National Seminar on ‘Celebrating Secularism’ organized by Loyola College and Yuva Leadership Institute

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Chennai: A National Seminar on ‘Celebrating Secularism’ was organised by Institute of Dialogue with Cultures and Religions (IDCR), Department of Sociology, Loyola College and Yuva Institute of Leadership here today (3rd September 2019).

Speakers included Fr. Cedric Prakash, Human Rights and peace activist and recipient of several international and national honours for his work on human rights, justice, reconciliation and peace, Ms. Shabnam Hashmi, Social Activist and Human Rights Campaigner, Mr. Badri Seshadri, Co-founder of Cricinfo.com, currently part of the ESPN network and commentator on technology, science, education, politics and current affairs in newspapers and magazines and Dr. V. Suresh, Human Rights Lawyer and National General Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). Around 150 students from 15 colleges participated in the seminar.

Speaking on ‘Secularism to Ensure Social Justice,’ Fr. Cedric Prakash said, “What is it that makes the Idea of India and our pluralist fabric thrive? Our education has to make men and women work for others. This country belongs to everybody whether you are rich or poor, this caste or that caste, this religion or that religion, this State or other. We are born and will die as Indians.”

Further, Fr. Cedric Prakash said, “National Seminars like this are very important. I congratulate Yuva, IDCR and Department of Sociology, Loyala College, for holding such events. Let this not be an academic exercise. India has the ability to create leaders for tomorrow who can be visible and vocal and can transcend jingoism and selfishness and say ‘We have to be the change we long to see’.”

Fr. Cedric Prakash added, “Students should not be afraid. The country and its future belong to you and your children. Study, do an evaluation of what is happening in the society, find out a Government program that is not reaching the poorest of the poor, take a stand against corruption and refuse to pay bribes.”

Yuva Leadership Institute has been established by Yuva Active Advocacy Forum, a not-for-profit which aims to streamline the interaction between the government and the governed that fosters transparency and accountability. It promotes political advocacy through constructive dialogue between the government and governed.

Delivering the Keynote Address, Rev.Dr. Michael Amaladoss SJ, Founder and Former Director of IDCR, Loyola College, said, “What kind of secularism do we want to celebrate? When we speak of India as a secular state, we do not mean it is atheist or non-religious, but it treats all religion as equal and is not identified with any one religion. Freedom of religion is one of the fundamental rights in Indian Constitution. Minority religions are protected under the constitution from any domination by the majority religion. pluralism is a fact of life in India. Secularism means a pluralism of religion in Society and such secularism need to be celebrated. Secularism really means not the absence but pluralism of religion.”

The goals of the seminar were to help participants understand the intersectionality of the constitution and secularism, engage students and mould them into conscious, responsible citizens and to create a network of socially responsible students.

Highlighting the need for such events, Ms. Aishwarya Kalpathi, Chief Executive Officer, Yuva Active Advocacy Forum, said, “Yuva Active Advocacy Forum is pleased to be a part of this prestigious conference as a first step towards launching the Yuva Institute of Leadership. The reason we chose ‘Secularism’ as a topic for our conference is because of its relevance in the Indian context. Secularism is invaluable for a society like India which is characterized with immense religious diversity. It is an important safeguard of democracy itself. It is not just a concept but a philosophical system with personal, political, cultural and social implications.”

Further, Ms. Aishwarya Kalpathi added, “Secularism cannot be effectively implemented if there is a lack of cohesive understanding of what secularism actually is. We believe that providing young minds with a holistic picture of the evolution of secularism in India will enable them to make unbiased, clear and well thought out decisions. We hope that with this conference, students leave feeling a little more inspired, with new ideas and thoughts and most importantly with a drive to transform this inspiration into action.”

The Seminar was also intended to transform young minds into resources that can impart this knowledge to their peers and spark a chain of thought and action. students will also have a wider and deeper understanding of Secularism. Trainer of Trainer (ToT) groups will be formed.

Speaking on ‘Secularism – Future Aspirations,’ Ms. Shabnam Hashmi said, “The richest 1 per cent have 51.5 per cent of India’s wealth and richest 10 per cent have 77.4 per cent of national wealth. The 60 per cent at the bottom have only 4.7 per cent of the country’s wealth and they are the Adivasis, the Dalits, the urban poor, the farmers and workers in the unorganized sector. this is the disparity in India.”

Further, Ms. Shabnam Hashmi said, “Secularism is separation of the State from the Religion. Religion is a personal affair of the people. The State should not have any religion and it should respect all religions. No religion should become part of the State. Secularism means ‘respect’ and ‘compassion’ for people from various backgrounds, whatever be their backgrounds, beliefs, caste or religion…It is important to understand that being ‘apolitical’ means showing ignorance and apathy to what is happening around us. It is important to see and speak loudly and clearly.”

Dr. V. Suresh, Human Rights Lawyer and National General Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), gave a lecture on ‘Secularism and Constitution: an evolution.’ Mr. Badri Seshadri, Co-founder of Cricinfo.com, commentator, spoke on ‘Changing Discourse of Secularism.’

The inclusion of the ideology of secularism in India promotes the co-existence of its people, despite their religious and cultural differences. The implementation of secularism in a diverse country like India, which comprises of multiple religions, is a difficult task, and this process still has many kinks which need to be worked out. Providing young minds with a holistic picture of the evolution of secularism in India will enable them to make unbiased, clear and well-thought-out decisions.

Speaking about Yuva Institute of Leadership, Ms. Aishwarya Kalpathi said, “The basic idea of this institute is to empower and enable young people who want to work in politics and any public space. While there is formal training for almost all professions, we noticed a lack of education and empowerment available to students who aspire to enter politics and create social change. There are not too many options for those who want to step into the political scene, unlike for aspiring doctors or engineers. We at Yuva hope to fill this space and help young people create the change that they aspire to in our country. In India, which has one of the largest youth demographics in the world, it is imperative that skilled leaders and thinkers are given the right tools and opportunities to take action and this is what we are hoping to achieve.”

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