Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Activities of BIRD

The BIRD was formed in 2001 by a group of Hindus, Muslims and Christians in Bangalore to promote inter-faith amity, understanding and pluralism in line with our native wisdom of inclusivism for preserving India's religious diversity. Towards that end, BIRD conducts seminars, consultations, panel discussions, organizes inter-religious dialogues etc.

Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture series

The signature event of BIRD’s activities is the annual Rev. Dr. Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture series organized in the month of October since 2001 in honour of that “Christian prophet of religious pluralism” who took pride in always affirming that he was "a Hindu by culture, Christian by faith, Indian by citizenship and ecumenical by choice".

BIRD has so far organised eight lectures in this series since 2001.

· "The Need for Inter-religious Dialogue",
· "Communal Harmony – A Societal Perspective",
· "Religion in 21st Century – A perspective of Hope",
· "Courage for Dialogue",
· "Towards an Ethical Code of Conduct for Conversion",
· the “Right to Convert & the Indian Constitution “ and
· “The Power of Religion vs. the Religion of Power”.

They were delivered by Mr. Francois Gautier (2001), Dr. C.T.Kurien (2003), Dr. M.V.Nadkarni (2004), Rt. Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom, Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Church (2005), Dr. Hans Ucko of World Council of Churches(2006), Justice K.T.Thomas (2007) Mr. M.J.Akbar (2008) and Mr. Arun Shourie (2009) respectively

Well known French journalist and author Francois Gautier delivered the first Samartha Memorial Lecture at Bishop Cotton Boys’ School in Bangalore on 6 Oct. 2007

The 5th Dr. Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture 2006 on 23rd September 2006 on the Theme "Towards an Ethical Code of Conduct for Religious Conversions was held at St. Mark's Cathedral. Dr. Hans Ucko, Programme Executive, Inter Religious Relation and Dialogue, World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland, delivered the lecture
This programme was organized by Bangalore Initiative for the Religious Dialogue, in association with Young Men's Christian Association and St. Mark's Cathedral

Justice K.T.Thomas, retired judge of Supreme Court of India, delivered the 6th Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture on 8th October 2007 at St. Mark’s Cathedral. He spoke on “the Right to Convert and the Indian Constitution”

The seventh Samartha Memorial Lecture was delivered by
M.J.Akbar, well known editor and author on 9th October 2008 at the United Theological College.

News reports
SAMARTHA MEMORIAL LECTURE-2008'Don't challenge the logic of any faith' 10 Oct 2008, BANGALORE: Journalist and writer M J Akbar said India's harmony was being threatened by "phenomena that have emerged only recently" , having nothing to do with India's rich ancient tradition of tolerance and secularism.

Delivering a lecture on the connection between religion and power at the United Theological College here on Thursday, Akbar said India was bedevilled by arbitrary violence in the form of bomb attacks and attacks on communities and their property. "Innocents are dying. No religion in the world subscribes to such mindless and meaningless mayhem. We cannot survive if we go on permitting such violence." Akbar argued that people had to learn to live with each other's faith - the key to India's peace, secularism and harmony. "We don't have an alternative - we need to allow people to keep their faith without challenging the logic of any faith. We have to keep our faiths and yet get along. India's secularism can only arise from among its many faiths." There was no justification for conservatism of any sort in any faith, Akbar pointed out. "Everybody is equal within and outside faith and that includes men and women. There is no rationale to treat any person as an unequal. If the dialogue between faiths doesn't happen as equals, we will be in peril," he warned. One of the great attributes of ancient Hinduism has been tolerance for all faiths and beliefs. "That is what we need to continue with. We should have a composite , broad and catholic vision that is respect for all faiths. Nothing comes out of defaming faith. The mistakes of a few cannot be held against the faith itself." Akbar traced the history of major religions of the world, moving from Asia to the West and back, proposing that the one focus of all religions in the 21st century had to be peace. "The 21st century gives us everything but peace. Peace comes with better understanding , understanding comes with dialogue and dialogue happens between equals. This is the lesson for all of us." http://timesofindia .indiatimes. com/

