UNESCO & Cardinal Paul Poupard Foundation

International Symposium 2020-2021

Evolving Inclusive Communities for Greater Solidarity

St. Andrew’s College, Bandra

The conference commenced with the Master of Ceremonies, Atharva Mulye (FYBA) introducing the theme of the Symposium for the year 2020-21, “Evolving Inclusive Communities for Greater Solidarity”.

In order to invoke the presence of God, as well as to show appreciation for the opportunity to be a part of an event that sheds light on important issues, a Welcome Dance performed by Disha Kulkarni (FYBA). The performance expressed sentiments of brotherhood, respect and peace.

The customary Lighting of the Lamp followed as a means to spread the Almighty’s grace.

Principal Dr.Marie Fernandes gave the Welcome Address and briefly introduced the esteemed speakers for the Symposium.

 The UNESCO Chairholder Adv. Giuseppe Musumecci, provided his appreciation towards the esteemed speakers for their contributions and their respective  organisations for supporting the Symposium.

Chief Guest, His Eminence Cardinal Oswald Gracias shared his views regarding the Pandemic and how the country requires a strategic approach to this global outbreak. He also spoke about the realization of necessity for God and religion as a means to stay united in these difficult times.

To showcase the hardships of the past year, a Video Montage depicting how as an Inclusive Community, people have risen, stronger and more united than ever against the common problems which presented themselves with the Pandemic. The Video Montage was a portrayal of how people have improvised, adapted and overcome various barriers as a united front.

Ms. Maitre Wivine Mumba, A Lawyer, a Delegate and a Minister of Public Enterprise. A former Minister for Justice and Human Rights, having passed the South African Association of Law Society, Ms.Mumba also took an Advanced Management Program Course at Wits Business School (RSA). She worked as a lawyer in Brussels until 1988 and is still a member of Barreau De Kinshasa/RDC. Ms Mumba spread awareness about Gender Inequality during the pandemic. She spoke about how women face a whole series of obstacles that hinder the realization of their full potential, ranging from restrictive cultural practices, discriminatory laws against highly segmented labour markets.

 Dr. Jean Louis Oliver, the Secretary General of the Water Academy Member of the French Academy of Overseas Sciences spoke about “Eau et Sociétés”. His topic entailed various aspects which focused on water playing an irreplaceable role in the existence and sustainability of all living species and how despite the recognition to it’s importance millions of people across the globe are unable to have access to a safe water supply. 

Dr Oliver also mentioned the fight against poverty required a significant increase in direct consumption in the absence of adequate infrastructure. He concluded by focusing on how United Nations and inter-governmental organisations must fully mobilise in order to meet the objectives of Durable Development and other intergovernmental conventions concerning the climate.

Léonard Kinkupu Santedi, Doctor of Theology from the Catholic Institute Paris and Doctor of History of Religions – Religious Anthropology at the University of Paris – IV Sorbonne. He has been a priest of the Archdiocese of Kinshasa since 1980 and was also a member of the International Theological Commission in Rome from 2004 to 2014. He is the author of many books and articles. Mr Santedi spoke on the topic “Le Centre de Médiation de Kinshasa: une solution alternative pour le règlement des litiges”. Mr Santedi spoke about how the importance of Mediation as a means of settlement to pacify the differences is no longer needed to be demonstrated. He focused on the Kinshasa Mediation centre (CEMEKIN)  which aims to offer services to the population by civil and commercial matters. Mr Santedi concluded by stating the main objective of CEMEKIN is to enable a peaceful settlement of disputes within congolese society as well as in the business community.

As the conference moved ahead, it had a segment of “Student voices” which depicted the opinions shared by students, across the globe, about this new form of learning i.e Online Classes.

Professor Andrea Clapp Salvador,of PUC Rio to speak about “The performance of free college entrance exam preparation courses in times of Covid 19”. Prof.Salvador primarily focused on the “Free college entrance exam preparation courses” as means to help various students from underprivileged and disadvantaged social groups from the Rio favelas and working class backgrounds. She also mentioned the central proposal of the PVPs which is to democratize access to higher education in Brazil, which are courses run free or charge a low cost symbolic fee.

This was followed by the Release of the International Journal (Ethics and Society: An International Journal Religions and Cultures for Peace and Harmony, Vol. IX)

Professor Rafael Salvador Goncalves , Associate Professor PUC Rio, spoke about “Covid19 and Forms of Social Resistance in the Rio Favelas”.

He shed light on the initial response to the pandemic being social distancing and hygienic measures. He also stated how with an increase in cases the response by State and Municipal Corporations were rapid, but the response by the Federal Government was catastrophic. He concluded that the local initiatives from the local entrepreneurs, residents activists groups and leaders have fostered local business networks , towards a common survival objective, minimizing the negative impacts of crises and maximising distribution of alternatives .

