The 2009 Jain Diaspora Conference (JDC) was held at The Jain Center of Southern California & Jain Bhavan in Los Angeles on Thursday, July 2, 2009, just prior to the opening of the 15th Biennial JAINA Convention. Click here to view the agenda.
Highlights of 2009 Jain Diaspora Conference, Los Angeles, USA
Invocation: The conference began with Namokar Mantra and invocation prayers delivered by four Samnijis from Jain Vishwabharti, followed by a round of self-introduction of all attendees.
Welcome Remarks: Dr. Manish Mehta (JDC Organizing Chairman) welcomed the attendees. He thanked the many volunteers who assisted in planning and in execution of the unique Conference, including: Mrs. Pooja Jain of Stamford, CT, Mr. Ajay Dagli of YJA Detroit, and his family for supporting - Mrs. Varsha Mehta, sons Anshul & Vishal Mehta who provided setup and audio-visual assistance.
He contrasted his own diverse roots as a proud Jain and “World Citizen”, being born in India, and (due to his father’s many job transfers) did elementary schooling in Tanzania and Uganda, middle school in Bangalore, and high school/matriculation in Singapore, followed by engineering studies in India and the USA, after which he made Ann Arbor, USA his home for the last two decades with his spouse who has similar Diaspora roots.
He briefly described the rationale, geographical context, timeliness and potential benefits of holding this important Jain Diaspora Conference. Click here to view his slides
He conveyed grateful thanks to Jain community leaders from many countries that had e-mailed him or Dilipbhai their wishes for a successful Diaspora Conference, and particularly recognized the enthusiastic efforts of Mrs. Harshaben D. Shah of Kuwait, who solicited the majority of these greetings. Due to health concerns, she deeply regretted her inability to attend.
Over a dozen letters expressing good wishes for the JDC were received from:
v Jain Social Groups International Federation (JSGIF)
Ø United Kingdom
§ London Northwest (from Shri Mukesh Kapashi, Secretary)
§ Middlesex Group (from Mrs. Radha Vora, President)
§ Mahavir Foundation (from Shri Vinod Kapashi, President)
§ Kuwait (from Mrs. Harshaben D. Shah, Overseas Chairperson)
§ Kenya (from Shri Kundan P. Doshi, Chairman, Shri Ramniklal K. Shah, President & Shri Suresh Kothari)
§ Canada (from Prakash Mody, Toronto)
v Arihant Social Groups
Ø Kuwait (signed by Shri Kalpesh Saraiya, President)
Ø Dubai (from Shri Narendra Jain)
Ø New Jersey (from Nitin Shah, President)
The Official Welcome Address: Delivered by Shri Dilipbhai V. Shah, JAINA President (2007-09). He paid his respects and high compliments to the Late Dr LM Singhvi, who at the 2007 JAINA Convention in Edison, NJ (USA), had envisioned such an event for congregating Jain community leaders from around the world. JAINA’s consultative status with the United Nations empowers it to make significant impact on alleviate suffering around the world. He gave examples of recent events (Cyclone Nargis in Burma/Myanmar and communal riots in Kenya) where many Jains live, and humanitarian help was urgently needed. While JAINA quickly mobilized its affiliated Centers across North America to raise funds and provide relief, Jains worldwide could not do much as an organized community, which is one potential area for working together. He contrasted this effort with the lengths that Jewish communities are able to go to in order to assist their own and others in need. Other highlights of his talk that convey the spirit of diasporic thinking include:
v A special edition joint JAINA-UK Jains Calendar will be prepared in 2010 and distributed to Jain families in both countries;
v Beginning 2010, JAINA-organized Tirth Yatras to India are open to participation by Jains from other nations;
v Dilipbhai cited lack of current contact information as a key impediment to reaching Jain community leaders in other countries, and recommended the organization of a global database for Jain Society leaders in diasporas, including enlisting the help from traveling Jain scholars.
Keynote Address #2: Delivered by Shri Cromwell Crawford, Emeritus Professor of Asian Studies at University of Hawaii, who is also a co-founder of the International Summer School for Jain Studies (ISSJS). He delivered the first 10 sentences of his talk in “Shudh Hindi”, much to the delight of all attendees. He stated that the word “diaspora” was actually coined to describe the experiences of Jewish people who moved to many parts of the world and took their heritage, religion and unique way of life. Cromwell, an octogenarian who is extremely in tune with Indians, and Jains in particular (due to being directly descended from ancestors who managed the East India Company), drew many parallels between the Jains and the Jews. The key message in his talk was that Jains should not isolate themselves from non-Jains, but rather, find ways to engage them through connections and thereby gain respect of all, while also adopting new ways of preserving our culture and traditions. These ways could include motivating new groups of learned scholars in western institutes, and by organizing and promoting academic studies of Jainism (such as ISSJS). Cromwell’s vision is holding a Jaina Studies Forum at the Red Fort of New Delhi. He concluded his keynote address by reading from a poem he had composed for this occasion.