Secularism allows parallel faiths: M J Akbar
Express New Service 10 Oct 2008 BANGALORE: The 21st century gave us many a good thing, but forgot to give us peace and nothing else has disturbed peace in our times as religion has, said senior journalist and author, M J Akbar, here on Thursday. He was speaking at the seventh Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture at the United Theological College on ‘The Power of Religion Vs The Religion of Power’. "Religion is not uni-dimensional; it is like a prism that shifts and changes colour. Problems begin when institutionalisation of faith starts. When power adopts religion, the religion flies out of the window," he said. On incidents of communal clashes, including the recent attacks on churches, Akbar said: "This is a new phenomenon to disturb the harmony in our society. Indian secularism permits people to believe what they want to believe in." "There is a substantial potential for friction in our country but secularism implies existence of parallel faiths without challenging each other’s logic. Faith by itself is irrational and hence, in India, there is no space for the Bajrang Dal attacking churches or for anyone who is part of a church saying things that are unacceptable to the Hindus. Being angry about the Babri Masjid demolition doesn’t give one the right to criticise Rama or Krishna." Peace cannot be established without understanding, understanding cannot come without dialogue; and dialogue cannot happen except among equals, he said. http://www.expressb

Don't blame religion for acts of individuals: Akbar
DH News Service, Bangalore: Democracy is a great system, but the temptation to get votes makes political parties seek strife, said veteran journalist M J Akbar.He was delivering the Stanley Samartha memorial lecture in the city on Thursday on ‘The power of religion Vs the religion of power.’He said, "A State cannot remain secular if they do not allow people to practice their faith. We permit everyone to follow their faith or belief without challenging its logic or sneering at it. But some people seek strife because it is politically advantageous. "Questioning the Western nations’ tendency to oversimplifying differences to Islam Vs West, he said: "How can you discuss Islam with geography? Unless there is a sub-text that implies everything West is progressive and forward thinking, while everything Islamic is barbaric and medieval." He also questioned the habit of blaming the religion for the acts of individuals. "Do I blame Christianity for Hitler," he asked.The real problem for Muslims in India, he said, was not from other religions but from poverty, ignorance and gender bias. The bias does not exist in Islam but in Muslim society, he claimed. When the Shah Bano case was decided, he said that the State could have taken up the issue of reforms, but did not do so and a good opportunity was hence passed up. "The hysteria of Muslim response alienated the Hindus, who did not understand why a community did not want reforms," he opined.He concluded by saying that these issues could not be addressed without following what we preached to others. http://www.deccanhe Content/Oct10200 8/city2008101094 m/ Content/Oct10200 8/city2008101094 356.asp

On an average four hundred people, students, young and old professionals, thinkers and writers and members of various organizations and others attend this prestigious lecture which is followed by an interactive session.


An Evening with Gandhi’s favourite hymns and prayers -30 January 2008 – 50th anniversary of Gandhi’s martyrdom organized by BIRD jointly with United Theological College and ACTS Ministries

Remembering Gandhi and his ideals Herald - Bangalore, IndiaBy Nina C. George The Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD), the ACTS Ministries, the Basel Mission Christian Association and the Rainbow Forum have joined hands to put together an evening of Gandhijis favourite hymns and prayers. India plunged into sorrow, the day Mahatma Gandhi was shot. Today 60 years later as the death anniversary of the Mahatma draws near, we remember the man who bought us freedom and also recall that Gandhiji was a staunch secularist whose unshakable faith in universal brotherhood is reflected in his fascination for the hymns from the Bible, Gita and Koran. An evening of hymnsThe Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD), the ACTS Ministries, the Basel Mission Christian Association and the Rainbow Forum have joined hands to put together an evening of Gandhiji’s favourite hymns and prayers, on January 30 at 4.30 pm at the Charles Ranson Hall – United Theological College, to pay homage to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi on the 60th anniversary of his martyrdom. It is an inter-faith programme where choirs from Cluney Convent School and the United Theological College will sing Gandhiji’s favourite hymns and songs. There will be readings from religious scriptures as well as from Gandhiji’s own writings and also tributes paid to him sixty years ago and later by Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini, Einstein, C F Andrews, Stanley Jones, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. Lead Kindly Light, Abide with me, When When I survey the Wondrous Cross and Rock of ages are among his favourite hymns. Some popular bhajans which were sung during the prayer meetings of Gandhiji will also be sung on January 30. Some of the Christian songs moved Gandhiji deeply. His choice of hymns shed much light upon his own religious personality. The hymn, `When I survey the wondrous Cross,' touched his inner most feelings. To Gandhiji, God was truth and light. As in Gandhiji's own words: "I am in the world feeling my way to light amid encircling gloom. I often err and miscalculate. My trust is solely in God". And the song `Lead kindly Light,' composed by Cardinal Newman always gave him strength. The ancient hymns and prayers sung or read during such meetings included famous passages from the Gita, the Bible, and the Koran that proclaimed the power of truth. Then there were the songs of Tulsi Das, Sur Das, Kabir, Nanak, and Narasimha Mehta — they all glorified renunciation, self-purification, and the brotherhood of all mankind. Some of these songs will be sung during the concert. Gandhiji was free from any kind of religious dogmas and biases. His universalism in this regard was unique and unequalled. "I am a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Jew," he said. It was Gandhiji's conviction that the one whose mind is untroubled in the midst of sorrows and is free from eager desires amid pleasures, from whom passion, fear and rage has passed away, he is a sage of settled intelligence.

Building a Culture of Peace Gandhi's Vision: Inter-Faith Harmony in Southern India
By Douglas Norell
Excerpts from the article in the 2007/08 winter issue of PEACE IN ACTION

…. UTC’s heritage and its strong ecumenical base enhance inter-faith contacts, which it often has undertaken in partnership with a sister organization, the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD). For example, UTC hosted a worship service featuring Gandhi’s favorite Hindu and Christian hymns with BIRD and other groups to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his martyrdom. The event showcased Gandhi’s universalism, tersely manifested in his famous statement. “I am a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Jew.”
Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)
For its part, BIRD explicitly stated in a January 1, 2007 open letter to the Prime Minister of India, the U.N. Secretary General, the European Union, and the U.S. State Department that it supports peaceful coexistence among Indian religions and opposes aggressive proselytism. The letter was signed by some 650 Christian leaders including BIRD’s founder and coordinator, P.N. Benjamin, and Rev. Dr. Jayakiran Sebastian, Professor of Theology and Ethics at UTC.
Benjamin has spotlighted poignantly the futility of exclusivist religious truth claims by pointing out that not only Hindus bear responsibility for mistreating the Dalits or “untouchables.” He echoes Dr. Razu’s perspective by arguing that even Christians “… have miserably failed in taking care of 16 million Dalits converted to Christianity.”
BIRD members profess the Christian faith, but they value the Hindu tradition of Dharmic tolerance. BIRD not only writes about religious tolerance and pluralism; it also provides forums for mutual dialogue such as lectures, workshops, and conferences. These discussions lead to the formulation of action plans for peacebuilding in India, the U.S., and around the world. BIRD further organizes cultural tours, offers articles and commentary in the media, and conducts rallies and campaigns.
Of special note, BIRD joins with Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), a sister Hindu organization, in sending intervention teams to quell outbreaks of inter-religious violence and to set a framework for post-conflict resolution. In 2002, for example, it intervened to help squelch Hindu-Christian tensions arising from an attack on Mysore’s Holy Family Church. An article in the March 1, 2002 National Catholic Reporter said that a priest and a dozen Catholics were injured in the attack, and the new church was ransacked.
The joint fact-finding team condemned violence on the part of Hindus, while encouraging the Christians to evangelize with awareness that they “… should not cross the limits of decency and should not hurt the sensitivities of adherents of other faiths.” The report thereby pinpointed the Hindu misperception of aggressive proselytizing as a root cause of the violence while reassuring Christians that the joint team shared their anxieties. The joint team also recommended formation of a permanent Hindu-Christian community forum for dialogue “… to prevent recurrence of such incidents in the future….”
In conclusion, I found on my tour that the minority Christian community of South India has contributed substantially to building a culture of peace. This is reflected in the history, curriculum and programs of three ecumenical seminaries and a Christian advocacy group. These institutions have manifested Christian pluralism by embracing the religious stranger and learning from other faith traditions. In joining hands with Hindus and Muslims through education and reconciliation, these Christian institutes have helped thousands of people in southern India to realize Gandhi’s – and Samartha’s – vision of inter-religious harmony and social justice.

