Written by Dr. G L Bahn, Former President of VHP UK and Former Co-Chair of Interfaith Network
Over the previous century, the world has experienced movement of populations across countries and continents on a scale as never before. In many countries now, the population reflects a marked diversity of the different groups, based on race, ethnicity, socio-economic background, culture, religion, and language. Whilst this process of ‘globalisation’ has led to some benefits to countries and peoples that are well recognised, all doesn’t seem to go well when it comes to social integration*.[*Integration implies interaction of people of such different backgrounds in a way that leads to mutual trust and amicable co-existence, and, in the longer run, to the evolution of shared values and a shared identity.]
It has been observed that not all immigrants integrate well with the host community. The extent to which they integrate varies considerably, the problem being much more significant in some countries and with some immigrant communities.
Sociologists have cited several factors that may be potentially responsible for this failure to integrate, which in turn can lead to social discord. These include educational and economic status, racial and other types of discrimination, family values and adverse upbringing. In addition to these, a strong sense of cultural and/or religious identity also plays a significant role.
Amongst the immigrants, there are those who, continuing to harbour total loyalty to the place from where they emigrated, or professing their loyalty to a notional state based on religious identity that transcends geo-political borders, refuse to identify themselves as citizens of the country where they are now domiciled. This refusal to integrate into the broader society, and issues of loyalty to the country in which the immigrant has chosen to live, are amongst the factors that can contribute to social discord.
Social Discord leading to Civil Disorder and Crime:
The number of people who are sentenced to imprisonment for having committed crimes could be viewed as a crude index of criminal behaviour that contributes to social discord.
Various factors have been cited by experts, including sociologists, that could predispose an individual to indulge in civil disorder / commit crime. These include:
- Social inequality
- Negative stereotyping
- Cultural differences
The recent survey commissioned by the Home Office titled: “Offending, Crime and Justice Survey” has also listed other factors. These include
- Weak school discipline,
- Parenting, and strong parental guidance
- Socio-economic class
- -Household size and family type
Clearly, the society in general and the family in particular have a crucial role in producing citizens who would contribute to social cohesion and to the evolution of a well-integrated community.
In England & Wales, recent figures showed that there are over 85,000 inmates within the prisons. The composition of the group shows a markedly disproportionate representation based on the prisoner’s ethnicity and faith.
Looking at the religion-based population, we find that the population of Hindus is disproportionately low: Within that prison population of 85,000, the Hindu prisoners in England totalled 421 (in Scotland there were just 5!). This low figure is a clear reflection of the law-abiding nature of the Hindu community.
The Role of Hindus in a multi-cultural / multi-religious society:
Hindus have always recognized the role of the family in nurturing children to become law-abiding, responsible citizens. The parents work hard to ensure their children receive good education and acquire skills so that, through hard work and enterprise, they can achieve economic sufficiency. In due course, as citizens who are aware of their social responsibilities, they contribute handsomely to the generation of wealth for the country, and to social welfare.
Sociologists and academics have acknowledged the vital role played by the family within the Hindu community in nurturing children to become responsible and loyal citizens.
Hindus – Identity and Integration
In the South Asian subcontinent of Bhaaratvarsh, now commonly known as India, despite being subjected repeatedly to invasions from outside, that led to subjugation, persecution and colonization, at no time did the Hindu civilization indulge in religion-based wars, nor have the Hindus invaded other countries in order to take someone else’s land.
On the other hand this land gave sanctuary to those fleeing religious persecution elsewhere; these include a whole host of peoples, the Syrian Christians, the Jews, the Zoroastrians, and many more, and more recently, Buddhists from Tibet, Hindus from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, the Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, and the Yezidis.
Looking globally, wherever Hindus have settled outside India – in Suriname, Fiji, the Caribbean islands, Africa, Europe, the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, etc. – they have shown themselves as role-model on integrating into various, increasingly heterogeneous, societies –
- In their loyalty to the state
- Living peacefully and within the bounds of law
- Regarding role of family within the society as crucial
- Respect for women
- Non-violence as a fundamental creed
- Contributing to the economy and welfare of the country
- Promoting amity between people of different faiths
Hindus, when they settle elsewhere from the land of their birth, do not suffer from any conflict of loyalty. Like other Hindus settled in Britain, I regard myself as a British Hindu: Hindu, because of my spiritual faith, and the values I received from my culture, and British because, having domiciled here, I regard it as my country and give it my whole-hearted loyalty.
What is it that makes a Hindu a model citizen who has no problems integrating within a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-religious society?
In my opinion the answer is the Hindu concepts, enunciated thousands of years ago by our r’shis (seers), that led to the founding of the Hindu civilization as we know it, concepts that all human beings on this planet are members of one global family – vasudaiva kutumbhukam 1
The ancient Hindu scriptures have repeatedly extolled and promoted the concepts of
- Goodwill and amity towards all, and
In the shânti-pâth (prayer for peace) 2
We remind ourselves of the interdependence of human beings on each other, on all living beings, flora as well as fauna, indeed on natural forces, on matter, space and ether – nothing is left out – a concept that is now endorsed by scientists.
We think of the one Supreme Being, which is common to all 3
In our daily prayers – our prayers beginning with: sarvai-, sum-, sam âno-, etc. – we pray for the welfare of all, none excluded, 4,
and are reminded to promote goodwill and amity towards everyone 5
not just within the Hindu fold.