Click here to view the Jain Diaspora Poem by Prof. Crawford.
Keynote Address #3: Delivered by Shri Mahendrabhai Mehta (JAINA’s Representative in India and Chairman of Ratnanidhi Charitable Trust). He shared some excellent insights, including that 33 countries have sizeable Jain communities/temples:
v Jains are settled even in Sudan for over 70 years; Burundi in the heart of Africa has only 9 Jain families, but also a marble temple!
v He commended JAINA for fund-raising in North America for the Burma Flood Relief in 2008 – Burma has only 3 or 4 Jain families and a Jain temple is in Rangoon since at least the 1950s.
v Japan has three Jain temples; Pakistan has 23 Jain temples; there are temples in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, as well as significant sized business communities gather socially in Dubai, Kuwait and Jordan and also perform charitable acts (these are places where religious freedom is restricted).
v He stated at there are an estimated 110,000 Jain temples worldwide, but lamented over 80% Jain temples in India are in state of disrepair.
v There are approx 25,000 Jain societies in India, and about 12 million Jains worldwide.
Mahendrabhai stated that Jains are the single largest affluent world community, and technically very proficient, and are in a strong position to share our universal humanitarian values, which behooves us to pass this culture to our youth; For example, 9 Jain doctors performed 1200 eye surgeries in Burundi, and Jains have also set up schools and clinics in developing countries. Recently, RC Trust sent two containers of books to the UK with music and CDs for use by ageing Asian seniors.
Some immediate opportunities for Jains to take action include:
v Prayer rooms in airports should be equipped with Jain symbols as a way to spread greater awareness (e.g., Bahai’s are fewer than Jains but far more well known!);
v Disseminate Jain information to non-Jains at university campuses, and empower Jain youth to proudly follow the Jain Way of Life.
Keynote Address #4: Delivered by Dr. Sulekh C. Jain, past JAINA President and co-founder of ISSJS, who also was awarded the Jain Ratna Award for his lifetime contributions to JAINA. Click here to view his slides and read his insightful thoughts on areas ripe for diaspora collaborations. It is estimated that of 24 million persons of Indian origin, there are over 250,000 Jains settled in 33 countries outside India, and hoped to see many world Jain leaders in the future. He expressed concern that there is a complete lack of awareness about Jains and our key beliefs even amongst the most intelligent people of the world! He cited the stereotypes about Jains when interviewing students for the ISSJS. In 2009, ISSJS has sent 120 scholars to immerse themselves in Jain culture /institutions in India, drawn from 9 countries, and 25 universities.
He also stated that majority of Jains do not know or appreciate the richness of our own culture, traditions, etc, and much apathy exists – 60% of Jain couples in N. America consist of non-Jain spouses, which makes it urgent for JAINA to reach out and educate these persons so as to preserve our faith. Other highlights of Dr. Jain’s talk include following initiatives for diaspora to collaborate on:
v A global database of Jain literature in worldwide libraries;
v Global database of Jain magazines and publications and other periodicals, etc.
v Jain International Trade Organization (JITO)
v He also issued a call for Action to convene a Global JAINA-like umbrella organization, led by more Jain youth to lead in volunteerism and humanitarian work for greater good of human society.
Individual Country Presentations
A brief presentation was made by Manish Mehta on the Kuwait Arihant Social Group’s activities, on behalf of Mrs. Harshaben Shah (Overseas Chairperson (JSG Int'l Federation). Following are excerpts of her message:
“Ours is a small Jain community in Kuwait with just about 75 - odd families and is a mix of families from various Indian states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, etc. We meet under the banner of ARIHANT SOCIAL GROUP (ASG as it's popularly known) having registered as a social group with Indian Embassy (in Kuwait). There are over 100 groups registered from all over India as ‘social groups’ by the Indian Embassy. Thus, each group can have their own activities within the country's laws and governing regulations.
ASG has elected/nominated a committee that holds office for a 2-year term and organizes all Jain festivals including Parva Paryushan and Dasha-laxan Paryushan whereby a scholar is invited from India to give Pravachan on Jainism and highlights and importance of all Jain rituals for all of the 14 days of both types of Paryushan. These special days draws lot of crowd. Mahavir Jayanti is celebrated in a big way and joyously by all and by having festivities with many members and children participating in religious dance, drama, and skits followed by lunch/dinner depending on time selected for celebration. Besides these celebrations, we have Stavan Sandhya (SS) once a month in any member's home who volunteers for it. In these SS all members get engrossed in various STAVANS and JAAP. All members are true devotees with lot of enthusiasm.
