EXPLORING PRESENTATION DESIGN

WORLD PARLIAMENT OF RELIGIONS MELBOURNE – DEC 2009

Sāgar mėh būnḏ būnḏ mėh sāgar kavaṇ bujẖai biḏẖ jāṇai. Uṯ▫bẖuj cẖalaṯ āp kar cẖīnai āpe ṯaṯ pacẖẖāṇai – The drop is in the ocean, and the ocean is in the drop. Who understands, and knows this?  He Himself creates the wondrous play of the world. He Himself contemplates it, and understands its true essence – Ramkali, M I, p. 878
Jẖim jẖim amriṯ varasḏā ṯisnā bẖukẖ sabẖ jā▫e – Drop by drop, the Ambrosial Nectar rains down softly and gently; thirst and hunger are completely gone – M III, p. 1420

INTRODUCTORY

The next World Parliament of Religions [WPR] is to be held at Melbourne, Australia in early Dec 2009. It is a global event spread over almost a week, held every five years. The last WPR was held in Barcelona, Spain in 2004. The Parliament historically has attracted very large number of delegates. More than 8000 participants are expected at this meet.

The theme of this WPR is: Make a World of Difference: Hearing each other, Healing the Earth. The theme reflects the urgent need for religious communities and people of good faith to act on their concerns for environment, peace, and overcoming poverty and to take responsibility for cultivating awareness about our global interconnectedness.

A number of ‘crucial’ topics from religious and spiritual perspectives will be addressed including:

  • Healing the Earth with Care & Concern
  • Reconciling with Indigenous people
  • Overcoming Poverty in a Patriarchal World
  • Securing Food & Water for all People
  • Building Peace in the Pursuit of Justice
  • Creating Social Cohesion in Village & City
  • Sharing Wisdom in the Search for Inner Peace

The subjects for presentation can be built around the sub themes albeit with wide latitude of areas listed. Some clusters of programs can also be created e.g.

  • Youth leadership,
  • Women’s leadership,
  • Religious education,
  • Chaplaincies,
  • Science and religion,
  • Religious and moral perspectives
  • The Internet and the Mobile: Religious & Moral perspective

The actual presentation could be in the form of a lecture, dialogue, workshop, panel discussion, religious or spiritual observances, workshop training session or artistic performance. WPR is open to other clusters of subjects as they develop.

SIKH PARTICIPATION

At the last Parliament in Barcelona, Guru Nanak Nishkam Seva Jatha from Birmingham, UK led by Bhai Mohinder Singh earned rare goodwill by their seva of langar for the entire duration of the meet and a Sikh Sanctuary for prayer and joining in the Sikh prayer services.

This time the langar seva is not being offered. However Nishkam Seva Jatha and Bhai Mohinder Singh will be there. Bhai Sahiba Bibi Inderjeet Kaur and the 3HO group will also be there.

Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria Inc. [SICV] is the representative body for the Sikh community on the Advisory Council for the Parliament. Gurdarshan Singh Gill is the coordinator of Sikh participation in the Parliament on behalf of SICV.

I was initially approached by Autar Singh {Kuala Lumpur] on behalf of Gurdarshan ji if I would accept to lead our inter-religious presentation at the WPR. Upon my affirmative response Gurdarshan ji has formally invited me and requested me to submit my proposal to the Parliament by the due date, Feb 28th 2009.

MY INITIAL RESPONSE

I am giving below extracts from mail accepting the invitation that are reflective of my initial thoughts on our presentation:

‘I have gone through the flyer to grasp the drift of the theme. It does present some interesting possibilities for presentation[s] and my hope is that we would be able to make some informed contribution to the proceedings and in the process, learn as well as share some thoughts about our own beliefs, praxis and activism in societies where we live.

‘I am sure you and your worthy colleagues who are helping coordinate the Sikh participation have a conceptual frame of what and how of this effort. I would value if you share some more details so that I can interface constructively with our total package.

‘As I had written earlier to Autar ji I am presently in India. My intent is to spend the next couple of months here to do some fieldwork to gather first hand information about some of the Sikh interventions that have made a difference in their respective areas. My initial canvas is to try and prepare case studies of the work done by Nishkam in rehabilitation of victim families of 1984, relief to Sikligars and support to deserving students for pursuit of higher education.

‘I may likewise attempt a study of the work of Baba Seenchewala and may be Akal Academy.

‘My intent in all cases would be look at sarbat ka bhalla aspect – not just intra Sikh – except 84 families because that is a unique accomplishment where we have factual data about turning lives around for so many young kids when no other help was forthcoming.

I may also try if we can put together a picture gallery or a video presentation on themes that we study. I will try that the proposal for presentation can be done by 28th Feb.

‘I would appreciate if you let me know your views especially if they are at variance with what I am thinking. That would help.’

The response from Gurdarshan ji is supportive and urges me to submit proposal by the due date though it did not throw any light on the total package. Possibly it is still work in process.

SOME FURTHER THOUGHTS ON THE PRESENTATION

My sense is that our theology and the exemplar lives of the Gurus do provide a credible and strong foundational basis for Sikh social activism and it is the dimensions of social activism by religious communities that is the driving concern of this WPR.

The Sikh social engagement characteristically has been fragmented, small, mostly local or regional initiatives and projects. The reasons for this phenomenon are important for our internal discussion and debate but may prudently not be thrown up for debate in an inter-religious setting.[1]

Taking advantage of my logistic positioning I decided to pick Nishkam as a case study in contemporary Sikh social engagement. Nishkam started out in a small way but the human impact of their intervention from the start has been way above the bar that may have been set by much better resourced organizations. I also felt encouraged by the willing co-operation from Nishkam.

