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August - September 2007
The un-Hindu way of political life and leadership :
Since 9/11, I have observed and recorded, the emergence of UK’s political faith discourse and the consequent mapping of Faith onto the prevailing discourse of Equality. I have also participated for three years in the development of some political structures and processes of UK Hindus at a National level. I have observed how Hindu organisations have grappled with this new emergent discourse, through various events, governmental consultations and the re-defined Interfaith arena of the 21st Century.
After the 7/7 bombings in London, I wrote in an article “I would like to suggest that it is evident, there cannot be a collective South Asian response to political and religious issues, because there are significant gaps of understanding and application of the principles of morality, pluralism, inclusivity, ethical political engagement and integration, between the various groups that fall under the label of South Asian. This debate requires a reorientation to include these issues and then to address the process to manifest the required changes, given the sacrifices that will be demanded of each stakeholder. It is a task that cannot be deferred to the next generations of an increasingly interdependent global society. This reorientation and holistic approach should urgently become the proactive responsibility of all of society, regardless of National, Religious or Ethnic identity.”
These observations and my own participation with Hindu organisations over the past three years have lead me to a few additional conclusions about the Hindu experience in the UK. These should now be shared at this critical time, when political changes are occurring at a faster pace than the pace at which Hindu organisations are becoming politically mature. The most recent development of the regressive discourse around the relationship of the Hindu organisations with the VHP and RSS is also of grave concern, because of the foundational premise that the validity or credibility of Hindus the world over is negated by these institutions in some manner. This is an alarming development when we consider that Hindus do not acknowledge any one authority or institution that can claim to validate or nullify any Hindu theology or practice. Therefore, it is astonishing that today, western academics and journalists seek to form their own yardstick of ‘Hinduness’ by association and thereby, impose a structure upon Hindus whether they are in India, New Zealand, UK or USA.
This article neither focuses upon the two factors that frame the new political discourse, namely the development of the mechanisms of political power that linked census data and the monitoring of ethnic minorities, to today’s political faith agendas, nor am I going to discuss the processes of institutionalisation that have recently occurred, enabled by the flawed application of the ‘multicultural model’ which has resulted in the ossification of the fragmentation of UK society.
The focus of this article is to discuss the circumstances and the struggle, of Hindu organisations and the wider Hindu community in the UK, to engage effectively with the political conditions created by these emerging institutional structures and the foundational dominant ‘White Christian’ paradigms which frame the new political faith discourse of the 21st Century.
It would be too simple to suggest that the definition of what constitutes a Religious Community, based upon the understanding in absolute terms of the structures and practises of Abrahamic faiths, has resulted in marginalizing the majority of Hindus by failing to recognise the diversity of Hindu structures, practises and abundantly diversified theological positions, which all fall under the term ‘Hinduism’. However, it is true that the government’s ability to recognise so called ‘Umbrella’ organisations as representative of the Hindu majority, and that too in a selective manner, demonstrates the reality of a marginalized Hindu majority voice.
All Abrahamic faiths have at their centre an institution (Church, Mosque, Synagogue) with the authority and mandate to represent its faith. This is not true for the Hindu faith where attending or belonging to any religious institution is not a defining feature of being a Hindu. Therefore, the majority of Hindus would not mandate any particular religious institution as the authority that represents their faith. It is therefore correct to suggest that it is an ‘artificial’ general climate, of privileged ‘churches and temples’, within which the Hindu community have to operate at the political level in the UK today.
However, the greatest challenges for Hindu organisations within the political faith arena is to present themselves from within their own theology, structures and practises. The philosophy of Hindu/Vedic pluralism does not allow for a political priority list to be created along faith lines and therefore, Hindu religious organisations do not have the political will to engage effectively with the political faith agenda of the 21st Century. The majority of Hindus are very reluctant to politicise their religious life because of self-realisation, which sits at the heart of Hinduism, requires attention to the individual’s responsibility to inner growth and development. There is no cohesive political imperative for the collective action to grow in numbers through conversion or to assert any fundamental social laws that reflects their own worldview.
The current reality of any un-elected ‘Umbrella’ organisations that have support of only a handful of temples of only particular denominations, from the vast numbers of diverse Hindu practises, is an under representation of the Hindu Community. For there to be a true Hindu Voice with a mandate for political engagement within the 21st Century faith discourse, Hindus need to develop an institution that includes Hindus from all sectors of society. The new institution will have to demonstrate the true pluralism of the Hindu faith and the political principle of Democracy, that will then give it credibility within the wider Hindu community.
The dominance of the discourse of Terrorism and its related political association with the Islamic faith, plays a significant role in determining the emphasis for the development and orientation of the political faith discourse today. This emphasis has an equal effect upon all the various faiths and the agenda for interfaith relations.
However, 99% of Hindus and Sikhs in the UK are of Indian origin. 97 % of those of Pakistani origin belong to the Islamic faith. The historical relationships of India and Pakistan lays a specific burden upon the interfaith relations between those of Indian and Pakistani origin, which has today superseded their relationship within the discourse of equality. The fractures caused by the prevailing political faith discourse, and the cohesive forces of race relations, as a collective Asian ethnic minority group, have negated each other into a vacuum of silence and ineffectiveness. This is an untenable situation.
The solidarity once shared by ethnic minorities in the UK, when the political priority was race differences, has now become splintered by the over emphasis of religious differences. However, even within the faith discourse we can witness the markings of race differences through representational gaps and omissions within the various groups. It is vital for all faith and race groups to re-assess the priorities and the values systems which are causing the rupturing and the displacement of cohesive growth within our society.
Hindus in particular have the potential to become exemplary in the manner of an inspiring inclusivity by their own unique form of political participation through the mechanism of an issue based and politically focused Dharma Alliance, that engenders greater integration through out the UK society. Hindus are also especially well positioned to demonstrate how effective the organising principle of ‘Respect for difference’ might become, if they were to make significant changes to their current representational organisational structures and processes.