ALL PHOTOS COURTESY WORLD HINDU CONGRESS
The Leaders: (left to right) Dr. Mohanrao Bhagwat, Shri Ashok Singal, the Dalai Lama, Justice C.V. Wigneswaran from Sri Lanka, and Shri G. Raghava Reddy light the ceremonial lamp.
New Delhi’s World Hindu Congress
3,000 movers and shakers from all over the planet made history at the World Hindu Congress in New Delhi, signaling a new era for the Hindu Renaissance
BY FRANÇOIS GAUTIER, NEW DELHI
THREE THOUSAND PEOPLE HELD THEIR breath as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Shri Mohanrao Bhagwat and Shri Ashok Singhal opened the World Hindu Congress in the majestic hall of New Delhi’s Ashoka Hotel. Those who entered these chambers walked into a little part of history.
“We in Tibet were in Darkness, and the Light came from India,” smiled the Dalai Lama, who later called himself “a good Hindu.” He continued, “Hindus are our brothers and sisters and we owe much to India, the refuge they gave us when the Chinese invaded our country.” But the Dalai Lama’s speech was not all flowery praise. In his inimitably jovial way, he praised past gurus of India while taking modern teachers to task as having become too materialistic, offering that Buddhists today are the more “reliable Hindus.” He was not finished: “Instead of so many rituals, why don’t we see more Hindu institutes in the world that would help propagate this wonderful knowledge!”
He received a standing ovation from the colorful crowd—Tibetans in ochre robes, swamis in sunrise garb, gurus in white, laymen in all kinds of clothes and, remarkably for a Hindu meet, many Westerners who have converted to Hinduism and become the rare defenders of Hindus. Amongst those were David Frawley, the famous American ayurvedic scholar who was just awarded Padma Bhushan by the government of India; Koenraad Elst, a Belgium-born writer and disciple of Sitaram Goel; Edward Carpenter, an American scholar; and, of course, some of our very own swamis from Hinduism Today from distant Hawaii.
Shri Mohanrao Bhagwat, in his turn, borrowed from Swami Vivekananda: “Let us shine. Let us provide leadership to the world. Let us not stop ‘till the goal is reached.” Speaking brilliantly without notes, he outlined the tasks for the next two decades so that a true Indian renaissance could manifest. “We need to realize the sameness of humanity in the world, and only Hindu society can deliver this message, ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.’ A Hindu means a human being who seeks unity in all diversity.”
Shri Ashok Singhal spoke more militantly: “Eight centuries after the reign of the last Hindu king, Prithviraj Chauhan, proud Hindus have finally come to rule Delhi,” he thundered. He spoke forcefully about the challenges that Hindus are facing today: “It is necessary to make Hindus invincible so that every Hindu and indeed everyone should live with dignity and respect. It’s time to create a Hindu mahashakti (superpower) in the world. It’s time for an indomitable Hinduism for the welfare of the entire world.”
Indeed, many of us sitting there felt that Hindu power had finally returned. After too many centuries of subjugation and humiliation, after six decades of political and intellectual Marxist rule, which methodically belittled Hindus and brought them to the status of a maligned minority in a country where they are the ancestral and demographic majority—after all this, power was returning at last to those who have always given refuge to persecuted minorities.
Organized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), this conference, held from November 21-23, 2014, brought 1,500 official delegates from 50 countries and a like number of observers. For the first time, too, most of the TV channels, media houses and the capital’s newspapers attended a Hindu event. (Ordinarily they ignore or bash such gatherings). This was no minor function. Over 200 speakers, including several Union Ministers, educationists, economists, bankers and diverse professionals, participated over three days in seven conferences and 45 sessions, providing ample opportunity to discuss the issues affecting Hindu society.
