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Thursday, 3 July 2014

Affirm Diversity - Defend the Rights of Sexual Minorities: A Call for Indian Faith Communities

Bangalore, 31 May, 2014. Sri Sri Ravishankar, the founder of Art of Living, said that, 'affirm diversity - defend the Rights of the Sexual minorities',  in a public meeting on 'Faiths Against Homophobia' jointly organised by the  'aneka-Trust', Board of Theological Education of the Senate of Serampore University, and  Centre for Peace and Justice Concerns of the National Christian Council of India, at  Institute for Agriculture Hall, in Bangalore on the 31st May 2014.
Ravishankar calls upon all religious leaders and the faith communities to affirm the rights of the sexual minority communities who are socially and religiously stigmatised, excluded and discriminated for centuries. He further emphasised that, they too belong to the 'Cod created Cosmic Community' where we too are part and got a space to live. It is the duty of the faith communities to affirm the diversity and to defend the Rights of the neglected and rejected ones especially the sexual minorities. 

There were over 200 participants including women and men apart from the sexual minorities. Ms. Chitra a male to female transgender invoked God by a special number as to inaugurate the public meeting.
Rev.Dr Mohan Larbeer. Secretary, Board of Theological Education of the Senate of Serampore, welcomed the participants and introduced the leaders from different faith communities. Rev Christopher Rajkumar Executive Secretary, CPJC-NCCI) introduced the theme and objective of this initiative.
Ms. Sana male to female Transgender, Mr. Sonu Niranjan a female to male Transgender, and  Ms. Manjula, President, Sex Worker's Association of Karnataka represented the Sexual Minority Communities and spoke in the public meeting. All of them have expressed how they were dehumanised by the leaders of  different communities and discriminated in worshiping places.
The renowned representative leaders such as Swami Agnivesh (President, Global Arya Samaj), Dr.Alli. K. Merchant (National Trustee of the Baha'i Community), Dr Irfan Engineer (Institute for Peace Studies, Mumbai), Dr Saleem Kidwai (Writer on Gender Right Defender), Dr Vincent Rajkumar (Christian Institute for Study of Religion and Society were a few among the many. All of them have assured their solidarity in working with their respective faith communities to be inclusive.
Swami Agnivesh encouraged the Sexual Minority Communities by saying, 'reject the religion that rejects you'. Further he said, “celebrating humanity is celebrating God. He calls all the faith communities to affirm the creation of which is diverse in nature and celebrate the diversity. He also said, God did not create any religion. For the benefit of the dominant communities, we the human created religions to suppress and oppress the minorities  though dogmas and rituals. He calls the entire society to evolve in a process in which God in humanity would be borough back.
Earlier, there was a two days 'Inter-faith Round Table on Homophobia and Human Sexuality. Over thirty faith practitioners, religious scolders, theologians, academicians and faith based Rights defending activists from Jainism, Sikhism, Baha'i, Islam, Hinduism. Folk and Tribal Traditions and Christianity participated in the round table. The participants observed the following:
           1. All Scriptures are 'liberative' in nature only the religions enslave their adherents.
          2. No Scripture or Text has a problem only the interpretations are problematic.
          3. There is no problem with the spirituality but the 'rituality' in every faith create divide among communities.
          4. All the village deities are found inclusive but the organised faith communities divide and harm the harmonious lives of the societies.
At the end the participants had adopted the 'Bangalore Interfaith Declaration'. Letter it was released at the public meetings and sighed by all the faith leaders and the participants.
Ms. Akkai Padmashali moderated the event. Ms.Shuba Chacko co-ordinated the programme.
 Bangalore Inter-faith Declaration
“We, the participants of the Interfaith Roundtable on Religion and Sexuality, held at Bangalore from 30th to 31st May 2014 under the auspices of Aneka, the Board of Theological Education of the Senate of Serampore College (BTESSC), and the Commission for Justice, Peace and Creation of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), believe that hatred has no place in any religion. We issue the following declaration on Religion and Sexuality in the context of homophobia and attempts to criminalize sexual minorities in India.
