HAF sponsors tour by Harijan/Scheduled Caste leader from India

Washington, DC (August 29, 2011) - Civil rights activist and Indian “Harijan” leader, Bhagwati Charan Bhatpare, completed a multi-city tour of the United States sponsored by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) last week. Bhatpare, who hails from the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, is a member of the Satnami sub-caste community and the Ramnami religious community. Members of both groups have traditionally been referred to as “Untouchable” in the region, or by the government designation “Scheduled Caste.”
Bhatpare was well-received at large gatherings in Orlando, Tampa Bay, Houston, and the San Francisco Bay Area, where he described his community’s strong commitment to Hindu beliefs and practices, despite facing several challenges.
"Mr. Bhatpare provided great personal insight into the everyday struggles endured by the Satnami and Ramnami communities, including caste-based discrimination and predatory proselytization by Christian missionaries,” said Rishi Bhutada, HAF Executive Council Member and Houston resident. “His talk was extremely inspiring, and hearing of his community’s immense pride in their Hindu heritage that inspires them to retain their religion despite coercive efforts, must be heard by every Hindu around the world.”
Bhatpare, who works as a school principal in the village of Borsi near his native village of Matiya, was accompanied on his tour by Ramdas Lamb, PhD, Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Hawaii. Lamb is the founder of the Sahayog Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on providing education and health assistance to the poorer students in rural Chhattisgarh, most of whom belong to the Satnami community. The organization plans on building a new school in the area for the youth with whom they work. Bhatpare serves as a Board Member of the Foundation as well, and provides his students with an educational environment grounded in Hindu Dharmic ideals.
According to the Sahayog Foundation, Christian missionaries have been frequenting Matiya and the surrounding villages over the last few decades, attempting to convert Satnamis through offers of free health care, food, and education. Despite such inducements, however, the vast majority of Satnamis have remained Hindu.
"We teach all of the students with whom we work that caste prejudice is not a necessary part of Hinduism, and that they do not need to change their religion in order to get an education or be treated fairly,” explained Bhatpare. “The main problems with conversion in our villages is that the missionaries are more interested in turning us into Christians than in really trying to help us. In the process, they create many problems for the families of those who do convert.”
Bhatpare garnered widespread attention recently after he provided a personal testimonial in HAF's report Hinduism: Not Cast in Caste.
"Mr. Bhatpare is living proof that caste-based discrimination exists in India, but his life is also proof that this practice is irrelevant to the personal spirituality of these devotees of Lord Rama (Ramnamis)," said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF's California-based Director. "Bhatpare's personal story is a powerful example that there are a plethora of opportunities, and an urgent need, for Hindus to serve, contribute and give the hope that many communities seek to remain Hindus for generations to come."