HHASC evaluated the current strength and areas of opportunities where Hindu Americans communities could leverage existing skills to help strengthen America’s domestic and global development agenda. The analysis is intending as a general starting point to begin a dialogue. Below are significant points for consideration.
Green: Currently engaged with capacity to grow,
Yellow: Have some knowledge, need development,
Red: Need assistance to develop
Many Hindu Americans have the knowledge and capacity to assist the high priority areas the Administration is addressing. They are actively engaged and have the capacity to grow. In most areas individuals have knowledge but lack institutional infrastructure capacity. With guidance and collaboration they can augment the Administration’s efforts to combat social injustice and poverty in all arenas.
1. MA Center
2. BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha
3. Bharatiya Temple, Detroit
5. Ganesh Temple, NY
6. Hindu Temple of Atlanta (Sai Health Fairs)
7. Hindu Temple of Minnesota
8. Lakshmi Narayana Spiritual Organization, California
9. SAYA – South Asian Youth Association
10. Sri Siva Vishnu Temple
11. Other discussions with the 120+ participating “Seva Centers” and organizations
Economic empowerment and entrepreneurship: Hindu organizations have a much shorter history in the US than other major religious traditions. Generally, Hindu organizations have raised money through donations and personal investments. The major problem is that Hindu executives do not know how to apply for government grants or how they need to structure themselves in order to qualify.
Hindu Americans are diverse with a wide array of skills and income level. Of the total, 64.4% have a college degree with 12.5% with advanced degrees. However 8.4% are not proficient in English and 8.2% live in poverty (compared to 9.4% of the total population).  Further view below the surface the community struggles with the model minority myth and masks the social issues prevalent within the community. The dual income does not reflect the underemployment, especially of women. 
The Hindu American community has considerable talent in multitude industries. Many are retiring (early wave which came in the 1960s and 1970s). An organized and mobilized community could be rich resource to provide services.
The M.A. Center enhances economic empowerment on a global level through a holistic approach of providing education for everyone, homes and slum renovation, community outreach programs like financial aid for widows and victims of poverty and disability, care homes for the elderly, sponsored weddings for the poor, hospital visits and meals on wheels, circle of love inside – prisoner outreach, service-oriented youth groups and free meditation courses for soldiers, prisoners, and the general public. The MA Center has made significant strides in the area of empowering women through providing them the right support with vocational training, micro-financing and support of their families, enhancing economic development at the grassroots level.
However, Dharmic institutions are still discovering new ways to reach out to the community. Dr. Siva Subramanian of the SSVT Temple, Maryland said that people in the community are too embarrassed to admit that they are jobless.
“This is an area that we are feeling out and probably have to learn a lot more from other religious communities,” said Subramanian. The AJC (American Jewish Center) has been collaborating with the temple leaders to assist the community during these tough economic times.
“I’m also in connection with the Catholic community – the Archbishop is really very helpful to put us in connection with the Catholic Church – we have a lot to learn from these two communities who have been here for a long time,” he said. Since the temple is still new to economic empowerment, it is eager to learn how other Dharmic institutions in the U.S. are addressing the community’s issues. “This is where we need a subsidiary of temple organizations – a paid staff to devote the time to contact these types of companies,” he added.
SSVT held a job fair (in April) for the Bhutanese refugees where they had the opportunity to meet with several business leaders from the community. “We have a lot of CEO’S, presidents, motel and restaurant owners and we invited them to come – we asked them (the refugees) to fill out applications – we have not done that with our own community. It’s a sensitive thing – we don’t really want to publicly seek this type of help – privately we have established it,” Subramanian said.
Infinity Foundation serves to reduce poverty and has programs such as prison outreach, feeding the homeless and many more. The names included here are only a representative sample.
Poverty and Homelessness: Many Seva events took place during the summer to address hunger and poverty: This is an area that the Hindu American communities are comfortable with and can easily do in existing infrastructure.
Resettlement, Immigration, Civil Rights: According to
a NY Times article, “the US
has opened its doors to about 60,000 Bhutanese refugees. The refugees are in
the early stages of assimilation or acculturation. The younger Bhutanese that
have learned to speak English are getting by, however their parents and the
elderly are having a difficult time adjusting to the American culture and
lifestyle. Some of the refugees, like my parents, had professional careers in Nepal but how
are their skills being utilized or recognized in this country? Most are making
their best effort to survive on food stamps and hard labor such as factory
work. The families that are living in this single building in the Bronx are helping each other out with food and everyday
The Hindu Temple of Minnesota has done similar work, however like many temples, they struggle to obtain resources to provide necessary services. “Immediate help can be given – lots of refugees have been coming from Bhutan and they live 40 miles away from us in the Eastern part of St. Paul—they do want to come to the temple and they are 98 percent Hindu, but transporting them 40 miles is a difficulty—the finances are challenging. Additionally the community is concerned with the proselytizing attempts by some churches when they reach out to provide services to these vulnerable Hindus.” said Dr. Kumud Sane of the temple.
Sewa International USA has taken up a nationwide project to help Bhutanese families. Currently, chapters in 32 cities, along with various local organizations, are working to fulfill the immediate and longer-term needs of these refugees with several more chapters gearing up to help. Sewa International USA is providing: Financial help, Essential materials such as blankets, winter jackets, clothes, toys etc, Employment assistance - Job search assistance, Sponsorship of vocational training, Job fairs: Mobility - Help in acquiring driver licenses, Sponsoring or donating used cars, Help in transitioning to a new environment while preserving their culture - Help in conducting cultural events, Mentoring and friendship, Rides to their preferred places of worship. Details at website.
