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Interreligious
Understanding

Interreligious Understanding / Presentation

Secular

Photo by Zakir H. Chowdhury / agefotostock.com

Secular

Unity in colour

Holi is a festival of colours in India. The major religions of India are identified with a colour. In this festival all the colours are equal!

We talk about a secular state in India. It is perhaps not very easy even to find a good word in Hindi for "secular". Some people think it means something opposed to religion. That obviously is not correct. What it means is that it is state which honours all faiths equally and gives them equal opportunities; that, as a state, it does not allow itself to be attached to one faith or religion, which then becomes the state religion.

Jawaharlal Nehru

“Together, we are India.”

Summary/excerpt from University of Chicago magazine website

Since 1989, the influential Delhi-based Sahmat Collective has offered a platform for artists, writers, poets, musicians, actors, and activists to create and present works of art that promotes communal harmony, artistic freedom and celebrates secular, egalitarian values. The collective formed in the weeks after playwright, actor, and activist Safdar Hashmi was fatally attacked by political thugs while performing a street play. In the more than twenty years since, Sahmat has drawn on India’s secular heritage and an expansive group of collaborators to produce a series of projects that engage in important political.

Safdar Hashmi (1954–1989) was a political activist, actor, playwright, poet, and founding member of the street theater group Jana Natya Manch, or Janam ("birth") for short. On January 1, 1989, Hashmi and Janam were violently attacked while performing the play Halla Bol! (Raise Your Voice!) during municipal elections outside of Delhi. Hashmi died of his injuries the next day. His death aroused a nationwide wave of revulsion against communal violence and led to the founding of Sahmat. The name is both an acronym for the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust and the Hindi word for "in agreement."

Animated by the urgent belief that art can propel change and that culture can reach across boundaries, Sahmat has offered a platform for an expansive group of artists and collaborators to present powerful works of art that defend freedom of expression and battle intolerance within India's often divisive political and communal landscape. Sahmat's projects are defined in part by their consistent stance against the threat of religious fundamentalism and sectarianism—known in South Asia as "communalism"—in public life. Collaborations have cut across class, caste, and religious lines and have involved artists, performers, scholars, and a wide array of other participants, such as the Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim auto-rickshaw drivers in the contest Slogans for Communal Harmony.

Brooke E. O’Neil notes in the University of Chicago’s post that, “Over the past two decades, the collective has found innovative ways to bring its message into the public sphere. In 1992, the group challenged Delhi’s rickshaw drivers, who traditionally decorate their vehicles with short love ditties, to paint slogans or poems about brotherhood and harmony. Hundreds of drivers, Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim alike, participated, competing for a small cash prize. The project, Slogans for Communal Harmony, remains one of India’s largest public art initiatives to date. One of Sahmat’s art exhibits was titled: “Together we are India”, and that inspiring slogan is one that will keep.

We talk about a secular state in India. It is perhaps not very easy even to find a good word in Hindi for "secular". Some people think it means something opposed to religion. That obviously is not correct. What it means is that it is state which honours all faiths equally and gives them equal opportunities; that, as a state, it does not allow itself to be attached to one faith or religion, which then becomes the state religion.

Jawaharlal Nehru