British Hindus deserve more recognition for their selfless service

British Hindus deserve more recognition for their selfless service

In the first of a brand-new column for ‘iGlobal’, Bhaven Pathak MBE – honoured in the Queen’s Honours List this year for Services to Business and British Hinduism – explores how British Hindus and their sewa, or selfless service, deserves to be better recognised and also helps decode the Honours system for the community.

Hindus are considered the fourth largest faith group in the UK. Despite making up almost 1 million of the population, only three honours in the New Year’s Honours List were dedicated to “Hindu” work. In comparison to seven honours for the Jewish community, who make up less than a third of that of the Hindu population at 300,000; the question arises as to why.

It’s not that British Hindus are not being recognised in the Honours List – in fact they are – for various professional, arts and volunteering and philanthropic endeavours, and it is something we should be proud of and celebrate. However, where is the work being recognised for Hindus and Hinduism?

I wonder if the low level of recognition is due to our lack of engagement with the establishment, or our lack of confidence using the “Hindu” identity for the work we are quite clearly doing in large community groups. Could it be that perhaps we feel apathy or a resentment towards the Honours system, which is associated with colonialism and Empire? Or, more worrying, is it that there is not much work for Hindus/Hinduism that is worthy of recognition? Is it our humility that makes us hesitate from being publicly recognised? Or could it be that those who have ‘made it’ don’t want others to join them as it might undermine their achievement?

Community contribution

Hindus and indeed Hinduism is already doing a great deal for British society. According to a memorandum submitted to the UK Parliament by the Hindu Forum of Britain, the Hindu population has integrated into British society with high levels of employment and education, a very low rate of crime and substantial economic and cultural contributions to this country. From the elderly gentleman who has been devoting all his hours during almost all his life to the upkeep of a Mandir that has provided solace, support and togetherness to the community, to the hundreds of Hindus who have embraced sewa or serving others to make a difference to other people’s lives, our community is brimming with people carrying out sewa for the betterment of society. Therefore, I don’t believe it is a matter of having to do more.

As a civilisation, we know that the community is an extension of our family, and our family are an extension of ourselves. Therefore, doing work for others is not traditionally a big feat that needs commemorating. We do not do sewa for recognition, but rather for the betterment of our societies and sustainability of our environments.

Recognition is not the driving force for our work, but it certainly helps with allowing us to do more. It is important to set an example about what can be achieved with some commitment, resolve and selflessness. Therefore, it is incumbent upon those who have been through the system or know the process to raise the profile of the hard-working Hindus who have done so much for Hinduism. This doesn’t have to be just through the Honours system; it can be through media platforms, such as ‘iGlobal’ as well.

How to be recognised

I didn't really know much about the Honours system. You cannot nominate yourself for an MBE or Honours; you can only be nominated by someone else and it must be done in confidence without your knowledge. It was only after I discovered that I had been recommended that I looked into how the process works.

Essentially, a group of people will nominate someone who deserves the award through the Honours and Appointments Secretariat and they complete an official nomination document detailing the nominees’ work and achievements. A minimum of two supporting letters are also required. The whole process takes around 12-18 months.

The MBE was in recognition of Services to Business and British Hinduism. The majority of my work in terms of British Hinduism has related to work with youth and in continuing and promoting the traditions of Hindu faith. For example, I have delivered over 500 kathas (recitations) on Hindu scriptures, bhajans (devotional songs) and pujas (rituals). However, the work that has been most dear to me is helping the younger generation access their faith and culture by guiding them through their education and careers with their Hindu identity in mind.

Although I don’t believe I have done anything near heroic, I have tried to make whatever little difference I can by volunteering, fundraising for charities and mentoring disadvantaged young people, especially as I, myself, spent part of my childhood in care and reliant on support from the state.

Aspirations for the future

I am definitely not patting myself on the back and resting on my laurels, but with the hope to do more and support others already doing so much, I accept this honour.

I feel strongly that there is a need for the work of Hindus and Hinduism itself to be recognised in Britain today and I intend to do my level best to address that.

Already many people are thinking “if he can get Honours, then so can I!” And I think that’s brilliant. I really hope to use the MBE to encourage others to do whatever little they can for serving the community and others who are less fortunate and help them realise that it doesn’t have to mean compromising on other things in life, such as career or family.

by Bhaven Pathak

Bhaven Pathak is the Founding Trustee of Yog Foundation and Head of Mergers and Acquisitions at Canopius Group. He was awarded an MBE by Her Majesty the Queen for Services to Business and to British Hinduism in the New Year’s Honours List 2021.

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