House of Commons – London, 15th October 2014
The Institute of Jainology, the international Jain organisation representing Jains at government and inter-faith levels, celebrated its 13th annual Ahimsa Day at the Grand Committee Room (or the second chamber) in the House of Commons with the theme ‘Ahimsa : Conscious Compassion’.The room was filled to capacity with standing room only. Ahimsa Day is celebrated annually in October by the Institute since 2002 to mark the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who personified this main Jain tenant of non-violence and compassion. United Nations declared 2nd October as the Universal Ahimsa Day in the year 2005.
Many Parliamentarians, including the Rt. Hon. Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, were in attendance. Many other Lords and MPs graced the occasion with speeches.
Menka Sanghvi, the compère for the evening introduced herself and then invited the two Samnijis (nuns) from Jain Vishwa Bharti to inaugurate the evening by reciting the Navkar Mantra – in the Jain tradition of commencing any important event. It was an honour and a great tribute for the Institute to have the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Right Hon. Eric Pickles attend the event. He was the first one to address the audience with a welcome message and appreciation of the work being done by the Jain community in the UK.
The Chief Guest for the evening Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP expressed pleasure at being invited to his first Ahimsa Day program. He spoke about how he had learnt of Jain values from his constituency in Leicester and their relevance to today’s world, filled with major crisis. Institute of Jainology’s Chairman, Shri Nemu Chandaria, OBE then formally welcomed the audience. He spoke of last years Ahimsa Award recipient Melanie Joy, and suggested referring to Wikipedia and JAINpedia for more information on celebration of Ahimsa.
He gave an update on a significant development within the Jain community. On 28th September, 2014, the Institute had brought together almost all Jain organizations and together passed a resolution unanimously entrusting the Institute with the task of representing all Jain organizations in the UK as a unified voice for Jains. (Please click here to read the text of his full address).
The highlight of the evening was the announcement of the 2014 Annual Ahimsa Award winner by Jaysukh Mehta, a Director of the Institute and coordinator of the Ahimsa Day program.
Every year the Institute gives the prestigious IOJ Annual Ahimsa Award to an individual that personifies Ahimsa through compassion towards animal life, alleviation of poverty or suffering, or protection of the environment. Before announcing the name, he mentioned that it was not easy to identify and distinguish just one personality amongst many, who dedicate themselves to making a difference in this world through their selfless service in the fields of compassion, peace or education.
One name that stood out for the Directors and the recipient of the 2014 Ahimsa Award was Ms Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder and Director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Mr Mehta said that the Institute had selected Ms Newkirk for her tireless work and conviction in preaching her message: “animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on or use for entertainment but are to be cared for and protected”. He added that his resonated well with Jain tenet that all life is interdependent. (Please click here to read the text of his full address).
The Chief Guest, Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP presented the award
Ms Mimi Bekhechi, Director, PETA Foundation who stood in for Ingrid Newkirk who could not be present personally. Ms Bekhechi talked about Ms Newkirk’s childhood in India, and her desire to adopt a Jain way of life from a young age. She noted that her actions in taking a challenging stance to those that abused or caused suffering to animals was the true meaning of Ahimsa. (Please click here to read the full text of her address).
Juliet Gellatley, Founder Director of Viva! was the evening’s keynote speaker. She described Viva! as an organisation that campaigns energetically to end the abuse of animals exploited and killed for food. Viva!’s passionate motivation, backed by science, nudges and helps people towards a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Juliet originated ‘National Vegetarian Week’ with the support of Linda McCartney, wife of the former Beatle Paul McCartney. She took the truth about the animal abuse in factory farming into the nation’s schools for the first time. The result was a network of youth campaigners across Britain, which dramatically increased vegetarianism amongst young people. Her keynote reflected her passion for the subject and brought many to tears.
Chairmen of the Parliamentary Friends of India of all three major political parties have traditionally supported this event by co-hosting it every year. This year was no different with all three co-hosts present.
Lord Dholakia was the first of the three to speak. He spoke of how much he learns from the Jain community who have enshrined the principle of Ahimsa and to whom he always looks to as an example of preserving beliefs and making contributions, through the turmoil in the world.
He invited the younger members of the community to take interest in the political affairs of the country and contribute to the betterment of the country.
Our other longstanding co-host Barry Gardiner MP then welcomed the attendees and spoke of the sense of peace we bring to the normally conflict filled rooms at the House of Commons. He mentioned how when he walked in just as our prayers were being recited, it allowed him to take a breath and appreciate our presence. His fitting portrayal of how Jainism teaches us that the true conflict is within ourselves, not in the Houses or the Parliament, and if we conquer that, we can conquer anything.
This was the first Ahimsa Day for Mr Alok Sharma MP, the third of the co-hosts. He welcomed the audience and reminded everyone of the recent development about Mahatma Gandhi’s statue to be erected in the Parliament Square, along with statues of the late Nelson Mandela, Sir Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln amongst others. He also encouraged the Jain community to be involved in British politics, as being in parliament ‘gives us a voice like no other, and it is our duty to be heard’.
Nemu Chandaria then presented a certificate of Honorary Patronship to Mr Sudhir Lodha, Member of the State Minorities Commission, Tamil Nadu, India for his services to the Jain community in India.
Several speakers from the floor including Lord Dolar Popat, Dr Harriet Crabtree, Director Interfaith Network UK, Mr Rex Shah President of the Oshwal Association of the UK, Mr Dhiru Galani, President of the Navnat Vanik Association of the UK, and Mr Nitin Mehta MBE a past recipient of Ahimsa Award were invited to add their reflections on the evenings deliberations. Evening ended with a vote of thanks by the Institute’s Director, Kumar Mehta.