Plight of forgotten victims of Endosulfan pesticides formed focus of D.T. Niles Memorial Lecture at CCA General Assembly

Programme Review and Programme Direction

Two key deliberative sessions during the 15th CCA General Assembly are the Programme Review and Programme Direction sessions.

The Programme Review and Programme Direction sessions will both be conducted in three groups relating to the CCA’s programme areas, namely, (i) General Secretariat (GS), (ii) Mission in Unity and Contextual Theology (MU) and Ecumenical Leadership Formation and Spirituality (EF); and (iii) Building Peace and Moving Beyond Conflicts (BP) and Prophetic Diakonia (PD).

Assembly participants will have the option to join one of three groups for both the Programme Review and Programme Direction sessions. For the sake of coherence, the assigned group will remain the same for both sessions.

General Secretariat

The General Secretariat oversees the coordination of programmatic, administrative, and financial activities of the organization. The GS comprises various departments such as church and ecumenical relations, relations with ecumenical partners, finance, administration, and communications, which provide crucial support and services for the implementation of programs and contribute to the overall functioning of the CCA.

Programmes: Relations with member churches and councils, ecumenical partners; advocacy at the United Nations; ecumenical responses to emerging issues in solidarity; income development and finance; and communications.

Mission in Unity and Contextual Theology (MU) and Ecumenical Leadership Formation and Spirituality (EF)

Under the MU programme area, the CCA accompanies Asian churches to strengthen their mission and witness in multi-religious contexts, revitalise and nurture church unity and the Asian ecumenical movement, and develop contextual theological foundations.

Programmes: Asian Movement for Christian Unity (AMCU); Congress of Asian Theologians (CATS); Asian women doing theology in the context of wider ecumenism; contextualisation of theology in Asia and ecumenical theological education.

The EF programme area focuses on nurturing and developing ecumenical leaders in Asia. The programme aims to enhance spiritual formation and theological understanding, enabling people to actively engage in ecumenical dialogue and collaboration.

Programmes: Ecumenical Enablers’ Training in Asia (EETA); Asian Ecumenical Institute (AEI); Youth and Women Leadership Development; Ecumenical Spirituality and Nurturing of Contextual Liturgical Traditions; Asia Sunday

Building Peace and Moving Beyond Conflicts (BP) and Prophetic Diakonia and Advocacy (PD)

The BP programme area is dedicated to promoting peace, justice, and reconciliation in Asia’s diverse contexts. Through training, advocacy, and dialogue, the programme addresses the root causes of conflicts, empowers communities, and fosters sustainable peacebuilding initiatives.

Programmes: Pastoral Solidarity Visits; Churches in Action for Moving Beyond Conflict and Resolution; Young Ambassadors of Peace in Asia (YAPA); Ecumenical Women’s Action Against Violence (EWAAV); Eco-Justice for Sustainable Peace in the Oikos.

The PD programme area focuses on promoting justice, human rights, and social transformation in Asia. Through advocacy, capacity-building, and raising awareness, the programme addresses systemic injustice, empowers marginalised communities, and advocates for prophetic actions and meaningful change.

Programmes: Human Rights advocacy; Migration, Statelessness, and Trafficking in Persons; Asian Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network; Asian Advocacy Network on the Dignity and Rights of Children (AANDRoC); Ecumenical Solidarity Accompaniment and Diakonia in Asia (ESADA); Health and Healing; Good Governance; Action Together to Combat HIV and AIDS in Asia (ATCHAA).

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    Kottayam, India: The D.T. Niles Memorial Lecture at the 15th General Assembly of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) was given in the form of a dramatised visual presentation, by renowned social and human rights activist, Dayabai, an Indian Roman Catholic nun turned social activist.

    The D.T. Niles Memorial Lecture is an integral part of every CCA General Assembly organised in memory of the Rev. Dr D.T. Niles (1908–1970), the first General Secretary of the CCA. Dr Niles was known not only in Asia but worldwide as one of the great leaders of the ecumenical movement, an evangelist, and a statesman.

    Dayabai, an octogenarian full-time social activist who works for the tribal population in the midlands of India, has settled with the Gonds of the Chhindwara district in Madhya Pradesh. An ardent practitioner of the theology of liberation, she consistently campaigns for the empowerment and development of neglected villages, tribal people, and forest dwellers. Dayabai has been associated with the ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’, an environmental campaign to save River Narmada against several large dam projects.

    The focus of Dayabai’s speech through dramatisation was focused on the plight and pain of the victims of Kerala’s Endosulfan pesticides victims and the tragedy they have been experiencing for years.

    Endosulfan, a pesticide developed in 1954, was extensively used in farming with high consumption in the 1980s and 1990s. Later, it was found to be highly toxic to human health and the environment. It poisoned entire populations of useful and necessary insects, and also caused many ailments including skin irritations, destruction of nerve tissues, and reproductive and developmental damage in human beings and animals.

    Prone to long-range atmospheric transport, the highly neurotoxic pesticide has since been linked to a multitude of neurological and developmental ailments among the villagers working in the plantations.

    Choosing to live among the poorest of the poor, Dayabai went on hunger strikes and fasts to draw attention to the victims of the Endosulfan tragedy. She lamented the shift from “agri-culture” to “agri-business”, highlighted the interconnectedness of humans and the environment, and said that social or class hierarchies were responsible for much environmental degradation and devaluation. Dayabai emphasised, “Agriculture means enriching the mother earth.”

    According to Dayabai, among other measures to protect the environment, it was necessary to develop a balanced and holistic view of the interconnectedness of all species’ health and well-being. She said, “Everything is interconnected, all should be living healthy, relating to one another.” She believed that social hierarchy was the root cause of environmental and social crises. The common notion is that planting trees is the only solution to the ecological crisis, but people living in healthy harmony was of prime importance.

    The 83-year-old doyen of social activism opined that the greatest challenge faced by humanity is the loss of respect and dignity. She quoted Matthew 19:24: “I'll say it again––it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” Humans are driven by their greed and selfishness and need motivation for a change in attitude. Humans as residents of the earth should have other-oriented thinking and minimise cravings to live a balanced life.

    She called the attention of the audience to the existing educational crisis where there is only literacy. Education did not mean literacy; it was something much beyond that. Parents had a significant role in moulding the right values in childhood.

    During her hour-long presentation, she dramatised the heartrending suffering of those children born with neurological and genetic disorders caused by the pesticide.

    The powerful presentation by Dayabai received a standing ovation from the Assembly participants. It was a sobering call to awaken to the immense damage wreaked on the environment and on people, and underscored the urgent need to be in solidarity and accompaniment with those who were silently suffering the cost of greed and profit.

    For more photos (photo gallery) please click here: General Session 5: Social Activist Dayabai deliever D.T. Niles Memorial Lecture, 2 October 2023