What does Hindu ethos have to contribute to the national debate on achieving integration and achieving social cohesion?
In order to overcome hurdles along the path to social cohesion in societies that are composed of heterogeneous communities, our thinking needs to undergo a radical change:
- Materialism and hedonism
- Religious fanaticism and intolerance
- Intolerance based on racial and ethnic identity
- Intolerance based on the dogmatic secularism that rejects faith
Why have attempts to bring about social cohesion and integration not met with success?
It is now accepted that socio-economic factors, and factors of inequality, discrimination and injustice are part-causative of social discord; indeed, much progress has been made in addressing these issues, and work continues in this regard. However, the issue of religion remains a difficult and thorny one.
Religion, Identity and Integration – Core Issues
I now wish to comment on the need to tackle certain issues of faith and faith-based identity that can negatively impact on the integration of an immigrant within a new society.
- Religion, as commonly understood and practiced, includes an ethnic, historical, national, civilizational and cultural identity which may, and often does, lead to conflict between people belonging to different faiths
- Faith should be a personal belief and practice that does not seek to invade someone else’s ‘space’.
- Dogmatism of religion needs to give way to spirituality, making it possible for the state to be guided, when appropriate, but not to be dictated by religions.
- Faith and the State should function independent of each other in matters of governance and politics.
- The concept of Exclusivism – ‘Mine is the only way’ / ‘my way is superior and, hence, it must prevail over all others’ – must be abandoned.
We must be intolerant of Religion-based Intolerance. ‘Tolerance’ needs now to progress to a healthy dialogue based on
open-mind, introspection, a genuine acceptance, and an amicable co-existence.
- There should be no place for doctrines and dogmas that preach exclusivism and bigotry.
- Freedom of Thought and Expression must be regarded as sacrosanct.Whilst religions and cultures must not be maligned, laws that forbid ‘Incitement to religious / racial hatred’ must be applied judiciously, making sure that healthy constructive criticism of cultures and faiths is not suppressed.
- Within cultures and faiths, we need to give up thoughts and practices that are no longer appropriate / relevant to changing times. It is essential for ‘people of faith’ to come to terms with such issues; staying in a ‘denial mode’ is not a healthy option.
- We must happily share with each other ideas and practices that are beneficial to the ‘common good’
Our ancient r’shis stated:
…krunvanto vishwam âryam…  – ennoble the world with goodness
but, they also advised:
…â no bhadrâh…  – let noble thoughts come to us from all sides
…yad bhadram tanna â suva…  – may we acquire what is good / noble
I believe these ancient Hindu tenets will serve well those who strive to bring about integration and social cohesion within the modern heterogeneous societies
I commend the living example of how the Zoroastrian community interacted with the host Hindu community in India:
- The way they entered into a co-existential state needs to be put forward as an example of integration to be emulated.
- The way the host community offered them not just sanctuary, but total religious freedom, full civil rights, and freedom to preserve their faith, culture and traditions
- The way the Zoroastrians through their loyalty to their new homeland, contributed to generate prosperity for the community and the country, to helping keep peace, to the advancement of science and technology, etc., etc.
- The way neither party sought to impose upon each other their own beliefs, customs and taboos
It is stated they agreed to live together as ‘sugar dissolving in milk, adding sweetness to nutrition….’
That should be the way forward for all communities to coexist and integrate in the societies globally.
1 (all beings within) the Cosmos constitute one family – Laghu Yog Vasishtha 5.2.62
2 May peace be unto the Heavens
May peace be unto the Ether (the astral space)
May peace be unto the Earth
May peace be unto the Waters – celestial and of the Earth
May peace be unto the Plants and the Trees
May peace be unto all the Divinities
May peace be unto That One
May peace envelope all living beings
May that peace embrace me
– Shukla Yajur Ved (Vajasnineyi Samhita) 36.17
– Atharva Veda 19.9.14
3 Truth is one, the wise describe it variously’
– R’g Ved 1.164.4 also R‘g Ved 2.1.11 / 3.54.8 / 4.32.13 / 8.1.27 /8.25.16 /8.58.2 / 8.65.6-7/ 8.99.8
– Atharva Ved 13.4.15-21, 44-45
4 Let all living beings be happy
Let all living beings be free from diseases
Let all attain well-being
May no one suffer, nor experience sorrow
– R’g Ved 10.191 / 10.117.6
I will make you of one heart, of one mind, free of hate
Love one another
As the cow loves the calf to whom she has given birth
Let not brother hate brother, nor sister hate sister
Unanimous and united in prayers
Speak words with friendliness
– Atharva Ved 3.30.1-3
– Atharva Ved 3.30.6 / 6.64.1-3 / 12.1.45
5 May all living beings look on me with the eye of a friend
May I look on all living beings with the eye of a friend
May we look on one another with the eye of a friend
– Yajur Ved 220.127.116.11
6 R’g Ved 9.63.5
7 Yajur Ved 25.14
8 R’g Ved 5.82.5
The Casey Review: a review into opportunity and integration
‘Offending, Crime and Justice Survey’, HMG Home Office
‘Social Integration Commission Report: Kingdom United? -Thirteen Steps to Tackle Social Segregation’