from team dirs
On Tuesday, 2nd August 2016, the Dept. of Inter-Religious Studies (DIRS) and the AICUF organized a Panel Discussion on the same theme that was taken for the College Day Mass held on 30th July: "To Be Religious Is To Be Inter-Religious." The panelists were professors from different faculties and different religious traditions too: Gulshan Shaikh (Science), Radhika Rani (Arts), Periyanayagi Subramaniam (BMM), and Awanish Kumar (Public Policy/BMS). The panel was skilfully chaired by Rector Fr. Tony J D'Souza.
Our team member Amruta has written about her experience in this blog post.
The event opened to the mellifluous tunes of mood elevating music as groups of excited students began to stream in and make themselves comfortable. Whilst they occupied themselves in choosing seats and waiting impatiently for the event to commence, Father Prashant could be seen enjoying an animated discussion with two of the revered panellists, Prof Radhika Rani and Prof Gulshan Shaikh. Photographers clicked away at top speed and were swept off their feet at all times, by their keenness to take tonnes of good snaps.
The boisterous crowd was soon quietened by the arrival of Sania who then proceeded to give the introductory speech in a nutshell. The lights were dimmed and a short, mind-boggling video was presented to the crowd. Gasps and whispers of horror rippled through the crowd as the Hindu barber in the video ruthlessly killed his Muslim friend, his religious aggression triggered by the sight of a fellow Hindu stabbed multitudinous times by a Muslim crowd. Without giving the audience time to recover, the video then went on to show that the stabbing of the man was merely a scene for a movie, eliciting loud oohs and aahs from the flummoxed audience. If the students had been even slightly bored and not fully involved before, they were all attention after the video ended. The panellists were then invited to take centre stage and seat themselves, facing the crowd of onlookers. Father Tony, the chairperson of the event then took charge by introducing the panellists and giving a brief outline of the upcoming procedure of the event. He appealed to Prof Gulshan Shaikh to commence by enlightening the crowd with her views and her experiences of communal harmony and religious discrimination. She jumped off to a great start, choosing to commence with an Islamic greeting, and was greatly pleased when the audience responded positively. The tit-bits she shared about her childhood, personal life and about growing up in a Muslim family kept the audience entertained, but also reinforced in their minds the point she wished with great alacrity to put forth, that of Islam being a religion of peace unlike the current stereotypical beliefs about Islam being all for violence and brutality. She lost no opportunity to stress fervently on the importance of adaptation to the society and the necessity of seeing someone as a person rather than labelling them by their religion.
Prof Awnish Kumar picked up the discussion after Prof Gulshan, sharing the fact of his being an atheist and one of his fondest memories being that of the religious processions that accompanied the coming of Mohorram. The crowd burst out in fits of laughter when he narrated a rather amusing incident about a taxi driver informing him that he would never sell the 0786 license plate of his taxi, as he believed himself to be the lucky receiver of a divine artifact. Scooping up another one of his enlightening memories, he discussed with great energy, his beloved grandmother’s belief in the oneness of all Gods and the idea of ‘sacredness’. For him, religion is not just a set of ideas, but a set of cultural practices and all religions deserve equal importance.
The importance of religious festivities was artfully taken up by Prof Radhika who went on to freely express her intelligent observation that festivals and celebrations are successful in uniting religions and making possible the mingling of cosmopolitan and hybrid crowds. She then expounded on the importance of dialogue as a means to eradicate people’s fear surrounding anything unfamiliar, in this context, say a different religious belief or a highly generalized conception of a particular religion such as Islam. She gave a few tid-bits on the Moholla committees founded by Julio Rebeiro and also shared the fact that though she was born and brought up a Hindu, she chose to convert to another religion because she believed in freedom of choice and the freedom to follow the value system one truly feels one identifies with.
However, one of Prof Radhika’s views was challenged by the fourth panellist, Prof Perri Subramanium who believed that festivities were more of commercial events rather than those arousing strong religious sentiments and harmonious thoughts. She believed festivals to be chief sources of manipulation of people’s thoughts and also the shaping of their ideas and beliefs. She gave more information on the Moholla committee and ended by saying that ‘When we don’t talk to people of different communities, we develop prejudices against them.’