Nishkam has diversified its range of services and their economic efficiency and resource utilization may compare favorably with the best-managed charitable organizations. They are a Sikh charity though beneficiaries of their services increasingly are non-Sikhs fitting the criteria of sarbat ka bhala.

I do think that the case of rehabilitation of 1984 victim families can be a gripping human-interest story yet to be shared in a global inter-religious event. Even though in this case the beneficiaries were Sikhs, the very nature of the episode placed alleviation of their suffering as a saga of courage in the face of a hostile State, media apathy and a prejudiced mainstream community that felt little compassion for brutalities the innocent suffered.

In presenting this case I would possibly need sufficiently in depth analysis to establish clear linkage between the intervention and its contribution not only in rehabilitation of victims but proactive incremental benefit of encouraging societal peace and harmony; reducing the negative, degrading effects of poverty and making the families socially responsible, self reliant units that could transcend grief and loss to move on to constructive living and not become disruptive citizens. It is not that Delhi became a strife free or safe city – there were blasts in cinemas, attack on the Parliament, bomb blasts in recent months – only no youth from among the victim families had turned into violent gangs, terrorists, criminals or vandals. All this will need factual supporting data and feel of durability of transcendence from ‘being aggrieved to moving on’ through interviews.

I would try and draw upon the metaphor of Babar Vani to grasp the significance of Mongol Puri and the Sikh ethos of seva and resolve in the face of adversity underpinning the tale of whatever transformation that Tilak Nagar could bring about. Cases where the help was inadequate or late in coming only illustrate the constraints of such small, hand to mouth, initiatives – but then could it have been done any better? Does the question that Nanak asked – ‘The Creator Himself acts, and causes others to act. Unto whom should we complain? Pleasure and pain come by Your Will; unto whom should we go and cry?’[2] – remain as valid today as it was then.

In case search results support the hypothesis underpinning my assumptions as credible, I would attempt to construct a paradigm of the Delhi Sikh response as a possible answer to the vexing question of how to control hate from being transmitted from generation to generation in the aftermath of organized violence approaching genocide. A major factor that may emerge as critical to serve the cause of not turning a human tragedy into a trigger for continued strife and violence could be the de-linking of pursuit of justice from rehabilitation and healing. This may need very sensitive management of the interface of the two streams of concurrent activities so that issues of injustice, discrimination and even genocide can be handled with empathy and resolve without becoming sources for hate mongering.

I also feel that the conclusions of the case study may not be seen as convincing unless the fear factor can be shown to not have been the dominant reason for the witnessed behavior of good citizenship by the victim families [and Delhi Sikhs in general]. This may indeed be important for the fact that the strategy adopted by the Indian state was use of excessive force; fake encounters and gross restrictions/violations of human rights. 

Discussion with H S Phoolka and other activists groups like the Sikh Forum would help in developing the structure and linkage of the Delhi model as an integrated organizational approach.

The other Nishkam interventions like disaster relief, education promotion, healthcare and women’s employment programs are directed at the sarbat – rehabilitation of Sikligars may again need to be seen closely to sift the seva and parchar components. The Sikligar projects could have a remote linkage to ‘original people’ in case their Roma character has continued to influence their culture. They are listed as Scheduled Castes in some states and as Backward Classes in some others.

As of now I feel that if at all the healthcare services may need to be looked at in a broader spread across the metropolis to reflect the collective aid that is provided to the sick in a highly under served setting. This service providing essential healthcare to the urban poor at affordable cost using a mix of volunteers and paid staff could be a separate subject cluster.

My view on further reflection is that even though the Seenchewala story is possibly the only environmentally sensitive Sikh initiative, this case and Akal Academy may not be made a part of proposed presentation.

While most of this presentation would be in the form of a lecture/discussion, I feel it may help if we could reinforce the presentation by an exhibition of visuals that bring out what has been achieved – before and after, then and now – and the in-betweens of the poignant moments when things looked grim, buoyant or just tizzy. A display in the galleries with sub titles might draw attention though we must be watchful that we do not shock people with graphic images of violence or stark poverty. The purpose would be reinforce trust in the potential of a small, committed band of volunteers to make a difference and bring hope to those who had nowhere to turn to, succor to the needy and relief to the distressed – all this without the paraphernalia of mission statements and the backup of ideologues and experts.

The combined lecture and picture gallery would be aimed to bring home the good that the local religious communities can do and the need to encourage those initiatives. Can such initiatives be viable – Nishkam story says no, the Pahariwala story says yes. Be it as it may in an age of mega charities [Bill Gates, Clinton, Carter and —-] the intimate delivery by the small, local group, may be lone volunteer, can be a major instrument for hearing each other and healing the little patch of earth on which each of us live and survive – and Sikhs revel at this kind of interventions!

I am conscious that the way I am envisioning this search the quantum of fieldwork and analysis can be onerous. I will try what I can but would appreciate any help that I can get in making the work easier and support where my skills are essentially inadequate. I will of course gratefully acknowledge the assistance extended. I also want to confirm that I have no pecuniary interest in the project and that I am not in receipt of any support or sponsorship for this study nor do I intend to seek any such support.


[1] This aspect has been discussed by the author in considerable detail in his book ‘Searches in Sikhism, Hemkunt, New Delhi, 2008 and in his article on Sikh Social Responsibility in ‘Preceptor Eternal’ EMG Online, UK, 2008

[2] Asa M I, p. 417

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