Hinduism – A Gandhian Perspective
Prof. M.V.Nadkarni’s book, Hinduism: a Gandhian Perspective, was released by the Governor of Karnataka, at the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore on 25 October 2006. BIRD coordinator P.N.Benjamin (seen 3rd from left) was one of the main speakers, reviewing the book. Others in picture from L-R are: Prof. Nadkarni, ANE Books chief executive,P.N. Benjamin, former chief Justice Rama Jois, the Governor Chaturvedi & Prof. Rao.
L-R: P.N.Benjamin, Justice Rama Jois, Governor Chaturvedi, Prof. Rao & Prof. Nadkarni

A Panel Discussion on Hinduism – A Gandhian Perspective
The Panelists were Dr. C.T. Kurien, (Eminent Economist and Professor Emeritus MIDS), Dr. N. Jayaram (Director, Inst. For Social & Economic Change), Dr. Narendra Pani (Sr. Editor, Economic Times), Dr. Ali Khawaja (Banjara Academy).
An Introduction to the book was provided by Prof. M.V. Nadkarni (Former Vice Chancellor of Gulbarga University
The programnme was moderated by Mr. Siddartha (Director FIREFLIES) Ashram
Programme was organized by BIRD, in association with YMCA Bangalore and St. Mark's Cathedral on 30th January 2007 at St. Marks Cathedral Auditorium at 5.00 p.m. Rev. Vincent Rajkumar welcomed the gathering. BIRD coordinator P.N.Benjamin proposed a Vote of Thanks.

Workshop and Seminar
BIRD organised a three-day Workshop cum Seminar on "Basics of interfaith education and peace building" at YMCA on 26 – 28 APRIL 2007.

Its objectives were:

1) To understand the importance and potential of peace and religious diversities
2) To Introduce the group to methods of communication and peace education,
3) To build a constituency of supporters of interfaith dialogues
4) To develop skills to project achievements to gain support & hold small events to raise awareness and
5) To outline an annual interfaith dialogue and peace education plan in schools and colleges.