ASG is not just about practising Jainism; we also organize picnics and other social events for entertainment and to encourage youngsters and children. These are our brief activities.”
Brief highlights on Kenya were also provided from a letter sent by Shri Ramniklal KD Shah, President of Nairobi Jain Social Group (consisting of 100 couples) who stated:
“In 2008, we have done charity work consisting of 225 cataract operations, food distribution, Jaipur Foot Project and wheelchair donations for the people of Kenya equivalent to US$25,000. In 2009, we have pledged to do 250 cataract operations.”
Young Jains UK presented next, represented by Kewal Shah, Roshni Gudhka and Jyoti Mehta – click here for their powerpoint slides.
v Emphasis of activities is on veganism, the environment and business ethics;
v UK Jains also have a newsletter, as Jain Spirit Magazine is no longer published;
v The main challenge is in youth understanding Jain Dharma and enabling youth to learn Jain philosophy;
Some of the UK Jains’ unique challenges include:
v Divisions along Jain sub-community lines (e.g., Navnat, Oshwals, Terapanthi, etc. – however, the recent Joint Mahavir Jayanti event is a good beginning for unification of the UK Jains;
v London-centric membership of UK Jains needs to learn from JAINA to reach out to Jains in other UK communities, and spread awareness of Jainism;
v Sustainability and leadership planning become challenges;
v University outreach and campus activities show promise;
v YJ UK is keen to share common resources and workshop content with other Diaspora communities – see www. Youngjains.org;
v In fact, YJA was started based on the YJ UK model
Canadian Jain Diaspora activities was provided by Mrs. Hiraben N. Shah, President of Vancouver Jain Society, BC, Canada. She described how comprehensive the Jain society activities are in Vancouver - even without a Jain temple facility - so the 20+ family members take turns at sharing their homes to observe all Jain events. She also read out aloud the letter/message received from Shri Mahendrabhai Mehta, Past–President of Toronto Jain Society, which operates the second largest Jain Pathshala in N. America, for 170 students. Selected excerpts from North America’s oldest societies:
“The major concentration of Jains is in Southern Ontario and in Toronto, the number of Jains have recently swelled to over 2000. Jain Centers have been started in Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, Quebec and Vancouver, British Columbia. Toronto Jain Society is one of the major nine North American Jain Societies and has hosted two JAINA Conventions, in 1989 and 1997. Jain Society of Toronto was the first Society in North America founded in 1974, that had all four major sects worshipping under one roof. And we are happy to say that this concept has been accepted universally, at least in North America.
We have happily and peacefully practiced our Tirthankars' teachings as a united Society for last 35 years. We have hosted mixed audience 3 day Retreats on both Svetambar and Digambar Granths and practices and learnt that the similarities of our two solitudes are over 95% while the differences are less than 5% and as Dr. Hukamchand Bharill admonished his audience in Toronto, why not focus on 95% rather than on 5%. The works of Acharya Kund Kunda form part of studies of adult study group who meet every first Sunday of the month at Jain Centre.
Our last JAINA Convention produced a surplus for us and our big desire was to use it as seed money to establish a Chair of Jain Studies at University of Toronto. We hope our dream will come true in near future. And we are happy to say that University of Toronto has responded to our overtures by establishing a course in Jain Studies. Our Jain Pathsala is the second biggest in North America and teaches over 175 children ranging from 4 year to 16 year olds. We have also started the Magic Touch school in Toronto, the idea pioneered by Shrimad Rajchandra Ashram in Dharampur, India. We have regular camps organized under the aegis of Jain Society of Toronto and the International Mahavir Jain Mission.
