“Some faiths are more equal than others [… ] creating an unequal society and citizen,” Bharti Tailor of the Hindu Forum of Europe said last week at the EU Commission’s High-Level Religious Leaders meeting, including “indigenous people who adopt Hinduism [who are] treated as 2nd class.”
18 senior religious leaders from all over Europe met May 30th to discuss the EU’s yearly theme of “citizenship” hosted by the EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, President Van Rompuy and Vice Presiden Laszlo Surjan, and organized by the Bureau of European Policy Advisors (BEPA) headed by Katharina von Schnurbein.
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that many of the facets of the EU community are being taken care of by the religious communities. Religious organizations are crucial communities of the EU cultural landscape and the EU is making its attempts to showcase this fact through open dialogue with the top religious leaders of Europe.
“Religious leaders to contribute to the debate on the future of Europe” was the headline of the press release. Despite the lack of presence of Hinduism as an officially recognized religion in Belgium, the EU Commission president has made it a point to re-invite the Hindu Forum of Europe’s (HFE) President Bharti Tailor (UK) and her guest Mahaprabhu das Secretary to the Hindu Forum of Europe.
Van Rompuy, Barroso and Surjan, with Mahaprabhuda Das sitting in the back
Bharti was clearly visible in the very important group photo, standing up front and center. Bharti specifically asked to be put in the front; owing to her 5.1 feet (1.5 meter) stature, she was hidden standing in the back row of last year’s photo.
Bharti was also clear in making a statement about inequality of Hinduism in Europe on behalf of the European Hindu communities including their feelings of inequality and being unrecognized formally in society.
“Trust will not be easily established from the groups who are not engaged or seen as equal in the first place,” she said, “by those who feel the state has not, will not and does not want to change the historical disparity that exists on the ground of religion, even in the light of equality legislation.”
The European Commission
However the status of inequality of Hinduism in the EU, all were pleased by the event. The EU Commission President, and Vice President of the European Parliament, along with Herman Van Rompuy the EU Council President received a Ramayana book (BBT Press) gift from Bharti and Mahaprabhu. This particular Ramayana book is the first large scale, digital art rendition, made by Italian ISKCON member Parama. Parama’s unique genre of classical and modern art bring to life the ancient story of Hinduism in a fresh way that the Barroso, Surjan and Van Rompuy are sure to notice.
The HFE organization, now in its seventh year of operation, is becoming the voice for the Hindu communities across Europe, as its mission aimed to do. Last year the HFE held a conference on “The Contribution of Hindus and Hinduism to Europe”, at the EU Parliament. This year it is planning for a conference on a sensitive but important topic: “Is the Wearing of Articles of Faith a real threat to Europe?”
Surjan, VanRompuy, Bharti and Barroso with the BBT Ramayana gift
The Religious Leaders meeting was established in the 1990’s by a former EU Commissioner as “an open exchange of views on pertinent EU policies”. “Unfortunately there many other parts in the world where this kind of gathering would not be possible, and I want to underline that point", said President Barroso. Although a valid topic to discuss, in a democratic society such as the EU that is struggling with religious intolerance, some may question if that such a vague statement is really substantial enough for such a potentially insturmental meeting.
Kumari Kunti Sherreitt is the Hindu Forum Europe Executive Secretary.