SolidariTEA, Indian Style.
The first Faiths Act SolidariTEA in India took place on a very foggy and chilly afternoon in the nation’s capital of New Delhi. Over fifty participants came to the beautiful Baha’i House in Central Delhi to attend this event that had been envisioned and planned by the Faiths Act Fellows in India – Rohit, Aparajita and Ayesha – in close collaboration with the staff and leaders at the Baha’i House. People from all different faiths, belief systems, nationalities, and education levels gathered together on the grassy lawns of the Baha’i House to share their thoughts on service, faith and social action and, of course, to enjoy a cup of tea.
After a round of highly successful icebreakers, the group launched into more intimate, small group discussions facilitated by the Faith Acts Fellows. As I roamed between the groups in my role of official photographer, I paused several times to listen to the conversations and to observe the interactions. I was struck by the quality of engagement amongst the participants and the willingness to share deeply personal beliefs, prejudices and plans for action. I realized that the “safe space” that the facilitators had cultivated had succeeded in eliciting very genuine comments and interactions.
In a brilliant demonstration of creativity, the Baha’i House had designed and created a “SolidariTree” – a tree whose leaves could be used for participants to write their plans of social action on. Participants flocked to the tree armed with pens and furiously noted down their action items. I wandered amongst leaves that read “remove prejudice” and “say I was wrong” – very powerful and personal statements of transformation.
The discussion groups at the SolidariTEA were composed of a myriad of faiths but also of different castes – something unique to the Indian subcontinent. I could not pull myself away from the conversations that included the few Dalits in attendance, as they are a heavily discriminated group within the Hindu faith tradition in India. The Dalit participants spoke freely about the violence and discrimination that they face in Indian society and professed a desire to build bridges with other communities. As it is not often that the Dalit community can share the same stage as mainstream Hindus, I was very inspired and touched by these interactions.
After the event concluded, many people lingered around to chat, share, discuss, debate and network. I saw many people exchanging ideas and cards – proactively looking for avenues of collaboration along interfaith lines. Many expressed privately to me that they had been looking for a way of engaging their faith community towards social action and were thrilled that the SolidariTEA event had provided them with a platform to put their beliefs into practice.
For me, the most important takeaway from this event was the reminder that service is an inherent part of every religion that we have in India today. Every discussion group referred to the tradition that we have in India of serving our neighbors and our communities as this concept is central to any belief system in this country. This SolidariTEA allowed different communities and individuals to express their belief systems and to forge a path of joint action towards a common cause. I encourage you to join us on our journey of service and interfaith action.