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Interfaith Youth Summer Institute
Living Together Is Possible
June 16-21, 2009
Pilar Retreat Centre, Goa

 

Programme Report

Interfaith Youth Summer Institute (IYSI) 16 June 2009

Interfaith Devotion
The Interfaith Youth Summer Institute began with fifty youth representing Bahai, Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Buddhist faiths at the Pilar Retreat Center in Goa. The programme began with interfaith worship prepared by the delegates from various religious backgrounds. It was refreshing to see representatives of different religions and places unite their focus to interlink their faiths.

Inaugural Session
The Interfaith Summer Institute was inaugurated by Packiam Samuel (ICP) and Bishop D K Sahu (NCCI) by giving lighted lamps to the participants. Mr. Suman Biswas welcomed the gathering, Mr. Angelios Michael and Mr. Samuel Jayakumar gave words of greetings.

Introductory Session
Vineeth Koshy in the introductory speech said that living together as religious communities has become a dream of the distant past, due to the turbulent situations created by terrorism, communalism, nationalism, casteism, economic stratification etc that are adding hostility and enmity among communities and individuals. He added that living together in this summer institute will not only focus on the humans living together but also looking into the possibilities of living in harmony with nature and also the cricual challenges of electronic communities created in internet.

Dealing with Differences and Conflict Transformation: David Selvraj
Dr. David started up the next session beginning by giving the various components of one’s identity. These include –
• Religious ~ Cultural traits
• National ~ Regional
• Educational ~ Educated/Semi literate/ illiterate
• Professional ~ Class
• Qualification
• Sex
• Gender
• Sexual Orientation ~ Heterosexual/Bisexual/Homosexual
• Physical ability
• Linguistic ~ Language
• Caste ~ Ethnic/Race
• Political Ideology
• Age

He said that ones values are shaped by these elements. One does not have to accept ones identity differences but, one can always try and acknowledge it.
Dealing with differences
Accept, Tolerate, Explore or Ignore
C’s of religion ~ Cult, Creed and Community

David explained the delegates the different C’s to bring rhythm of living together.
At the end, participants reflected on whether they succeeded to establish a rhythm and what would’ve make the process more efficient. They came up with –

• Concentration
• Cooperation
• Coordination
• Communication
• Commitment and Responsibility
• Consideration
• Competence
• Capacity building
• Courage

Vision for a Just and Inclusive Community: Interfaith Response – Raj Bharath Patta
He first asked the participants to define justice and then gave newspaper clippings about injustice against Dalits and the oppressed classes. Participants were asked to reflect and consult about unjust situations that they had seen. He gave four Fs about the basis on injustice – Fractions, Factions, Friction, and Fiction.
“Justice is not charity.”
“We should educate, agitate and organize for creating a just community.



 

Interfaith Youth Summer Institute (IYSI) 17 June 2009

Interfaith Devotion
The second day of the IYSI started with prayers and readings from the different religions.

Celebrating Differences and Building Communities: Packiam Samuel
Packiam Samuel started his session with a pertinent story from the Panchtantra about a monkey killing a fish in his efforts to save it from the flood. The story exemplified clearly how each of us are different and have different needs and set the session off on the topic of celebrating each of our uniqueness. We must avoid ego and superiority if we are to avoid this monkey and fish situation. This is especially true for religion, where people find it hardest to accept differences (as opposed to, say, food or living habits).

Packiam Samuel further talked about the history of religion in terms of philology (study of language), sociology (study of society), anthropology (study of humans) and psychology (study of human behavior). He elaborated on each of these: in philology, Durkein had the view that religion is nothing but a symbol of a group believing in a particular god. He said that god exists because society exists. In anthropology, Dr. Samuel talked about the progressive growth of human beings from uncivilized humans to civilization to the spiritual aspect of man. In psychology, William James was of the opinion that religious people are sick-minded for needing to rely on an external power like God. He further compared the human psyche to an iceberg where the ego or conscious mind forms the tip and the unconscious forms the bulk of the iceberg.

He called up a list of characteristics common to all religions. This list includes God, prayer, scripture, festivals, commandments, fasting and pilgrimage. This emphasized how religions really seem to have a common Source.

Further, an analysis of religiousness in a person brought up Otto who asserted that there are two reasons anyone is religions – 1. Mysterium tremendum (Fear) 2. Mysterium fascinatum (Admiration).
He ended his session with five critical questions relating to understanding different religions. These questions ask us to relate
1. Scripture of one religion among other scripture.
2. God among other “gods”.
3. Saviour among other saviours.
4. Church/mosque/temple among other places of worship.
5. Kingdom of god among other kingdoms.

Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation: Ivan Almeida
Ivan gave a talk about the main issue at hand starting with the desire for harmony. Everyone desires this harmony amongst people while they themselves are the cause of disunity because of their egos or selfish desires. Ivan explained the stages of religious experience being faith, belief, dogma and then practice of religious customs. He said that faith is the experience while belief is articulation of that faith. Dogmas are definitions of faith and religious practices are a celebration of faith. Rituals and customs further help to celebrate.
Next, he talked of dialogue in relation to religion, culture or work. He emphasized that the most important consideration for dialogue is to take the other very seriously. This includes experiencing the other, celebrating differences, being sensitive to others and rising beyond boundaries.
What interreligious dialogue is not is a defense mechanism and neither is it a strategy to achieve our goals or profession. “Let us not specialize it but personalize it.” We must keep in mind three extremes to avoid:
a) To advocate that all religions are the same.
b) To uphold that one’s own religion is the norm for others.
c) To say that my religion is just one among many.
‘It is injustice against God to have everything the same because God intends diversity.’
The need for dialogue in society arises from the diversity present amongst us and our desire for harmony and unity. It is important to realize that our belief in our respective religions has to be a bridge to people of other faiths rather than a boundary. Respect and humility are essential components of healthy dialogue and consultation.

“Becoming Spec Actors” – Theatre Exercises: David Selvraj
David Selveraj held one of the most interactive sessions in all the week. He got everyone to get the chairs out of the way and just walk around and explore the room. He asked everyone to discover part of the room they hadn’t explored before, walk around until they were completely comfortable with the space and other participants around. Once this was done, he divided everyone into two groups. One acted as predators and the other as the hunted. Then everyone reflected on how it felt to be a victim or an oppressor. With everyone sitting on the floor, Selveraj then introduced three forms of theatre: Image, Forum and Joker.
Image theatre is when one “sculptor” forms an image of a conflict using the actors. The end result is a live image formed of still actors representing a conflict situation. The audience is then asked what they see and how it might be rectified by “sculpting” just one actor. This type of theatre was developed by Augusta Boal from Brazil and is called the “Theatre of the Oppressed”. Boal used this technique with masses of people to raise awareness and find solutions irrespective of economic background or education.
Forum theatre was briefly introduced due to lack of time. This form involves acting out a conflict situation. Anyone from the audience can come and become part of the play to find a way to solve the problem.
Both these forms of theatre involve really getting into the situation to see what it feels like for each actor whether he is acting as a victim, an oppressor or a passerby.
The underlined statement throughout the session was that we need to step from being spectators to becoming “Spec Actors” – individuals who take action in moments of injustice and conflict. Theatre of the Oppressed puts the audience in such positions where they have the choice to change the situation by conforming, reforming or transforming.

Celebrating Diversity: Culture, Identity and Human Rights: Bobby Kunhu
“The strategic adversary is fascism. The fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us” – Michael Foco

Documentary Screening - India Untouched
The documentary “India Untouched” was screened after dinner. It is a very well-made presentation on how Dalits (the untouchable caste) are still maltreated all over India. The stark contrast between the daily lives of Dalits and the opinions of upper caste urban people served well to show the reality of the situation. The aim of showing the documentary was to make aware and inspire people to arise and take action to stop the injustice that is happening all around us starting with removing prejudice from their own selves.



 

Interfaith Youth Summer Institute (IYSI) 18 June 2009

Morning Walk
The Interfaith Youth Summer Institute reaches its fourth day as the participants wake up in the morning and many of them take a walk through the hills of Pilar

Interfaith Devotion
The fourth morning prayer and devotion led by Kanhaiya Lal (Hindu), Talha(Islam), Nandita & Anupriya(Baha’i), Sourabh(Christian). Verses from different Holy Scriptures were read out that followed with an interfaith song and word of prayer.

Issues of Patriarchy and Gender: Rifat Mumtaz
Rifat insisted to learn what is good? But, in the meanwhile unlearn the bad things. The discussion started with the biological similarities and differences between a male and female.
The session began with few clippings related to the day to day problems faced by a girl child. The participants shared their views on about the clips.

Details about the following topics were discussed.
What is Patriarchy and Gender?
Rule of a Patriarch-father-A system of power relationships subordinating women by men through control of women’s productive and reproductive labor, sexuality, mobility properly and economic resources and use of violence.
- Eco-pol-soc and cultural institutions of society family, religion, media, law, market and state.
- Religious and cultural traditions that define and justify distinct roles and expected behaviors of males and females strongly cherished and socially enforced.
- Class, caste, race are other socially constructed structures.
Gender refers to the socially constructed differences in roles and responsibilities assigned to women and men in a given culture or location.
In English speaking countries by 1960’s the movement started called feminism or women’s liberation. Proponents of feminist movement wanted the same pay as men, equal rights in the law and the freedom to plan their families or not have children at all.

In Search of Vision for Environment Justice: Rifat Mumtaz
Environmental Justice has been viewed as the convergence point of social and environmental movements. In conceptual terms, environmental justice deals with the inequitable environmental burden born by the marginalized groups such as Dalits, Adivasis and Women, in specific and rural-urban poor and laborers in general. She spoke of globalization, liberalization and certain issues related to privatization.

Group Discussions
The four official groups names after famous Goa beaches were asked to discuss and deliberate upon the question “How socio-economic-political differences in the society makes living together impossible?”
The participants were asked to discuss different dimensions and causes and come up with possible suggestions.
The day came to an end by some games and entertainment.