- Amruta Khandekar, Team DIRS
How is laughter related to religion which is usually serious stuff? Religion as identity easily becomes a barrier. Laughter, much like music and dance, overcomes this barrier and bridges the gap created by ‘otherness’.
The DIRS had the pleasure of organizing a Laughter Yoga workshop on Tuesday, 23 August from 2.30 to 3.30 pm in the gymnasium. Mr. Modi and his team of senior youngsters of the Laughter Yoga Club, Juhu communicated the childlike joy and natural energy of Laughter to our students who were extremely stressed out by a flurry of activities, lectures, projects, exams, etc.
We discovered how to laugh away our stress. Laughter is such a lively and lovely “out of the box” way of inter-religious dialogue. If we can laugh together, whatever religion we belong to, we can live together!
Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, the noted transgender activist, had the Xavier's staff and students enthralled for more than two hour with her lively stories and unique insights on Religions: Liberating or Oppressive for LGBT? Her liberal interpretation of the scriptures of various faiths is a challenge to religious leaders and believers to widen their limited horizons and become more inclusive in the spirit of their founders.
While some were not so comfortable with her atypical style and controversial remarks, which ranged from the personal to the political, quite a few were touched by her frank and fearless sharing at a time when respectable people dare not speak out. Prof. Ms Pranoti Chirmuley skilfully facilitated the session held on 15 February 2016 at the MMR from 2 to 4 pm. After Labdhi Vora performed a brief dance meditation, Dr. Agnelo Menezes, the Principal, inaugurated the first DIRS magazine, edited by Susanne Rodrigues. Riya Sawant proposed the vote of thanks.
This novel programme was an apt culmination to the various "out of the box" activities organised by the Department of Interreligious Studies (DIRS) of St. Xavier's College during the academic year.
Graphic Designers, Illustrators, Writers and Marketing Volunteers,
Work with us on the Department of Inter-Religious Studies (DIRS) Magazine 2016 by sending in your applications at firstname.lastname@example.org latest by Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Hope to hear from you soon!
Our visit to Ranchi in October 2015
Our shared experience led me to realize that the consequences of the havoc unleashed by Climate Change needn't be restricted to the physical environment but is exemplified by the misery of people's lives. In our case, these are the indigenous races, the owners of the land, who for centuries have been living in harmony with the land. But due to vested interests, this land has been torn apart from these people making them employees employed on their own property. Due to alienation that has arisen because of this injustice, there has been a breakdown of culture and traditions that promoted simple sustainable living that we all need to adopt to reduce the ill-effects of materialistic greed-filled living that has caused irreparable damage to the environment as well as to the quality of our own lives.
Observations made by the adivasis at the annual Jesuit National Tribal Festival (JEMAI) held at Ranchi from 23-26 October 2015 also brought attention to the disappearance of medical herbs and homemade remedies due to fast disappearing forest cover. Another contributing factor is the race to shift to modernistic living that is dependent on health care that has been highly commercialized. Another point that came up was the emergence of diseases that weren't prevalent before.
"A solid foundation starts from the deepest roots,
Educating my people is what I choose."
Adivasi youth, due to ambitions created by a now highly prevalent profit-oriented capitalistic mind-set, have shown tendencies of shying away from their own culture. Thus awareness needs to be started to go back to our roots.
We also saw from close quarters the harsh reality of coal mining. The harm caused far outweighs the benefits. The injustice caused is startling. The profit, energy, electricity reaches the privileged while the health issues, the loss of land, the loss of culture, the injustice is faced by the indigenous. My question is whether development as it is practiced today, is a method to rob the poor to make the rich, richer?
Though the consequences are largely faced by the poor, it is a vicious cycle that will affect the world as a whole, as we are interconnected and interdependent.
