Hindu leaders and ISKCON devotees from all over Europe will meet on Tuesday March 27th and Wednesday March 28th in Belgium for The European Hindu Leaders Meeting and other events organized by the Hindu Forum of Europe (HFE). Venues include ISKCON’s Belgian headquarters Radhadesh, and the European Parliament in Brussels.
Established by ISKCON, the HFE is an umbrella organization for Hindu communities and organizations throughout Europe, which aims to raise the profile of the European Hindu community. Its main focus is advocacy work—representatives meet European policy makers at the European Parliament, Commission and Council to bring up issues which concern Hindu communities.
In 2007, for instance, the HFE opposed the German proposal to ban the use of the Swastika, stating that Hitler’s misuse doesn’t change the fact that it has been an auspicious Hindu symbol for 5,000 years.
The HFE also nominates Hindu representatives for important religious or political conferences, such as the European Council of Religious Leaders. Two years ago, the European Commission requested the HFE to send a Hindu representative to a meeting with the President of the Commission, the Parliament and the Council of Europe.
“This year’s European Hindu Leaders Meeting will be the first of its kind since 2005,” says Secretary General of the Hindu Forum of Europe Mahaprabhu Dasa (Martin Gurvich). “Our goal is to get Hindu leaders from all over Europe to come and to hear about the work of the HFE, connect more with each other, and see what the key issues are for the Hindu community throughout Europe.”
Thirty to forty leaders are expected to attend the European Hindu Leaders Meeting, which will be held on Tuesday March 27th in the Community Hall in Radhadesh, beginning at 11:00am with a welcome message by HFE President Sudarshan Bhatia.
Mahaprabhu Dasa and Bharti Tailor, Secretary General of the Hindu Forum of Britain, will also speak, discussing various issues of concern and heading up brainstorming sessions to decide what issues members of the HFE feel are most important to address.
“Right now the main concern is being able to function as a recognized religion in most European countries,” says Mahaprabhu.
Other hot topics include the campaign to introduce an official United Nations World Yoga Day, and Ayurvedic consultant Amarjeet Bhamra’s efforts to save the ancient Ayurvedic medical practice in the UK and the rest of Europe.
“With such an established Hindu community in the UK, the British government currently recognizes Ayurvedic doctors at the same level as allopathic doctors, complete with an elaborate checks and balances system,” Mahaprabhu says. “The European Commission, however, is now drafting a law to ban Ayurvedic medicines in the European Union. This would stop all the Ayurvedic doctors and patients in the UK from being able to bring in Ayurvedic medicine from India. So it’s a big issue, which we intend to bring to the European Parliament.”
The European Hindu Leaders Meeting will also be an opportunity to garner financial support for the HFE, as well as to canvass for more membership.
“Right now, only a few countries—the UK, Holland, Belgium and Italy—are represented in the Hindu Forum,” says Mahaprabhu. “So we need many more countries to come on board.”
During free time, the Meeting’s attendees will enjoy lunch and dinner at Govinda’s Restaurant in Radhadesh, take a tour of the community which includes a Radha Krishna temple and Bhaktivedanta College, and join in kirtan at the temple. The day will officially close at 7:00pm.
After breakfast at 10:00am the next day, on March 28th, the Hindu leaders will travel to Brussels on a private bus. They’ll arrive in the Belgian capital at 12:00pm, for a special HFE lunch and cultural program open to the public and held at the prestigious Bozar Centre for Fine Arts.
This event, aimed at creating a connection with Belgian and European politicians and leaders, is expected to draw around 100 to 150 people, including a dozen or so politicians and various religious leaders, NGO representatives, and friends of the HFE. It will begin with a reception and art exhibit, followed by speeches from Belgian dignitaries, a cultural presentation, and a vegetarian buffet.
Later, at 5pm the same afternoon, the HFE will hold its first ever conference at the 5B001 Paul Henri Spaak building in the European Parliament, where many advocacy organizations discuss important issues every year.
“As it is our very first European Parliament Conference, we wanted to make it very broad and general,” Mahaprabhu says. “So it will be on the topic of Hindu Contributions to Europe. We’ve invited many people from the business, political, and religious communities to speak about how Hindu citizens of Europe contribute to the ‘European Dream.’ ”
Speakers will include Lord Dholakia, one of the most senior Hindu politicians in Britain and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords; MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) Graham Watson from the UK, and Tanja M. Jadnanansing from Holland; Founder of Sevashram Sanga Nirliptananda Swami; and Nathuram Puri, a businessman and founder of the Purico Group.
ISKCON devotees speaking at the event will include Mahaprabhu Dasa, who is also the Director of ISKCON Communications Europe; and Shaunaka Rishi Dasa, Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.
Meanwhile, Hari Krishna Dasa (Henk Keilman)—the CEO of RIG Investments, a successful venture capital company in Holland—will talk about Hindu ethics and values in business and what it means to be a Hindu in the corporate world.
Some may wonder about devotees calling themselves Hindus, or being part of the Hindu Forum of Europe. Interestingly, this will be Mahaprabhu’s next project, in his role as ISKCON Communications Director.
“The whole Hindu issue is a big issue for ISKCON, and one we’re going to address at the next European ISKCON Communications Meeting in Radhadesh this April,” he says. “There are a lot of contradictions out there, and I think it’s time to come to a clear understanding on how ISKCON positions itself in regards to the broader Hindu context.”