Of Passion, Compassion, Dispassion: International Women’s Conference 2020

By Anushka Subramanian

The International Women’s Conference, whose 9th edition was held at the Art of Living International Center, Bengaluru between 14th and 16th February 2020, witnessed the convergence of 400 delegates from over 50 nations who came together to engage in meaningful dialogue and amplify the message of peace, empowerment, and service to the world.

Bhanumathi Narasimhan, Chairperson of the International Women’s Conference (IWC), delineated the theme ‘The Circle of Life- Passion, Compassion and Dispassion’, in her opening address. “When we are passionate about something, it shows in the work we do- it differentiates the best from the rest. When we have faith to go alongside a goal, we gain the power of dispassion. Compassion is about seeing the bigger picture of how we are all interconnected.”

Kiran Bedi

The inaugural session of IWC 2020 was attended by eminent speakers including Union Cabinet Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Justice Sapna Pradhan Malla, a Supreme Court Judge from Nepal, Dr. Kiran Bedi, the first woman officer to join the elite Indian Police Force and the current Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, Baby Rani Maurya, Governor of Uttarakhand, Dace Melbarde, former Latvian Minister of Culture and a Member of the European Parliament, Justice Geeta Mittal, a Judge of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court and Nicolas Hulot, former Minister of Ecology of France and an environmentalist.

Ndelika Mandela, a social activist from South Africa, head of the Thembekile Mandela Foundation and granddaughter of Nelson Mandela

The conference touched upon diverse topics and themes, ranging from health, social service and sustainability to cultural roots, ancient wisdom and positive impressions on millennials.

In a session titled ‘Service Beyond Boundaries’, Ndelika Mandela, a social activist from South Africa, head of the Thembekile Mandela Foundation and granddaughter of Nelson Mandela, shared insights on the work she does in the field of rural upliftment and her memories of her legendary grandfather. “When he (Nelson Mandela) was released from prison, I thought he would go back to being my grandfather and take me out for ice cream and picnics again. But soon, I realized that he was now the grandfather of the whole world.” She also underscored the value that yoga adds to her life. “Yoga lifts all my burdens - it is what makes me carry on with the work I do”, she said.

 

Yoga lifts all my burdens - it is what makes me carry on with the work I do - Ndelika Mandela

D.K. Hari and D.K. Hema Hari, acclaimed authors and the founders of ‘Bharath Gyan’, shared some of their research on sustainability in ancient India. “India was the largest steel producer of the world for over 4000 years till 1750. All knives, spears, vessels, and shields used in combat right from the steel of the Samurai swords in Japan to the Damascus sword in Syria were supplied from India. We were responsible for the world’s supply of iron and steel, but we did this in an environmentally sustainable manner. However, in the last 150 years, the world’s steel plants have precipitated an ecological disaster”.

All knives, spears, vessels, and shields used in combat right from the steel of the Samurai swords in Japan to the Damascus sword in Syria were supplied from India - D.K. Hari and D.K. Hema Hari 

Lauren Von Der Pool, a celebrity chef from the USA, stressed on the holistic nature of nutrition. “Even for a vegan diet, I can’t feed Serena Williams what I feed Venus as each one of us is unique”.

Dr. Kaushani Desai, a food expert and cookbook author, spoke of the integrated approach into the processes of cooking, digestion and nutrition as outlined by Ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of health and medicine. “In Ayurvedic cooking, the effects of one ingredient of a dish balances the others. For example, vegetables like pumpkin or bottle gourd are cooked with ghee and cumin seeds to balance their effects on the body while also lending flavour and taste.”

Anita Lal, Founder and Creative Director of Good Earth, reflected on her journey of creating a brand that would come to celebrate Indian design and history on a global scale. “Any artist has to go deep within their roots and culture- that is the starting point. Culture lies in the stories you hear, the food you eat, the music you listen to… That’s what informs who you are”, she said. “India is an amazing place because there’s no one culture or language- we have thousands.”

India is an amazing place because there’s no one culture or language- we have thousands - Anita Lal, Founder and Creative Director of Good Earth

Gaurang Shah, a celebrated fashion designer from India, shared his appreciation of Indian heritage and aesthetic vibrancy. “India is such a beautiful country. Every few kilometers, one gets to see, smell and experience different things. Every village has a different weave, a different sensibility!”, he said.

Every village has a different weave, a different sensibility! - Gaurang Shah, fashion designer

Bharatanatyam dancer Rukmini Vijayakumar

Rukmini Vijayakumar, a Bharatanatyam dancer and actress, spoke about her approach to dance and the deep impact that the study of the Natyashastra, an ancient Indian treatise on dramaturgy, had on her career as a performer and teacher; “The deeper your roots and the better your craft, the easier it is for you to flower.”

“The Unknown Factor”, a dialogue between Vishen Lakhiani, Founder and CEO of Mindvalley, and Global humanitarian and Founder of Art of Living, Guru Sri Sri Ravishankar, provided key insights on different aspects of life such as love, wonder, relationships, and meditation.

“If you stretch sound, it is music. If you stretch movement, it is dance. If you stretch the mind, it is meditation. There are three principles of meditation- I want nothing, I do nothing and I am nothing”, he said. “The world has many wonders that we fail to understand. Your logic is limited because your knowledge is limited- you can’t venture into the unknown with logic. It lies within the circle of “knowing”, but spirituality transcends all apparent boundaries.” When asked about mindfulness, he said “Mindfulness is like the portico of a house- there is so much beyond it!”

The hallmark of the International Women’s Conference is that it extends beyond dialogue and goes into action to effect social transformation. Since its inception in 2005, it has supported the education of over 70,000 underprivileged children through 702 free schools across India. This year, it launched ‘Mission Green Earth’, a service initiative to plant and nurture 10 million trees across the globe by 2025. Coming full circle with each passing year, the IWC is truly a conference with a difference.