The inspired organizer, Swami Vigyananand, emphasized in his introductory address that as Hinduism moves forward in the 21st century, “it has to be strategically placed to influence the crucial areas of economy, education, media and politics in the world.” When he blew the conch to declare the Congress open, it had been 121 years since Swami Vivekananda delivered his earth-shaking address at the Chicago Parliament in 1893, opening the gates for Hindu Dharma to spread across the world. Now, in a return of the tide, Hindus from all over the world had traveled to New Delhi to debate the mechanisms of a long-overdue resurgence of Hindu knowledge and Indian civilization.
Swami Vigyananand, whose vision created the Congress, addresses the delegates on opening day.
Seven Simultaneous Conferences
Intent on achieving palpable progress, the organizers ran seven conferences side by side. It was a kind of dharmic circus as crushing crowds moved from one hall to another, along the way meeting, sharing, conversing and networking in the midst of a rolling river of humanity.
The most attended by far was the World Hindu Economic Forum, “Thriving Economy, Prospering Society.” Indian businessmen attended from all over the world—bankers from Mumbai, heads of US corporations, CEOs from Barbados, Fiji and Mauritius. Indeed, after centuries of colonization and still more decades of disparagement, the Hindu renaissance seemed poised for a solid economic foundation, one that would attract serious attention to India.
Five action points were agreed upon: Global market access to Hindu businesses; accessible availability of affordable capital for the Hindu entrepreneur; collaboration on technological fronts; providing professional support; and encouraging young and budding entrepreneurs through mentorship, capital and networking.
Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari shared that he has “set a target to build 30 km of roads per day in the next two years” to help repair India’s infrastructure, which remains in a pitiable state. He spoke of India’s rich legacy of yoga and the traditional system of medicine: “We can be number one in the world, and our thinking can give much-needed direction to the world.” He also affirmed, “The Ganga River’s cleanliness and revival are among the BJP’s priority tasks.”
The lively political conference, “Responsible Democracy for All,” had a recurring theme: the billion-strong Hindu society should ensure responsible and accountable democracy “by channeling the democratic propensity of Hindu people worldwide.” Participants discussed how Hindu politicians can come to a common platform, cutting across party lines to address issues of safety and security where Hindus are vulnerable. According to Dr. Ajay Chrungoo, chairman of Panun Kashmir, an organization of displaced Kashmiri Hindus, “Despite more than 350,000 Hindus being pushed out of the Kashmir Valley over the years, the political class across the spectrum in the country, including the BJP, still considers it a minor issue.” Tapan Gosh, one of today’s most courageous Hindu activists, made it clear that other areas of the country, such as West Bengal, are in danger of becoming another Kashmir. Gosh fights against infiltrations of Bangladeshis in West Bengal, where Hindus are becoming a minority and are even attacked, their temples vandalized, their women raped. Attendees also heard the pleas of the persecuted Yazidi community in Syria and Iraq, whose women are sold as slaves by ISIS.
Unfortunately upstaged by other conferences was a debate here on Sri Lanka’s Hindus. C.V. Wigneswaran, chief minister of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, related that the community’s hardships have continued long after the government’s war with the LTTE ended in 2009: eighty percent of Hindu homes in Sri Lanka were damaged since 1998; 95,000 Tamil Hindus lost their lives in the civil war, leaving 48,000 Tamil widows in Sri Lanka; 13,000 men were disabled, and many of those who surrendered are still missing; many young girls were raped when the LTTE was defeated; and 7,000 square km of Tamil lands have been seized by the Sri Lankan army. Because Bharat is the motherland of Hindus, Wigneswaran said, Bharat must allay the suffering of Hindus in neighboring countries, especially in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh; furthermore, Hindus worldwide must mobilize resources to address the economic needs of neighboring Hindu communities that are suffering.
The media conference, “Truth Is Supreme while Reporting, Informing and Presenting,” underscored the fact that most Indian media are controlled by big groups that are inimical to the Hindu ethos and that Hindus are also portrayed negatively in the West. Various ideas were proposed: that we create a professional TV channel, as did Al Jazeera, to regularly articulate our point of view; that we actually poach star anchors and broadcasters from major channels like BBC or CNN; and that following the election of Mr. Modi the Indian media have changed their tone somewhat, hopefully indicating a dawning sense of pride and nationalism. But someone quickly pointed out that the Indian media schools keep churning out young journalists in the Marxist mold, and so the change must start there. Some proposed the media not use the word Hinduism, but adopt instead Sanatana Dharma or Indic Civilization. This magazine’s editor responded with a firm call to “not be afraid of the ‘H’ word, since we are never going to change the name of our religion in the rest of the world. We need to embrace the word with pride.”
