News Excerpt
In a strong statement at the UN General Assembly discussing resolutions of the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) on the ‘Culture of Peace’, India criticised the world body for what it called “selectivity” in seeking to protect Abrahamic religions — Islam, Christianity and Judaism — over others.

On 13 September 1999, the UN General Assembly adopted, by consensus and without reservation, its pioneering resolution 53/243 on the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace. Asserting and reaffirming the commitment of all the UN membership for building the culture of peace, the General Assembly has been adopting resolutions on this issue every year since 1997. Through annual substantive resolutions for the last 20 years as well as annual High-Level Forums since 2012, the General Assembly has highlighted the priority it attaches to the full and effective implementation of these decisions and recommendations, which serve as a universal mandate for the international community, particularly the UN system, for the promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence that benefits humanity, in particular future generations.

About the Culture of Peace
•    This year’s High-Level Forum is intended to be an opportunity for an exchange of views on possible ways to further promote the culture of peace, while the world is striving to recover and respond to the global pandemic and trying to address other pressing issues affecting the lives of many people around the globe.
•    The COVID-19 situation has underscored the urgent need to leverage a culture of peace as a means of bridging divides across and within societies, as well as ensuring peaceful coexistence as a foundation for advancing the Sustainable Development Goals.
•    The theme for the 2020 High-Level Forum will be “The Culture of Peace: Change our world for the better in the age of COVID-19”. Building global solidarity is the need of the time and can be achieved through promoting inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue that enable communities to come together to better understand each other and stand against the spread of hate, intolerance, division, and discrimination.

What was the issues?
    The Indian delegate pointed out that previous resolutions of the UNAOC dating back to 2006 had repeatedly decried the hatred against those religions — “Islamophobia, Christianophobia and anti-Semitism” — but didn’t condemn attacks on other religious groups including Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, who have suffered terror strikes and seen their shrines destroyed in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    The UNGA statement welcomed the Kartarpur Gurdwara corridor agreement between India and Pakistan, but failed to note that Pakistan’s government has taken over the management of the Sikh shrine, which it called a contravention of the agreement and a violation of Sikh beliefs. India’s delegate also accused Pakistan of a “culture of hatred” against “religions in India” and fostering cross-border terrorism and said a culture of peace cannot exist until that is changed.
    The UN’s selectivity under the aegis of the UNAOC, an organisation that was set up in 2005 to prevent polarisation between societies and cultures and to bridge differences between them, only serves to further the theory of an inevitable “clash of civilisations” instead.
    India’s concerns over the UN resolutions that portray only three religions as victims of religious hatred are completely valid, and it is important that they are broadened to include every community that faces religion-based violence.

Why is this selectivity?
Overall, Hinduism has more than 1.2 billion followers, Buddhism has more than 535 million followers, and Sikhism has around 30 million followers. It is time attacks against these religions are also added to earlier list of the three Abrahamic religions when such resolutions are passed. Culture of peace cannot be only for Abrahamic religions.
Inter-religious dialogue
Pakistan and the Philippines co-sponsored a resolution dated December 1 on inter-religious dialogue while Bangladesh with other countries had co-sponsored a resolution (India supported this resolution alone) on the programme for the “Culture of Peace.”

India has provided shelter to waves of those persecuted in foreign lands, and allowed them to thrive in India. “And our tradition of inter-culture dialogue goes right to the time when ancient Indian thinkers had a flourishing dialogue with the ancient Greeks. India is not just a culture, but a civilisation in itself.
Underlining that culture of peace is the cornerstone of the foundation of a global order of peace and tolerance, India has tried to foster this culture through tolerance, understanding, respect for differences, respect for other religions and cultures, respect for human rights, gender equality — all this under the overarching umbrella of pluralistic ethos and democratic principles.