In the prestigious project of the Indian state, the "Distinguished Visitor" programme, Jan-Aage Torp was invited on a one-week tour of India by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. Last week he visited the country which recently passed 1.4 billion inhabitants and is the most populous democracy in the world. As a "Distinguished Visitor", Torp was in good company - since 1979, India has welcomed presidents, prime ministers and Nobel Prize winners.
Before Christmas, we reported that the invitation from India's ambassador to Norway, Dr. B. Bala Bhaskar, came after Deputy External Minister Sanjay Verma's visit to Norway.
— I am honored and grateful for the invitation, Torp told Norway TODAY.
The two met again in India.
- It was a real pleasure to meet Pastor Torp again. He is a supporter of interreligious dialogue. We share the vision of the totality of religious diversity and coexistence in India”, Verma tweeted.
Torp has been in contact with the Indian embassy in Norway for several years, and has gradually gotten to know the ambassador well after, among other things, having interviewed him in the TV program Hovedstaden, which broadcasts on TV Visjon Norge.
In 2020, Torp participated in the symposium "Mahatma Gandhi's relevance in today's world" in connection with the 150th anniversary of Gandhi's birth.
There, Torp told how Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence shaped his practice at a young age, following the influence of his missionary father, Aage Torp. He also spoke about the international Gandhi expert, Professor Arne Næss, who in 1996 testified for Torp about the philosophy of non-violence in the anti-abortion movement in a trial in Oslo City Court.
India's public broadcaster, DD News, tweeted a greeting from Torp to its 3.6 million followers.
— Gandhi taught us the principle of non-violence. It is the best and only lasting way to resolve conflicts, said Torp. The greeting was also broadcast on DD News.
In the same year, during the pandemic, the channel set a world record in viewers. As many as 400 million people watched their most watched programs in 2020.
According to analyses by S&P Global, India is about to overtake Japan and Germany to become the world's third largest economy.
In Norway, there is agreement across the political party lines to work towards closer cooperation with India. In 2018, the Solberg government launched a long-term plan called Norway - India 2030
The then foreign minister Ine Eriksen Søreide referred to India as an "increasingly important partner for Norway", and wrote that the government wanted to "strengthen Norway's bilateral relations and economic interaction with India". Recently, the government announced that the Minister of Industry, Jan Christian Vestre, will visit New Delhi and Mumbai on February 9th-10th to strengthen business cooperation and promote green Norwegian business in India.
India has since 1979 invited foreign guests to promote India's cultural relations with other countries. In what is called the "Distinguished Visitors Programme", arrangements are made for visits by Nobel prize winners, members of parliament, former prime ministers, bureaucrats, think tanks and other well-known personalities in politics, art and culture. They come to India to experience the culture and interact with institutions and people there. Leading representatives of think tanks and cultural institutions are also invited to share their insights and experiences, and to meet Indian leaders in their field of expertise. At the same time, they get a first-hand impression of developments in India.
During the stay, the program usually includes lectures, round table discussions, meetings with ministers, high-ranking officials, voluntary organizations and intellectuals.Jamia Hamdard University: Torp was invited to a meal with some of the professors at the university after the lecture and meetings were over. - It was very nice, says Torp. Photo: Oslochurch
For Torp, the visit was mainly about freedom of belief and interreligious dialogue. He met with both legal and academic experts as well as religious leaders. He was also invited to give several lectures, including at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University where the title was "Culture and Peace in India". This university is the country's first Urdu-language university, and has 6,000 students.
After the lecture entitled "Solidarity, Peace and Our Common Future" at the predominantly Muslim Jamia Hamdard University in New Delhi, he received an award. Jamia Hamdard has 10,000 students.
— The award is given annually to the invited speaker, says Torp, who in addition to giving lectures at two Muslim universities lectured at India's leading Hindu think tank, the Vivekananda International Foundation, which is named after the legendary Hindu monk and philosopher Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902 ), and who is considered as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's closest ally. All the lectures were held for the professors and the academic collegium, as well as invited ambassadors, generals and other leading social actors.Jan-Aage Torp spoke at Jamia Hamdard University in New Dehli, where there are 10,000 students. Photo: Oslochurch
— It was also unique to get to know personally the Supreme Court lawyers who lead the Indian Society of International Law. They are the ones who conduct all the religious freedom cases before the Supreme Court of India. They took me out for dinners and social visits. It says a lot about India that the Indian External Ministry asked them to receive me especially because these Supreme Court lawyers are "India's conscience" now that Christians and Muslims in many states feel that their religious freedom is being threatened. All are Hindus, but they especially fight for Christians! says Torp emphatically.— I spent an incredible day in New Delhi with Rabbi Ezekiel Isaac Malekar. We discussed the Jews' place in India, says Jan-Aage Torp. Photo: Oslochurch
— I spent an incredible day in New Delhi with Rabbi Ezekiel Isaac Malekar (78). He is one of the 6,000 remaining Jews in India. We enjoyed the beloved Judah Hyam Hall synagogue, strolled through the Jewish cemetery as we discussed the place of the Jews in India and I acquired knowledge from his books and research. Rabbi Ezekiel has a close relationship with all religions in India, but perhaps his closest friend is a Christian charismatic leader. I received Rabbi Ezekiel's books, which after returning to Norway I study with extra interest. Especially his book "The Lord is One - Judaism: A Perspective", says Jan-Aage.
— The most significant unifying Christian leader in India is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Delhi, Anil Joseph Thomas Couto. He is general secretary of the "Conference of Catholic Bishops in India" and a leading voice for Christianity in the country. He has a thorough understanding of their situation. I met with Couto in the archbishop's house at the Sacred Heart Cathedral Catholic Church. They have also two schools with 5,000 pupils. It was a warm and inspiring meeting, says Torp.As Secretary General of the "Conference of Catholic Bishops in India", the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Delhi, Anil Joseph Thomas Couto, is a leading voice for Christianity in the country. Photo: Oslochurch