UNESCO & Cardinal Paul Poupard Foundation

International Symposium 2018-2019

A New Utopia: Promoting Dialogue for a Humane and Sustainable Society

St. Andrew’s College, Bandra

The day started off with the arrival of the guests who were received and greeted by the Principal, Dr. Marie Fernandes. They were escorted to the Principal’s office where they conversed with each other over tea and breakfast.

The lighting of the lamp by the Principal, the esteemed guests and the executive committee to mark the inauguration of the Symposium 2018-2019.

The conference hosts, Shabana Shaikh and Susheel Varghese, gave an introductory note about the conference and its theme for this year i.e. A New Utopia: Promoting Dialogue for a Humane and Sustainable Society.

The presence of God was then invoked through a special prayer dance which venerated the presence of god as well as celebrated the spirit of the nation and the pride in the state of Bharat, our beloved motherland.

The Principal, Dr. Marie Fernandes then gave the Welcome Note addressing all the students and speakers. As a part of the 10th Symposium, the release of the journal of the UNESCO and The Cardinal Paul Poupard Foundation Chair for Inter-Religious and Inter-Cultural Dialogue was also announced. The journal was officially released by the Principal, Dr. Marie Fernandes amidst the esteemed speakers.

The key note address was then given by Mr. Tushar Gandhi, Managing Trustee of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation. He is also a renowned journalist and has authored several acclaimed books, including ‘Killing Gandhi’. He is also the Chairman of the Australian Indian Rural Development Foundation.

He commenced with his observation that patriotism in India is simply a gesture and a symbol and nothing truly unites us. Symptoms of revolution are apparent in India and have been for a while but nothing happens because Indians are spiritual. We are not a responsible democracy. Citizens seem to be oblivious to the fate of rural India. He said that people causing awareness about sustainability are the ones most immune to it and sometimes are the very cause of the sustainability campaigns. He blamed upper class consumerism and greed for faults in the nation. People exploit and take advantage of each other. He raised the question that if we were a nation then why didn’t we care about each other. According to him, what is keeping us together is fear; and everything that tries to keep us together is propaganda, which works like anaesthesia.

The Chief Guest, Ms. Stefania Costanza, the Consul General of Italy in Mumbai, addressed the gathering. She has served in various capacities in her long diplomatic career, in locations including Kabul and Buenos Aires, and is an expert on the challenges that are faced in the 21st century. She believes in the power of education as a tool to solve these challenges.

She began by commenting that society is like an organism, with specific parts and organs that work together to keep the organism alive. Cities expand; and a city like Mumbai has no place to do so but go north, due to geographic reasons. People from outside start moving in and there is a need to start sharing infrastructure. Industrialization of a place causes people from diverse backgrounds to come together and settle in a place. Conflicts can easily arise over petty differences and it is necessary to learn to share. There is a need to give migrants a sense of ownership and belonging, which may be created by sharing beauty. Something as simple as a wall mural gives people a sense of belonging and community.

Mr. Sumeet Mallick, the Guest of Honor, is one of the senior most bureaucrats of the state of Maharashtra, and is presently the Chief Information Commissioner of Maharashtra, and has held various positions in the state, such as the Additional Secretary and the Chief Protocol Officer in the government. He has also held the position of Secretary to the Governor during his long career.

He spoke about the universe in his talk titled “In The Beginning” wherein he explained the formation of the universe and how the world went on from being nothing to suddenly, everything. According to him, all the universe sees is explosions and extinctions of life.  Mr. Mallick went on to speak about the panspermia, various periods in time, the multiverse theory, black holes and his belief in multiple dimensions and the existence of extra-terrestrial life. He ended his talk with an audio visual on the ‘sounds of the universe’ which left the entire audience awestruck.

Dance as an art form has been one that has been practiced over centuries as a sign of celebration, of solace and of joy. It is also an art form that has transcended regional, linguistic and cultural diversities and can be a tool to promote sustainability and dialogue. A fusion folk dance was then showcased by a group of students of St. Andrews College.

Prof. Nicolas Gravel is an internationally renowned expert in public economics, researching on themes including the measurement of inequalities, poverty, social mobility and contribution to public good among others. A widely cited research scholar, he currently serves as the Director of the Centre for Social Sciences and Humanities, Delhi.

He gave a talk on the topic ‘Globalization and the Inequality Among World Citizens’. He started out by asking the question ‘Are inequalities really increasing?’ and further went on to explain the fear of globalization and why it should be feared. He explained the inequality of consumption expenditure and said that consumption data is more reasonable. According to him, consumption expenditure is either lower share of greater income or greater share of lower income. He concluded by saying that people complain about negative aspects because they see from a country’s perspective. He concluded with the question ‘What inequalities shall we care about?’

