En Route Peace via Interfaith Dialogue

Zafrus Salam

We in India live in a society that is irrefutably a syncretic society. The many faiths have been coexisting here since ages and have resulted in a symbiotic exchange of ideas, beliefs and traditions and values. Religious percepts of one religion have gradually crept into others, some to an extent of being an integral part of that religion. Almost all faiths in our country manifest influences of each other, even the Semitic religions here exhibit differences from those followed over the world around. 

Such blending of thoughts is however many a time disregarded, and the syncretic label, whatever the degree of appropriateness is frowned upon. The consequent ‘purification’ many a time acquires aggressive proportions. Not surprisingly such unconscionable behaviour is usually exhibited for vested interests without a thought towards the distressing results. And attempts to root out the ‘other’ vary from small talks to disturbing proportions of violence. There has been a disturbing trend these days towards increasing incompatibility amongst people of various faiths. Hence there is lesser mixing up with each other, resulting in ghettos, not just amongst societies, but also among college groups and work places. This has resulted in a decreased awareness and an increase in misconceptions of the other religions. And these misconceptions further lead to a discontent that has many a time precipitated as violence.  There is thus a formation of a vicious cycle where negative motives beget negative results and the results then exacerbate the motive.

The growing anxiousness is barely hidden. Agitated talks have come out of homes and nukkads to public places like hotels, trains and colleges. Over the last two decades, the attacks on minorities have risen and the political parties especially, the right wing parties have injected communal poison in the mind of the common Hindus, which is evident in all public places where people complain of other religions particularly Islam and Christianity. While, Muslims have been on the firing line of RSS-Hindutva politics ever since even pre-partition days, the attacks against Christian’s community in the last two decades have come as a surprise to many. The attacks against the minorities are political motivated as the Hindutva brigade (RSS, VHP, BJP, Shive Sena and their affiliated parties) wants to target them for the goal of Hindu Nation. In 2011, the general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parished (VHP) Pravin Togadia demanded a new Hindu Indian Constitution that allows beheading of anyone who converts Hindus. Such extremist hate speech tolerated is indicative of a growing hostility towards minorities in the country. This does not go well for India’s international reputation at a time when it is seeking closer ties with the developed world for its economic progress. If you use any socializing website like orkut, you might have witnessed people venting their aggression openly, often acquiring worrisome proportions. Calling communalism as a political phenomena, Islamic scholar, Asghar Ali Engineer believes, “If we truly follow our respective religions then there cannot be any conflict. Our differences are infact more cultural. Ignorance causes prejudice. Tow religions never clash. It is our interest, which clash.”  


Everyone has started to believe that it is only they who are right, rest all are terribly wrong. And most don’t know and don’t want to know why some people will worship idols, why some people fast, what thanks-giving is. And they have stopped thinking about it, so they just convince themselves that the others are all wrong. And this is only worsened as a result of the disconnect that exists in our country. There is a desperate need to connect people, and especially the youth. The desperation arises out of the recent events that our country has faced and the fact that there is no respite in sight. Rather the vested interest leaders

are in overdrive, preaching negativity. In such circumstances inter-faith dialogue is one concern that has to be adopted and pursued aggressively. It is one way for promoting better understanding between the conflicting groups. Dr. Homi Dhalla, president of Foundation for Unity of Religions and Enlightened Citizenship (FUREC) says “Dialogue is not only desirable but necessary as it will help to clear up misconceptions about another person.”

Dialogue is conducted not to convert others to one’s own viewpoint but to understand others viewpoint, with a spirit of humility; it recognizes the right of others to believe what they think is based on their own inner convictions. Dialogue promotes the spirit of accommodation and adjustment to minimize conflict in the society. Arrogance dictates while dialogue discusses. Serious inter-religious dialogue is essential to dispel misconception in multi-cultural and pluri-religious atmosphere, like the one in India. It is absolutely essential to start serious dialogue with people of the other faiths in the country as well as the world and take them into confidence to create an atmosphere of transparency and mutual trust in all our dealing. Dalai Lama feels that dialogue is the only way to resolve any issue. “Every issue can be settled through dialogue. I think through talks understanding and relation will improve. Dialogue is very important today and there is hope that non-violence will help in promotion of unity and harmony among the people of the world.” It will take a leading role in connecting minds and societies. There will be a growth in cosmopolitan thinking and myopic politics will take a backseat. These are but long term outcomes and hence patience is required while pursuing such ideals.

The Mumbai Mohalla Committee is probably one of the rare examples of promoting interfaith connectivity. Formed after the 1992-’93 Mumbai riots, by the former police commissioner of Mumbai Julio Rebeiro along with activist Sushobha Barve with the objectives of confidence building among the minorities. It has been noticed that the pro Hindutva parties have infiltrated the administration, bureaucracy, judiciary and police and media. Rebeiro, admits the growing trends and says, it is important for police to ensure that citizens trust them.” There has to be a lot of respect and understanding between police and citizens. Every time an attack is carried out the minority section of society feels vulnerable. When terrorist activities were rampant in Punjab, police had to win the trust of Sikhs to fight terrorists.”

It now offers computer courses and other coaching in addition to discussions on communal harmony after the classes and also during the felicitation of students who successfully complete the course.

But with so much communal disharmony there is a practical difficulty at the personal level of dialogue. It is difficult for people to start dialoguing amongst themselves. There has to be an initiative and it has to occur soon. And the community leaders will have to play a vital role in calling the shots.

Contributions from the media would be obviously precious. It can play a major role in taking initiatives. The media has not played a responsible part and is yet to show a sensitive and a progressive approach towards diffusing tensions. There is still an inclination towards sensational reporting. Current situation calls for a continuous mitigation rather than a disaster based approach.. Leaders having a myopic thinking are to be discouraged at all costs. Unnecessary controversies that may have an effect on any particular faith are to be downplayed, or shown in an appropriate manner. Negative reporting and community generalization are probably the two things where the media has shown some restraint. Nevertheless there is still a lot to be done in the promotion of inter-religious understanding.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy.


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