March 2012

 

Doctrine divides, Action unites

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One Interfaith Workshop Leads to Another

Bruce Van Voorhis
 

Three participants inspired by the workshop whose theme was “Breaking Walls, Building Bridges” (see <http://icf.daga.org/faithpeace/2012/120229a.htm> for a summary of this program) returned home to organize their own interfaith workshop to share what they had learned.


Participants of a one-week workshop conducted by Interfaith
Cooperation Forum (ICF) earlier this year in Bhubaneswar,
the capital of the Indian state of Orissa, took the initiative to
organize their own interfaith workshop on March 12 in their
village of Mallickapodi in Kandhamal District.

After attending the workshop conducted by Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF) from Jan. 29 to Feb. 4 in Bhubaneswar, the state capital of Orissa in eastern India, Dillip Pattanaik, Alibha Pradhan and Chandra Kanta Naik conducted their own one-day workshop on March 12 for about 20 people in the village of Mallickapodi in Kandhamal District, the area of Orissa that had been the scene of violence between the Hindu and Christian communities in 2007 and 2008.

During this workshop, Chandra described the socio-economic and political history of Kandhamal that forms the background of the violence several years ago. He noted the way in which the lives of people in Kandhamal had been changed after people from outside the district had moved to Kandhamal to start businesses, a process, he said, that created a clash of interests and fomented animosity between different sectors of the community.

Alibha, or Ali, also explained the divisions in society that have been shaped in the name of religion and in the name of caste, resulting in different self-interests and identities that separate people. He underlined the importance of respect, however, toward people of different faiths, castes, traditions, etc., if peace and prosperity were to be realized in society.

Dillip reminded the participants, however, of the rights granted to everyone through India’s Constitution, especially the right of every person in India to freely express themselves and to peacefully practice their religion. He emphasized that everyone is equal before the law in India and that no one should face discrimination because of their religion or caste in this secular nation.

Chandra further explored the role of identity, especially within the context of Kandhamal, and how it can affect the decisions that people make toward those with different identities and the difficulty it can create in building relationships between members of different socially defined communities in the district.

He also shared about conflict, offering various definitions of it and noting the ways it can affect people’s lives. He added though that conflict is not always a negative force, that it can lead to positive change, and thus, it can be a tool for transformation of both individual and communal relationships. He also described the ways in which engagement with those who are different through dialogue are other tools for transformation. To use them, he said, one must have the courage to take a risk and leave their comfort zone, to become uncomfortable, to think new thoughts, to welcome new experiences.

In small groups, the participants discussed the causes of the conflict in Kandhamal. Their conclusions were:

• Land-grabbing
• Caste issue
• Reserved jobs
• Religious conversions
• Eating beef
• The degradation of culture
• Lack of awareness of the above issues

To address these concerns, the participants suggested that awareness camps and peace committees, both at the village level, be organized as well as camps to develop people’s leadership skills and programs to inform people about their rights and government services.

In their concluding reflections about their experience at the workshop, many participants said that the concepts that had been presented were very new to them but that they must be shared with others. Consequently, the participants decided to hold another workshop in a different village to continue the process.