Dr. Armida Fernandez is someone who states that she would prefer to spend her day in a lazy chair surrounded by cats, dogs and plants, but as the Medical Director at the Holy Family Hospital and as a Founder Trustee of SNEHA NGO, those moments are rare indeed. She is the former Dean of the Lokmanya Tilak Municipal Hospital & College and the Head of the Department of Neonatology, and her areas of focus include improvement in neonatal care and is the pioneer of the first Human Milk Bank in Asia.

Sustainability in Healthcare & Medicine is a vital aspect of sustainable development and Dr. Fernandez addressed exactly that. She told the audience how her NGO Sneha has helped change the face of sustainable healthcare among the poverty-stricken. She took the crowd through the existing system in healthcare and talked about what changes could help people achieve a better quality of life. She explained the multi-tiered extensive health system with its extensive goals, objectives and operational systems. Her belief was that only infrastructure and doctors do not make up the healthcare sector but a consistent drive to pursue a better and more secure future.

Following the theme of focusing on building a new utopia, the role of education cannot be over emphasized. Only through educating the population of the world can we combat the pressing challenges faced today. Teach India is a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative of the Times of India. With the British Council as its knowledge partner, the initiative is implemented on ground through the partner NGO’s. The initiative focuses on promoting volunteerism and imparting spoken English skills to underprivileged youth to enhance their employability.

 An established businessman Mr. Sidney Gonsalves spoke on the behalf of Team Teach India. He started off with the idea of ‘giving back to society’, further proposing one of the ways to do it is through the Teach India initiative. He also spoke about ‘making a difference ‘ and had an interactive session with students. In the latter half of his speech, he mostly spoke about Teach India. He briefly explained the Volunteer and Learner profiles and appealed the audience to volunteer for this initiative and stated attractive reasons for them to do so. He concluded by explaining how significant volunteering in such an initiative has proven in his life and how it makes him feel a better person.

According to renowned author Yuval Harari, humanity is in a race against technology for dominance. In this light, the importance of Digital Hygiene in the Modern Era is a very vital topic of discussion. Dr. Avinash De Sousa, an experienced practitioner in the field of psychiatry and a widely recognized face in Mumbai, was then called upon to speak regarding how and why it is important to be aware citizens in this digital world.

He showed different scenarios where technology has taken over interpersonal relationships. With various pictures, he carefully pointed out the contrast between what social media was designed for and how it is now. While the advent of social media was to reinforce family relationships, it has brought a rift even between the closest members as everybody remains glued to their phones. In his talk, he mentioned about two sets of people using the social media – digital natives, who were born in this digital generation, who are fast and multitasking with the need of constant connections comprising mainly of students. The other set were digital immigrants who are mostly elders such as teachers who are slow and also tend to work on one thing at once. His talk ended on a heavy note and reminded us to use social media to a reasonable extent for a better future.

The panel discussion took place with the vibrant presence of Deacon Ivan Fernandes as the moderator. Deacon Ivan Fernandes is the Coordinator at the Diocesean Youth Centre, Bandra. The Diocesean Youth Centre is the apex body that animates parish youth movements in the Archdiocese of Bombay.

He gave an introductory speech, appealing the youth and henceforth, setting the mood for the discussion to begin. Thereafter he introduced the panellists i.e Susheel Varghese, Pranav Dubey, Almas Shaikh, students from the college who spoke on 3 inter connected topics, individually first, and then the discussion went further. The topics were Defining Consumerism, Dependence on Technology & Loss of Interpersonal Relationships and lastly, Consumerism and Religion. Collectively, they then discussed Consumerism and its Impact on the Ecology and Consumerism and Sustainability.

 

This was followed by the Fashion Ensemble with the theme “Jewels of Indian Textiles and Costumes”  which was presented by Department of Textiles and Fashion Technology, College of Home Science, Nirmala Niketan, NAAC Accredited A Grade, Affiliated to University of Mumbai. . This was conceptualized, directed, scripted & choreographed by Dr. Ela Dedhia, Head Of Department, assisted by Dr. Pratima Goyal, Mrs. Sangamitra Navalgund & Mrs. Vibhuti Khedekar. The performance which highlighted the importance of Indian artisans and handicrafts was well appreciated.

The conference came to an end by quoting Dr. Stephen Hawking i.e. “Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking,”.

Mr. Ernest Fernandes was then called upon stage to give the Vote of Thanks which was followed by everyone rising for the National Anthem and the Principal, the executive team and esteemed speakers joining in on stage.