Our Multi-faith activities have many facets. We invite the neighborhood residents, predominantly of Christian faith to come to our Jain Mandir for tea and cookies and we encourage them to ask questions about our beliefs and practices. This has produced many intangible dividends in terms of peaceful co existence in our predominantly residential neighborhood. We had initiated a 13 week half hourly discussion on Jainism on our local TV. Our members regularly go out in the community as invited speakers to explain Jain principles and practices. We have hosted a day long seminar of stakeholders in local educational authorities to help them in dealing with the influx of Jain children in their schools. Lot of work has gone in changing oath taking in Canadian courts, provision for Jain food in detention centers and jails and educating the authorities on alternative Jain-friendly approach to legal issues. We feel these efforts started at local levels will initially benefit Canadians in Ontario followed by rest of Canada. If all local Jain communities work with a similar goal, the North American experiment can become a crucible for rest of the world and the results could not only enhance our understanding of Jain principles but the three that were dear to late Dr.Singhvi - namely a/Anekantvad, b./Ahimsa and c/Ecology in terms of respect for all living things cannot only improve but ensure the survival of human race on this planet.“
Lighthouse Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA was represented by four attendees including President Nirmala (Nancy) Hanke, Past President Nirali (Becky) Kleinschmidt, Prachi and Poorna. Their presentation may be accessed by clicking here. The Center, which has over 300 members, was founded by the Late Catherine Florida in 1979 who was an expert in yoga and meditation, when she was inspired by Gurudev Chitrabhanu. This is an interfaith organization following the Jain Way of Life so closely that most followers are vegetarian and even vegan and over 100 members have Indian names provided by Gurudev who often visits and teaches there. They hold regular Sunday prayers and interfaith services, blending East-West practices, as well as offer many types of courses and classes in self-improvement. Nirmala cited the story of Lord Mahavir and the Cobra Chandkaushik, as an example of the values they aspire to achieve. The Lighthouse Center presentation concluded with a the four ladies reciting some stavans and a reading of two poems adoring Jain Tirthankars Lord Shantinath and Parashavanath, read from a collection published in a new book by Nirali Kleinschmidt, titled “Dancing Fish Touch the Sky.”
Pathways to Diaspora Collaborations
In this section, the first presentation was made by Dr. (Mrs) Mamta Shaha, Chair of JAINA Media Productions Committee & Founder of Mangalam TV Program, New York
. Her slide presentation on the topic “The Importance of Media in Assuring Unity of the Jain Diaspora.” may be accessed at this link. She began by summarizing the 2000 India census info which indicates ~ 6 million Jains reside in India, yet we do not have a separate status in Indian courts (which other minorities enjoy). She stated that the moral and intellectual influence of the Jain communities gives them a social importance greater than would result from their mere numbers, hence she does not support Jains receiving minority status in India. Already, Jains are not only among the leading businessmen and industrialists, many of the prominent authors, justices, administrators and politicians have been Jain.
She advocated the need to unite Jains in India and diaspora by instilling a sense of pride in following the Jain Way of Life, which sets very high moral standards, and wins respect of non-Jains. She cited these as the chief reasons for founding Mangalam TV program, shown globally on the Sahara network. It is the first ever Jain TV program produced in North America, and the time is right to expand its reach to diaspora nations, by sharing Jain news from around the world, so as to connect Jains around the world.
Mamta Shaha recommended establishing a Global Mangalam Team in diaspora countries, as well as the need to better connect and more efficiently leverage the diverse cyber media tools and capabilities and thereby furthering Jain values.
She provided the following contact information:
For Enquiries, suggestions and comments write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For program information, visit our web site at www.mangalamshow.com
Yogendra Jain, Chairman of JAINA Long Range Planning Committee (and author of several books on Jain Food and Jain Way of Life), Boston, USA, was invited to provide a briefing on JainLink, a newly established on-line social-media, networking tool that can also be effectively adopted by Jains in North America and worldwide to Connect, Collaborate and Communicate. Readers are encouraged to register (free) at www.jainlink.org.
The final presentation of the Conference was made by Dr. Bindi Shah, Lecturer at Roehampton University, UK on the topic “Spirituality, Moral Codes & Dietary Rules for 2nd Generation Jains in the USA & UK.” Click here to see her slides. The study seeks to address the following questions on youth lifestyles:
How are young Jains interpreting Jain Dharma; what kind of religious practices are they involved in or emphasize? How might these be different to their parents' generation?
v What kinds of organisations or networks are young Jains building and what are the goals of these organisations/networks?
v Do young Jains translate the principle of 'Ahimsa' into wider concerns in society, such as non-violent solutions to conflict, concern for the environment, promoting vegetarianism, sustainable living, etc? If so, how do they do this?
Dr. Bindi Shah presented preliminary findings and anecdotes based on about 30 selected interviews she has done on both sides of the Atlantic, including these:
v Overall, Jain Dharma is regarded by 2nd Gen Youth as a ‘moral compass’ or GPS system to navigate through the world and its many dilemmas!
v Diet is important, but so is how one lives one’s life as a good person. Many youth interviewed showed a strong faith in the soul/atma and its equanimity/introspection in order to become a purer and relaxed human.
v Youth find greater difficulty being vegan in India where the emphasis is far greater on consuming non-root vegetables.
Conclusion and Way Forward
Finally, the speakers took questions from the audience as well as from each other, after which JAINA President, Dilipbhai Shah, thanked all speakers, attendees and well-wishers for helping make the event a success. Attendees were unanimous in recommending that in the future, JAINA should include the Jain Diaspora Conference as an integral session of the JAINA Convention, so that larger Jain audiences and youth may better appreciate the diversity and foster unity, as well as leverage the great potential of the Diaspora.