Hindu group accused of 'hijacking' other faiths

By Lincoln Tan

A Hindu group organising a conference aimed at uniting the different religions that flowed out of India is instead being accused of attempting to "create confusion" and "hijacking" followers of other faiths.

The Hindu Council is organising the third Hindu conference in May with the theme of "Sustaining New Zealand through strengthening bond amongst communities".

It has invited followers of other "Dharma" faiths, such as Sikhism, Buddhism and Taoism, to participate and is working with a Buddhist monk to promote the event.

However, some religious leaders say the council is attempting to create the impression that Hinduism has a bigger following and influence in New Zealand than it actually does and to mislead non-believers into thinking that all Dharma-based groups are the same and could fall under the umbrella of Hinduism.

In the promotional materials, the organisers have classified the different faiths as "Bharatiya Dharma" or "Dharma groups".

Verpal Singh, chairman of the Sikh Centre, said: "'Bharatiya Dharam' sounds like a figleaf for claiming Sikhs are Hindus, along with Jains and Buddhists.

The term 'Dharma group' sounds like a twist to the claim of Buddhism being part of Hinduism, and Buddha being one of the incarnations of Vishnu, one of the gods of the Hindu trinity."

Mr Singh said he was concerned at what the Hindu organisers wanted to achieve through "this sort of dishonest depiction of reality".

The Sikh leader said that although he wished the organisers well, he could not bring himself to attend because it would be "like a Jew attending a Nazi conference".

Malaysian Taoist elder Lee Hwa said that by portraying the different faiths as similar, or falling under the umbrella of Hinduism, the Hindu Council was trying to show it had "clout" and "strength in numbers".

"There will be politicians present at the conference, so I suspect by hijacking numbers from followers of other religions, the Hindus want to show that it has a larger following than they actually have, so these politicians will pay more attention to them," said Mr Lee, who will not be attending either.

National MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi and Labour MP Rajen Prasad will be at the conference, which will take place on May 15 and 16 at the Hindu Heritage Centre in Mangere.

A spokeswoman for the Hindu Council, Pritika Sharma, said it was inviting other Dharma believers to the conference because it wanted to strengthen bonds and networks among these groups. There was no intention to misrepresent or hijack other faiths.

"The only thing we are doing is providing a platform where all these different groups, while keeping their individual beliefs and identities, can come and talk to each other, network and know who is who."

Ms Sharma, one of the conference organisers, said even Hindus were a divided community, and the council did not claim to represent all Hindus.

"The Hindu Council promotes people to keep their faiths and identities, but while keeping your identity, we believe it is also important to know the bigger picture and work with the others in the context of New Zealand."

A controversial Buddhist monk from India, Bhikkhu Bodhipala Solomon Raj, will be here to promote the conference, and will perform a Buddhist prayer at the opening.

According to a Newsweek report, Mr Bodhipala was involved in a police investigation in 2008 for his alleged role in an incident where a branch of a holy tree was chopped off, supposedly to be sold to a wealthy Buddhist.

According to the 2006 Census, NZ has 64,392 residents who profess to be Hindus.


Spirited opposition

* A Hindu group organising a religious conference is being accused of attempting to hijack followers of other faiths.

* Some religious leaders say the group is trying to create an impression that Hinduism has a bigger following than it actually does.

* In the 2006 Census, 64,392 people living in New Zealand said they were Hindus.

* The conference is being held on May 15 and 16 at the Hindu Heritage Centre in Mangere.

- NZ Herald

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