Interfaith challenges and successes in India
Interfaith in India is a different story altogether. People don’t talk much about the various tensions that exist among the communities despite their existence. It’s something one has to figure out.
As Tony Blair Faith Foundation Faiths Act Fellows, we thought quite a lot about interfaith action, and we knew that we would have to re-contextualise many of its core aspects in order for it to work properly in India. We went around meeting organisation heads and people from different communities. One of the meetings was at the Gender Resource Centre (GRC). GRC’s are instruments to bring socio-economic and legal empowerment to women, particularly those belonging to the under-privileged section of society, by converging various social welfare schemes and services.
We were scheduled to meet Nonita who was in charge of running a GRC in partnership with our host organisation, Deepalya. As we entered the usual magic show was taking place which we later learnt (to our surprise) was a tool to integrate fun and awareness with various government welfare schemes. As we settled in and got comfortable (in India that generally means being offered tea nearly four times) we explained to her who we were and why we were there. She listened calmly and then shared with us a certain 'interfaith' challenge they had faced in the local community.
As part of their work, they witnessed a subconscious divide between people belonging to different faiths. In this case, it was between Hindus and Muslims. During an awareness event for nutrition and health community initiatives that took place at a Muslim house, the GRC members witnessed a decrease in the number of Hindu attendees.
As a result, the significance of the initiative decreased and people were not able to maximise its value. This has been a common occurrence as there has consistently been an underlying tension between faiths, a reality which has frequently hindered the potential benefits of community programming.
We were greatly taken aback by the situation and in response discussed how it was that we could bring about the changes that we wanted to see. When we shared the experience with our supervisor, we were told of another story of affirmation and hope.
Deepalya, our host organisation, was successful in making inroads to Uttar Pradesh by setting up a school in the Titron town, Saharanpur where there was tremendous resistance by members of different faiths and castes in the village.
The tension was due to the fact that the school was being set up in a place occupied by the so-called 'lower caste communities'. They objected to the running of the school. Some parents even forbade their daughters from becoming teachers in the school. The school looked in looming danger of running smoothly and progress for the village, children, and parents was at stake. However, through fierce will and skillful ways of communicating with the people, it was possible to inspire all to take a step towards a higher collective purpose.
When people of different faiths and castes choose to collaborate, great things become available to them. The school is currently in its fourth year of operation and educates close to 200 children.
Leaving GRC that evening, we had a whole new understanding of interfaith. There was silence as we left, the magician had done his bit. We hoped people had learnt what the whole thing was truly about. It was what was needed. Tough challenges and questions seldom have easy answers but with an honest attempt at solving them, progress may occur. We hope to see that progress.