More than 250 interfaith leaders and 100 student leaders met at a 1-day summit organized by The Art of Living , Subodham (Govt. of Kerala initiative) , UNICEF and inter-governmental agencies to explore ways and chart action-plans to maximize the influence and goodwill wielded by faith leaders on the interwoven issues related to alcohol, drugs and violence against women and children.
The conference was inaugurated by Mr. Arun Dobhal, Officer in Charge, UNICEF State Office for TN and Kerala; and the keynote address was delivered by the Honourable Mr V.S Sivakumar , Minster of Health and Family Welfare and Devaswom . Respected leaders from all faiths graced the occasion, including, among others, Sri Adyatmananda Saraswathi, Sambodh Foundation; Bishop Joseph Karikkaasheri ( Kottapuram Diocese) and Imam Shamsuddin Qasimi (Therapist, Ex-Imaam, Poonthurai).
Speaking at the well-attended conference, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder, The Art of Living, appealed to youth to stay away from substance abuse, saying " We want to infuse life into youngsters, not substances that take away life. " Stressing the vitality of follow-up action,he added, "In one year from now, all the religious leaders should come back and share the experiences . When faith and action merge together, w onders can happen. " The Summit – held at Kochi – also aimed to develop greater linkages between high level religious leaders and State level functionaries (Government and NGOs) and identify opportunities for the leaders to speak out, partner with leaders of other faiths, and to exercise their heightened responsibility to focus long-term on the above issues.
Lauding the initiative, Mr.Oommen Chandy, Hon’ble Chief Minister, Kerala said, " Everyone should take responsibility to raise awareness and to totally free our society of alcoholism. Joint efforts are required for a liquor free Kerala. "
Others who participated in the deliberations and brain-storming sessions were experts like Ms. Dora Giusti(Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF); Ms. Caroline den Dulk(Chief Advocacy and Communication Officer, UNICEF); Ms.Sobha Koshy, IPS (Chairperson, Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child rights); Mr. K. Ampady, Director, Subodham; Mr.S.Prasanth, IAS, District Collector, Calicut and Dr. Gita Gopal. Resource Person, Dept of Social Justice.
At the ensuing panel discussions, eminent officials and professionals shared their expertise and experience in topics like “Protection of Children and the Role of Faith Leaders”, and “Prevention of Violence against Women”. Through the Summit, the Art of Living also aimed to offer a platform for high-level religious leaders who are emerging as opinion-leaders, to act both within their respective faith communities, and with leaders of different faiths to engage with national, regional and global decision-making processes on these issues. Only a concerted campaign could protect vulnerable sections of society from the spiraling violence seen today. Mr. Munir, Honorable Minister of Social Justice, Government of Kerala affirmed the support of the ministry of Social justice to make the state a safe place for women and children.
A second Faith in Action Summit is to be held later this year, again in Kerala, to consolidate and advance the learnings and conclusions of the just-held Summit.