Many people may not be aware that the Rotary Conference on Goodwill for South Asia that was held in Delhi in 1981, and was addressed by the then External Affairs Minister P V Narasimha Rao, “was a precursor to the formation of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation),” said Past President of the Rotary Club of Aurangabad Metro Chandrakant Chaudhary. He was addressing the inaugural session of the International Peace and Goodwill Summit organised by the club and the Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University (DBAMU).
This was endorsed by none less than former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at a special meet held in Hyderabad House later in Delhi, he said. At the 1981 conference, the then RI President Stanley McCaffrey and PRIP Rajendra K Saboo had participated.
Our culture, economics, bilateral relations join us, but the politics within our nations has divided us.
Welcoming all the participants, especially those from Nigeria, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, he said such conferences which promoted people to people contact were the only way to move forward in a world troubled by violence and divisiveness.
“Somebody once asked Dr Robert Oppenheimer who supervised the creation of the first atomic bomb if there was any defence against the weapon. ‘Yes there is; it is peace,’ the scientist had said.”
Why this distrust?
He said in the “thickly populated” Indian sub-continent, all major religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam and Christianity found place, but despite all religions having similar principles there was so much distrust and unrest.
Chaudhary said at a time when huge problems such as poverty, unemployment, health and illiteracy were plaguing these nations, the only way to move forward was through peace and understanding and “by removing the trust deficit.”
It is ironic that in the 69 years after the British had left the sub-continent, when we talk of peace and goodwill, a question comes: Is it really possible?
Underlining the need to “set aside differences and work towards a dynamic and development-centric South Asia,” he said only NGOs like Rotary can take concrete steps for bridging the trust gap and promoting peace in a region where “our culture, economics, bilateral relations join us, but the politics within our nations has divided us.”
It is ironic that in the 69 years after the British had left the sub-continent, “when we talk of peace and goodwill, a question comes: Is it really possible?”
Listing out ways to promote peace in South Asia, he suggested the conference deliberate on improving economic linkages between Rotarians in the region; sharing of technical know how in these countries for service projects; regular inter-district and inter-club business conferences in different SAARC countries to promote business and understanding; exchange of cultural troupes and a South Asian cultural festival for performing and visual arts along with an annual film festival on a rotational basis in different countries of the region; group and youth exchange programmes; sister-club concept; inviting Rotarians from SAARC countries at district conferences; and inter-country RYLA camps with the DGs setting aside funds for the last.
Let’s join hands
“This initiative of our club to promote peace and goodwill in the SAARC countries is to crystallise a dynamic platform for creating a road map for social and economic development of over 1.5 billion people in this region. For this, we, 150,000 Rotarians of South Asia in nearly 4,000 Rotary clubs in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, must join hands,” he said.
Chaudhary announced that in collaboration with DBAMU his club was instituting a Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar International Award, for which nominations will be invited from the 33,000-plus Rotary clubs around the world and the first award will be given in February 2017, for which RI President K R Ravindran has been invited.
Vice Chancellor of the University Professor B A Chopade said a joint committee from his University and RC Aurangabad Metro would select the awardee.
Addressing the meet, DG Deepak Pophale congratulated RC Aurangabad Metro for organising the peace summit for ten years and said peace and conflict resolution was a focus area of Rotary.
Keeping in mind the grim drought conditions in several areas of Maharashtra that were leading to farmers’ suicides, he urged Rotarians to implement water projects and also create awareness on “water conservation and water literacy. This, I believe, is very necessary to maintain peace in the world, as it is often said that the next world war will be fought over water,” Pophale added.
PDG Shashi Varvandkar, D 3261, participated in the conference as the RI President’s representative and sessions were held on involving youth, teachers and others in this noble cause.
A Ruturang festival was organised on the occasion in collaboration with the Directorate of Cultural Affairs, Maharashtra.
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat