(World Council of Churches(WCC) is a Geneva-based umbrella body of churches belonging to hundreds of denominations. It is a powerful church organisation commanding vast influence over the Christian community worldover. WCC organised International Ecuminical Peace Convention from May 17 to 24 at Kingston, Jamaica. A document titled “An Ecuminical Call to Just Peace” was presented to the Convention.
The WCC invited representatives of various world religions to give their response to this document. Shri Ram Madhav was invited to give the Hindu Response. He spoke at the Convention in Jamaica on May 20 along with a Muslim and a Jew representative coming from South Africa and Surinam respectively.
This is an extract of the speech by Shri Ram Madhav at the WCC on Just Peace)
It is a great pleasure and honour to be amidst this august audience. I am thankful to the organisers of the event – the WCC – for inviting me to this beautiful country that has strong historical bonds with my Motherland – India.
It is also a matter of great pleasure that the WCC has decided to come out with this very significant statement on Just Peace. Although the document is an Ecumenical Call addressed primarily to the worldwide Christian community. The WCC’s initiative in inviting comments from various religious communities on the document is very appropriate and commendable.
For, peace and justice have no religion. On the other hand, some religions have played havoc with peace in history and continue to do so. Peace is the ultimate craving of the mankind; highest noble objective of the entire humanity. In fact, we the Hindus believe that the state of peace – Shanti– is the ultimate divine reality. Each day in the life of a Hindu begins with the prayer for Shanti– eternal peace; peace not just for the humanity; but for the nature, for the rivers and mountains, for the animate and inanimate; peace for the entire creation. For him journey to peace is both external as well as internal.
Before we discuss the subject of Just Peace, it is important to understand the meaning of the word peace as envisaged by different cultures. That the same word may carry different meanings to different people is well-known; even Jesus asked his tormentors to define their words before asking him to answer.
For the West, the word peace is derived from the Latin word ‘pax’ which literally means a pact, a contract, an agreement to end war or any dispute and conflict between two people, two nations or two antagonistic groups. Napoleon once quipped, “What is peace after all – it is just an interval between two wars”.
But for Hindus the concept of Shanti is divine; it is the natural state of our existence. For them peace without justice has no sense as whatever is divine is just too. In the name of justice there cannot be subjection and in the name of peace there cannot be impunity. Thus Just Peace, for a Hindu, is an Oxymoron.
Justice and Peace:
What is not just can’t be peace. But justice is an essentially political concept that acquires different meanings at different places in history and geography. When the US attacks Afghanistan or Iraq it calls it a Just War for Just Peace. When a few young Korean missionaries embark on a conversion drive in Afghanistan and in the process get into the hands of the terrorists they claim their mission to be for Just Peace. Even the Jehadi who kidnaps the missionaries claims he did it to secure his version of a just and peaceful world.
In fact, Just Peace, while being a very noble objective, has a very dangerous pitfall. In the name of Just Peace one may end up siding with imperialists or terrorists, anarchists or despots. It has happened several times in the history of the Church when it parked itself on the wrong side of the fence rubbing shoulders with the dictators and human rights violators. It is today seen by many in the world as the Fifth Column, an appendage of the western powers.
In fact Just Peace can become a euphemism for political ambitions and domination. Religions must scrupulously avoid entering political arena. In fact, the very idea of secularism is a result of the conflict of interests between the Church and the King. Fighting problems like AIDS or water shortage or poverty has nothing to do with a Church or a temple. Christians and non-Christians alike – all good citizens – should come forward in that campaign. Religions may play the role of catalysts, but not the leaders. What belongs to Caesar must remain with Caesar and what is Christ’s must belong to him. One fervently hopes that the call for Just Peace doesn’t become an excuse for the Church leaders dabble in politics.
Understanding the Roots of Violence:
It is easy to describe the forms of violence. Unfortunately the WCC document does it amply without bothering much to get into the reasons. Violence is omnipresent in the world today. However one must understand the roots of this violence in order to secure peace. Else, the very effort for peace could become the source of violence and conflict.
