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AT A GLANCE
- NSW Hindu community took umbrage at comments made by Greens Senator David Shoebridge against VHP Australia’s scripture lessons at state schools
- A motion was proposed by One Nation’s Mark Latham for Mr Shoebridge to withdraw comments and apologise to the Hindu community
- The motion was passed, with support seen across the political divide
The NSW Senate has passed a motion asking Greens MP David Shoebridge to withdraw comments made by him against a Hindu religious organisation and apologise to the Hindu community.
The comments were made by him during a Budgets estimate hearing on 5 March, for the portfolio area Sport, Multiculturalism, Seniors and Veterans. At the hearing, questions were raised regarding the rise of ‘far-right extremism’ following social disturbances in the Indian community.
The motion was proposed by Mark Latham of One Nation Party and passed by a voice vote.
The Hindu community in NSW took umbrage against comments made by Greens MP David Shoebridge. At the hearing, he had raised concerns about Hindu scripture classes in NSW schools. “Does Multiculturalism NSW have any oversight of the fact that one far-right Hindu extremist organisation called Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which is designated as a militant extremist religious organisation in the Central Intelligence Agency’s The World Factbook, is providing scripture instruction in NSW public schools? Do you have any role in vetting that or speaking with the education department and reviewing who is providing scripture lessons?”
Caught unawares at the question, Joseph LaPosta, CEO of Multiculturalism NSW, offered in reply to have a COMPLAN committee look into the matter and “whether there are elements of these sorts of divisive angles… permeating our Department of Education.” (COMPLAN helps identify, assess and respond to issues impacting on community harmony in NSW.)
This week, the Hindu community is seeing it as a victory that the motion has been passed to ask David Shoebridge to apologise, especially as it won support across the political divide.
It appears that while Mr Shoebridge may have done some research about VHP in preparation for the budgets estimate hearing, he may not have acquainted himself closely with the activities of VHP Australia, especially since he chose to bring them up in his comments regarding spiritual instruction in our schools.
As watchers of the trends in Australia’s Indian community, Indian Link has been reporting on the activities of this organisation since it launched in 1996.
A volunteer-run charitable and social-cultural organisation, its agenda within the community has covered an entire gamut from cultural programs, yoga, elder care, and programs for families with special needs. Outside the community, its activities have included a variety of social service programs, showcasing the social and economic benefits of Australian cultural diversity.
Its ranks include diverse Hindus from across linguistic divides, its guiding principle being Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (Sanskrit for “The world is one family”).
Its most impactful service though, has been in education. Its Hindu scripture classes have been the first-ever for Hindu students in the state, and continues to be the only one.
The program is run by volunteers and is not paid for by the schools.
As Daniel Mookhey (ALP) said in his statement in Parliament, “When I finished my schooling I had never, ever attended a Hindu scripture class. Today a Hindu child can learn in a NSW school that Hinduism as a faith is no less than Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism or the world’s other great religions.”
Another initiative supported by the VHP sees the teaching of Sanskrit language under the aegis of the NSW Community Languages Schools Program. Not only is it helping to keep alive a classical language, but its program is also doing this in a manner relevant to a new generation of school students (such as for instance, translating the Australian national anthem into Sanskrit and performing it at events).
The Hindu Council of Australia has claimed that “there is immense demand for Hindu scripture lessons from schools and so far only a fraction of these demands are being met by Hindu volunteers.”
Daniel Mookhey noted, “It is an immense achievement of every Hindu religious teacher and volunteer who is providing that education. They are like my mums and aunties. That means a lot in our culture. I know these people; they are not extremists. It is not right to paint them with that brush.”
MLC Scott Farlow, who was at the Budget Estimates hearing, told Parliament, “VHP is a registered incorporated charity in NSW with no paid staff but over 250 volunteers who dedicate themselves to supporting the community and, in particular, special religious education [SRE]. VHP is not listed in the current edition of the CIA World Factbook, and Mr Shoebridge has not put forward any allegations or evidence of any illegal actions, extremist positions or issues with them.”
In his remarks, ALP’s Hugh McDermott (State Member for Prospect) referred to the work of Subramanian Ramamoorthi JP, President of VHP Australia. “Mr Ramamoorthi and VHP Australia have the confidence of the Department of Defence, which has appointed him to the Religious Advisory Committee to the Australian Defence Force [ADF]. He is currently serving as the representative of VHP. During his time on the advisory committee, the number of Hindu members of the Australia Defence Force has increased by some 50 per cent, a fact that he is proud of as an Australia citizen. Further, Mr Ramamoorthi has received confirmation from the NSW Police Force Terrorism Investigation Squad that Vishva Hindu Parishad is not a proscribed terrorist organisation in Australia. The harm that such allegations can cause to our community is immeasurable. The allegations are an attack on not just VHP Australia but all multicultural community organisations.”
Mention was also made about contemporary COVID-ravaged India, when many Hindus are looking towards their faith for sustenance.
To “sustain” is the role of Hindu dharma – a term loosely translating to “religion”.
Indeed, as Rajendra Pandey, former President of VHP South Australia said at recent national conference of Hindus, “There is no word in the English or any other language that accurately conveys the real meaning of Dharma. Dharma is not a religion, it is not a tradition, it is not a culture, it is not ethnicity, it is not a nationality, it is not a faith, it is not even a way of life. Dharma means ‘that which sustains’.”
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