"A vital collection of progressive essays on what a modern India-UK partnership could mean."

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"A vital collection of progressive essays on what a modern India-UK partnership could mean."

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Namaste! HSS, Why?


This weekend thousands of people from across the UK will be converging on a purpose built tent village just outside London to celebrate the 50th anniversary of HSS UK. I too am looking forward to the celebrations and meeting many old friends, some I haven’t seen for over 25 years.

I, like many tens of thousands of young British Hindus in the 1970s and ‘80s, attended a local ‘shakha’. A place where every weekend I would run to with excitement, often picking up friends along the way, to participate in the fun, the games and discussions about my faith, my culture, and its meaning in a multi-faith, multi-cultural Britain.

I grew up through the rough and tumble of inner city Birmingham life, including through the infamous race riots and periods of economic and social discontent. It was during these times, which we can often forget, where being from a poor immigrant family meant opportunities for progress were limited and sometimes just stifled because of who our parents were (or were not) and how we looked.

Looking back, Shakha gave me a moral compass in life which remains with me to this day. I could, like others of my peer group, slipped to the darker, less fulfilling margins of life. But Shakha through its emphasis on the values of community spirit, shared responsibility, mentoring and promoting positive role models, and above all encouraging a can-do attitude to the challenges of life, made me who I am today.

At the time it never felt like a spiritual journey, but today as I reflect on my childhood, those days of play at my local shakha have left a remarkably positive imprint on me. Something which is very humbling and satisfying. And I am sure I am not alone.

It therefore bothers me that despite this hugely positive community service, and though widely respected within the Hindu community, the HSS is somehow shunned from the wider national debate. I was taught to be proud of who I am and of the history and values that Hindus share, but never at the expense or hate of others. I suppose this situation that HSS finds itself in is partly out of the ignorance of others, and partly out of the failure of the HSS itself in properly articulating its outlook to those who genuinely seek a peaceful and more harmonious, yet diverse, society. And also to adapt its practices and idioms fast enough for the internet age. Though in fairness, organisations from other faiths and even the Boy Scouts or Girl Guides whose origins and practices of the past sometimes don’t entirely sit well with modern life, demonstrates the HSS is not alone here.

Yes, and I think the HSS will be the first to accept, that occasionally, just as in many many organisations there will be those who float around at the fringe, proclaiming some misrepresented exclusivist agenda. Such agendas are absolutely alien to the values of the communities the HSS seeks to serve. My experience of the HSS, is that its leadrrs and governance have never accepted such nonsense as a norm for its existence. And long may that continue. If it had, the HSS would not today be celebrating its 50th birthday, and would not just a little while ago also shared a glowing tribute to Her Majesty The Queen on her 90th birthday – a lady who has embodied all the qualities of community, harmony, and service for which the HSS itself exists.

The HSS has also given birth to other wonderful organisations including the National Hindu Students Forum and SEWA and has been at the centre of great causes such as blood donation camps, environmental projects, through to the popularisation of Yoga Day. I do not know of any other organisation that is so diverse in bringing together people of Hindu faith from all walks of life, religious traditions, caste, and family origins. A ‘USP’ surely to be nurtured by its leadership.

It is clear to me that the next 50 years will be much different in speed and growth for the HSS than in past 50 years. Perhaps in some cases, in direction also. But that is a debate for the HSS, which I am confident it is more than capable of having. I am also sure that as its new generation of leaders take the helm, they will reflect on the challenges and opportunities before it with some importance – as the HSS has and should remain a beacon for cohesion and support for every young person, Hindu or otherwise. It has built a great foundation, entirely on the shoulders of ordinary hardworking decent people from across the country. Everyone who I have met proclaim with passion their dedication in equal measure to their Hindu heritage and to the peace and progress of the UK, their home.

So, if ever anyone asks, ‘Why HSS?’ – well, Why Not? There’s lots to know and celebrate this weekend.