Hindu holy men urged to speak against AIDS

June 3rd, 2008 - 4:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, June 3 (IANS) Hindu religious leaders have been urged to incorporate information related to HIV and AIDS in their discourses, the Art of Living Foundation said Tuesday. In what is being described as a significant breakthrough, the religious leaders also vowed to extend the anti-AIDS campaign to rituals, festivals, religious education and training of future faith leaders.

The decision was the outcome of a two-day meet called ‘Faith in Action’, a Hindu religious leaders’ caucus on HIV/AIDS held at the Art of Living headquarters here.

The conference, which ended Monday, was held in association with UNAIDS and the Asian Interfaith Network on AIDS (AINA).

About 70 representatives of Hindu religion took part in the conference. They included Swami Agnivesh, Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Praveen Togadia of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

They pledged to educate and mobilise priests and faith leadership at all levels and to fight the stigma and discrimination associated with AIDS, the statement said.

India is home to 2.5 million HIV and AIDS patients.

Asawari Herdewadkar, national coordinator of AINA, told the conference that 30 percent of HIV patients in India were in the age group of 15 to 29 years.

“Stigma around the disease can only be overcome if religious leaders openly speak about it,” said Ravi Shankar. “This task cannot be accomplished solely by the government and NGOs.”

Oscar Fernandes, the minister of state for labour and employment and chairman of the parliamentary forum on HIV/AIDS, urged the Hindu religious leaders to “rescue other countries” like Africa where AIDS is widespread.

Echoing the idea was Jim Cairns, director of the World Conference of Religions for Peace: “Your (Hindu saints) leadership in this issue is essential not only in India, but also in addressing the global problem.”

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