Hindu Advocacy Group Updates Landmark Report on Caste-based Discrimination in India
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Washington, D.C. (July 21, 2011) -- Just over six months ago, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) initiated a global conversation about Hinduism’s response to caste-based discrimination in India with the release of its landmark report on the issue. Today, HAF released an updated edition of the report, Hinduism: Not Cast in Caste - Seeking an End to Caste-based Discrimination, after an unprecedented second review process that included some of the most prominent contemporary Hindu spiritual, community, and academic leaders.
The report highlights HAF’s perspective that discrimination based on the caste of one’s birth is against Hinduism’s core teaching of the divinity inherent in all beings; that caste-based discrimination is an unfortunate reality for many, especially the so-called Scheduled Castes -- also known as “Harijans” or “Dalits”--in many parts of India today; untouchability has absolutely no sanction in any of Hinduism’s sacred texts; Hindu spiritual leaders are actively engaged in ending this practice in Indian society; and that political leaders and missionary organizations routinely exploit the issue for vote-bank advantages and through predatory proselytization, respectively.
"Our initial report was meant to serve as an introductory advocacy document coming from a human rights organization,” said Swaminathan Venkataraman, editor of the report and member of the HAF Board of Directors. “But after its release, the report was met with massive outpourings of support, suggestions, and even critiques from around the world. We realized the truly international scope of the report, and the burden we carried as a prominent voice in the Hindu diaspora to tackle a subject as complex, yet urgently relevant.”
Editorials endorsing HAF’s report were seen in some of India’s major newspapers and was covered widely in the media overseas as well. Guidance, offers of assistance, and constructive criticism even came in from well known spiritual leaders, including the internationally renowned Baba Ramdev, emphasizing the high profile the report carried.
"While the initial report was also extensively reviewed, with the inclusion of over three dozen additional expert reviewers representing a broad swath of Hindu communities in India, Europe, and the Americas, this updated report is truly a representative voice of the diaspora,” said Mihir Meghani, M.D., co-founder and member of the HAF Board of Directors. “It is a privilege to be able to carry the words of some of today’s greatest Hindu spiritual leaders within this report that eloquently condemn the social evils of discrimination and persecution based on the status of one’s birth in Indian society, and unequivocally distance Hinduism from any such practice.”
The updated report includes messages from fourteen Hindu saints and spiritual leaders and also a revised executive summary and extensive historical survey of the devolution of a system of societal organization into a birth-based hierarchy. It presents a review of ameliorative measures taken by the Government of India and Hindu organizations to combat the discrimination, and also explores the intersection of politics and foreign-funded, coercive missionary tactics that polarize and fossilize community relationships along caste lines.
"HAF's report is one voice, albeit a well-heard voice, that denies the conflation of Hinduism with caste-based discrimination, and this document begins our conversation with the millions of Hindus long consigned to the coldly bureaucratic categorizations of Scheduled Caste (SC) or Scheduled Tribe,” added Pawan Deshpande, member of the HAF Executive Council and co-editor of the report. “The great joy in preparing this report has been to seek blessings from countless Hindu saints actively fostering unity and equality regardless of caste, social standing, or religion, and those SC’s dedicated to their Hindu traditions despite the discrimination they have encountered. We bow our heads in humble admiration.”