Portcullis House House of Commons
15th October 2008
The sixth Ahimsa Day celebration started with the compére for the evening Miss Anupa Sanghrajka introducing herself and then requesting the Respected Samaniji’s to recite the auspicious Namokar mantra and explain the meaning of the mantra briefly.
Deputy Chairman of the Institute, Nemu Chandaria then formally welcomed all the guests and thanked the hosts for helping with the venue and helping arrange the facilities there. He outlined the activities and the achievements of the institute during the year. He said the Institute was justifiably proud of having secured a grant of £365,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the Manuscript Digitisation project, aptly named Jainpedia. He also referred to the progress being made with the various SACRE authorities and sale of the book ‘Learn Jainism’. He mentioned that the second part of that book was at proof reading stage and would be published soon.
The catalogue for the Jain manuscripts from Wellcome Trust would be published during the next year. Work on Bodleian Collection at Oxford is in progress and that at Florence University will start next year.
Discussions are going on with V & A Museum to hold programs and exhibitions there.
He referred to the successful tour of the Far East by the Institute’s Hon Secretary and Trustee Dr Harshad Sanghrajka delivering courses in Jainism at three Jain centres.
Barry Gardiner MP is the Chairman of Labour Friends of India, began by pointing out that although 2nd October, the anniversary of Gandhiji’s birth, has been made Global Non-Violence Day, everyday should really be Ahimsa Day. Barry Gardiner focused on humility as an essential aspect of Ahimsa, and an essential aspect of other religions, including his own. He also spoke about the necessity to recognise our place in the world and our relative insignificance, which would cultivate our humility. Gardiner also informed the audience that at a recent meeting of Labour Friends of India, where the Prime Minister Rt Hon Gordon Brown they had discussed the sustained Jain contribution to UK society in the fields of finance and culture and in particular the contribution by the Institute of Jainology . He concluded by congratulating the launch of JAINpedia project.
Shailesh Vara MP Chairman of the Conservative Friends of India started his address by rebutting his preceding speaker, Barry Gardiner, on his suggestion that the Attlee Suite was not a grand enough venue for Ahimsa Day. Vara pointed out that within this building the ideas and laws to alleviate global poverty are born, which indeed is the theme of this year’s Ahimsa Day. Vara enlightened the audience with some statistics ascertaining to poverty, such as that one in sixteen women in Africa die at childbirth. He outlined that access to food, healthcare and sanitation were all necessary factors to lift people out of poverty, but warned that there must be accountability for considerable sums of money given in aid, particularly by British people.
Virendra Sharma MP was responsible for booking the venue for the Ahimsa Day event. Being of Indian origin, he is very familiar with the role of Jainism in society, and in particular spoke of Bhagwan Mahavir’s message of love and peace. He spoke of Ahimsa as a form of responsibility to those who are less fortunate – the necessity to ensure that our neighbours should not be without food or shelter. Citing the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Gordon Brown, Sharma said he was very proud to be a part of a society and government that has pledged to alleviate poverty from the world.
IoJ was fortunate enough to have Lord Puttnam as the chief guest and keynote speaker. He is famous for his films Chariots of Fire and The Killing Fields and has been the President of UNICEF UK for the past seven years. He began by informing the audience that during his many travel, his favourite place in the world is the Jain temple in Ranakpur.
Lord Puttnam drew on his career in media to speak about the positive role media can play in the fight against poverty. He suggested that informed, great reporting can effectively lead to great social reform. He spoke of the many facets associated with our responsibility to alleviating poverty, which encompasses our attitudes to development politics and climate change.
He had recently returned from a trip meeting Palestinian youths in Syria and Jordan who were all concerned with the issues of peace and reconciliation. He was saddened and disappointed that hardly any of these youths had ever heard of Gandhi, who was indeed a symbol of peace and reconciliation. This was further disappointing because Sir Richard Attenborough who he considered to be his mentor, had translated the Gandhi film into Arabic.