We observe that religions play significant roles in the Indian society in the ethical discernment of their adherents. Scriptures, traditions, moral codes, and practices form and formulate religious teachings and ethics on personal and social life. However, religious traditions tend to interpret these rich sources and resources to legitimize dominant notions of truth and morality. Such attempts unfortunately legitimize moral codes that are unjust and condemn and demonize people who transgress the dominant norms because of their convictions. Homophobia is one such reality where sexual minorities are constructed as immoral based on hetero-normativity. As a result, homosexuals and transgender are often rejected and shunned by religious and faith based organizations. This situation calls for deeper introspection and transformation so that religions will abstain from sowing the seeds of bigotry and homophobia, and instead promote dignity, inclusivity, and equality, while accepting, respecting and celebrating differences.
We affirm that human sexuality is a divine gift which we are expected to celebrate in just and responsible relationships. Such celebrations of sexuality contribute to human flourishing and the realization of the Divine in our lives. However, in the name of tradition and culture we tend to demonize our bodies and our desires, yet indulge in sexual abuse.  Our body-denying spiritualities not only prevent us from becoming truly human, they also perpetrate unjust social relations. Patriarchal domestication of religious traditions distorts the beauty of sexuality to mere procreation and deprives women of personal and sexual autonomy. When religious beliefs and practices become fanatic and patriarchal, instead of propagating the values of love, care, justice, dignity and freedom, they indulge in moral policing, bigotry and homophobia, exposing their ugly and violent faces. The divine purpose of enabling the human community to experience and celebrate sexuality and eros without abuse and misuse is thus thwarted.
We recognize that different sexual orientations are a part of the created order. We see this diversity in the community of creation. Religious traditions and scriptures testify the co-existence of people with different sexual orientations from time immemorial.  We realize that different epics, puranas, mythologies, folktales and other cultural works recognize the presence of homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender communities in India. They were never criminalized till the imposition of the Sodomy laws in India, 1861 (Section 377 of Indian Penal Code), thanks to colonialism and Victorian morality. It is in this context that we appreciate the 2009 Delhi High Court verdict to decriminalize “consensual sexual acts of adults in private” as it upholds the fundamental human rights to a life of dignity and non-discrimination to all citizens as enshrined by the Constitution. The December 2013 Supreme Court verdict, however, is a matter of concern for us and we hope and pray that the Hon’ble Court would remedy it.  We appeal to the new government at the Centre to uphold the constitutional rights of all citizens.
We, the followers of different religious and faith traditions, therefore solemnly declare that:
  1. We affirm our faith in the potential of our respective religious and faith beliefs, and practices to enable all in their search and struggle to become loving human beings celebrating the divine blessing of sexuality gifted to all of us.
  2. We commit ourselves to critically engage with our belief systems and practices to review and re-read teachings and moral codes that stigmatize and demonize people who are different from us.
  3. We condemn homophobia and bigotry as morally unacceptable, and commit ourselves to strive together to eradicate this sin from our religious communities, as an expression of our religious faith and ethics.
  4. We pledge to accompany friends who are stigmatized and criminalized due to their sexual orientations and to provide them fellowship and solidarity in their struggles to love and live with dignity.
  5. We recognize the need to create awareness within our religious communities on issues related to Religion and Sexuality and also transform our communities into communities of mutuality and inclusivity.
  6. We commit ourselves to transform all our places of collective worship to welcoming and safe spaces for sexual minorities.
  7. We discern the need to reclaim and reinterpret our traditions and rituals, festivals and feasts, scriptures and practices, to liberate our religions from the shackles of ideologies of exclusion such as patriarchy, casteism and homophobia.
  8. We dedicate ourselves to safeguard the rights of all sexual minorities and to join hands with all civil society initiatives to decriminalize homosexuality and to eradicate homophobia.
  9. We call upon religious leaders to condemn homophobia and to practice non-discriminatory hiring policies in their institutions, and also to follow affirmative action to end the discrimination that transgendered people face in admissions and appointments.
  10. We affirm our resolve to work tirelessly to create a new world of compassion, justice, inclusivity and acceptance where the divine gift of sexuality will be celebrated in all diverse manifestations of affirmative love.

Source: NCCI's Commission on Justice, Peace & Creation