Other contributing temples and organizations include:
Healthcare, Health Awareness and Health Fairs: Healthcare is a strength of the Dharmic community. During the summer seva, South Asian Total Health Initiative prepared health awareness PowerPoint presentations that were distributed to many temples. The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin and National Association of Indian Nurses volunteered to provide services through the temples. Many of the health care service providers were of diverse, faiths and backgrounds.
Following are examples of the services provided by Dharmic institutions in the area of Healthcare:
For many Dharmic institutions, the health fairs are a consistent part of their program. The Durga Temple of Virginia holds a monthly health clinic. The monthly preventative health clinic is for insured and the uninsured and serves to raise awareness among the community of heart attack problems; blood pressure; cholesterol, said Kusum Teneja of the Durga Temple.
“Doctors provide consultations in any area of interest for the patient; doctors are nice enough to talk to patients about any problems and they write prescriptions and dispense free medicines; sample medicines; some people can only afford the samples. We try to provide all types of information or services so that whoever comes and attends and feels at home,” Teneja said. Approximately 50 people have taken advantage of the clinic; recently the demographics have been mostly Nepalese people coming in; they aren’t so well off as the Indians in the community, she said. There are also lots of Sikhs from Punjab.
The Sai Health Fair (www.saihealthfair.org) is another organization that has grown over the years. The founder, Dr. Sujatha Reddy, of the Hindu Temple of Atlanta said the Fair offers services and free consultations from 30 doctors and Emory students. The size of their participation: minimum 300 people.
“I’m the only one to do this type of organized health camps regularly in Atlanta,” Reddy said. She said they have been doing health fairs in shopping malls and churches in tribute to the values of Martin Luther King and Gandhi. Reddy established the Sai Health Fair Inc. which according to its website: “Organizes two to three health fair camps each year in areas convenient to large groups of underprivileged people in the community. The health fairs provide free medical consultation and laboratory tests to all those who attend and who are in need of them.” Other services the health fair provides include: EKG; Bone Density Tests; Glaucoma Screenings; Blood Tests (for a nominal $15 fee).
“In spite of generous donations of resources and time by our core supporters, given the ever-increasing need, we currently cannot accommodate all the requests we receive,” Reddy said. Recently, the health fairs have been planned on major holidays or events that mark the commemoration of world leaders in order to garner the community’s attention to health awareness. “The fairs have proven to be a vehicle of social service and welfare and have provided an outreach of medical services, at no cost to the general public. Vulnerable sections of the society especially physically challenged, elderly, needy and neglected members of the society are targeted.”
Other Dharmic institutions have been providing similar services, offering opportunities to collaborate with other groups. “SEWA-AIFW gives health care every third Sunday of every month. It’s not part of the temple but we work hand in hand,” said Dr. Kumud Sane of the Hindu Temple of Minnesota. Once a year there’s a seminar for health and wellness—it’s open to the public—free to the public.”
For the past nine years, the Bharitya Temple of Michigan has been conducting an annual health fair that garners a minimum of 300 participants. The fair has been opened it up to the community at large. However, like many temples, they do not have the capacity to run the operation.
“We don’t have a budget to even buy orange juice – we make tea because people donate money for the tea – and volunteers make upma (an Indian dish),” said Padma Kuppa of the temple. “I would love to see us get the money to run the health fair and have someone staff it.”
The temple volunteers are overstretched and find it difficult to do the legwork, Kuppa said. The Michigan Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (MAPI) help the temple run the event. The temple also works with the local hospital to service people at the 4 health stations offered. Kuppa said they would love to have general physicians provide physicals, medicines, and vision and dental checkups. “None of this stuff is done right now for lack of staff and funding,” Kuppa said. “The volunteers take about 6 weeks to put the fair together. “I wish someone would help during that time.”
In July, the Bharitya Temple also held a breast cancer awareness session in which professionals provided much needed information about breast cancer and the importance of screenings. In the end they signed up very few women for the screenings. “We had less than 20 people – people don’t want to talk about breast cancer,” said Kuppa adding they made a strong effort to send flyers out informing people of the event. She said there has to be a better dialogue about such health issues.
Along with the help of the Indo American Medical Association, the Hindu Society of Florida were able to provide a health day this summer which included health screening, education, blood testing and ECG for high-risk participants and evaluation in different medical specialties.
From April through June, the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in Maryland brings 20 tables with 20 specialists in their auditorium during their health fairs. “Several of our people will bring their parents especially if they are visiting and that’s when we pick up some of those who have lost their jobs – they will bring their children – they don’t have insurance and lost their jobs…,” said Dr. Siva Subramanian of the SSVT temple. The health fair also includes private rooms for the women, cancer screening, breast examinations done by OBGYN’s; and prostate screening. This year, the temple welcomed 120 Bhutanese refugees that were transported to the temple by shuttles. The health screening for these refugees uncovered seven people with severe diabetes who haven’t been taken care of for years, said Subramanian.
M. A. Center sponsored Wellness Fairs in San Ramon, CA and New York. They have been offering ongoing nutritional counseling and courses at the soup kitchen in NY. Across the country they have been offering Stress and Relaxation workshops and meditation courses.
Elderly/Senior Citizens: The elderly population has been dramatically increasing in the recent past. However, there are few culturally sensitive services available to serve the growing needs of this population.
However India Home is one of the growing number or groups, along with Dharmic faith-based institutions, that are providing necessary services to South Asian senior citizens. India Home caters to the social, psychological, recreational and spiritual needs of the elder population in a culturally sensitive manner in the New York area (specifically, Queens and Nassau). To achieve this end, India Home’s senior center program offers the following services: Exercise: Yoga and Meditation, Spirituality: Lectures, Discussions and Bhajans, Recreation: Movies, Music and Games, Celebrations: Festival and Birthdays, Arts, Crafts and Discussion Groups. The organization provides transportation for seniors via a 14-seater minibus.
