Select Committee on Selection Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 537-539)

WEDNESDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2002

MR RAMESH KALLIDAI, DR GIRDHARI LAL BHAN, MRS KAMLESH BAHL AND MR SAUNAKA RSI DASA

Chairman

  537. Now I welcome also the new set of witnesses from a Hindu background. We have got the most excellent CVs from you all. I do not want you to go through great explanations of your undoubted and enormous merits, but if there is anything you would like to say by way of introduction, I think you heard what has just been going on with the Sikh community, some of you did anyway, and you will see what we are getting at. If you would like to introduce yourselves very briefly and say whether you have got a point of view. Perhaps you will then apply yourselves to the questions that evidently we have got to deal with.

  (Dr Bhan) My Lord Chairman and Members of the Committee, we would like, first of all, to thank you for allowing us to give evidence on this important issue. Just one brief comment and that is we come from a faith and a way of life which talks about the world being one single family and where there are different paths to God and worship and you should have complete freedom to follow the path that you would like to. If this was the global view, there would not be religion based discord, there would not be hatred, there would not be vilification. I would like to just mention that perhaps we would want to expand on that a little more in a few seconds. We would ask your indulgence, we would like to make our presentations first, five minutes each and then enter into a debate. Would that be all right?

  538. We are not finished yet and we have got a lot of discussion amongst ourselves still to do. I promise you that the door is not closed and if things occur to you, as I have just been saying to our Sikh witnesses, please do communicate. It really does help, you know. These things get crystallised by listening to a discussion. You suddenly think there is something you would like to have said. So say it, but put it on paper.
  (Dr Bhan) Okay. Just to introduce ourselves, My name is Dr Girdhari Bhan and I am the President of the World Council of Hindus UK. On my left is Saunaka Rsi Dasa, he is the President of the Oxford Centre for National Hindu Studies and runs an eminent academic centre there. He is also a member of the Inter-Faith Executive. On my right, Ramesh Kallidai, the General Secretary of the Hindu Council of the United Kingdom and also an Executive Member of the Inter-Faith UK. On my extreme right is Kamlesh Bahl, she needs no introduction. She is ex-Vice-President of the Law Society.

  539. We know about that. You have had the same list of questions that we offered to the members of the Sikh community who came. May I suggest that you deal with them in the same way, in any order that you think fit and taking any points that you think would be relevant. You see the sort of things that we are concerned about, tell us everything that you can about the way in which these existing laws or lack of laws affect your community and offer us any opinions about what we ought to do about it.
  (Dr Bhan) A general comment that the law of blasphemy should go. We welcome the proposal to introduce a more comprehensive law which would take account of the realities today and we would also put forward our reservations about the difficulty in formulating this legislation and in implementing it. So such that it could take care of the problems that we are facing and we would like to cite a few of those. May I ask Saunaka first of all to talk about the spiritual and the temple aspects.
  (Mr Dasa) I think whereas it is quite clear that the blasphemy law is an outdated law, it was written for a certain time and place and in a sense things have changed. When it comes to religious hatred, from a Hindu perspective, I think we are asking sometimes the wrong question. Again, we are approaching things from an Abrahamic perspective and obviously so. That comes to the crux of the issue for us, because every time we have to address an issue like this, we are addressing a perspective that does not necessarily include our views from the outset and there is an educational gap that needs to be addressed. Unless that is addressed, we will constantly be coming back here, not as an integrated community, but as a minority community and I myself as a particular minority, not only Irish or Catholic but the Church of England being the majority church, but Hindu as well and that is an issue because I am not ethnically Hindu. There is nothing ethnically Hindu. So the ethnic race issue, I cannot get any redress basically unless I fly an Irish flag and say it is racial on that basis. From the perspective of being a Hindu, there is no redress and I have run into that. The influence of religion has to be addressed in England and in Europe, because it is extremely influential in executive decision making, there is no accountability attached to it. In Northern Ireland we denied the religious aspect of the conflict for many decades, much to our cost, and only when we began to recognise that aspect could we begin to help solve the problem. I think when we look at the debate about a Christian Europe that is being discussed on the European level at the moment, that leads us to begin to see the influence of religion in executive decision making and puts a community like the Hindu community or the Sikh community or any other minority community with their backs again to the wall with issues of mission, with issues of dominance, of imperialism, of minority directly in our face. So is there a multi-cultural agenda? On the legislative level, we may be saying there is in terms of European directives etc, but in terms of ethos it may be quite the contrary. If we look at the Christian Europe, the Hindu experience of the past has informed to this day the tone of the Hindu response which has been to cower. The Hindu community in this country has not involved itself in politics, much to everyone's chagrin. No one knows why they do not get involved. Whether there are specific reasons why they do not involved, they came here particularly to make money as an economic community and they do not want to upset the apple cart, but they have a tremendous contribution they could make if their needs were addressed and they are not being, because these fundamental theological issues are not being addressed. Sorry to bring that hopelessly academic word into this assembly. I did actually bring a wonderful book called "Missions in Hindustan" written in 1846 by a wonderful missionary of his day, but what he says about the Hindus is so absolutely undoubtedly blasphemous that it is great. That is the issue to be addressed still. It has not been addressed 50 years after the independence of India. Here am I, as an example of globalisation, a Hindu from the British Isles. I have been a Hindu priest for 23 years. So that is an issue that is on the table as well, that Hinduism is bringing to the discussion. So in terms of multi-culturalism, unless the executive decision makers make that part of their agenda and legislatively so, we will end up with problems with this legislation that you are beginning to address. The multi-culturalism has to become part of the legislative agenda for it to be taken seriously and it is not, absolutely not, in Europe but it should be here because Britain actually leads multi-cultural practices in Europe. Just a word about the Hindu world view. The Sikhs and the Jews and the Buddhists in this country will share most of that world view, but there is a clear distinction to be made between philosophy and religion and spirituality. That is not the same in the Abrahamic traditions. Religion as virtuality are two distinct practical applications and philosophy and religion are so intertwined that a person's way of life can be easily blasphemed without understanding. A classic example is the case of Glenn Hoddle, our esteemed coach, who is an idol unto himself in that position in Britain. He is not a theologian, but he talked about karma as somebody in a wheelchair, that this was their karma. That is not at all a proper application of the doctrine, but in the end of the discussion he lost his job and the executive head of the country, Tony Blair, made a statement to say that this was a very unsympathetic view, etc etc. In doing that, he offended and you could say blasphemed every Hindu, Sikh, Jew and Buddhist in the country and not one of them responded. That is very, very significant that not one of them responded because for another generation they will keep their heads down. So those issues of education and unless this agenda is mainstreamed into education, we will be legislating again and again and practically getting nowhere.


 
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