Britain to Fund First Hindu School

BY: RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL

Oct 15, LONDON (TIMES OF INDIA) Britain has officially decreed that its future generations of Indian-origin schoolchildren may substitute Christian prayer with morning mantras, aartis and Vedic ritual, with the announcement that it will pay for the country’s first, government-sponsored Hindu school.

News that the school will be established with 10-million pounds of government money and run by the I-Foundation, a religious partner of the persuasive, power-networked and peaceful ISKCON movement, prompted a cheer from much of the UK’s estimated 700,000 Hindus.

The British government’s nod to Hindu educational aspirations for future generations comes some years after the first state-funded Sikh school opened its doors in west London. Several state-funded Muslim schools are already thriving, alongside at least 30 Jewish state schools and thousands of Anglican establishments.

On Thursday, ordinary British Hindu families in far-flung parts of the British capital admitted they would earnestly endeavour to secure a place for their children at the new Hindu school to “learn Hindu values, to say Hindu prayers and have a Hindu priest to cater to religious needs”.

But it is expected to be heavily over-subscribed when the UK’s first state-funded Hindu school opens in 2010 in Harrow, west London, which boasts the country’s largest concentration of Hindus as a percentage of population.

But Britain’s first and only state-funded Hindu school will begin its instruction more than two decades after the Dutch government paid for - and allowed - the establishment of Holland’s very own Hindu Modern, an American high school-style secondary school called Shri Vishnu in The Hague.

On Thursday, Ramesh Kallidai, secretary-general of the umbrella Hindu Forum of which the I-Foundation is a part, told TOI, the next step would logically be to have state-funded Hindu schools in other parts of Britain where large Hindu populations lived and worked.

“This is the beginning, not the end,” said Kallidai, adding that “Brent, in north-west London has the second-highest concentration of Hindus, after which comes the city of Leicester”.

Navin Shah, leader of Harrow Council, which applied for the honour and legitimacy of government funding for a Hindu school to address the local community’s needs, said: “The Hindu faith school will be yet another piece in the jigsaw of our culturally diverse and united communities.”

The Hindu state school has been allowed even as a frenzied debate rages over whether faith schools increase segregation in society.

But commentators said the British establishment’s acceptance of state-funded Hindu schools was a heartening reaffirmation of the UK Hindu community’s numerical strength, as well as its enviable status as peaceful, prosperous and upwardly mobile “paragon” immigrants.

Bimal Krishna Das, secretary-general of the UK’s National Council of Hindu Temples, said Britain’s acceptance of Hindu state schools is “fantastic news…it is a sign that British Hindus are moving away from the situation in which they just lived life without asking for the attention that other faith groups received”.

Das, who recently abdicated from his role as ISKCON spokesman, added that “Holland had led Europe in government aid to religious minorities in education, whereas Britain has, so far, largely helped Christians, Jews and Muslim faith groups”.

But ISKCON, which already runs a private, fee-paying Hindu school on the verdant, manicured grounds of its historic pile, the Bhakti Vedanta Manor in Watford near London, cautions that the new state Hindu school is not meant to encourage religious separatism.

Das, who was schooled in India and says Hindus at home have never seen the need for Hindu schools because “India is a secular country, Britain is not, it’s Anglican, it’s Christian”, said a Hindu religious education was important in the West “to get a balance of life”.

Hindu leaders said their determination to secure state funding to educate the next generation of British Hindus was guided by the remarkable analogy once drawn by ISKCON founder, the Kolkata-born Swami Prabhupada, who was originally christened Abhay Charan De.

The Swami, they recalled, always likened the West to a blind man, sans spiritual vision but with abundant material and physical resources. The East, he believed, was the exact opposite and consequently, like a lame man, sans modern technological power.

If the lame man climbs on the back of the blind man, the balance of life is restored and we can do wonders and create a new generation of very British Hindus, the Swami said.

Das, among others, believes that may be the inspirational motto of Britain’s historic trail-blazer, its first state Hindu school.


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