The India Home was launched in April 2008 with three centers that offer once-a-week programs for senior citizens. Its ultimate goal is to have its own centre that will be open 12 hours a day with “diverse activities to keep the elderly physically, mentally and emotionally engaged” There are various other organizations that India Home founder Dr. Vasundhara collaborates with to help the senior citizen programs grow including the Doshi Family Foundation, Nori Family Foundation and SAHI (South Asian Health Initiatives).
The senior center is the initial step in the larger continuum of care for seniors of Indian origin. The Durga Temple of Virginia is making an effort to establish a senior citizen club. “Our seniors don’t feel comfortable in the mainstream culture because of language barriers or type of entertainment for them,” said Kusum Teneja of the temple. She said funding and lack of volunteers has prevented the temple from moving quickly on this initiative.
If there were a dream project she could pursue through the auspices of the Bharatiya Temple of Michigan, it would be to create a senior center, said Kuppa. She said there’s a need in the Michigan community for such services.
The Hindu Ganesh Temple in Queens, the first temple built in the United States, has also expanded its community outreach to the seniors. A full-time program director is responsible for organizing and providing services to the community. The temple is well integrated into the local community and serves the needs not only of the Hindu community but also the underprivileged. In addition to comprehensive regularly scheduled free health clinics, the temple provides educational forums on home foreclosures/preservation and stimulus package strategies for survival.
Community members and congregants of the SSVT Temple in Maryland have been significant in helping establish a senior citizen program. Around 8 to 10 years ago, the temple formed a Seniors Club where anybody over 55 plus could gather and participate in various activities that they themselves organize. The temple would provide any financial aid the program needed. “They have done a lot of service activities and conduct a lot of classes on health and they conduct classes for yoga for the elderly,” said Subramanian. The club also brings in physicians that speak about elderly related topics including arthritis, hypertension, etc.
The SSVT temple also has organized complimentary alternative medicine sessions with a participation of 50 to 60 people who have the opportunity to practice alternative health techniques: Reiki, acupressure and meditation. They teach this as part of the Complimentary Alternative Medicine – the seniors invite qualified people to have it taught. “You should see some of our elderly – they are really healthy and they can beat endurance in a lot of young adults,” Subramanian said.
Recently, the temple has started looking at the possibility of providing 55 plus communities for Hindus “who would then feel the opportunity to have some commonalities as they move forward in their age with the concept of providing assisted living homes,” Subramanian said. In extension of that he said the temple has a group called Mithra Mandala (Friend, Circle) – that was started primarily as helping spouses that may have been abused; experienced loss of a spouse; felt depressed or had some family circumstances that lead to emotional or psychological issues. Mithra Mandala offers a marriage counseling specialist and other professionals who keep all of these contacts confidential and provide counsel privately. It includes the elderly as well. “It could be a one-on-one telephone conversation or an in-person meeting. They use the temple space and their own working places and homes to make it happen,” Subramanian said.
The M.A. Center has groups of volunteers who regularly visit Nursing Homes and Senior Centers and partner with Meals on Wheels to bring Santa gifts for elderly – Milwaukee, Partnership with Meals on Wheels – OH, Visits to Nursing Homes and Senior Centers – KS
The Hindu Ganesh Temple in Queens, the first temple built in the United States, has expanded the community outreach to the seniors. A full time program director is responsible for organizing and provided services to the community. The temple is well integrated into the local community and serves the needs not only of the Hindu community but also the underprivileged. In addition to comprehensive regularly scheduled free health clinics, the temple provided educational forums on home foreclosures/preservation and stimulus package strategies for survival during the summer.
Women’s Empowerment: Migration brings its own sense of loss, identity, and social networks. Asian Indian Women in America, the first women’s organization in North America, was formed in the late 1970s and early 1980s to address acculturation and adaptation issues. AIWA also helped in the formation of Manavi, a domestic violence organization in New Jersey. AIWA assisted in job training, conducted job fairs and took part in the leadership development of South Asian American women. AIWA’s research concurs with Catalyst that immigrant women, as a sub segment of People of Color, earn less than their counterpart.
General perception in the media of Hindu/Indian women is of subjugation. There is a growing need for the mainstream and for the community to understand from an in-culture perspective, and to see the strength of the Indian Women through the agesso that there are strong role models for the Hindu American community to emulate. “Manu declares that where women are honored, there the god s(divine qualities) are pleased; where they are not honoured, all works become fruitless.” Roles have changed globally and adaptation in the family environment creates its own tensions within the family. The community needs education and acceptance of both the impact of migration and the changing roles within families.
Women can get exploited when they immigrate to the U.S. as wives. Immigration and integration issues are not dealt with publicly. The Bharatiya Temple of Michigan partners with University of Michigan’s Shanti Project to help domestic violence victims – both men and women.
Domestic Violence is an area where women have organized to help women. The community, like all other ethnic and mainstream communities, has seen domestic violence, domestic help issues and gender equity issues. There is a South Asian (Dharmic tradition, Christian, Muslim, from the sub-continent) domestic violence groups in most states with a South Asian population. It is not faith-based per se. The community needs to break the silence and deal with these issues compassionately in the faith-based arena where people come in large numbers. The community needs to help overcome temple resistance and help facilitate connections with social service providers such as SAMHAJ and NAMI.
BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is one of the few Hindu organizations that has programs specifically to develop women leaders. Coordinated programs are held across the country, for example, to celebrate international Women's Day. In 2009, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha brought together over 2,500 women across North America for its second annual Women’s Conference entitled “Health, Wellness and Balanced Development”. Three-hour town hall-style conferences held across 12 cities in the United States marked a unique dialogue among women about their personal and community-wide health and wellness needs. Doctors, public health specialists, yoga experts, nutritionists, and spiritual leaders gathered at the different symposia and emphasized how various aspects of wellness (Physical and Nutritional Wellness, Mind-Body Wellness, Social, Cultural and Moral Wellness, as well as Spiritual Wellness) all play a joint role in the health and well-being of women everywhere. Dignitaries, speakers, and invited guests at BAPS Women’s Conference 2009 discussed ways in which women can empower themselves and, in turn, improve their overall quality of life as well as make positive improvements within their surrounding community.
The M.A. Center has partnered with the SAVE anti-poverty project in the Bay Area and has provided hot meals, groceries, clothing, school supplies. In other parts of the country, including Akron, OH they have focused their efforts at mainstream battered women’s centers and additionally taught yoga, meditation and computer skills.
Both section 7 Parenthood and Healthy Families and 8 Children and youth overlap and so the interview comments are integrated.
Cultural identity and assimilation issues, relating to raising children in the US surfaced during the discussions. Many Indian and Hindu Parents do not fully understand the struggle for identity as pointed in the essay by Minauti Dave. Parents do not have the support systems to help them navigate and understand how to assist their American children. Many are dual income working to support the families are compromise the time spent with the children. Additionally, the faith based organizations are not set up to support the families. Concerned citizens are beginning to raise awareness of the psychological impact of migration and the adaptation to America.
Many temples today provide education on ethics, theology and religious practice. They neither directly discuss social issues nor have counselors to assist the immigrants adapt. This is an area for infrastructure capacity development.
In 1999, Princeton University’s Center for Research on Child Wellbeing initiated “The New Jersey Immigrant Youth Project” in conjunction with academics, practitioners, government agencies and foundations to discuss the adaptation of immigrant children in New Jersey. Research in Edison and New Brunswick led to the following conclusions:
· The Need for Early Intervention - Importance of school-based programs for at-risk youth.
· Promoting children’s self-confidence, emotional intelligence and social competence.
In Livingston, NJ The Indian School, a community run organization, teaches Hindi for an hour weekly basis. “This provides an opportunity for the children to come and feel comfortable in their brown skins,” Bhargava said. “Often Indian children are siloed based on their ethnic and religious background; where Hindus go to the Temple and the Christians to the Indian churches, Sikhs to the Gurudwaras. We not only teach the language but try to provide an inclusive, multicultural experience for the children. We celebrate Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh and other holidays based on the Indian national holiday program. We hold the classes in an elementary school in Livingston. We have received tremendous support from our Board of Education as they see it an extension of the diversity and inclusion initiatives the community has undertaken. The Township of Livingston has a Diversity Committee which organizes MLK holiday and Multicultural events so that different ethnic groups have a way of expressing their ethnicity and feel accepted”.
“There are many youths who do not have a voice of their own,” said Padma Kuppa of the Bharatiya Temple. “Their needs are not being met from the community. Their parents are controlling their activities in the temple instead of the youths taking hold and establishing their own teen-oriented programs and events.” There is a disconnect and she said it’s a matter of better communication between the parents and their children.
Interview with Sayu Bhojwani: Former Executive Director of SAYA: South Asian Youth Action: Since she founded and developed SAYA (South Asian Youth Action), a youth development agency in New York City, Sayu Bhojwani is well versed on the issues effecting South Asian youths in the U.S. When defining “at risk” behavior among youths, there are many distinctions to be wary of before the general public create a stigma, she said.
“Certainly the young people we were working with at SAYA – there’s a wide range of at risk behavior – everything from dropping out of high school, unprotected sex, drugs – clearly the Hindu faith-based institutions are unable to deal with such at risk behaviors – they are certainly present. There are a lot of kids Hindu kids who are sexually active, who are experimenting with alcohol and substance abuse – while the numbers may not be high – it’s not behavior that is absent. Just about everything that American teenagers are going through, they are going through.”
South Asian youths are experiencing the same things as your average American teenager, she said. “To some extent they are just young people and its ‘cool’ – I guess part of the process of being American or Americanized or “fitting in” might include certain types of behavior – obviously it’s not necessary to do things to fit in.”
Outside of this general desire for acceptance, South Asian youths face a certain amount of “cultural pressure,” she said. “Sure it runs the gamut – depending on what community and socioeconomic status the children are in. There is extreme pressure to performing well academically to being the first person to graduate from high school in their family. I’m not up to date – on the stats – it’s very hard to get data. First, it’s hard as it is, to get data on South Asian kids much less Hindu kids in the New York City Board of Education. At best, if they’re going to create some kind of label it is Asian,” Bhojwani said.
“If we were generalizing, there’s acculturation that puts young people at risk and within it, it will be everything from feeling ashamed about their home culture and home behaviors or feeling like they can’t fit in or they can’t fit in with their friends because they’re vegetarian or can’t drink.”
During this process of acculturation, many South Asian youths deal with the financial pressures within their family and express “at risk” behavior as a result of their circumstances. “Many young people may feel pressure to work when it’s a family business or supplementing their parents and family income,” Bhojwani said. “There are a whole set of issues around family structure – if there are young people whose parents have been here for a long time and then the kids come and join them, there’s a whole set of issues, especially if you’re a boy adjusting to a male older figure in the house telling you what to do when you’re not used to that. Domestic violence is a pretty significant issue towards women and children and there are at risk behaviors that may result,” she said.