One of the most spirited debates was “Responding to Socio-Cultural Challenges Before Hindu Society.” During a heated discussion of conversions, one delegate stated that after the 2004 tsunami, Christian missionaries converted some four percent of the coastal area between Chennai and Kanyakumari. Conversion remains a hot issue in India.
In the cultural conference, many attendees agreed that the “Nehruvian” outlook “has diluted the richness and dignity of Bharat’s culture by reducing it to a show of government-sponsored Bharat Natyam dance and Indian classical singing.” Others expressed anger that the very authenticity and historicity of our noble sacred texts, such as the Vedas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, have been challenged by the official historians of the Nehruvian school. Too much of Indian history, as portrayed in both Indian and Western texts, was written by the British and blindly adopted by Nehru and subsequent historians. The foundation of all Indian and Western history books, for example, is the Aryan invasion. This theory still prevails in academic circles, despite having been proven false by recent archaeological and linguistic research as well as spatial imagery—as the Frenchman Michel Danino has detailed in his book The Invasion that Never Was. One panelist pointed out that the bloody invasions of India by various hordes, starting with Alexander the Great, “have been swept under the carpet by historians since Independence, for good and bad reasons—and something needs to be done.” There was a sense of agreement that no nation can move forward unless it faces squarely its history, just as the United States is finally acknowledging how it decimated the indigenous Native American population.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY WORLD HINDU CONGRESS
A Celebration: Delegates and speakers join to declare their feelings about the Congress
Women, Education, Youth and Rights
The conference on women’s issues, themed “The Increasing Role of Women in Hindu Resurgence,” focused on four main concerns: increasing involvement of women in decision making; developing leadership qualities; improving the quality of women’s lives in the rural and disadvantaged localities; and strengthening economic status, notably through encouraging small-scale entrepreneurship. Addresses were given by Union Ministers Smiti Irani and Mrs. Seetharaman, environmental activist Vandana Shiva, former IPS officer Kiran Bedi and by activist Madhu Kishwar, who discussed the role women can play in Indian politics and urged them to become once again as powerful as their counterparts were in ancient times. Mrs. Seetharaman urged the women “not to keep a low profile in the field of politics, otherwise you will be lost.” I could not help but reflect that the first woman Prime Minister in the world was Srimavo Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka, that Indira Gandhi ruled India for nearly 20 years with an iron hand, and even two Islamic countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh, twice had women Prime Ministers—all this due to the pervading and enduring influence of the shakti concept in South Asia.
In the education conference, “Creating and Networking Educational Resources for National Re-emergence,” academics and university administrators discussed how to “Indianize” education, which still follows the Macaulayan model—the education imparted by the British to a handful of elite Indians during colonial times. They brainstormed how to raise the quality of higher education institutions, stressing affordability and accessibility for all. Steven Rudolph, director of the Jiva Public School at Faribabad, with 1,600 students from lower kindergarten to 12th grade—a unique school which integrates a modern syllabus with Vedic values—shared their educational methodology and described their plans “to establish a Hindu university where students from all over the world can come and study the foundational scriptures of the Sanatana Dharma.”
