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16 Aug, 2009

Kabir Puraskar Award Promotes Communal Harmony in India

Originally Published: 16 August 2009

Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Vice President Dr Hamid Ansari used an annual function for communal harmony awards to remind the Indian public of the need to maintain vigilance against those who continue to seek to divide the country through religious-motivated violence.

Last week, the Indian government conferred the National Communal Harmony Awards on Dr Ram Puniyani and Dr. Dominic Emmanuel in the Individual Category and the Setu Charitable Trust and Anjuman Sair-e-Gul Faroshan in the Organisation Category.

Another award, the Kabir Puraskar (named after Saint Kabir, a 15th century Indian mystic who believed in the ideal of a single, united human race) was conferred on Mr Khalifa Gufran, Mr Abdul Gani Abdullahbhai Qureishi and Mr Ghulam Ahmed Bhat, all of whom hail from Gujarat and Jammu & Kashmir states, both states where communal violence is a regular occurrence.

Congratulating the award winners, Dr Ansari said, “Today’s gathering is to celebrate communal harmony. We celebrate what we like; for the same reason, we aspire to sustain it. The first is expression of a sentiment; the second of a desire to work for it.

“Our society is characterised by immense diversity. Tolerance of diversity is one aspect of the matter; its accommodation and promotion is another. Social peace necessitates both. While the State has a primary role in both, public support is essential to make it sustainable. Today’s recipients have demonstrated by their action the role of individual and group commitment to these basic human values.”

But, he added, “A disturbing aspect cannot be ignored. Today’s function shows that six decades after Independence there is still a compelling need for the State to foster communal harmony and national integration. The virus persists; it is harmful to the body politic; it is anti-Indian. It is indicative of the collective failure of our family values, educational system, the media, and the civil society.

“Communal disharmony and violence are neither spontaneous nor natural occurrences. Prejudices and stereotypes resulting in ill will and hatred are created on purpose. If members of a society live together separately in their own mental and physical spaces, the larger objective of social amity remains unattained.

“The imperative of urbanisation, modernisation and globalisation is to accept diversity not merely as a necessity but as an essential virtue of a modern society. As a plural society and democratic polity, we need to consciously move beyond mutual tolerance towards accommodation and celebration of diversity.”

The Vice President added, “The recognition bestowed today on these exemplary individuals and organisations is a small step towards this larger vision. Their actions and personalities serve as role models for others. It needs to be converted into a movement.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh echoed these sentiments, noting that the awards were intended to recognize “efforts made to motivate and mobilize the civil society in defence of secular human values, communal good-will and national togetherness.

“The Kabir Puraskar recognizes physical or moral courage and humanity exhibited by members of one community in saving the life and property of members of another community. It captures the moral message and the practical vision of inter faith harmony as exemplified, nearly six hundred years ago, in the life and work of Saint Kabir.

“The ideal of humanism is the core of Kabir’s teachings. His numerous verses, dohas and hymns draw upon the spirituality of both Hinduism and Islam. They have deeply moved ordinary men and women over the centuries and inspired them to live in peace and harmony with one another.”

Said the Prime Minister, “The distinguished awardees of today have dedicated themselves to the cherished ideals of communal harmony and religious tolerance that define India’s ancient culture and civilization. The Kabir Puraskar awardees have exhibited courage of the highest order, coming to the rescue of others selflessly and even at a risk to their own lives. I can say with conviction that India needs many more men and women like those whose work we are recognizing and honouring today.”

Recalling India’s rich history and heritage, Dr Singh said, “India has been home to all the great religions of the world. While some were born here, others took root in this ancient land of ours. The sub-continent has for centuries provided a unique social and intellectual environment in which many distinct religions have not only co-existed peacefully but have also enriched each other. It is the sacred duty of each one of us to carry forward this great tradition.

“I believe that both the government and civil society groups must continuously watch and raise our voice against groups and individuals who use violence in the name of religion.

“No religion sanctions violence. No religion preaches hatred. No religion endorses animosity towards another human being. Those who use religious symbols and forums to talk of violence, sectarianism and discord cannot be said to be true spokesperson of their respective religion.

“However, we also know that all societies, including ours, have to contend with such preachers of disharmony and disagreement. That is why it is all the more important to recognize and applaud those – like today’s distinguished award winners – who work selflessly for communal harmony and national integration. It is our obligation to nurture such voices of sanity.

“I am sure that today’s awardees will continue to strengthen India’s great tradition of communal harmony and religious tolerance, and will inspire others to deeds of selfless service. I salute them and congratulate them.”

Dr. Ram Puniyani, a former Professor at IIT, Mumbai has been spreading the message of peace and amity through lectures, publications, workshops and meetings and by travelling extensively to different parts of the country dissemination messages of secularism, pluralism and communal harmony.

Setu Charitable Trust, Mumbai, was set up in 1994 and is engaged in the rehabilitation of riot victims and their families and more specially, children orphaned by communal, caste and terrorist violence nationwide. It also works to help poor women and underprivileged children living in urban slums and rural areas, and rehabilitation of sexually exploited women.

Dr. Dominic Emmanuel has been working for communal harmony for the past two decades. Having a Ph.D on ‘Communication as Dialogue: Its Progressive Recognition in Modern Christian, Academic and Broadcast Discourses’, Dr. Emmanuel has been in the service of inter-religious dialogue. He has been extensively published on subjects covering value education for school children and communal harmony.

Anjuman Sair-e-Gul Faroshan, Delhi, was set up in 1964. Every year for the last 40 years, it has organised a unique week-long historical festival called ‘Phool Walon ki Sair’, (The Journey of the Flower Sellers) in Delhi. The festival has become a symbol of solidarity amongst Hindus and Muslims.

The three winners of the Kabir Puraskar were each awarded for their selfless role in helping to save families and children from becoming victims of the mindless mob violence that often plagues India, usually being triggered off by minor quarrels and then escalating progressively as tempers flare and the local politicians step in to stir the pot.

The awards also serve as a reminder to India that spiritual and social growth needs to go hand in hand with economic growth. Both are two sides of the same coin.