In addition to domestic violence, the father of the household may engage in alcohol and substance abuse, which negatively affects their children as well. “There are also things that happen that come not with just having to work, but being on the margins of society – parents whose incomes don’t provide for health insurance,” Bhojwani said. “The big one is immigration status – young people may be citizens, (but) their parents may not be documented. That acculturation and economics, family issues and family structure, domestic abuse and immigration status have some impact on how young people function,” she said.
When discussing what the Dharmic institutions can do to reach out to youths, Bhojwani said adults representing these faith-based groups and temples need to close the generational and cultural gap between adults and youths. “I think from my perspective, the organizations – the people who are running these organizations, have not themselves adjusted to the reality of living in the U.S. if part of their role or part of their message is to preserve some Hindu identity and way of life – that’s just not going to connect with the young people – the young people are adapting – it’s not a question of whether they want to or not – they do it because they have to,” Bhojwani said.
One of the primary ways to significantly impact the lives of youths is consistency and continuity, Bhojwani said, adding, it’s the reason why she started SAYA. “There’s a process of trust building and continuity that you have to engage in if you’re going to work with young people. The temple – people usually go once a week unless they are older women or employed (who go) on special occasions – that does not provide the continuity of content that young people need. The point about starting SAYA, there were millions of youth camps both religious and nonreligious – none of them were ongoing – it (continuity),” she said.
In a landscape analysis, Bhojwani found numerous religious and secular youth camps that had no continuity. “Continuity allows the time that is needed for young people to build trust – to feel that they can come to you with their issues. In my opinion – most youth development shows that young people need a caring adult on an ongoing basis,” Bhojwani said.
“The staffing of these type of programs must be with people that young people can connect with – if the organization’s purpose is to provide counseling – they (the youths) are going to see right through that – they are a little confused, but they’re not stupid. Informal programming where young people can come and hang out – both of those things SAYA provides –eventually that leads to SAT prep. The temples or the faith-based organizations – I’m not sure what they can do; what these places of worship can provide,” Bhojwani said.
It is important for the Dharmic institutions to have a clear-cut goal as to its purpose of addressing and working with youths, Bhojwani said. “The underlying challenge – is what the purpose of all this is – if it’s to connect the youth with the Hindu faith or a place for them to hang out,” she said.
“If the agenda is to connect the youth with the Hindu faith – it’s important to make them feel like they can relate to the Hindu faith. Even that has to be an ongoing process,” Bhojwani said. “The other thing is that the organization can establish a youth council – maybe they can take the lead.”
Both Drs. Sane of the Hindu Temple of Minnesota have been working with the St. Paul Council of Churches in Minneapolis to increase youth participation. The temple hopes to work with the church and hold youth events at the temple. The program is tentatively called Inspired to Serve and meant to spur youths of various faiths to get involved in community service.
The SSVT temple in Maryland is a proponent of volunteerism and in that vein established the Children’s Fund in 1997 in an effort to develop youth and education programs in order to meet the needs of a fast-growing Hindu population in Washington.
The M.A Center runs Amrita Balakendra, a Sunday school that teaches values and culture. Their youth organization – Ayudh, is a strong network of youth between 15 and 30 years of age and is involved in several projects including community service in the form of writing letters to prisoners, tree planting and cleans up of parks and highways and other humanitarian activities.
A need exists to bridge the gap between programs that target “healthy” youth and “at risk” youth. Another need is to bridging cultural identity dissonance in mental health issues
Interfaith and Interreligious Dialogue Collaboration: The Hindu American community has been engaged in Interfaith dialogues since they arrived to the United States. Each person and every family becomes an Ambassador of Hinduism. The dialogues are aimed at bringing an awareness of the traditions and reducing some of the stereotypes at the local, state and national levels as well as in academic circles. However, considerable work remains to be done to reduce/dispel the myth which will allow youth to grow in a manner in which their Hindu faith is accepted.
In Livingston, NJ the Interfaith Clergy Association was formed in the late 1960s to start a dialogue between the Christians and the Jewish people who settled there. In the mid-1990s a Hindu American was included to increase understanding of Eastern traditions as the community evolved even though there is no Hindu Temple in the municipality. Discourses have moved from individual homes to the local Baptist Church in Livingston where space is rented. The Hindu American Seva in Livingston in collaboration with Taranga have developed power point presentation on “Multifaceted Vedic Hinduism” to increase understanding in an inter and intrafaith environments. Additional education material on “Satyanarayan Puja” is also developed. Hindu American Seva also plays an active role in community governance with the Clergy Association.
We see many temples and individuals conduct interfaith dialogues all over the country. Our traditions are different and priests are trained only for work. Swamis provide the philosophical teachings. Primarily lay people (and some swamis) engage in dialogues. It started with trying to explain who we are to neighbors and friends. Today, people are actively engaged, however, the lack of capacity prevents programs from growing with the help of full-time paid staff.
The history of interfaith dialogue, and events at the SSVT temple in Maryland, date back to the 1980s. The temple has been involved with the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington DC (IFC) in a more “episodic” fashion, said Dr. Siva Subramanian. “When they would call us, we would respond – activity or participation in annual musical performance to something more specific in terms of topics or dialogue,” he said.
In 1991 the Executive Director of the IFC asked if the SSVT temple would officially be a member of IFC as Hindus. There were 10 temple organizations in the DC area – instead of just us joining IFC, SSVT thought it would better to get together and join together as one organization to represent all Hindus in the area.
