Women of different faiths are traveling across parts of India to foster peace and goodwill in their country, which they say is beset by sectarian intolerance and violence.
Some 100 women began their journey — named Batein Aman Ki or Talks of Peace — on Sept. 20. Five caravan groups began from different parts of the country and are scheduled to converge on New Delhi on Oct. 13.
The five caravans, each comprising some 20-25 women, will pass through hundreds of towns, cities and villages with message of peace and unity. Each group aims to address public meetings to stress this ideal, organizers said.
"We are getting very good response from people of all walks of lives," said Joycia Thorat, a Christian social worker and part of the organizing team.
Several rights groups and faith-based women groups — with Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Buddhist, Parsi and Sikh backgrounds — have joined the program, Thorat said.
"The purpose is to stress the need to uphold the constitutional values of secularism and religious freedom to help harmonious existence of people of different religions in the country," she said.
Rajkumari Durga, a Hindu social worker from western Rajasthan state and campaign participant, told ucanews.com that India's social situation has worsened after hard-line Hindu groups began attempting to make India a nation of Hindu hegemony.
Last year, 111 people were killed and at least 2,384 injured in 822 cases of sectarian violence, the highest figure in the past three years. In 2016, some 86 were killed and 2,321 injured in 703 incidents of religion-based violence, said an official report released earlier this year.
Opposition parties say the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) encourages a "divisive" policy that supports violence against religious minorities in an attempt to consolidate Hindu majority votes ahead of next year's general elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP controls governments in 19 of India's 29 states but Christian and Muslim leaders say their people face violence and intimidation at the hands of BJP-supporting Hindu groups, who work to make India a Hindu-only nation.
"We are living in a period akin to colonial rule as personal rights and freedom of expression has been under great threat during the past four years," Durga said referring to violence and intimidation meted out to those who criticize the ideology of Hindu-nationhood.
"We are facing a serious threat to our constitutional rights of freedom of expression and religion … from right-wing Hindu groups," said Durga.
She said hard-line Hindu groups are projecting themselves as champions of Hindu interests. "As a Hindu I do not find any threat to the Hindu religion," she said. "I do not think any conversions of Hindus occurs through force or allurement as is alleged."
Such hard-line Hindu allegations that provoke attacks on Christians will be discussed in their numerous public engagements, Durga said.
The events will stress such lies are being used for political purposes, spreading hatred against other religions, she said.
"They spread hatred, and we reply with love," she said.
Shabnam Hashmi, a social activist and Muslim, told ucanews.com the initiative aims to embolden people "to speak their minds on the forces that are out there to destroy us."
"Unless we ourselves are ready to come out for our protection, no one is going to do it for us. It is our humble effort to wake up those in slumber to protect ourselves and generations to come," she said.
Brinelle D'Souza, a professor at Tata Institute of Social Science in Mumbai, told ucanews.com that their mission is "to preserve the secular fabric" of the country and strengthen its "democratic values as enshrined in the constitution."