The youth conference, “Together Towards Tomorrow,” conducted by the Hindu Student Youth Network, spotlighted the disconnect between today’s Indian youth and their roots. Nothing is taught them at an early age about their great poets, such as Kalidasa, their great warriors, like Shivaji Maharaj, and all their marvelous saints, gurus and avatars. “How is it,” someone asked, “that Sri Aurobindo, India’s great poet, philosopher, revolutionary and yogi, is not part of the philosophical curriculum in Indian universities?” It was agreed that Indian youth should understand crucial areas of economy, education, media and politics which are necessary for the progress of the Hindu community, as they will be responsible for propelling Hindus forward in each of these areas. They must be helped to develop the necessary capabilities, knowledge and leadership skills. Suresh (Bhaiyyaji) Joshi of RSS (Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangha) made it clear: “The challenge before the country today is the preservation of its culture and civilization.” He challenged participants to rise to the task and identified five malicious forces, “M5,” which threaten the preservation of the Hindu ethos: Marxism, Macaulayism, Missionaries, Materialism and Muslim extremism.
Prof. Ved Nanda, from Colorado, summarized: “The session I chaired on human rights addressed the violations Hindus have faced in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Kashmir, discussing the plight of the Romas and Yazidis. The pioneering work of Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands and the Hindu American Foundation in the US, seeking to protect Hindus’ human rights in several countries and influencing decision-makers in Europe and the US, met with thundering applause from a packed house. Both are relatively new yet have had an enormous impact on world public opinion while influencing decision-makers to take effective measures.”
Abhaya Ashtana, Ved Nanda and Shri Sushil Pandit, leaders of three subconferences, report their groups’ conclusions to the plenary on the final day, 1,500 participants at the opening ceremonies; (inset) the famed Ashoka Hotel.
The Wrap-up... and the Future
The concluding plenary, with all present, covered three main issues:
(1) Hindus should create a visible presence in all discourses on human rights around the world. Rights violations of Hindus continue, especially in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Middle East, Indonesia and also among the Roma and Yazidi.
(2) Hindus must work together to counter the destructive and unethical evangelical efforts which are converting Hindus and other indigenous communities of the world on a massive scale, run by evangelical faiths like Christianity and Islam which are backed by huge economic resources and organizational strength. These conversions are a clear and direct threat to family integrity, regional harmony and world stability.
(3) Hindu academics agreed to coordinate a strong joint response to the overtly biased challenges of Western academics who deliberately misrepresent and denigrate Hindus.
On the final day all heard the call of “Sangachchhadhwam Samvadadhwam” (Step Together, Express Together) for a Hindu Renaissance. But there are still many hurdles to overcome. Strategic issues were pinpointed: development of an Institute of Indology which would enhance India’s image abroad and thus increase outside investments; better accessibility to cabinet ministers; amending the entrenched media hostility toward Hinduism; transforming the educational system; calling on our many saints and gurus for guidance; cutting back on the exorbitant VIP security costs that have become a status symbol in the nation; even working to reduce the high cost of aviation fuel which is impeding the nation.
Many of us felt that history had been made here. For the first time since the last Hindu empire of Vijayanagar, Hindus proudly gathered to remind the world that every sixth human being on this planet is the inheritor of the most ancient Living Knowledge.
For more than twenty centuries—from Alexander the Great, to the first Arab invasions, then the British, Portuguese, Dutch and French—Hindus have been colonized, persecuted, converted by force and killed, creating in the Hindu community a self-loathing and fear that makes them cringe and retreat at the least hint of danger. Miraculously, Hinduism survived and suddenly, Hindus came out of hiding, traveling from India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Fiji, US, UK, Canada, Bangladesh and Pakistan. They stood together and shouted: “We are here. We have been on this Earth at least ten thousand years and we have much to give to the world.”
Nor were these the old guard, though they led the charge. These were Hindu youth—and modern Hindu youth—with their smartphones, iPads and social networking apps: software geeks, engineers, writers, advocates, doctors, bankers and businessmen in Western attire. India is one of the youngest nations, with a median age of 25 compared to Japan’s 48 and America’s 35. The new Hindus have arrived. They are savvy, connected and hungry for change, and for its partner, power.
I have attended many such conferences, and seen that they provoke few real changes. But this one was different; it was a tangible symbol, a sign, an occult happening. Swami Vivekananda’s and Sri Aurobindo’s call for a renaissance of India has begun.