The senseless killing of Graham Staines and his two little sons indicates the extent to which forces of aggression have invaded the sphere of religion. Well-meaning people all over the country are deeply disturbed by this blatant abuse of religion for political gains.

Dalits in various parts of our country, especially in Bihar, continue to be victims of chronic atrocities. In the last one year alone nearly 100 dalits have been massacred in Jehanabad district of Bihar. In the final analysis, the murder of the missionary and the massacre of the dalits belong together as symptoms of the same disease. Both point to the injustice and aggression to which the poor and the dalits are vulnerable.

It is against this background that "Religions for Social Justice" undertakes this pilgrimage to the site of the missionary's killing. By connecting Manoharpur with Narayanpur we seek to focus people's attention on the epidemic of injustice that currently afflicts many parts of our country.

This initiative has two goals. First, to create a visible symbol through which nation-wide indignation at atrocities on innocent people can be embodied and expressed. This is important because the absence of expressed protest is often mistaken for tacit approval. This pilgrimage is envisaged as a symbol of the common man's rejections of injustice and aggression. It is also an affirmation of sanctity of life, and every human being's rights to life, which we hold to be inviolable.

Secondly, there is a need to uphold and affirm the two profound values involved in the Staines episode. The sacrificial service that Graham Staines had been rendering to the victims of leprosy in Baripada and his total identification with this neglected section of our society, deserve to be appreciated and applauded. This spirit of selfless service is of the essence of applied spirituality that transcends all religious differences. Secondly, in the extra-ordinarily noble response of Mrs. Gladys Staines to her painful personal tragedy, we catch a magnificent glow of true spirituality. She was quick to forgive the assassins. And she has dedicated her life to the continuation of her husband's work among lepers. This, rather than the aggressive game plans unleashed from time to time, is what is in harmony with the ethos and spirituality of India.

In recent times, developments pertaining to religions have left the common man confused about what true religion is. If the present trend continues, people will come to associate religion only with fraud and aggression. All religions stand in danger of being discredited. This will be a terrible disaster for all of us. It is important, therefore, that we rise above religious differences in order to affirm what is spiritually valid, and denounce what is perverse and unjust in the sphere of religion. "Religion for Social Justice" as a multi-religious movement is committed to this goal. Hence the present initiative.

We are concerned that the people of India are being increasingly marginalised, and vested interests are hijacking religions. The common man feels irrelevant and helpless. This must change. Building a healthy society needs to be seen as a shared responsibility of people of all responsible and well-meaning people. It is suicidal to leave this in the hands of outfits that are out to destroy everything in the pursuit of their selfish goals. This pilgrimage therefore also aims at raising people's awareness of their role in building a just society and a healthy nation. From this prospective, this is not only a pilgrimage to Manoharpur but also a pilgrimage to the India of our dreams.

The key to effectiveness is people's unity based shared spirituality and commitment. The forces of evil are united and highly motivated. People of goodwill, in contrast, remain scattered and passive, for all their good intentions. This leaves the field entirely to subversive elements. It is a dangerous situation. We cannot afford to be passive and apathetic to the forces of injustice, no matter who they are. The mark of a healthy society is that people as a whole unite to defend what is right and noble from the aggression of evil forces. Every citizen, not less than the government, is under the duty to practice and defend justice. Nothing encourages the forces of evil as much as people's indifference. There is a great need to change from apathy to concerted action in the defense of truth, justice and righteousness.

The goal of this pilgrimage would be fulfilled if this serves to inspire people of India to form multi-religious initiatives for social transformation and nation building. True religious commitment must express itself in the struggle against every form of oppression, exploitation and injustice, and in celebrating the heroism of doing good rather than the cheap thrill of practising violence. As a people, we need to create and maintain peace and discourage the forces of unrest. This can only be achieved through sustained people's initiatives. This pilgrimage is best seen as an appeal to the common man to wake up and become the watchdog of truth and justice in the given context.

Religions for Social Justice

Swami Agnivesh
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
Rev. Valson Thampu
Dr. Mahinder Singh
Dr. A. K. Merchant



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