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Summary of the World Congress for the Preservation of Religious Diversity
The World Congress for the Preservation of Religious Diversity, which took place between the 15th and the 17th of November 2001, was the first international event of its kind. The Prime Minister of India Honorable Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee inaugurated World Congress, and stressed the need for such conferences, especially at this crucial time in world history. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama also addressed the Congress, and encouraged all religious leaders of the world to come together and work towards promoting peace and harmony. Sri Swami Dayananda gave the aims and objectives of the Congress in his speech. The main emphasis of the Congress, Swamiji said, is the preservation of religious diversity. Swamiji also pointed out that it was the first time that representatives from all these diverse religious traditions congregated with a commitment for the preservation of diversity.
Indigenous and ethnic groups worldwide represented the Congress very well. Each of the religious leaders from Guatemala, El Salvador, Native Americans and African Americans from the United States, and indigenous communities from Brazil unanimously reiterated the need for preserving their cultures that are on the brink of extinction. Each leader that spoke at the Congress acknowledged the fact that colonialism and increased missionary activity were the primary reasons why their religious and cultural traditions became endangered. The Congress was a dynamic forum for both international as well as Indian religious leaders and scholars. Of the more than 150 delegates from India, leaders of many religious traditions, including Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Hinduism, had an opportunity to share their views with the leaders from the international community as well as with local Indian scholars.
Chief Nana Osei Yiadon from Ghana gave a fiery speech on the proselytization of Africans by Christian missionaries for a period of 500 years. Chief Nana also spoke on how this process of colonisation had destroyed native cultures, languages and religious traditions in Africa. Kaka Wera Jecupe, an indigenous native from Brazil, spoke on similar lines. Dorothy Randall Gray from the United States talked about the condition of African American populations who had been inducted into slavery and whose culture had been destroyed by missionary activity and colonisation. Lighning Bear, Akatl Ortega, and Alexandro Perez, representing North and South American indigenous traditions, also reiterated the role of missionary activity in the extinction of their respective cultures. Many individuals from India also concurred with this assessment. In this way, there was a unanimous consensus that ethnic religions and cultures are in need of protection for religious diversity to exist in the world.
One of the highlights of the Congress was a grand public meeting and speak-out organised at the Siri Fort auditorium in New Delhi on the 16th of November 2001. Jagadguru Sri Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham presided over the function. The Sankaracharya gave an eloquent address about the need for individuals to follow their own dharma, and not come under the pressure of monetary or political inducements to convert to other religions. The Sankaracharya emphasised the need for ancient religions worldwide to be protected, and announced that the Kanchi Peetham would donate a sum of 5 lakhs for this worthy cause.
The Congress recognized that indigenous religious traditions have, historically, been at risk of extinction due to variety of reasons. Recent events, such as the destruction of 2000-year-old Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan, have demonstrated the vulnerability of non-proselytizing religions and cultures. It is therefore, our responsibility to preserve religious and cultural traditions, which have survived despite great odds, so that they can be handed down as a legacy for future generations. The World Congress was convened as an historic opportunity for leaders of indigenous religious and cultural traditions to assemble and share views on preserving the richness of their cultural heritage, and easing conflicts and tensions among various religious groups.
In recent years, there has been a global focus on convening “interfaith dialogues” and “inter-religious summits.” The World Congress will serve as an important precursor to such meetings by providing a safe space for indigenous religious leaders to express their views on preservation of diversity and cultivation of harmony among all religions. The aim of this conference is to create an international body that will work for dialogue and mutual respect and harmony among all religions. This body will be called the “Global Commission for the Protection of Religious Diversity,” and will work constructively with many religious groups to promote harmony and protect religious diversity in the world.
World Congress for the Preservation for Religious Diversity
- Whereas the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948 declared inter alia the right to profess, practice and promote freedom of religion and faith for one and all;
- Whereas the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was followed by two International Human Rights Covenants which proclaimed the principle of nondiscrimination, equality before law and the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief;
- Whereas the Declaration on Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1981 repudiated all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion and belief;
- Whereas the principle of the preservation of Religious Diversity is implicit in the provisions of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the two International Human Rights Covenants and the Declaration on Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination;
- Whereas Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion includes freedom to change one’s religion or belief either alone or in community with others;
- Whereas Article 30 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that nothing in the declaration “may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein;”
- Whereas an individual can exercise the option to convert himself or herself, a community cannot as such exercise such an option to convert and the leader of a community cannot decide that the members of the community had converted themselves to another religion without each individual exercising the option separately;
- Whereas religion invariably includes and cannot be isolated from families and communities, traditions and cultures, conversion particularly through organized efforts from one religion to another cannot be regarded just an individual’s choice, but, also impacts upon and even disturbs harmony in families and communities;
- Whereas the experience of international organizations in Africa and all indigenous cultures shows that uprooting of the people from their tradition promotes conflicts, and that peace and harmony among traditional communities and ethnic groups are attainable only by traditional means and institutions;
- Whereas it is of vital importance to preserve and promote all native ethnic cultures traditions, faiths and beliefs throughout the world;
- Whereas proselytizing has destroyed numerous cultures, impoverishing the cultural heritage and wisdom of the human race;
- Whereas there is a body of opinion among the clergy and laity of the proselytizing religions who do not endorse proselytizing;
- Whereas the International Association for Religious Freedom has deplored offering financial gain as an inducement to join a religious group;
- Whereas it is well known that most conversions take place by inducements both monetary and otherwise;
- Whereas the proselytizing organizations such as the Church Planting Movement sets aggressive targets for conversion of Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists;
- Whereas the report of the said Church Planting Movement states that in a congested interior of India the number of churches grew from 547 in 1996 to 2000 in 1998 and that over 55000 persons were converted in that area to the faith of Jesus Christ in a period of seven years;
- Whereas it is not possible to believe that such massive conversions are entirely voluntary;
- Whereas such conversions lead to animosity and retaliation among religious groups causing communal rioting and violence;
- Whereas some religious traditions believe that they are scripturally mandated to proselytize the practitioners of other religious traditions and undertake highly organized and acutely targeted conversions;
- Whereas induced conversions are a grave threat to peace and harmony within nations and in the world and precipitate clashes of civilizations;
Now, therefore, the World Congress for the Preservation of Religious Diversity held in New Delhi in 2001 resolves and declares
- That the freedom of religion means only the freedom to practice one’s own religion without interference from the State or any other person or group;
- That the freedom of religion does not include or imply the freedom to denigrate, disparage or decry other religions;
- That proselytizing a person living in a community who adheres to a particular religious tradition is an act of violence against the person, the community and the religious tradition;
- That the automatic conversion of children on the conversion of the parents to another religion or any assumption to that effect is a violation of the rights of the children as they do not have the legal capacity to exercise their judgment before attaining majority according to law;
- That to defend one’s religious tradition against proselytization is a legitimate exercise of religious freedom of individuals and groups;
- That it is imperative to preserve religious diversity and to foster mutual and equal respect for all religions through appropriate legislation;
- That proselytizing religions which have committed acts of violence against many indigenous traditions, cultures, faiths and beliefs need to initiate a process of reconciliation and repentance in the larger interests of fostering and preserving religious diversities;
- That any person from any indigenous tradition, culture, faith and belief who had been converted to a proselytizing religion shall be entitled to come back to his or her traditional belief.
- That an international body called the “Global Commission for the Preservation of Religious Diversity” comprising religious leaders and eminent persons committed to preserving religious diversity, be established;
The World Congress further resolves to constitute a Preparatory Committee as follows to work out the modalities for the constitution of the Commission and to take all necessary steps to formally establish and launch the proposed Global Commission.