“I got together all the temple presidents at the time and they were able to get together—they were all willing. I was able to convince them that as a minority living in this country, (it would be ideal) to be able to interact with other religious communities in terms of exchange of information, understanding perspective and develop respect and solve problems that come up in the community,” Subramanian said.
As Subramanian coordinated with the temple presidents to submit information to the IFC to become a member, the Hindu temples also thought it would be good to have Jains also take part of the Dharmic traditions. The organization was established as the United Hindu-Jain Temple of Metropolitan Washington DC (shortened to United Hindu Jain Temples (UHJT). “And I have been representing the Hindu faith on behalf of UHJT along with the IFC people,” said Subramanian.
UHJT is an organization of a loosely combined federated structure – each temple has their own independent thing to do but coming together we have certain issues that are involved in the Vedic organization. UHJT now has a list of speakers on Hinduism and has also developed a set of power point slides presentation about Hinduism.
“The first test was Post 9/11 – especially when some of the Sikh people were targeted – and the Hindu temples were able to come out with a statement and approach the politicians about how this targeting was taking place. It helped in getting all the initial security areas together – it included the Muslims. Since 9/11 there has been a tremendous interest from the majority Christian churches as well as Jewish and Muslim communities – we have given a lot of talks and dialogues. If you put everybody who participated in the discussion, we had 50 to 60 talks during that year,” Subramanian said.
The UHJT has a speaker’s bureau where they developed speaking points about Hinduism so that when it is invited to the churches and synagogues in the area, it would have a certain amount of consistency. The UHJT talked about common themes of Hinduism.
The third part that came out of developing such activities is that the UHJT worked with IFC to help the latter publish a book entitled “Teaching about Religions” – written by the practitioners of those religions – 11 religions. IFC developed a series of questions in which every religion answered those questions. It is now a supplemental teaching text for the Fairfax Montgomery School district. “We found students were being misled and taught the wrong information about Hinduism. Fairfax was the first to accept the materials. And now its part of a booklet – used by the teachers,” Subramanian said. UHJT put a small committee of people together to help write the Hinduism part of the book. The book is now available on: www.ifcmw.org.
“We are now getting into simply participating with others. We thought it would be important to invite the interfaith people to the various temples and at the SSVT temple; we invited the IFC a couple of times for dialogues. This being the 25th year of SSVT temple, Anju asked us to hold an interfaith dialogue at the temple on Sept. 5, 2009. The White House was encouraging interfaith collaboration/service across the country that week. We had an interfaith dialogue on the topic of feasting and fasting. It was superb,” Subramanian said.
On February 28, 2010, the temple invited a local Rabbi and several Jewish youths to have a discussion at the temple involving a Hindu-Jewish dialogue. “We’ve had this before – this is a continuation of that,” he said.
Many examples of interfaith collaboration abound including groups such as Arya Samaj and education volunteers of temples that conduct interfaith dialogues. Temples now routinely bring in visitors to help them understand Dharmic traditions.
The American Jewish Committee’s chapter in Atlanta had an inter-faith dialogue at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Atlanta.
On behalf of the organization Padma Kuppa had created, the Troy Interfaith Group; she was part of an International Day of Peace in which people from various faiths had a dialogue about what the word peace means to them; there was a skit to represent a parable.
Recently, Kuppa helped organize an event called the Interfaith Family Forum. “I have a very good friend who is a mentor at the temple whose both sons are married to non Indians – I invited him and his wife – the forum was just not for the couple, but for the family. A Jewish man – he is the third panelist – he married a non-Jew – how does the Jewish community treat people who marry non-Jews, what support systems are out there in the family and the community are among the questions they explored in the dialogue.
In addition, Kuppa helped organize a volunteer breakfast for those involved in a Habitat for Humanity event. She said the temple got together 20 to 30 volunteers to make and provide breakfast to about 120 volunteers from the Habitat for Humanity as they were building a house that day. The Temple volunteers gave their time in the name of an interfaith activity. However, Kuppa was disappointed when the building was complete, how a member of Habitat said it would put a Bible in the house for the family to use. Moments before, a pastor started the volunteering day off by saying a prayer, thanking Lord Jesus. Kuppa was not pleased to see the effort lean in only one direction. There was no emphasis or mention of an “interfaith” partnership on that day.
Civic Engagement: In Livingston, NJ a small group started civic engagement in the early 1980s. Anju Bhargava indicated the primary focus was on integrating children and helping them mainstream so as to reduce ghettoization, albeit in the suburbs. “In 1984, we, as Asian Indians, started with the children marching in Livingston’s Memorial Day Parade and took part in Fourth of July activities. In 1999, with other Livingston residents, we co-created a holiday to celebrate Martin Luther King holiday and formed the Diversity Committee. We became part of the Livingston Clergy Association and various civic organizations. However, over the decades only a handful of people became actively engaged. It was quite difficult to bring them into the mainstream civic activities. In 2008, after the Mumbai terrorism attacks, the community – Indian and the mainstream – came together for an impromptu prayer.”
When most of the religious and spiritual worship, education to youths was in homes, now we are doing it in a public space. “Recently, we have begun to rent space at the local Baptist Church to provide spiritual discourse,” said Bhargava. In 2008 we started The Indian School to teach languages (Hindi, Gujarati) and have found it as a way to assist the new immigrants and their children in the adaptation process.
Temples do not usually engage in civic participation. They are usually places of worship. Hindu Americans need to adapt as the U.S. faith-based institutions play an integral role in community governance.
“If I had my dream, I would like to see the temple create a public service department in which we can create the programming – and not put so much energy into fund-raising – the funds will come if you show the value of coming to the temple,” said Kuppa of the Bharatiya Temple of Michigan. “At the end of the day, people want to feel good about themselves and if 1-2 people could create more Seva projects, and be more proactive in representing the community, (the funding will come).”
