People must connect as humans rather than reflect on their religious identities, a prominent community leader has said.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, secretary general, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance and president of the Divine Shakti Foundation, Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh, India was invited to the US State Department’s first ever ministerial for International Religious Freedom last month.
US vice president Mike Pence attended the event in Washington DC, which was hosted by US secretary of State Mike Pompeo and ambassador Sam Brownback.
“We must connect on the fundamental level of our humanity. Before we are Hindus or Muslims or Christians or Buddhists or Jews, we are humans.” Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati said.
The three-day invite-only summit was attended by government leaders and civil society partners from around the world as they discussed international religious freedom.
In her remarks, Sadhvi Bhagawati stressed efforts to stamp out hate speech must be as important as protecting freedom of speech.
Later, she and Imam Umer Ahmed Iliasi, the president of the All India Association of Imams with Mosques, held a private meeting with Brownback, the United States ambassador-at-large for religious freedom.
When Brownback expressed his concern about religious violence in India, Sadhvi Bhagawati clarified that acts of violence did not take place in a vacuum. She explained that in rural and tribal areas when people are being forced to change their religion to obtain education or healthcare or other necessities, it leads to tension and in some cases, violent conflict.
Sadhvi Bhagawati invited the ambassador and the team at the State Department to visit India, and Rishikesh to see the work that the government and the ashram do as she noted that the US and India could have a win-win partnership.
She also took part in a discussion hosted by the United States Institute of Peace, the international Republican, and Search For Common Ground that focused on the role of religion, religious leaders, and interfaith peace-building on religious freedom and countering violent extremism.
Sharing tenets of Hindu tradition that emphasize the oneness of all creation, and the infinite number of paths to God and names of Truth, Sadhvi Bhagawati invoked the saying, Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam, which means the world is one family.
She stressed the importance of bringing leaders, followers and students of different religions together, to work together, eat together, and share together.
She also shared some of the work that the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance is doing in bringing together leaders of different religions for interfaith peace-building through working together for clean water, tree plantations, building of toilets and the rights of women.
“Diarrhoea doesn’t discriminate, stunting doesn’t discriminate,” she emphasized.