 

Interfaith Youth Summer Institute (IYSI) 19 June, 2009

Interfaith Exposure

Participants were divided into two groups to move to North and South Goa to visit places and organizations engaged in different social empowerment activities.

The North Goa Group went to visit a centre called “Drop in Centre” which is initiated to address HIV/AIDS. The participants interacted with few to understand the plight of their lives though none were identified. The group then moved on to visit the sand mining area. The experience of the participants was quite overwhelming as many of them got to expose to such reality for the first time. This experience brings the practical understanding to them as mots of them are in the colleges and universities.

The South Goa Group visited Swift Wash which is a programme initiated by ARZ(Anyaya Rahit Zindagi) to rehabilitate the rescued Commercial Sex Worker. This organization operates in Goa and works towards helping the CWS get justice and become economically independent. Mr.Arun Pandey, Director of the organization explained the various challenges they have to face while carrying out the process of rescuing.

Then the South Goa group went to Stepping Stone, a centre which takes care of the street children. Mr.David who along with Mr.Stanley leads the organization supported by several others volunteers, interns and field staff. The youth enjoyed their time with the children teaching them action songs and also telling stories. The youth enjoyed the lunch so much that some of them even wanted to stay back for food sake.

Miramar Beach
The participants landed in Miramar Beach and enjoyed the evening playing in water. This was like dream coming true as all desperately waited for the Goa beach experience.
The day came to an end with dinner in Aluva Open Air Restaurant.


 

Interfaith Youth Summer Institute (IYSI) 20 June 21, 2009

Interfaith Devotion

The Morning devotion was led by the Worship Team (Akriti, Talha, Vinetha, Farnoosh & Yuvraj). They read to the participants the different essence of life the Holy Scriptures had to say. The second part of the morning worship was about understanding and caring God’s creation and its interconnectedness to human being.

Role of Youth in Peacemaking and Reconciliation in Communities: Bijesh Philip
Bijesh discussed with the participants some of the important keys for opening the treasure house of Peace.
1. Commitment to Truth
2. Restorative Justice
3. Focus on commonalities
4. Importance of Forgiveness

He urged the participants to be bridge makers. He said, Peacemaking is a discovery and not an invention.

Panel Discusion - Interfaith Dialogue: Sinita, Asif, Victor & Ranjan Solomon
Ms.Sunita, one of the panelists shared her own life experience and the current situation of Goa as how one particular faith community is targeted by few extremists of other faith for the interest of the few in order to bring control over the economy. She stressed upon the importance of knowing one’s own religion.
Sunita raised few key questions to challenge the participants
a. Why can’t we preach humanity?
b. Why kind of India we are looking for?

Mr.Asif, the other panelist drew the attention of the participants about the increasing hate campaign against the Muslim community across the country and elsewhere in the world.

Fr. Victor mainly dealt on the economic aspect and the accessibility to resources.

Mr.Rajan Solomon then summarized the presentations and moderated an interactive session in the end.

Group Discussion
The afternoon session was spent as the groups split into two namely North Goa and South Goa to reflect on the exposure they had on the previous day. The groups were asked to respond to the question of “What is the role of an individual and group as a whole in networking, peacemaking and reconciliation?” and come up with possible solutions to the problems they encountered while visiting various social centers.


 

Interfaith Youth Summer Institute (IYSI) 21 June 2009

Morning walk
The day began with the morning walk, followed by prayer and devotion which was interfaith in nature. Versus from different holy scriptures were pronounced and chanted giving all participants a meditation of peace, co-existence and harmony. The participants sang secular songs and word of prayer was offered before the devotion came to an end.

Alternative Models of Communities: Bobby Kunhu
The session was very practical in nature. The topic of discussion was about people of alternative models of communities and the level of marginalization of these communities. These participants were made to realize that we as individuals can live together with them.

E-Communities, Social Networking and Future Communities: Kuruvilla Pandikattu

Web 2.0
It is characterized as facilitating communication, information sharing and inter-permeability. User centered design and collaboration on the World Wide Web. It has led to the development and evolution of web based communities, hosted services.
Twitter
It is a free service that enables its users to send and read each others updates, known as tweets.
User can send and receive tweets via the twitter website, SMS or external application.
Religious Groups
The basic points discussed under this heading were:
Absolutising technology
Easy to forget religion or push it into oblivion
Easy to be enamored by technology
Easy to ignore it unintentionally
Technology is not absolute, but let us also not trivializes it.
Inter-religious Groups
Diversity is strength
Know other religion
Appreciate it and critique one’s own religion
Rooted-ness and Openness

Paths Ahead, Interfaith Networking
As part of formulating future strategies and networking, the participants were asked to share their experiences about the Interfaith Youth Summer Institute. The participants expressed their gratitude. It was indeed overwhelming for the organizer of the event to hear to the participants as the programme has inspired many to realize the basic essence of life and the positive implications of coming together as one community in spite of being from different faith backgrounds. The participants have vowed to continue the initiatives of building communities of peace and reconciliation in their respective religions and regions.


“Let us together go forward
Let us accept others critically
Let us keep in touch
And thus create a new world”

 

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