After speaking with Dr. Siva Subramanian from the SSVT Temple in Maryland, he said it takes a lot of initiative and education to get Indian community members involved in civic engagement. Just like other boards and organizations are established, Dr. Subramanian had to create such a structure to promote the civic dialogue, brainstorm ideas, etc. He was successful in all forms of civic engagement involving interfaith dialogue including holding meetings; communicating and establishing future goals; using connections to hold events, etc. Civic engagement in our community is about education and awareness. “We need to expand individual efforts into group efforts. Seva is the place where it connects,” he said.
Discrimination, Religious Bias or Hate Crimes: During the summer of seva (service), as we collected data from around the country, we found numerous temples had been vandalized. Many temples are afraid to speak up. Post 9/11 many families have been targeted. Some temples are afraid to put a sign outside to say it is a Hindu Temple. “The Hindus are ghettoizing themselves. Additionally, they do not know how to speak up in an American context. They have tried to not publicize it, just through increased security,” Bhargava said. The first generation Hindu/Jain people in the community don't speak up often and are adjusting to being minorities and people of color. “Some years ago in Jersey City we had "dot-busters" and a number of people were killed. They focused on the dot that Hindu women wear,” Bhargava said.
Khyati Joshi, a professor at Fairleigh Dickenson University indicates that, "religion is racialized" showing why there is a need, in addition to Muslim and Sikh communities, to pay attention to Hindu and Jain communities in the US. In this process of racialization, the religious identity to the perpetrator comes secondary……..because religion is linked with physical appearance. She was invited to Vienna to speak to member nations of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe).
The Minnesota Temple had vandalism and they made it an opportunity for forgiveness. The boys were asked to do community service and they turned around. The SSVT Temple was also vandalized. Every temple has had difficulty in getting permits. The Swaminarayan Temple in Hackettstown, NJ has been waiting for 20 years to build on their premises. Indian and Hindu people are routinely profiled in their communities. It is difficult getting visas for the priests. Hinduism Today indicated the difficulty of getting temple workers to do the construction.
In the same respect, people of various faiths are more than prepared to coexist in peace. When the terrorist attack happened on the Taj Hotel in India, “We arranged a service and invited people from the Jewish Community and Muslim mosques and all faiths—all those folks came together—that was last November for a couple of hours,” said Kusum Teneja of the Durga Temple of Virginia. “Everyone spoke about their mission; their thoughts about the events; what we should do. Lots of Jewish folks were killed too. We had services; we had speeches.”
The message of peace, especially through mediation has reached all areas of the community including prisons in the U.S. Vipassana, a secular organization that teaches meditation through 3 to 10-day retreats has been conducted in prisons in Alabama and Washington State. However, there is no well-developed institution, which provides assistance to prisoners. There is a large group of trained mental health workers who could be engaged through their faith-based organizations.
Disaster Relief, Emergency Shelter Food Program: Many Hindu Americans routinely assist in disaster relief through medical and humanitarian care. Many examples of such services abound. This is an area of strength to be leveraged in service of humanity globally.
Minnesota Temple was involved in providing relief to families post Katrina. Sathya Sai organizations sent volunteers to helped with disaster relief after Katrina
“When Katrina came in New Orleans, we (provided) both cash and materials, supplies,” Subramanian said. “When the Tsunami happened, we organized funds and supplies. I actually went in 2005 to help in the Tsunami relief effort and parts of the places where it hit. We did food distributions and made boats for the fishermen and built community halls; we didn’t do it directly but through NGO’s. The other disaster relief effort was during 9/11 – again, supplies, cash, etc.”
BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha has actively participated in relief work. Since 1970, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha has often been the first to serve those affected by natural disasters. Whether a flood, drought, famine, cyclone, earthquake, or plague - BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha provides all-round help: from immediate relief distribution to permanent re-habilitation, and from emergency medical aid to long-term socio-economic assistance. In addition, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha has worked with local and state governments, as well as national and international agencies to provide better, more complete services.
Satya Sai organization with thousands of volunteers across the country was actively engaged in Katrina. They provided food, assisted the homeless and conducted myriad humanitarian projects.
Disaster relief is one of M.A. Center’s core activities. It has been one of the first respondents in many situations in Asia. In September 2005, the MA Math donated $1,000,000 to the Bush-Clinton Hurricane Katrina fund. Food, clothing, housing and other essential items were also provided by M.A. Center volunteers from around the country. Closer to affected areas, MA Center volunteers donated time and expertise, collaborating with other relief organizations to provide support and relief. Large group from Texas went to clean up.
Sewa International has played an active role in disaster recovery and rehabilitation - Hurricane Ike, Hurricane Katrina.
International Development and Aid: “SSVT has been involved in many different types of disaster relief – the first organized one was during the Gujarat Earthquake – there were tremendous problems and so we organized the collection of clothes and utensils and whatever useful materials. We worked with the Embassy in India and sent several crates to India,” Subramanian said.
The MA Math feeds more than two million people annually throughout India; also distributing uncooked rice, milk and other staples to deeply impoverished communities. In the first six months after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the MA Math provided more than six million free meals to disaster victims, as well as more than 185 tons of uncooked rice to help the victims make ends meet. Most well known for the $46 million tsunami-relief project where entire villages were rebuilt, MA Math volunteers have been at ground zero in several of the decade's most devastating natural disasters, from the 2001 Gujarat Earthquake to the 2008 Bihar Flood which displaced millions. For specific details visit: http://www.embracingtheworld.org/what-we-do/disaster-relief/tsunami/
BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha did significant international aid work after the Cyclone in West Bengal, Bihar Floods, Mumbai Floods and Gujarat Earthquake, South Asian Tsunami in addition to Hurricane Katrina and Ike.
