India’s Faith Leaders Converge at Parliament

Salt Lake City, USA- Over a hundred years after Swami Vivekanandaji made history at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the spiritual leaders of India travelled to Salt Lake City, USA for the world’s sixth Parliament of the World’s Religions, where they took a resounding stand for a Swachh Bharat and to help save our world’s dwindling water resources. Approximately 10,000 leaders from 50 religious traditions and 80 nations are present at the historic event taking place from the 15-19 October at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

Globally, more people perish each year from lack of clean, safe, sufficient water, hygiene and sanitation than from all forms of violence combined.

Every day, some 1,800 children under the age of five die due to the lack of clean and healthy Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), with approximately1200-1600 deaths in India. Much of this is due to the fact that some 600 million people in India still have no access to toilets, which results in the spread of disease as water resources and open spaces become contaminated.

Esteemed religious leaders and dignitaries present included:

  • H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati: President, Parmarth Niketan, Co-Chair, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance
  • Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi: President, All-India Association of Imams
  • Shree Madhavpriyadas Swami: Head of Shri Swaminaryan Gurukul, Ahmedabad
  • Bhaisahib Sukhbir Singh
  • Bhaisahib Satpal Khalsa
  • Maulana Luqman Tarapuri-a-Deobandi Alim: National President, Global Imam Council (India)
  • Acharya Dr. Lokesh Muni: Founder and President, Ahimsa Vishwa Bharti
  • Ven. Bhikku Sanghasena: Founder, Mahabodhi Meditation Center, Ladakh
  • Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Secretary General, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance
  • Sanjay Wijesekera: Chief of Water, Sanitation & Hygiene, Programme Division, UNICEF

Said HH Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, Co-Chair of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, “Where there are no toilets, there is more disease. It is that simple. We can no longer sit idly as our children die unnecessary and tragic deaths for the lack of toilets. That is why India’s faith leaders have flown to the other side of the world, to make a stand for great and lasting change.”

Said Sanjay Wijesekera, Chief of Water, Sanitation & Hygiene, Programme Division, UNICEF, “the lack of healthy water, sanitation and hygiene is responsible for the preventable deaths of far too many children every day. Faith leaders can play a key and important role in saving these lives through the power of their words and unified actions.”

In the United States, where the Parliament is being held, the pressing issue of water scarcity took center stage this summer as California dealt with historic drought. Even worse conditions are predicted for Northern India, the world’s most water-extracted region, where some 114 million people and their farms are expected to face extreme water shortages within coming years.

Said Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Secretary General, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, “Typically, religious leaders concern themselves primarily with prayer and ritual in order to ensure salvation, liberation or a heavenly afterlife. As religious leaders come together in the name of peace, it is crucial that our definition of peace expand to include protection and preservation of the environment and working to ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to safe, sufficient, water, sanitation and hygiene.”

Said Imam Umar Ilyasi, President of All India Imam Organisation, “all of India’s mosques, temples, churches and gurudwaras must join forces in the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance’s WASH Revolution. On behalf of almost 500, 000 imams of India, we stand together with the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance in this crucial measure.”

Said Maulana Luqman Tarapuri, Regional President of the Global Imam Council, “every religion lays such great stress on internal and external cleanliness, purity and respect for nature, including water and soil. I pledge to bring all Imams together to spread and share the vital message of WASH with our communities and in our homes. We must end open defecation, save and purify our water sources, and teach our children to wash hands with soap before every meal.”

Said Acharya Lokesh Muni, President of Ahimsa Vishwa Bharati: “WASH is directly related to health. Health is related to prosperity and prosperity plays a key role in strengthening our community’s unity and oneness. Therefore by improving WASH we impact our whole nation. Therefore, today I pledge to inspire and motivate the entire Jain community to join GIWA and walk to share and spread this message.”

Said Pujya Shastri Madhavpriyadasji of the Swami Narayan Gurukul, “GIWA’s much-needed WASH Revolution is creating such beautiful change in the nearly 108 villages in Gujarat in which we have started WASH-related interventions. We hope to continue to work hand in hand, heart in heart to make our action for WASH our worship.”

Said HH Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, Co-Chair of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, “For far too long, humanity has been playing with fate as we extract and pollute our water resources nearly to extinction. Water is life, water is sacred. Without it, none of us can survive for more than a handful of days, yet, already, we are seeing entire cities at peril as their aquifers fill with dust instead of free-flowing water, due only to the hands of mankind.”

The event concluded with a beautiful, heart-felt “water blessing” ceremony, in which the faith leaders lovingly poured waters from the world’s rivers atop a shining crystal and silver globe, with prayers for healthy water, sanitation and hygiene for all.

Said Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, “We can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that our water is disappearing. Every moment of inaction drives us deeper into a future that is threatened and bleak. Instead, we must inspire and unite across religions, cultures and geographic boundaries for historic and lasting change.”

Watch the session online:

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