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Bangladesh

Religious Leaders In Nagaland Stress Joint Action For Peace

Updated: March 26, 2008 05:00 PM GMT
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Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Muslims and Sikhs in the northeastern state of Nagaland stressed at a recent meeting the need for joint action to maintain peace and harmony.

About 200 people participated in the March 14 meeting that Catholic priest Father C.P. Anto initiated in Dimapur, 2,235 kilometers east of New Delhi. The town is the commercial capital of Nagaland, one of the three Christian-majority states in the region. Dimapur is also the base of Kohima diocese, which covers Nagaland.

Several ethnic and secessionist clashes that claimed hundreds of lives have occurred in the state during the past 60 years.

Diocesan Father Anto told UCA News Dimapur, a multireligious town, has had "no history of sectarian violence so far." Nonetheless, he said, "we also want to be proactive," and not just react after something untoward has happened.

The diocese recently launched Peace Channel. That forum, under Father Anto´s leadership, collaborated with Interfaith Coalition for Peace, a New Delhi-based ecumenical forum, to organize the Dimapur meeting.

The program, billed as an "interfaith peace conclave," suggested three ways to achieve peace: create a common platform for people of all religions to learn from what they share in common, explore commonalities that unite them and jointly celebrating selected festivals of various religions.

Bishop Jose Mukala of Kohima, who addressed the meeting, stressed peace, love and harmony as principles that foster good human societies.

Father Packiam T. Samuel of the Church of South India, an Interfaith Coalition for Peace officer, told the gathering that in the modern world, "to be religious is to become interreligious."

Reverend Awala Longkumer of the National Council of Churches in India added that Christians, though a majority in Nagaland, do not have the right to violate other people´s rights. "We should respect people of every religion because all are made in the image of God," said the woman pastor. About 90 percent of Nagaland´s 1.9 million people are Christians, most of them Baptists.

Geoffrey Yaden, editor of the local Nagaland Post daily, told the gathering Dimapur was "fortunate" because its religious leaders came together "to forge religious tolerance and harmony." He added, "This is the only way we can go forward, as all religions preach about harmony and peace."

Yaden also noted that Dimapur "does not belong to the Christians" despite their dominance in the town. "There may even be underlying hatred against some religions," he warned, advising religious leaders to come together in more such peace gatherings and stress our "human oneness for our common good."

News reports have identified an underlying hatred toward Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, and some underground secessionist groups have reportedly extorted money from these outsiders.

According to Yaden, peace gatherings can be proactive by helping people of different religions understand that they should care for each other. "It is time that different religions joined hands and did something for the society so that differences will be lessened," he said.

Members of other religions shared similar views at the meeting. H. Choudhury, a Muslim, suggested increasing the frequency of interreligious meetings, saying religious leaders "should not meet only after violent events."

Rajendra, a leader of Arya Samaj, a Hindu sect, appreciated the Christian initiative, and said such gatherings should foster the oneness of humanity. "Everyone should live in harmony with each other," he added.

Kishore Kashliwal, 48, a Jain, called such gatherings an opportunity to interact with other "communities and understand their viewpoint." Some militants have targeted his community, known for doing business in the region, for extortion and ransom.

END

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