Dr.Galina Fomina, a PhD Director of Ranepa International Center for Financial Diplomacy and Member of the Board of Trustee of Life Line Foundation belonging to Alfa group. With her 35 years in the banking sector, Dr Fomina spoke about “Green Finance and the Culture of Life”. She chose to focus on how it is important to understand that it’s the collective responsibility of people to ask themselves if they believe her strategy and plans within the framework of the SDGs,ESGs can affect the landscape of her country and the world as a whole. Mainly, Dr Fomina focussed upon how important it is to have a secure environment which benefits the people financially and socially. She also suggested measures, plans and strategies which tie in with the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Chair invited the Chairman of Maharashtra Vikas Kendra, Mr.Anil Patil to enlighten us on “Water Resources Management in Drought Prone Areas”. Mr.Patil spoke about how water is the most important resource for every living creature as it is a valuable natural resource . 

Maximum utilisation of water resources and their conservation is immensely important as it’s demand and supply has to be taken into consideration. Unfortunately due to changes in rainfall patterns many districts in the state of Maharashtra are affected and end up facing droughts and famines. Keeping in regards the large population of the nations with it’s ever rising needs and requirements Mr Patil states that it is important to preserve water resources for a growing population. He concluded by stating how using methods of water preservation various former drought prone districts and areas in the state of Maharashtra have eradicated droughts and have created employment for  their people.

Dr Rajesh Tandon, an Internationally acclaimed Leader and Practitioner of Participatory Research and Development. He is Founder-President of Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), a global centre for participatory research and training since  1982 .He is also Co-Chair of the UNESCO CHAIR on Community Based research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education since 2012 . Dr. Tandon ‘s topic was  “Talk and raise awareness about Migrant workers”. 

Following up with the plight of migrant workers Dr Tandon left his teaching job at IIM Calcutta to Champion and support He has championed the cause of building organizations and capacities of the marginalized through their knowledge, learning and empowerment, contributing to the emergence of several local, national and international groups and initiatives to promote authentic and participatory development of societies.He reminded us again that although it may have been an entire year ever since the pandemic broke out we cannot simply forget the tragedies faced by the migrant workers of our country and how the issue was not given adequate importance. He concluded by highlighting how there is no legitimate procedure in our system to accurately account for the labour class despite the fact that there is a huge population of such labourers in our country.

Through the years, Indian culture has predominantly been recognised for its vibrancy and complexities. While dance, as an art form, has often been sought as a means to express various attributes of Indian traditions and to portray culture as a way of life, an uplifting cultural dance performance was put up by Marralisa D’silva and Sanya Kotina.

Ms. Radhika Misquitta is the Principal of Gateway School, Mumbai. Gateway is a not-for-profit organisation which was established in 2012. It is an esteemed institute that has been known to make astounding differences in the lives of children with learning disabilities; it works directly with students, driving innovation and research to see what works best for them while also aiming to build a more inclusive society.

The pandemic came as a major shock to the education industry but at the same time teaching and learning evolved because of it and this is precisely what Ms.Radhika highlighted in her address. She walked the audience through the plight of online schooling such as the massive strain it put on families and how many students had simply been unable to learn, thereby regressing significantly due to this reason. On the flip side, however, virtual learning allowed schools to explore learning in ways not thought of earlier and adapting to innovative practices to ensure that students continue learning optimally.

Continuing upon the issue of education in the challenging times of the pandemic, Dr.(Fr.) S.M Michael, the Director of the Institute of Indian Culture (IIC) and the Founder of the “Hope on Wheels” initiative, was invited to deliver his address on Inter-Religious collaboration to build Communities and Peace during the Pandemic. 

He spoke about how Covid-19 has affected large sections of the population but the worst-hit among those have been the people belonging to lower stratas of the society, especially children that had been stripped off their basic necessities owing to the pandemic. In Dr. Fr. S.M Michael’s opinion, the best solution to gradually tackle the problem at hand was to educate these children while also providing the fundamental amenities. With this in mind, he started “Hope on wheels”, converting ordinary buses into friendly classrooms for the less privileged children and hence, the name was derived. It is a small attempt to safeguard the future of the following generation despite the hurdles that the global pandemic has thrown their way. 

Through history, music has played an integral role in imparting knowledge upon culture while also bringing added zeal to cultural festivities. However, more importantly, music is yet another language that we, humans, turn to when we wish to express ourselves. On that note, Eden D’souza, Larissa Vaz, Royce Fernandes and Nestor Norris, students of St. Andrew’s College sang a beautiful rendition of the world famous song, “We are the world”.

