Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies, New Delhi, organized a Round Table Discussion on 'Harmony among Religions – Do's and Don'ts' at The Indian Law Institute, New Delhi, on 19 March 2016. Dr M. D. Thomas, Chairman and Director of the Institute, chaired the session and he moderated it in a very professional manner, too. Prof. Deepali Bhanot, Former Professor of Sanskrit, Delhi University, and Prof. Hanif KhanShastri, Professor of Rastreey Sanskriti Sansthan, Delhi, jointly presented an orientation to the discussion and they did the same in a proficient way, as well.

The Chair, who is also the founder of the institute, introduced the Institute as one that is committed to interfaith perspectives, intercommunity relations, national integration and social harmony, with an all-out motto of 'inclusive thinking and harmonious living'. The activities of IHPS were highlighted as organizing seminars, discussions and workshops, contributing at programmes organized by other organizations, publishing books and articles, guiding field-based projects for students, addressing social concerns, engaging in extension activities, and the like.

By way of introduction, the Chair shed light on three misunderstandings that prevail in the religious premises. First, the basic identity in life is that of 'being human', and not that of being religious. Second, religion is essentially a social phenomenon, and not merely a private affair. Third, the spirit of interfaith is to hold all religious traditions as ours, and not considering my religion is for me and your religion, for you. This clarification served a strong plinth for approaching the theme of the discussion in very realistic fashion.

The gathering was composed of prominent persons of all communities, like Prof. Reeta Bagchi, Prof. Shashi Tiwari, Dr Sudha Jain, Dr Saroj Chawala, Ku. Ranju Magar, Ku. Anu Phokrel, Ku. Sanjeena Shrestha, Ku. Nabeena, Dr Akhilesh Jain, Janab Iqbal Mulla, Janab Laeeq A. Khan, Mr Ramesh Kumar, Adv. V.K. Gupta, Mr Bhabani Dikshit, Mr Kishore Babu, Prof. M.K. Das, Dr Kuldeep Agrawal, Dr Chand Bhardwaj, Prof. D.S. Agrawal, Cnl Onkar Chopda, Dr S.S. Bhakri, Mr Amarjeet, Mr H. L. Chawala, Mr Praveen Gupta and Mr Susheel Chandra.

The discussion went on for two hours between 16.00 and 18.00 hours and approximately 40 persons participated in it. What was special about the round table discussion was this that every one present was given an opportunity to speak up in both rounds. The discussion on the theme was preceded by a round of self-introduction and it proceeded to a round of proposals for further course of action, as well. The points that emerged from the discussion are the following.

Do's for Harmony among Religions

1. Accept humanity as the real religion
2. Consider the entire society as one family (vasudhaivakutumbakam)
3. Be generous and open in one's mindset (udaaracharitanaam)
4. Honour the diversity of religious traditions (unity in diversity)
5. Encourage co-existence among religious communities
6. Promote inter-generational dialogue
7. Foster the spirit of living together
8. Address concerns at the grass roots
9. Involve local religious leaders and common folk
10. Propagate the spirit of equality among religions
11. Emphasize the global unity of religions
12. Appreciate the greatness of the supreme power
13. Honour the ancient roots of religion
14. Respect all religions
15. Study all religions
16. Learn, imbibe and live the universal values of all religions
17. Remain above the negativities of life
18. Share platform with people of all ideologies
19. Instill values of religions in politics
20. Make a strategy for unity among religions
21. Chalk out a common minimum programme for unity of faiths
22. Extend to others the behavior we expect from others
23. Evolve a common agenda for ethical values
24. Follow the army model for a culture of communal harmony
25. Accept the oneness of truth
26. Eliminate superstitions from religions
27. Take the good insights of religions to the larger society
28. Promote the culture of walking and working together
29. Imbibe the spirit of anekandvad
30. Be committed to full knowledge
31. Consider all religious paths as valid
32. Strengthen economy for harmonious living
33. Prioritize humanity, nationality and religion
34. Bring to the public the heritage of the regions and regional languages
35. Lean from all religious masters of the world
36. Introduce harmony education in schools
37. Evolve a simplified curriculum on comparative religion
38. Make a curriculum with values of religions for the primary school
39. Engage the youth of colleges in pro-active processes
40. Insist on value education among the youth
41. Take up collective action for the youth of all religions
42. Keep up the spirit of learning even in advanced years
43. Reach out to the rural areas
44. Appropriate scientific approach to life
45. See God in all
46. Consider human beings as what they are
47. Engage in dialogue for setting disputes .