There were 60 participants. They included heads of NGOs, High School teachers and college lecturers.
Faculty consisted of Fr. Dr. George Koovakal (Messengers of Peace & Harmony of the Catholic Diocese of Delhi), Rev. Dr. Kiran Sebastian of UTC Bangalore, Koshy Mathew, Communications Consultant, P.N.Benjamin, Coordinator, BIRD & J.D. Suhas, Sr, Secretary, Bangalore YMCA.
Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD), in a letter addressed to the Prime Minister of India on January 1, 2007, signed by more than five hundred Christians of the city stated:[8]
While we decry the attempts of religious leaders and fundamentalists of all varieties to convert and re–convert, we pledge to work diligently for inter–faith amity in the best traditions of Indian culture. We hereby call on all Indians to join in our efforts to preserve a pluralist India founded on secularism and religious inclusion and governed by a Constitution that guarantees all its citizens all freedoms vital to the functioning of a modern democracy
Dialogue Liberates People from Religious Intolerance
Prof. N.S. Ramaswamy who was recently awarded the "Padmabhushan", while addressing the gathering, the inter-religious dialogue was the best means to liberate the people from religious intolerance and fanaticism. The meeting was organized on 27th April 2006 by BIRD and dialogue wing of the City YMCA Bangalore called Movement for Inter Religious Understanding and Harmony (MIRUH).
The programme started with the recitation of "Shlokas" by Prof. Ramaswamy . BIRD coordinator P.N.Benjamin, the welcomed the gathering. Fr George Koovakal, President Messengers of Peace and Harmony and P.N.Benjamin of BIRD felicitated Prof. Ramaswamy for receiving the much coveted "Padmabhushan" Award.
Peace for Progress - Independence Day Celebration
BIRD Celebrated Independence Day on Saturday, the 12th August 2006, on the Theme: "TOWARDS PEACE FOR PROGRESS" Students from different schools participated in the events and performed cultural programmes like group songs, dance, play on the theme. This programme was jointly organized by BIRD and the YMCA Mr. King Das. M, Chairman of the Task Group presided over the function
International Peace Day Celebrations
The Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) and YMCA’s Task Group on Secularism organized the International Peace Day Celebration in association with IARF (International Association for Religious Freedom and DBM (Dharma Bharati Mission) on 23rd September 2006 at YMCA.
Lecture Series - 2005-2006
Dharmaram Vidya Niketan, Bangalore, Center for the Study of World Religious (CSWR) along with YMCA Bangalore BIRD (Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue), FIREFLIES ASHRAM, (Bangalore Forum for Science and Religion) (BFSR) organized a six months' Certificate Course which started on 13th Sunday, August 2006 at 10.30 a.m. at CSWR Multimedia Hall. During the six months course relevant contemporary Inter Disciplinary and Inter Religious themes were discussed by prominent personalities in respective fields. This year's Lecture Series theme was: 'RATIONALITY, RELIGION AND PROSPERITY".
Consultation on Peace Education
As we are well aware, that the Peace & Communal Harmony has become one of the most urgent needs of our country, which was, till recently known for its positive attitude & openness towards the followers of all faith. Many factors have contributed to the present day development of hatred, violence & even riots in the name of religions. This has certainly poisoned the minds & hearts of our young people.
With this background Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue(BIRD) YMCA Bangalore Benedictine Inter Religious Dialogue (BID) and Messengers of peace and harmony organized, two days consultation on peace education for teachers. This programme was organized at Benedictine Inter Religious Dialogue centre at Asirvanam, Kumbalgodu. Nearly 65 teachers, educators attended the two days residential workshop on December 2006. Rev. Fr. GEORGE NELLIYANY delivered the welcome address. The Inaugural address was given by Rev. Fr. Stephen OSB, Fr. George Koovakal Director MPH Delhi gave orientation to the whole Programme. The following were the resource persons who spoke on the different perspective on peace education: M/s: A.S.K Vasishtha - Hindu Perspective of peace Education, A.D. Shah - Jain Perspective of peace Education, Rev Fr. Pradeep Sequrian S.J.-Christian Perspective of peace Education, M.A. Siraj B.B.C (Journalist)-Islam Perspective of peace Education, H.S. Bhatia -Sikh Perspective of peace Education, Master Bhodi Bhushan - Buddhist Perspective of peace Education. His holiness Jagadguru Sri Sri Sri Shivapuri Mahaswamy delivered his peace message to all the participants. Rev. Fr. Jerome OSB, BID Secretary, proposed the vote of thanks.
Dialogue Partner's Meet
More than 25 participants representing the various Inter Religious dialogue centers, groups and associations and a few individuals actively involved in promoting peace and communal harmony in Bangalore met together at City YMCA on 28th March 2007. The programme was jointly organized by the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD), the Task Group on Secularism, YMCA and the Messengers of Peace and Harmony, Delhi.
The meeting started with an inter-religious prayer. Fr. George Koovakal introduced the theme and also explained the dynamics of the meet.
Following organizations Participated in the meet: M.P.H. (Messenger of Peace and Harmony), MIRUH (Movement for Inter Religious Understanding and Harmony), PUCL (Peoples Union for Civil Liberties), Ashirvanam Inter Religious movement, Sisters Inter Religious Groups- Bridjitine, C.S.I. Inter Religious groups, SATSANGH, GURUDWARA Inter religious wing, CSWR (Centre for study of World Religions), MALA (Mapala Art
Lecture on inclusive growth and Budget 2007 was organized where in the eminent economist C.T. Kurien spoke extensively on "A high growth rate without inclusive measures generates not only millionaires, but also beggars", he said while delivering a talk on the above. Achieving inclusive growth was not all that easy as the generation of huge incomes at the top-level would always have a tendency towards exclusion of people at the lower level from the development process, he cautioned. He cautioned that the country might face an economic crisis in the course of time if no steps were taken to check the high inflation, as offshoot of high growth rate. At present, there was an imbalance in economic growth
The Bangalore Peace Forum Initiated
Bangalore has been a peace loving city, a city that has been growing in recent times beyond all proportions, where people of different languages, cultures, religious, economic strata, political affiliations etc., daily rub shoulders, yet live in peace. Hence it is important for Bangalore to remain a peace-loving city. If the cancer of violence – whether for political, linguistic, religious or economic or a mixture of these spreads and is not nipped in to bud, Bangalore will no more be a safe city, and all its great socio-economic potential will be washed down the drain.
In this context BIRD has formed a new group, Bangalore Peace Forum, to promote inter religious / inter linguistic peace and harmony in the Metropolitan City.
The Forum would include all like-minded groups that are involved in working for religious and communal harmony.

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