The 2015 Ahimsa Day was celebrated on Wednesday 14th October 2015 at the House of Commons in the Grand Committee Room No 10.The program format evolved over the years was followed this year as well.
The Secretary of State for the Communities & Local Government, Rt Hon Greg Clark was to be the Chief Guest and the Speaker but had to withdraw at the last minute and Rt Hon Gareth Thomas MP deputised for him.
Mrs Ritula Shah, a journalist and news presenter on BBC Radio was the compére for the evening. After a brief welcome she invited Respected Samanijis to recite the namokar mantra. Samani
Samni Punya Pragyaji recited the mantra in wonderfully melodious ‘malkauns’ raga. Samani Pratibha Pragyaji explained the meaning of this auspicious mantra.
Nemu Chandaria OBE, Chairman Institute of Jainology welcomed the guests and thanked the three Chairmen of Friends of India from the three major political parties for co-hosting the event for the Institute once again. He said this year was the 25th anniversary since the formation of the Institute and was very special. Earlier in the year, H R H Prince Charles had gracefully accepted the Silver Jubilee Ahimsa Award for his work in creating awareness and protecting the environment. He also expressed pleasure at the progress being made by One JAIN organisation conceived by the Institute for representing UK Jains nationally. Address by Mr Nemu Chandaria OBE
The three co-hosts – Lord Dholakia, Mr Barry Gardiner MP and Mr Alok Sharma MP all expressed their pleasure in being able to support the event and how much they enjoyed hearing about Ahimsa and getting to know personalities who dedicate their lives for the betterment of the mankind and coming
to the House to receive the Ahimsa Awards.
Rt Hon Gareth Thomas MP who had stepped in at the last minute as the Keynote Speaker also expressed his delight at being able to come back to the event after several years’ ‘leave’. He did not name the award winner but highlighted the fact that when he was in the government in his role as the Minister for Overseas Development, he was aware of the admirable activities of the organisation being honoured today.
Jaysukh Mehta Director and Co-ordinator of the Ahimsa Day event read announced announced the name of Ann Lesley Cotton, OBE, founder and President of Camfed International as the recipient of the IoJ Annual Ahimsa Award 2015 and read the detailed citation. He highlighted the innovative approach taken by Camfed – the organisation founded and headed by Ann Cotton in promoting education for the girls in Sub Saharan Africa and how a virtuous circle was being created to make the scheme self sustaining. He recounted the various honours and awards bestowed on Ann Cotton including a Doctorate in Law from Cambridge University. He concluded by saying:
‘The work being done by Ann Cotton, her team and others like them worldwide, is already improving the lives of millions of people, it will move many out of poverty, lead to healthier families, more educated communities and ultimately transform nations. With people like Ann Cotton, we can believe that a better world is possible.’ Click here to read the full text of the citation
Ann Lesley Cotton was then invited to come forward and receive the award which was presented by Lady Dholakia.
“I am truly honoured to receive this award,” said Ann Cotton. “24 years ago, my journey started with the understanding that poor parents share the universal desire for education for their children. No family in our experience has ever turned down educational support for their daughter. And so Camfed has worked for more than two decades in partnership with poor families, transforming this desire for girls’ education into reality, and showing the measurable benefits of girls’ education for all of us.”
She described her journey of discovery of the true barriers to girls’ education, and how, learning from communities, Camfed built a unique model, which delivers justice for girls and leadership pathways for young women. “Girls’ education is a human right. And along with its fundamental justice it promises so much for the individual, for her family, for society, for all of us,” said Ann, highlighting three of the many benefits of girls’ education:
Girls’ education leads to smaller families through reducing population growth not by coercion, but through education. Uneducated women in sub-Saharan Africa have 6.7 births on average, while the number falls to 3.9 for women with secondary education. 
Girls’ education reduces child marriage and child pregnancy. The United Nations Population Fund tells us that ‘in sub-Saharan Africa, 66 percent of women with no education became child brides, versus 13 percent of those with secondary or higher education—a rate over five times lower. 
Girls’ education also helps to address the global issue of climate change by reducing the harm to families from natural disasters and extreme weather. Quoting a rigorous study, the Brookings Institution recently confirmed that “female education has emerged as ‘the single most important social and economic factor associated with a reduction in vulnerability to natural disasters.’” 
“The world has proved enough times that it can scale cruelty and violence. Compassion and kindness can and must be scaled to create a world of justice for children,” said Ann.
Camfed’s programs have already benefitted more than 3.5 million students in the poorest districts of Zimbabwe, Ghana, Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi. Camfed’s alumnae in the 33,111-strong CAMA network are now at the forefront of the movement to get this generation of girls into school, and help them succeed and lead, forging ahead to create better nations, and a more sustainable life on this fragile planet.
“Educating girls is the best investment we can make to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. I am delighted that the Institute of Jainology recognizes and supports this imperative,” Ann concluded.
Ritula referred to the goodwill messages received from the past and current Indian Prime Ministers and she read the message from the British Prime minister Rt Hon David Cameron MP. Click here to read the full text of his message. There were goodwill messages from the Jain communities worldwide – who were a party to this event.
Mr Kamal Dugar, the Global President of the Jain Swetamber Terapanthi Mahasabha, India, who had flown in specially to be present at the Ahimsa Day celebration was the next speaker. He spoke briefly about the spiritual head of the Jain Terapanth Sect – Acharya Mahashraman and his long pilgrimage walking barefoot around India to promote ahimsa and help eradicate drug addiction. He described the concept of Ahimsa and its relevance in the modern world. Click here for the full text of his address.
Mr Stephen Pound MP one of our long time supporter but who had missed the event for past few years made up for his absence by his witty comments and recalled the books on Jainism presented to the House of Commons Library and to himself. Greater London Authority Member Navinbhai Shah – the high ranked Jain politician congratulated the Institute for bring program of such calibre to the House.
Finally Kumar Mehta, Director of the Institute brought the formal session of Ahimsa Day to a close by presenting the vote of thanks to all those who had helped in organising the event.
Photographs: Ravin Mehta