He spoke poignantly about the necessity of cultivating a sustainable society as a method of alleviating poverty. He cited the term ‘The Global Village’, which was coined by Marshall McLuhan, and suggested that now more than ever we live in a global village with a shared global identity. Inevitably this means that we are all interdependent. He spoke of the idea of rights vs. responsibility and suggested that perhaps the time had come to sacrifice a few luxuries we have come to regard as our rights and take responsibility for the impact these luxuries have on people around the world. He elaborated on this theme by suggesting that we must adopt certain moral responsibilities even if they may affect our economy.
He concluded his powerful address by highlighting the urgency if his message and reiterating his call for collective responsibility.
A long-term friend of the Jain community, Tony McNulty MP, began his address with the perennial crowd-pleaser of ‘Jai Jinendra!’. He highlighted how the previous speech by Lord Puttnam was laced with Ahimsa. He quoted Martin Luther King when he said: ‘Injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere’. He then mentioned that as well as our global concerns about poverty, there is still a problem of child poverty in the UK which must also be addressed. He outlined his interpretation of Ahimsa by suggesting that it means an absence of violence, threat and humiliation and clarified that non-violence in no way means capitulation to violence. He concluded his speech by suggesting that even if everyday could not be an official Ahimsa Day, the Institute might want to have such an event three or four times a year to maintain a constant reflection on Ahimsa.
Jaysukh Mehta, a Trustee of the Institute and the co-ordinator for the Ahimsa Day event announced Acharya Mahapragyaji as the recipient of the Institute of Jainology’s Ahimsa 2008 Award.
He outlined the considerations by the Trustees in choosing Acharyaji as the recipient of the award. He cited his spiritual devotion from a very tender age, his scholastic achievements and ascendancy in becoming the Acharya of the Terapanth Sect.
It was his Rath Yatra through out the country to create an awareness of the poverty and at the same time calming the ill communal feelings between Hindus and Muslims, and inspiring the various Indian leaders to implement the principles of Ahimsa as part of the national policy that decided the Trustees to present the award to him.
Mrs Sayer Choradia representing Acharya Mahapragyaji accompanied by the two Samnijis then accepted the memento for the award from Lord Puttnam.
Mr Manick Choradia then read the acceptance message from Acharyashriji:
Acharyaji described Ahimsa as the greatest gift from Bhagwan Mahavira to the mankind. He went on to draw the co-relationship between aparigraha (non-possession) and ahimsa (non-violence) and highlighted the fallacy of many Jain philosophers of highlighting only the non violence and ignoring non-possession.
He emphasised that one could not exist without the other. He suggested that those celebrating the Ahimsa Day should also celebrate the non-possession day.
Dr Rashmi Zaveri, the Jain speaker from India started with the ailment suffered by the society as a whole – affluenza, that is material richness or pining for that richness. He then drew up the picture of global poverty and went on to describe how ‘Mahavir Economics’ would have us resolve the issue of global poverty. Please click here for the full text of Dr Zaveri’s address.
Following the unofficial theme of the evening in commenting on the appropriateness of the Attlee Suite as the venue, Navin Shah compared the venue to a Jain upashray. He cited the bare, minimalist walls as an appropriate place to concentrate on the theme of Ahimsa. He concluded his brief address by speaking of the importance of applying today’s discussion to our actions and decisions and thus not just leaving the discussion of Ahimsa and alleviating poverty in the theoretical realm.
Finally, Hemali Shah, a young Jain gave the vote of thanks and invited everyone to some light refreshments. This gave an opportunity to the guests to mingle with the speakers and amongst themselves.
Jain philosophy prescribes one of the major motto of one’s life should be:
Souls Render Service to one Another – All Life is Interdependent
In very simple terms it means you share your resources with those who need them – thus we have chosen this year’s theme as : ‘Alleviation of Global Poverty’.
Following is an excerpt from a circular our Chairman, Mr Ratibhai Chandaria circulated round the world a few weeks ago:
This same theme, 2600 years after Lord mahavir preached it is going to be one of the major focal points for the United Nations and of course it is very close to our Prime Minister, Rt Hon Gordon Brown’s heart. He has been promoting the theme actively for past several years.