SUMMIT UNITES INTERFAITH LEADERS AND INDIA’S MARGINALIZED CITIZENS
Total implementation of SDG6 in India, ensuring access to WASH facilities for all, is the common cause.
16 DECEMBER 2019 RISHIKESH INDIA: The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA)*, in collaboration with Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC)** and with the technical support of Fresh Water Action Network South Asia (FANSA)*** hosted a Summit at Parmarth Niketan Ashram on the critical theme of “Leave No One Behind”, particularly with regard to access to Water and Sanitation (SDG 6) for the marginalized and at-risk population of India.
GIWA, FANSA and WSSCC made the historic decision to join hands with society and to learn what the voiceless and invisible have to say by listening to and learning from each other and identifying solutions to the challenges that this underserved population faces on a daily basis. The unifying goal of the Summit is to move forward together towards Reaching the Furthest Behind First.
The Summit was organized in an effort to include those who have long been excluded from the benefits of development, and to ensure that no one in India will be left behind in access to the human rights of water sanitation and hygiene, including menstrual hygiene and health, and in the use of related WASH services. The organizers – GIWA. WSSCC and FANSA – deeply believe that this achievement will greatly contribute to the wider and fuller enjoyment of all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible human rights for everyone, and for an increasingly equitable society for all women, men and children.
The Summit was inaugurated at Parmarth Niketan by the heads of 5 major faith traditions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism & Christianity – and brings together groups who are typically left behind in access to benefits of development: 1. Youth; 2. Women; 3. Dalits; 4. Adivasis; 5. Trans-genders and LGBTIQ; 6. Migrants & Refugees; 7. Urban Poor; 8. Urban Poor- Homeless; 9. Persons with Disabilities; 10. Elderly; 11. Farmers, 12. People living with HIV; 13. Manual scavengers, and 14. Female sex workers.
At the inaugural ceremony on the first day of the Summit, Vinod Mishraji, head of WSSCC India welcomed the leaders and delegates by sharing, “On behalf of WSSCC, GIWA, FANSA and Parmarth I welcome you all to Rishikesh and to the diverse interfaith and inclusive inauguration of the Leave No One Behind Summit.” He shared in detail the great strides made under Swachh Bharat Mission and added, “Swachh Bharat has made incredible strides which have made India proud globally. However, we are here to identify the gaps and plan concrete suggestions to move forward to an ODF+ India in which No One is Left Behind.”
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, Secretary General, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance shared, “We cannot say we are a healthy society, a developed society, a sustainable society, or a society with rights, until and unless every single individual in our society has access to everything they need to ensure that their basic human rights are fulfilled. We must take the example of Maa Ganga: She does not flow for the Hindus and not the Muslims, or for the Christians and not the Jains, or for one caste over another caste, or for one colour over another colour. She flows for all. It is no longer the case that we can fall back on borders and boundaries and divisions between us and them, in order to feel ok about us. Those borders, those lines, those boundaries must be dissolved in order to move forward.”
Father Philip Kuruvilla representing the Christian tradition said, “We must recognise the interconnectedness of all the challenges we face today, whether its health, water scarcity, climate change and/or terrorism. We need to understand that at the core these challenges have one thing in common – that is, that it affects all human beings and that it is universal. Therefore, I urge us all to continue to bring Faith into Action to ensure that No One is ever left behind.”
Drikung Acharya Kinleyji, from the Buddhist tradition, said, “Faith brings light both within ourselves and in our societies. Once we light ourselves then we can ensure light everywhere. Once there is light, compassion and love for all, then no one can ever be left behind.”
Maulana Kokab Mujatbaji from the Islamic tradition shared, “Those who don’t recognise their self and don’t understand themselves can never understand others. Those who don’t understand themselves can’t help others. Therefore, we must understand ourselves, start with our homes and expand to our communities, our countries and our world.”
Sadhvi Shilapiji of the Jain tradition said, “It’s not merely about not doing any bad but committing ourselves to doing more good is crucial. There is less negativity in the world then positivity but the challenge is that the positivity is passive. Therefore, we must actively do more positive and that must start with ourselves and our homes.”
Laxmi Narayan Tripathiji, representing the Kinnar tradition, shared passionately, “Gender budgeting is a must! We must be aware of and give space to the third gender. Transgender is a visible sexual minority and hence most-easily and -commonly discriminated we can no longer just be a token face or body we don’t want to be left behind. We demand to have our voices heard and opinions shared because it is time for change.”
Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji gave His blessings by saying, “The time is right and the time is now.” He added, “The root of the problem is when we leave the One behind. When the One – the Creator – is left behind – when we forget that the One is in all of creation – then we leave everything behind, then we see separation. But when we remember the One in all, and see All with that One, then only can we ensure everyone is included, welcomed and celebrated.”
He beautifully shared the story of Sultana Begam, of the All-India Sex Workers Organization from Ajmer, Rajasthan, whom He met in his jhopri the prior night after the Ganga Aarti. He thanked her for sharing her story, and expressing her deep gratitude for being so welcomed and comfortable at Parmarth, and shared with her that Parmarth is Home to her and to all. He further commended everyone who had come for the conference for doing the work of the Creator by serving all of humanity.
James Wicken, Head Global Policy Advocacy Innovation Unit at WSSCC, delivered the vote of thanks by expressing gratitude to everyone involved for being a crucial part of the Summit. He especially thanked Global Interfaith WASH Alliance and Parmarth Niketan for hosting the Summit and being such a vital force in bringing forth transformation and sustainable change.
Everyone pledged together, joining their hands and their hearts and raising the Rudraksha sapling as they committed to working together for water and environmental preservation. They also joined together to perform GIWA’s signature Water Blessing Ceremony and came forth to take pictures at the Leave No One Behind Selfie point with participants.
Day 2 of the program was scheduled to include high-level plenary sessions on “Moving Forward Together to Sustain ODF+” and for the faith leaders, key leaders and development partners joining together to release the Outcomes of the Summit. It is anticipated that the report will include recommendations for the various segments of society, as well as details of the support and infrastructure necessary to ensure that No-One-Is-Left Behind.
The event brought together participants from 20 states of India, as well as more than eleven countries (The United States of America, Austria, Australia, Brazil, Nepal, South Africa, Estonia, Netherlands, China, Germany, United Kingdom and others) and, participants included representatives from more than 30 international and national organizations (see list below).
This Summit is in honor of the 150th year celebration of Mahatma Gandhiji’s birthday and symbolizes the awareness of Gandhi Forever! Gandhiji’s teachings and message are just as crucial today as they were during Independence. In accordance with Gandhiji’s great vision, GIWA, WSSCC and FANSA are coming together to strengthen ties across all segments of society and foster societal engagement across all borders and boundaries, towards a more just nation and world for all.