Summing up the discussion on the 'Do's for Harmony among Religions', the chair highlighted four points that emerged with a consensus – 1. Humanity is the basic religion of all, irrespective of various traditions 2. Since India is largely a country of the younger generation, the younger generation has to be promoted and the senior generation has to learn from the junior generation 3. Since religion in India is exceedingly under the grip of superstitions, rising above them is imperative for its growth 4. All religious traditions are gift of the same God and they are the common cultural heritage of the human society and therefore are not to be monopolized by any set of particular followers.

Don'ts for Harmony among Religions

1. Killing or dying for the honour of the family, religion or society
2. Following a double standard by speaking two languages
3. Meddling with the right of others to live
4. Being rigid in thoughts and behaviour
5. Judging the worth of human beings by their religion or caste
6. Considering oneself good and others bad
7. Misusing religion for any purpose
8. Surrendering to or allying with fake religious baabaas and persons
9. Passing comments on other religions without really knowing it
10. Engaging in violence on the basis of disagreements
11. Making a public display of religion, like processions
12. Getting provoked in the wake of minor attacks
13. Reacting without knowing what is what and exaggerating issues
14. Allowing the media to inflate issues
15. Mixing up religion and politics
16. Commercializing religion on TV channels
17. Violating others on any pretext
18. Denying justice to any individual or community
19. Doubting the patriotic sentiments of citizens of other communities
20. Maintaining a superiority-inferiority syndrome
21. Being a hypocrite in the name of religion
22. Entertaining prejudice against others
23. Stereotyping of religious affairs and giving attention to wrong things of religions
24. Having hatred and propagating it towards other persons and communities
25. Being judgmental about others
26. Making an empty show of religion
27. Creating conflicts in the name of religion
28. Trying to impress others with religious tools and taking others into one's grip
29. Imposing one's identity on others

In response to the invitation of the Chair for the follow up of the discussion, the suggestions that came up were – 1. Sessions led by the young have to be organized 2. The exercise of harmony among religions has to be taken to the grass roots as well as to the rural areas 3. A curriculum on religious harmony has to be prepared for the primary schools 4. Social media has to be used for disseminating the awareness of religious harmony to larger horizons.

By way of concluding remarks, the Chair cautioned against money and power that extremely hijack and make religion what it is not supposed to be. 'A high percentage of the political and religious custodians are illiterate, untamed and raw in their instincts and are badly scandalizing the younger generation of the country', he commented. He drew the attention of the assembly to the scientific temper underscored in the Directive Principles of the Constitution and profusely emphasized by Pandit Jawaharlar Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India.

He proceeded to bring to light 'vasudhaivkutumbakam' as the most sublime ideal of the society and 'udaaracharitanaam' as the condition to translate the same into action. 'Seeing God on every human face and making the family of God on earth is the common mission in life for people of all faiths and ideologies', he added. He made a clarion call to 'leave the society better than you found it' as the noble maxim for contributing one's share in life.

Making a personal reference to how the study of Kabeer gave him a momentous 'rebirth' in life, Dr Thomas presented two lines from Kabeer – 'Bahtaa paanee nirmalaa, bandaa gandaa hoi; Saadhoo jan ramtaa bhalaa, daag na laage koi'. He concluded by stating that 'to keep journeying to the other, like the 'flowing water', to the larger and higher horizons of life' is the secret of a dynamic, ever-blossoming and meaningful life, which is rooted in the ground realities of the country as well as the society.