small groups to ensure concerted, personal efforts in the direction of peace. Questions and answers about interfaith bridge-building helped everyone evaluate their work and ponder the need of the hour in today’s world.
These evaluation processes helped the URI India team identify action areas and measures that can be adopted. It also helped identify specific problems members have faced in the past and how they responded. Doing this led to one of the most important sessions: Storytelling. Exchanging stories in the URI family forms a powerful medium that CCs use to share good practices, interfaith lessons, inspire one another, identify shared areas of interest, and understand their own work and impact.
After evaluation and reviewing sessions, the next big step was to plan for the future. First though, to build a structure, the foundations have to be strengthened. As the members are the life and blood of URI, a session was held on understanding the strength and weakness of each CC. This helped identify existing capacities of the members and also provided them with ideas from each other’s experiences and strengths on meeting challenges that are faced time and again.
To enhance relationship-building and increase the interconnectivity of CCs between zones, a technological team was put in place. The team consists of members from each zone and was designated with the task of building platforms on social media that could be used India-wide and successively making members aware of the benefits in designing their profiles. This step sought to improve the points of contact for CC members with the local, regional, and global staff.
Meanwhile, a capacity building and resource mobilization session was undertaken on how fundraising plays a vital role in a CC’s sustenance and performance. Another issue, corporate social responsibility in today’s world for projects that seek the benefit of society, was discussed. To put these plans into execution, goals for the next year were drawn up. Special emphasis was laid on training programs in the field of life skills, zonal CC exchange programs, youth exchange programs, and displaying and sharpening CC profiles.
Beside work sessions, the National Assembly witnessed two book launches: A Journey of Peace by Dr. Abraham Karickam and A Role Model for Interreligious Harmony by Prof. Dr. Kazi Nurul Islam. A short film on humanity by Sree Uttam Das was also presented by Biswadeb Chakraborty and Rev. Kalyan Kumar Kisku. Lastly, a newsletter by the North Zone of India was released for the first time.
Several cultural events were also hosted during the three-day-long conference. Mornings were marked for health, with special sessions of yoga organized. Abhi Vyakti International Dancing Troupe, Bangalore; Sara Roy Puliyazhikathu, KIPS, Kerala; and Sadanand Biswas (North Zone coordinator and Dance Master) were amongst the stars of these events. A talent show was also organized for the participants of the Assembly to bring out the hidden abilities of the members.
In conclusion, the three-day program was a confluence of diverse cultural experiences, stories, and shared hopes. It not only appreciated and recognized the contributions of its members, leaders, and staff but also drew and gave a vision to others of a better future. The pledge of hope for a better peaceful world by committing to grass root development came up more strongly than ever before.