UNICEF and the Samyak Foundation organized a Global Interfaith WASH Alliance Editor’s Roundtable in Lucknow to inspire a dialogue between the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance’s (GIWA) interfaith leaders and senior editors/eminent journalists from across Uttar Pradesh and several other states, including Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, regarding Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) initiatives and how they connect to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Mission). The roundtable was blessed by the presence, vision and guidance of GIWA’s co-founder, HH Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, President of Parmarth Niketan (Rishikesh), Founder of Ganga Action Parivar and Gomti Action Parivar, and the interfaith aspects were moderated by GIWA’s Secretary-General, Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, who is also President of Divine Shakti Foundation.
Amongst the faith leaders present in the interfaith dialogue for WASH were:
1. Buddhist Faith Leader: Venerable Sumedha Thero, President, Indo-Sri Lanka International Buddhist Association, High Priest, Jambudvipa-Sri Lanka Buddhist Temple, Sarnath International Buddhist Association
2. Jain Faith Leader: Acharya Lokesh Muniji, Founder of Ahimsa Vishwa Bharti and Revered Jain monk
3. Islam (Shia) Faith Leader: Maulana Dr. Syed Kalbe Sadiq, Founder of Tauheedul Muslimeen Trust, Islamic Scholar (Shia Leader)
4. Islam (Sunni) Faith Leader: Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangimahli, General Secretary of the Islamic Centre of India, the head of Darul Uloom Farangi Mahl and Principal Madrasa e Nizamia is also an active member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board
5. Hindu Faith Leader: Mahamandaleshwar Swami Ishwar Dasji, Haridwar
The roundtable opened with remarks from Ms. Sue Coates, Chief of WASH for UNICEF India, Ms. Caroline Den Dulk, Chief of Advocacy and Communication for UNICEF India, and Ms. Manisha Mishra, Communications Specialist for UNICEF India. They shared tragic statistics on how critical and dire the sanitation situation is in India and emphasised the need to act collectively and act now. India leads the world in the number of people who lack access to adequate sanitation facilities as well as in the number of diarrheal deaths. Some 1200 children under the age of five perish daily due simply to lack of WASH. It was also shared that these statistics do not even begin to account for the number of children who suffer from stunting and malnutrition, which are issues intimately intertwined with and significantly worsened by the lack of WASH. Shri Rahul Devji, Managing Trustee, Samyak Foundation, also emphasized the crucial importance and need to bring the media into action mode. He encouraged them to take this opportunity to not only ask pertinent questions but to make concrete and specific pledges for GIWA’s campaign to improve WASH and end open defecation.
Smt. Sunita Aron, Senior Editor Hindustan Times, Uttar Pradesh, gave solution-oriented points by sharing, “Two key spaces of change where we must incorporate and advocate to improve WASH are schools and shrines, if they are clean then they will inspire others to follow their positive example. Additionally, let us also be more focused in our solutions. Instead of just building more toilets let us also work for communities that lack access to water or have limited water resources.”
HH Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji (Pujya Swamiji), passionately shared the need to act now to change this unfortunate situation and guarantee every child and every individual the chance to not only survive but to thrive to their fullest potential.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, Secretary-General of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, gave the opening remarks for the panel of GIWA’s interfaith leaders by saying, “GIWA is founded on the principle that as faith leaders, we must expand our definition of peace to include ensuring that our brothers and sisters from every religion have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene. More people perish each year due to lack of clean water than due to all forms of violence combined. We must bring our faith into action. The practice of open defecation may be the acceptable norm today, but just as all social revolutions, from ending apartheid to abolishing slavery, which turned once common practices to not only be illegal to practice but socially reprehensible to even fathom, in the same way, open defecation and lack of WASH, with our collective efforts, will become just as socially reprehensible and criminal one day in the near future.”
She also referenced the point made by Sunita Aron and said, “Along with schools and shrines, one more space to catalyze change is the family. In the core unit of the family, media plays a very important role of shaping our choices and behaviors. Let us work together and walk together, Media and Faith Leaders, from Manch (platform or space where we speak for a common cause) to Mission mode.”
Pujya Swamiji gave the state level editors several beautiful, inspiring and innovative mantras, “The four shaktis (powers) here today of Mahatmas (Hindu Faith Leaders), Maulanas (Muslim Faith Leaders), Monks (Buddhist and Jain Faith Leaders) as well as Media gathered here today can be a huge catalyst for change. With the powerful example of our Hon’ble Prime Minister, who not only launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Mission) on October 2nd but also picked up the broom to clean up our Nation’s Capital himself, let us now join him not only by picking up the broom but by becoming the broom ourselves. Let us create and share innovative mantras as faith leaders to catalyse the change we want to see in our societies, not only cleaning up the pollution inside but also outside.”
Acharya Lokesh Munji quoted sacred Jain scriptures and shared until our bodies are cleaned and disease-free we will never be able to follow and live our dharma. Therefore ensuring WASH is of paramount concern.
Maulana Dr Syed Kalbe Sadiq shared the importance of starting the change with oneself. He inspired others to commit to concrete actions that they as individuals, within their respective communities and as professionals could do to be and live the change. He also personally committed to carrying a bag with him and collecting any litter that he laid eyes on as well as personally keep his community and streets clean.
Venerable Sumedha Thero highlighted the importance of sanitation and shared that building toilets is one of the 8 most important things, according to Buddhist texts, we must create in our communities.
Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangimahli shared his support for GIWA’s 3H: Health, Harmony & Hygiene Programme.
Senior editors committed themselves to the cause and to cover WASH stories more regularly in their respective papers and channels.
At the conclusion of the event, Pujya Swamiji presented all participants with special Neem tree saplings, as a symbol of both cleanliness and greenery. He summarized, “You all came in today as Patrikars (reporters) but you are leaving as Partners. You now have the great opportunity to go back into your respective media houses and to ensure that in addition to a department for Editing we should also create one department for Auditing. We need to audit our contributions to the progress and implementation of WASH schemes and projects. Let us commit to a shift in focus from ‘Breaking News’ to ‘Making News’. Let us bring all our powers together for catalyzing a change that truly illustrates the great power we have when we work together as one family.”