I would like to end with an insight of Matthew Cobb, a Native American Indian who accompanied us for this festival. He says that if we take out the apostrophe from “people's” we can bring awareness that the land and the environment isn't owned by anyone but the trees, and all of nature are peoples in themselves. Each one of us also has a drum in our own hearts that connects us with all those living on this planet as a uniting beat for change. If we consider the environment as a people in itself, we won't harm it as we will be harming ourselves. Thus we need to consider each step we take as a step taken on sacred land.
A concluding observation: The medium of dance signifies a unique whole wherein everyone joins hands and dances in celebration of culture and tradition. No matter whether you're an Adivasi or not, you get into the spirit of the motion and dance regardless of whether the timing of the steps is right. This could be used as a powerful analogy for all of us to unite together against Climate Change.
Here's a quick review of the Honours Course "Be the Dream: Awaken to Cosmic Compassion" held in 2014 and 2015.
BE THE DREAM: AWAKEN TO COSMIC COMPASSION 2014
Dr. Orla Hazra and Fr. Prashant Olalekar co-facilitated a unique interdisciplinary workshop for a group of 10 students and 2 teachers from Sept. 13-15, 2014 as a part of the ‘Be The Dream: Awaken to Cosmic Compassion’ Honours course. Anthony Dias SJ (XISR) guided the exposure program with the nomadic Pardhi tribes and transgenders at Reay Road slum opposite a garbage dump on Tuesday, 9 Sept. The story of the universe which originated with the big bang 13.8 billion years ago formed the larger context for reflection on the present ecological crisis. The Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm came to life with the field exposure, the cosmological inputs and meditative reflections. There was an ongoing journaling process for 2 months supervised by Dr. Orla and the course was completed with a presentation of projects on 12 Dec. The feedback indicated that such courses can serve to foster the ecological conversion proposed by Pope Francis in his recent encyclical Laudato Si.
AWAKEN TO COSMIC COMPASSION 2015
After the initial exposure at Reay Rd where we witnessed the devastation of the Pardhi tribe and their slum environment, Prashant, Orla Hazra and Candice Menezes, accompanied 11 students of the FYBA SPC Environment class to Khandala for a retreat from 11-13 Sept. 2015 The site was chosen for its ecological beauty and links to social injustices so that we could hear the cry of Mother Earth and the poor more clearly. We dynamically integrated didactic presentations, relevant videos, art work, integral movement, reflection and sharing. There was a growing awareness of our mindset of separation and need for interconnection at all levels.
DIRS wishes you a Happy 2016!
Getting rid of clutter, organizing files, re-arranging everything in the office -- we did it all. The end-of-the-year cleaning did not, however, make it seem like new year at the DIRS office. You guessed it right, we needed not just new stationery, but also fresh thinking. So, we asked the Team to tell us what they'd do differently this twelvemonth, and to share their messages with our readers.
Here's bringing you new year's messages from the DIRS Team!
Keya's the key person to talk to about events, marketing and the Ice Age movies.
People regret not the things they did but the things they didn't do.. so follow your heart.. make 2016 a year with no regrets..
Nikhil is the eloquent kavi. He's sent us his message in what he loves best -- verse.
Nav varsh ki dher saari subhkaamnayein,
Fr. Prashant -- leader, trailblazer, teacher -- is always game for the unconventional.
We are called to Live, Give and For-Give.
Irene, peaceful as her name suggests, exudes an air of love and joy.
Thankful adieu 2015,
Riya's new on the block, and still has lots to learn.
365 days -- 365 chances to speak out against injustice, treat Mama Earth with love, and be nicer to your roommate.
Always willing to make a difference, Susanne encourages all changemakers to take action and to start now.
Everyday is a chance to begin anew, not only the new year!
What message do you want to share this new year? Tell us in the comments below!
The Paris Climate Summit (Nov. 30-Dec.12) was consequential with regards to climate justice worldwide. Leaders of 195 countries met in Paris to take far-reaching decisions in favour of climate action. To urge their leaders to take action at this key summit, people all over the world took to the streets and marched to show their support.