Preamble of the constitution of the UNESCO states: ‘Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed; that ignorance of each other’s ways and lives has been common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the people of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war’. Many conflicts begin in the minds of the people.
There are forms of violence that are physical… wars, weapons, killings, atrocities… In fact we have witnessed the most violent century in the human history in the 20th century. We had two world wars, use of nuclear weapons, rise in terrorism and annihilation of entire countries in the name of war on terror. Behind each of these conflicts was there a philosophy and reason – political or sometimes even religious.
But there are other forms of violence too. They may not be physical but they are equally harsh and harmful. They are psychological and emotional in nature. Media, propaganda and campaigns are its tools. If I am physically hurt, that is one form of violence; but if I am emotionally and psychologically hurt by way of abuse of my forefathers, my culture, my religion and my history, that is also another form of violence. Unfortunately denouncing others’ religions as evil, satan and devil has been integral to the preachings of several Church denominations in India.
Frank appraisal of the reasons for violence and conflict need to be made without any prejudice. It is not enough to indulge in platitudes like ‘all religions want peace’ or ‘democracy is the best guarantee for peace’ etc. Haven’t some religions been the reason for much of the conflict? Hasn’t the Islamic concept of jehad been the source of much of the war and violence in the world today? Has not proselytising zeal of the missionaries of various denominations led to conflicts in the history and the present? Have not democracies perpetrated enough wars in the last century as the dictatorships of Communist oligarchies? If Globalisation has led to conflicts what about protectionism that has led to poverty and civil wars?
We must understand that peace can be achieved only if we go beyond religions, political systems and socio-economic theories. Unless a globally acceptable worldview is adopted by all of us conflicts remain. It is this set of universal eternal principles that are described in India as the Dharma.
Need of the Hour – Dharma:
Mahatma Gandhi was epitome of peace. Talking about him Martin Luther King Junior said: “Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.”
What is needed today is to evolve a universal code of eternal values called Dharma. These values are for all religions, all nations, all societies and all civilizations. They are truly universal. The Church must strive to reform itself in the light of those universal eternal principles of Dharma and thus do its bit to securing Shanti.
World View – Dharma:
I would like to enumerate a couple of such principles from the Hindu point of view for the Church to understand and internalise in order to achieve Just Peace.
1. Omnipresence of the Divine: We Hindus, believe in the omnipresence of the divine. The Semitic religions have divided the world into believers and non-believers and condemned majority of the humanity to hell-fire.
2. Diversity of His creation: The WCC document talks about integrity of His creation. But the Church must accept the diversity of His creation too. It should desist from all attempts to create uniformity as it is against the divine order. The Church must not only accept and respect, but even learn to celebrate this diversity of religions, cultures and civilisations.
3. Nature as the Mother: Hindus worship nature. Semitic interpretations of the genesis of the creation have led to the exploitation of nature. The Church must revise its view and propagate the idea of Mother Nature. Mahatma Gandhi said: ‘Nature has everything for man’s need, but not for his greed’.
4. Duties as obligation, not Rights as demand: The WCC document bemoans the unscrupulous violation of the human rights in the world including the women’s rights. While human rights are integral to the existence of mankind in today’s world the discourse on them is better left to the non-religious bodies as they are better equipped to handle them. Religious leaders must focus more on educating people about their duties and obligations.
It is not out of place to remind here that religions themselves are great violators of the rights of various sections like women. As far as the Church is concerned it must recognise one very fundamental right of the humans – that is the right to follow their religion without outside interference and unsolicited advise about the validity or otherwise of the same.
While concluding I may be allowed to quote the great Indian poet and Nobel laureate of the last century Dr Rabindranath Tagore. What he said in this quote was essentially about the freedom of Bharat that he envisaged but it aptly summarises the discourse on Just Peace.
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; Where words come out from the depth of truth; Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection; Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way in the dreary desert sand of dead habit; Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever widening thought and action…. into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.”