The Bharatiya Temple of Michigan had 25 to 30 people donate clothing and they sent them to India to the flood victims last fall.
Sewa International is actively engaged in Haiti Crisis with Chai-Haiti. Considerable funds have been collected and donated.
Chinmaya Mission’s Organization for Rural Development (CORD) aims to build organizational and operational capacity of village groups to run their own activities in an integrated, participatory and sustainable manner while augmenting their income and enabling natural resource management by the villagers. CORD programs and activities have been inspired and formulated based on dynamic and vibrant interactions with thousands of villagers. CORD's strength and success has been due to its coalition with villagers, where there is cooperative effort to organize, build, and find relevant solutions to personal, familial, and communal concerns.
“Green” Issues, Climate change and Environment Environmental awareness and programs is still a new concept in Dharmic communities, however, as they are more and more educated about climate change and “green” issues, they are adapting accordingly.
“Recently during this summer we planted lots of trees and flowers—one of the young men, part of the Boy Scouts, brought his friends together to earn an Eagle Badge. We helped him with the donations to get the trees—25 trees,” said Dr. Sane of the Hindu Temple of Minnesota. The scouts planted the trees in their community. The temple had hoped to make it “green” by installing solar panels, but they lack the funds to move forward on the project.
Greenfriends, a part of M.A. Center’s efforts to support the environment, has planted more than a million trees across the world. They are also involved in awareness building and recycling efforts. All new US buildings are built “green,” and retrofitting efforts also underway. Events are run “green” with significant recycling and composting. The following are only a brief summary of the programs they have initiated:
15. Capacity Building, Community Activities, Organization and Management
Capacity Building, Community Activities, Organization and Management Throughout the process of gathering information for this report, it was evident across the board that Dharmic institutions were all struggling to financially provide for the evolution of its programs, initiative and goals. Interview after interview revealed a non-existent or a two-member full-time paid staff at the temples. In addition, operating costs were increasing every year, preventing the Dharmic groups and temples from growing in other directions. The institutions were wholly dependent on private donations from the wealthiest members of their community. None of the temples and few groups interviewed in this report received public funding and neither did the group board members seek such funding.
“There’s no way we can survive. That doesn’t count the debt load we carry. The temple has not sought government funding/grants nor does it know how to,” Dr. Sane, Hindu Temple Minnesota.
The Hindu Temple of Atlanta receives funding from trustees who have pledged funds on a five-year basis. They also haven’t pursued government funding much less grants, said Sujatha Reddy of the Hindu Temple of Atlanta.
The Durga Temple of Virginia has received nominal funding from the United Way however, it in no way covers the temple’s operating costs, said Kusum Teneja of the temple. They also wholly depend on private funding as the two temples above. The temple has not sought government funding or grants.
“From the very beginning when the concept of the temple was first formed – it was never based on money. The board of directors weren’t selected for their monetary donations,” said Subramanian of the SSVT temple. “Deliberately we said we are going to pursue those who have expertise, knowledge in certain areas who want to help out – from the beginning we had doctors, teachers, IT people, people from different sectors. When the new board of trustees was recruited they were all collected on the basis of service and seva as volunteers. From the very beginning, from 1976-84, it was all done by volunteers – we have maintained the volunteers – we asked everyone to give certain hours in a month. We had subcommittees in the temple who were filled with volunteers who were given autonomy and responsibility and a budget to carry on their committee. This way there was a tremendous involvement of volunteers. There’s no incentive – it’s all self- fulfillment. That’s the only thing that works. For example, our kitchen has operated on volunteer basis for many years – even now, the cooks are volunteers who are part of the kitchen committee. That’s the feeling of something they are doing here.”
Subramanian’s above story is the story of many Dharmic institutions in the U.S. However, service oriented aspects started in the last 10 years and are just getting established. The temples need to increase awareness in the community that they need to go beyond the worship role. All temples have not addressed the need for paid staff. Within the culture, seva is seen as without pay – only voluntary. Many Hindu Americans and their faith-based institutions do not know how to run sustainable social service centers because they are unaware of the available resources and how it could help them evolve.
Most of the temples do not have paid staff that help with outreach; community building; organizing and planning events including health fairs. Volunteers carry out all of the work done during temple events and programs. Without volunteers, the Dharmic institutions in the U.S. would not survive.
International and Higher level dialogues Hindu Americans have begun interfaith and strategic dialogues to address their issues. A few examples are:
Many examples abound. Above are just a few to provide the reader an insight.
 Dhaval Brahmbhatt (LNSO, San Jose, CA)
 Indian and Asian American Political Identity - www.anjubhargava.com
 Sewa International USA – www.sewausa.org
 Hinduism Today Bhutanese Refugee coverage
 BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha – www.baps.org
 Sitayanam - www.sitayanam.org
 Great Women of India, The Holy Mother Birth Centenary Memorial, Advaita Ashram, Swami Madhavananda and Ramesh Chandra Majumdar
 BAPS Women’s Conference 2009 Health, Wellness and Balanced Development - http://www.swaminarayan.org/news/usa/2009/03/womenconference/index.htm
 Parenting the Indian American Child – Femina – www.anjubhargava.com/publication
 White House Initiative (page 16) – www.anjubhargava.com/publication
 A women’s Journey of Strength - www.sitayanam.org
 Invading the Sacred: An analysis of Hinduism Studies in America, by Krishnan Ramaswamy, Antonio de Nicolas, Aditi Banerjee