Mumbai participated in this revolution in a unique way. Rayyan and Ishita from Fatsmeagol.org devised a way in which Mumbaikars could make a difference even from their homes – they initiated the world’s first Online Morcha. A compilation of humorous performances and true stories of the effects of climate change were screened live on the Digital Climate March YouTube page at 6pm on Sunday, Nov. 29, and viewers were encouraged to send tweets to the PM and the Environment Minister of India, impelling them to take action.
St. Xavier’s College, Fort, was one of the few centres where the video was to be screened live for a large audience. Led by Fr. Prashant Olalekar, S.J., Xavierites organised the screening for an audience of 80, replete with dances and songs performed by the students. A street play with a satirical commentary on the effects of climate pollution was one of the highlights of the event. Participants of the digital march at the Xavier’s pocket went one step farther and united their hopes and voices as they sang “Sing for the Climate” with the spirited compere, Anoushka Dutta.
The input by alumnus Rashida Atthar, an environmental researcher and activist, focused on the impact of Climate Change on Mumbai. The AICUF choir presented ‘Be The Change’ a moving song composed by Rachel D’Souza. Rev Matt Cobb from Kansas, a frequent visitor to Xaviers, while sharing his indigenous wisdom through a recorded interview pleaded that we beg for pardon from the land, air, water and fire for the abuse of these natural resources. Fr. Prashant in his presentation on the National Jesuit Tribal Festival at Ranchi spoke about the exposure to a coal mine which was a living hell. The brief meditation stirred up pangs of conscience as the energy in places like Xavier’s is being consumed at the cost of the lives of poor tribals and the rape of Mother Earth. Students of the FYBA staged a lively street play on Waste Management. Labdhi Vora and Anushka Hirvani presented a fusion (bharatnatyam and kathak) dance on climate change and finally Janhvi Pandya (Indian Music Group) accompanied by Kiran D’Silva enthralled the crowd with the popular “Heal the World”.
Along with more than 6 lakh Digital Marchers from Mumbai, Xavierites have done their bit in convincing leaders of India at the COP21 Paris talks to take concrete steps towards climate justice.
Did you participate in the Online Morcha? Tell us about your experience!
What do you think about the Digital Climate March? Let us know in the comments section below.
INTERFAITH PRAYER SERVICE: BE THE VOICE OF MOTHER EARTH
Every year, the 3rd of December marks the feast of St. Francis Xavier. On this day, Xavierites assemble in their Indian traditional raiment for Mass in the morning and DJ, later in the day. This year, the tradition was broken -- instead of having a Mass, an InterFaith Prayer Service was organized at St. Xavier's College, led by Fr. Prashant Olalekar and his team.
Both Fr. Prashant, who gave a brief background to the theme: Be The Voice of Mother Earth, as well as Fr. Tony J. D’Souza, the rector, challenged us to explore new frontiers following in the footsteps of Xavier and the contemporary Jesuit mission. The intercessory prayers on the burning issues of communal harmony and climate change, both new frontiers, were led by Gulshan Shaikh.
The hall was enthralled by the evocative ‘Heal the World’ sung by Frs. Terry and Roy and an enchanting fusion Indian dance on climate change by Labdhi and Anoushka. The provocative song ‘BOL’ by Sonam Kalra and the Sufi Gospel Project, encouraged us to speak out on issues at a time when prophetic voices are being silenced. Susanne Rodrigues shared her heart-rending experience of the visit to the coal mines at Ranchi as part of the National Jesuit Tribal festival. This raised questions about India's insistence at the Paris talks on continuing with use of coal for energy.
‘Prayers for Creation' -- prayers from various faith traditions were read out during the Prayer Service. The AICUF choir created a devotional mood of interfaith harmony and peace by singing 'Be Faithful'.
Anoushka Dutta, the compere, enthused the crowd and got all of us moving together to “Sing for the Climate". This new venture was highly appreciated by those staff and students who actively participated in it.
What do you think about this initiative? Let us know in the comments box below.