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.