By Kajal Valani
One in six people in the world are Hindu. In the UK, when it comes to educational, economic or work sectors, the contributions made by Hindus to place individuals, groups and the government into categories of excellence far surpasses the contribution made by very many other faith groups. With all this in mind, one would think that Hindus would be treated just as equally as any other faith groups in a diverse and multi-cultural Britain today.
Unfortunately the above seems be untrue. It would be thought that at least at university level, Hindu students would not have to face discrimination in any form. And why should they when they contribute so much to the countrys educational sectors. But, I myself have first-hand seen Hindu students being treated like second class citizens. A feeling of second best arose in the pit of my stomach, the same feeling I get whenever I read or hear about how Hindus were treated in India before independence was attained in the country 15th August 1947.
National Hindu Students Forum (UK) (NHSF (UK)) is an organisation that represents thousands of Hindu students across the country at university level. On a national level, we organise Sewa week. This is a week dedicated to selfless service and all the money raised is equally split between our National Charity, Saraswati Vidyalaya, and each universitys local charity.
As part of Sewa week one of our chapters; Queen Marys Hindu Society (QMHS) organised Hanuman Chalisa sessions every evening through the last week and booked the multifaith centre from 6.00 P.M. to 8.30 P.M. This same centre has given Islamic students a block booking for the entire year to use for prayers from 12 P.M. to 6 P.M, after which if they need to continue praying they have been allocated a room in the library which they can use all day. But, during the last week when the Hindu students went to use the centre at 6 P.M. they were stopped by students in the Multi-Faith centre and denied access to set up for the Hanuman Chalisa sessions for a number of days. After seeking advice from various members of the National Committee, the QMHS committee sent letters to the Principal, Chancellor and the Students Union (SU).
The SU took action by sending leaflets to the centre asking the Muslim students to finish by 6 P.M. and respect the bookings made by other students. On Thursday 12th March, security guards escorted the Hindu Students to the centre to ensure they get the centre on time to continue with their Hanuman Chalisa. As they arrived at the centre, the Hindu students and the security were verbally threatened by the Muslim students.
To counter this problem the security guards asked Hindu students to leave and use another venue. An emergency conference call was made on Thursday night by key executive members of NHSF with the president of QMHS to assess the situation. During this call, it was decided that at this point we as students must stand up for our rights for a problem that has occurred in the UK but is continuously being faced by our Hindu brothers and sisters around the world.
To counteract this problem, various authorities at the University were contacted. During the day on Friday, the National Committee, alongside the QMHS committee and the National Advisors worked hard by releasing a press statement and contacting various Media, British Organisations, various members of the Parliament and other NHSF committees across the country, to come help stand united with these Hindu Students in a peaceful manner.
As usual, on Friday evening, members of QMHS went to the Multi-Faith centre to have their final Hanuman Chalisa session for the Sewa week. The only difference was, they were accompanied by members of other faith Societies, Hindu students who had come from various parts of the country, the National Committee, members of other organisations from across the country and security. The same problem occurred where the Islamic students did not empty the room on time. The security offered the Hindu students another room to conduct our prayers. At this point, I stepped in from the National committee and stated that the actions being taken by the Students Union were not good enough. Following this, I decided to continue the Hanuman Chalisa session outside the Multi-Faith centre in the cold on bare ground, with the support of many other people that turned up to show how Hindus and members of other faiths will not be pushed around. Hence, we set up an alter and sang our hearts out until the Muslim students left the building after which we were able to use the room which we had legitimately booked!
The atmosphere was electrifying and everyone that was present there knew and felt that a change will be seen. We made a point to the authorities governing Queen Marys College that we rightfully should have equal access to facilities which should be available to students from all faiths. The thing that made me really proud was the determination that I saw in every single students eyes there. They could have gone against what I had said and taken the other room that was being offered to them, but, as Hindu Dharma teaches us, they decided to take a non-violent approach to make a stand for what was rightfully ours and what NHSF (UK) really stand for; and that is its ability and want to practice, protect, promote and preserve our Hindu Dharma.
As we continued to chant the Hanuman Chalisa outside the centre, the Muslim students started filing out of the centre, having seen that we were there to stay. As the centre emptied we moved in to complete the Hanuman Chalisa session. At the end of the session, people spoke about what we had achieved and further steps that should be taken to help resolve the matter, which has not only affected one campus, but seems to be an ongoing problem round the country. One lady, Ushma Williams mentioned, I was not around when Mahatma Gandhi conducted the Salt March Revolution in April 1930 and also helped India struggle for independence in a peaceful way, but I truly feel that this was repeated in the UK today, by the Hindu students for equality, justice and peace.
When she mentioned this, I realised that sitting outside the Multi-Faith centre created a fire inside me, which has made me realise, we as Hindu students must lead the way in this revolution to create a diverse and multicultural environment for us and for the future generations. To increase awareness of the current problems, NHSF (UK) will be compiling a report of the events that occurred, and also that have occurred on various campuses round the country. This report will then be sent to all concerned. The present Government has made Community & Social Cohesion a major policy in making British Society a Multi Faith and Multi Cultural one and in many consultation processes with faith communities across the country it is placing a great emphasis on this. Such Cohesion is to remove any semblance of unacceptable practice from a religious stance in general, and in education institutes in particular, to steer young minds away from hate preachings.”
National Hindu Students Forum (UK) would also like to commend QMHS for the effort that they put in to making sure that awareness was raised in time. For more information and further details regarding the above issues, or NHSF in general, please do not hesitate to contact Chetna Shah (NHSF Public Relations Officer) at email@example.com.