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Morales visits Unitarians and humanitarian partners in India

UUA President on two-week visit with Holdeen India partners and Unitarians in North East India.
By Jane Greer
2.21.11

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Kathy Sreedhar, director of the UU Holdeen India Program. (Dea Brayden)

Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales left on February 14 for a two-week trip to India, where he will meet with partners from the UU Holdeen India Program and Unitarian congregations in the Khasi Hills.

Morales is writing about his trip on the “Faith Without Borders” blog of the UUA’s International Resources Office.

On the first half of his journey, Morales will visit Holdeen partners. The UUA’s Holdeen program forms partnerships with grassroots groups in India that focus on the economic, social, and political empowerment of traditionally marginalized groups such as women, Dalits (the “untouchables” within the Indian caste system), and migrant, bonded, and landless laborers. The Holdeen India program currently has more than thirty partners.

“The UUA’s relationships with social change movements in India through the Holdeen India Program are unique,” said the Rev. Eric Cherry, head of the UUA’s Office of International Resources. “Rev. Morales is expecting that his visit will strengthen those relationships. It will be a sign of our continuing commitment to the incredible work that our partners there do.”

The UU Holdeen India Program has been directed by Kathy Sreedhar since its beginning in 1984. Sreedhar will be retiring this year. The program is funded with money received in the 1940s from a series of trusts established by Jonathan Holdeen, a wealthy New York lawyer. One of the trusts was set up for “maternity, child welfare, education, and migration expenses” in India.

Morales will first be meeting in Usgaon with Vivek Pandit, one of the founders of Vidhayak Sansad, a Holdeen partner group that has worked to improve the lives of migrant laborers, especially bonded child laborers. Vidhayak Sansad has fought to improve working conditions for laborers, ensuring too that they receive minimum wages. They have helped free bonded laborers and have also provided healthcare and schooling for child laborers. Morales will tour a residential girls school set up by Vidhayak Sansad and will meet with former bonded laborers.

Morales will then go to Ahmedabad to meet with another Holdeen partner, the Self-Employed Women’s Association, a registered trade union founded in 1972 dedicated to empowering poor women. SEWA, which now has 1.2 million members, is both an organization and a movement, combining approaches from the labor movement, women’s movement, and cooperative movement to lift women and their families out of poverty.

After SEWA, Morales will visit Navsarjan, an organization dedicated to fighting discrimination based on religion, gender, and the caste system. Navsarjan, which advocates especially for the rights of Dalits, was founded by Martin Macwan, himself a Dalit. Morales will meet with Macwan, who was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2001.

Morales will then fly to Delhi to meet with leaders of the Solidarity Center, another Holdeen partner. The Solidarity Center funds emerging political groups and leaders committed to working for social change.

In the second week, Morales will fly to northeastern India to meet with Indian Unitarians and congregations in the state of Meghalaya. Unitarianism arrived in northeast India in the late nineteenth century following a wave of missionary activity conducted by the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church.

American Unitarians have been in relationship with their co-religionists in the Khasi, Jantia, and Garo Hills from the start. Morales will be visiting leaders and congregations in the area to strengthen those relationships, Cherry said.

Thirty-five congregations and eight fellowships comprising almost 10,000 Unitarians now form the Unitarian Union of North East India. Morales will visit congregations in Shillong, Jowai, Tynring, Mawkhasiang, Smit, and Puriang.


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