Jaffna Inter Religious Group (JIRG) is a voluntary civil society organisation that brings together religious leaders from Hindu, Christian, Buddhist and Islam faiths, along with civil society leaders and women’s group leaders representing different sectors of Jaffna. The Co-Presidents of the organisation are Nallur Adinam Swami Shiva Sri Somasundara and Kurukkel, Bishop of Jaffna, and Jamiyyathul Ulama President, and Sri Naga Vihara Chief incumbent. Fr.Isaac Daniel Dixon founded the organisation together with a few other religious leaders in 2008 to respond to the religious tensions emerging in the area. The vision of JIRG is to move towards a society that is free from ethnic, religious and caste divisions. The organisation aims to jointly contribute to the construction of a just and equal society through each religious doctrine.
Main activities and achievements
Most tourists visiting Jaffna from the South and other areas of the country were unfamiliar with the customs and practices unique for Hinduism that existed within the Jaffna peninsula, and with special relevance to the Kovils such as Nallur. There was a risk of this behaviour being seen as irreverent and this is the point at which JIRG came together. JIRG voluntarily printed hand-outs on some of the important customs that are recommended when entering places of worship and distributed this freely among the those entering Jaffna. This resolved the issues and significantly reduced the simmering religious tensions in the area. JIRG continues promoting religious tolerance programs among the Jaffna residents and visitors, and at the national level when required.
JIRG intervenes in issues as religious leaders working for coexistence whenever a community issue arises. Organised groups engaged in the theft and smuggling of antique religious statues and carvings from Hindu temples, to be sold for profit at Colombo. By writing to and collaborating with the Governor of Jaffna, JIRG managed to stop these actions. JIRG intervenes in disputes between the community and authorities and acts to resort peace back to the community. JIRG works as an intermediary in these situations. IDP problems, women’s issues, HIV/AIDS advocacy are some of these issues.
JIRG also organises religious ceremonies to promote coexistence, relieve tension and to address people’s grievances. Each year, JIRG celebrates a major festival for the Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Muslims. JIRG focuses on the children in these festivals as the organisation believes in cultivating the values of respecting each other’s religions. For each religious festival, JIRG encourages the children to learn about an aspect of the religion they can relate to.
For the Wesak Festival of the Buddhists, JIRG organises a Wesak Lantern program in collaboration with the Department of Education. For the Hajj Festival of the Muslims, JIRG organises an Islamic art competition among the school children. For Christmas, JIRG organises visiting an IDP camp with gifts for the children. JIRG also works with cast issues and women-headed families. As a result of the conflict, there are overwhelming numbers of women-headed families in Jaffna. JIRG supports them to establish themselves by connecting with organisations providing micro-credit programs and loans to start home-based businesses.
Exchange programs between youth, children, and widows from the South and North is another activity JIRG promotes. JIRG also organised a religious ceremony to lights lamps at Mullivaikkal as a memorial activity and offered alms according to the Hindu practice of commemorating the dead. The group meets every month at its meeting space, the Christ Church where the Conflict Resolve Centre is housed. The inside of the Centre is preserved as it was at the end of war, so that the next generations would witness the costs of war, irrespective of their ethnic and religious affiliations.
JIRG’s peacebuilding approach is based on religious coexistence and is flexible to incorporate and address emerging needs within the Jaffna community. The members come from all the communities and depending on the issue JIRG tackles, the number of participants differ.
Find out more about JIRG here.