Rev. Dr. (Fr.) Gilbert de Lima  is a Resident Professor at St. Pius College, Goregaon, Mumbai. He completed his doctorate in Theology from the Pontifical Urban University, Rome and was the Chairperson of the Conference of Diocesan Priests of the Archdiocese of Bombay from 2009 to 2012. Presently, he is the Dean of the Borivli Deanery and the Director of the Permanent Diaconate Committee, Archdiocese of Bombay

Given that religion, in India, is frequently used as a tool to stir up havoc amidst the masses, it becomes a matter of increasing importance to look into the perspectives and responses of various religious bodies. To enlighten the audience on this topic,  Rev. Dr. (Fr.) Gilbert de Lima spoke about the “Coronavirus: Theological Perspective”. and every religion had news coming in where they put forth their own views on this global crisis.  Besides this, he also shed light on the burning issue of increasing Gender-Based Violence as well as a rise in the challenges faced by the Specially-abled people, particularly during the pandemic.

Bhante Prashil Ratna Gautam is presently working for creating an International All Faith Harmony Mission with many scholars and leaders from all Prominent Religions. He is the President of Sanghakaya Foundation, a Buddhist NGO and Advisor of the World Alliance of Buddhist Thailand. He is also the Director of International-Languages  Learning Education Centre Mumbai and of the Sanghakaya International Buddhist Education Centre. Sanghakaya Foundation is a Buddhist International Organisation which works for propagation of humanistic values of Buddhism as well as those of inter-religious understanding. 

He commenced his talk by enumerating the steps that Sanghakaya Foundation has undertaken to foster and inculcate an attitude of religious tolerance among its own members as well as the general public. Over the past four years, Sanghakaya had been inviting people of all faiths in its conferences and these efforts have remained undeterred even during the global crisis of the pandemic. In fact, Bhante Prashil Ratna Gautam sincerely believed that people needed to embrace the interreligious philosophy now more than ever before, in order to get through such a taxing period as one united entity. He poetically concluded his address by quoting one of Buddha’s eternal laws – “Hatred never ceases by hatred, only by love, compassion”.

Prof. Ajit Seshadri is a Marine Chief Engineer with 50 years service, 40 years sailing experience onboard Merchant ships, as a Marine Engineer and 10 years of teaching cum training seafarers for sea career in a Maritime University. His achievements also include an expertise in Environmental work on implementation of Green Initiatives. 20 years of expertise and experience in implementing environmental projects, from the School of Maritime Studies, Vels University, Chennai. 

The measures that have been taken to control the outspread of the coronavirus and the slowdown of economic activities have had significant effects on the environment. Owing to this, Mr. Ajit Seshadri focused his talk on the idea of “Adaptation in various Communities post Pandemic – An Environmental Perspective”. Through this, he covered an array of issues including the hardships faced by various communities, the estimated loss. More importantly, however, he enumerated the solutions and proposed strategies to help develop a sustainable environment, with the help of  waste water management, solid waste recycling and even renewable energy systems.

Dr. Kamala Ganesh is the former Professor and Head of the Dept. of Sociology at University of Mumbai. Her fields of interest include Gender and Kinship, Women’s history and Archiving for women, Culture and Identity and Indian Diaspora Studies. Earlier this year she was Scholar in Residence at Shiv Nadar University. She has been awarded the M.N.Srinivas Chair professorship for 2020-21 by the Institute of Social and Economic Change. Her book ‘Boundary Walls: Caste and Women  in a Tamil Community’ won the Silver medal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai while another book co-edited by her – ‘Zero Point Bombay: In and Around Horniman Circle’ was listed by the Guardian in 2013 as among the 10 best books set in Mumbai.

She reflected on the importance of dialogue based on deep mutual respect and understanding as the key to building a peaceful and productive society for tomorrow. She began by talking about how across cultures, religions have given special attention in making special restrictions for women. They may vary in details but all of them pegged the honor and prestige of the community on women and their behavior to a greater extent than men who generally enjoy much more freedom. She affirmed that religion and caste-based politics too, in India, is often carried out through the lens of gender.  She further stated that in times of extraordinary crisis like the current pandemic there are differences in the type of suffering that different groups and individuals undergo. Dr. Ganesh concluded by emphasising on including the disadvantaged sections not just as beneficiaries but also as active participants to stimulate communities in moving towards solidarity and effectiveness. 

Dr Rosemarie deSouza is a Professor of Medicine and In-charge of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Nair Hospital, Mumbai. She is an alumnus of Seth GS Medical college and K.E.M Hospital Mumbai. 

While few of the other speakers shared their views on addressing and tackling the pandemic from a religious, environmental perspective and so on, Dr. Rosemarie deSouza, being a frontline healthcare worker, gave an insight on her first-hand experience in dealing with the tragedies that Covid-19 brought with itself. She said that along with building inclusive societies for people of all communities and gender, one must also develop an inclusive approach to manage healthcare and the covid-19 pandemic. 

Having approached the end of the International Symposium, Prof. Sharmila Dhote gave the Vote of Thanks. 

Finally, the symposium ended with the rendition of the National Anthem.