"Change of Conscience Can Become a Turning Point," a Commentary by Jehan Perera

April 24, 2007

Author: Jehan Perera

Source: Daily Mirror


The role of religion in peace making was celebrated last week at a South Asia Inter Faith Harmony Conclave in New Delhi. Representatives from several religions were present at the event. Unlike multi religious celebrations in Sri Lanka which usually consists of four major religions, the conclave in India had nine religious leaders giving their blessings. The Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islam, Jain, Jewish, Sikh and Zoroastrian religions were represented at the event which was inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.

By, both attending the conclave and giving the inaugural speech, the Indian Prime Minister legitimized the role of religious and civil society in promoting peace building. This is unlike the situation in Sri Lanka where the civic role in promoting peace in Sri Lanka has been attacked and ridiculed by nationalist parties and agencies of the government, particularly the government controlled media. There is little reason to wonder why India is regarded as a model of an integrated multi ethnic and multi religious society, whereas Sri Lanka is embroiled in an escalating civil conflict.

In his inaugural address, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke of the need to go beyond tolerance to harmony. He drew a distinction between these two concepts, pointing out that tolerance had the connotation of one party being superior to another, whereas harmony implied that all parties, both big and small, were equal in their relationship. The Prime Minister also made the important point that only in an equal relationship could two or more parties really seek to understand the other. Mutual understanding is the key to peace.

The inter faith conclave in New Delhi was organized by the Inter Faith Harmony Foundation of India, which is an organization that has been initiated by Indian Muslims. The conclave itself was organised in collaboration with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, which is a government supported institution. Eminent religious leaders from the South Asian region as well as prominent public personalities were invited for the deliberations. A strong delegation from Pakistan, including cricketer turned politician Imran Khan, were present. Leading Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka and a Jewish rabbi from Israel were also present.