Yes, Priti Patel is the Home Secretary, is the Chancellor of Exchequer, Alok Sharma is steering COP26 as President and other MPs of Indian origin hold posts of considerable responsibility. But we can do more, indeed we must do more at the grassroots level to have a voice in the UK Parliament. We need a gear shift in our relationship with our parliamentarians.
Around the country, one hears our people airing their concerns and amongst them there are those who have palpable enthusiasm for participating in the political processes of this country but the mechanics of participation in Parliament is not well understood. Concerted, systematic, unified efforts to bring our issues to the attention of the parliamentarians remains in no man’s land.
There are the local issues such as pot holes, parking etc, or national issues such as the caste discrimination debate, definition of “Islamophobia”, teaching of Hinduism in schools or the issue of coroners services accommodating Hindu rituals for their deceased during the . Then we have the passionate followers of events in the Indian subcontinent. To name but a few in the recent past we had the , the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan, terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir, revocation of Article 370, the Chinese attack in Ladakh, targeted attacks on Hindu places of worship in Bangladesh.
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In debates on these matters in Parliament, our opinions and concerns are voiced by three MPs at best – the Rt Hon Members of Parliament Theresa Villiers, Bob Blackman and Barry Gardner.
There is a deafening silence from our Hindu MPs. UK Parliament Week activities inform us that the onus is on the people – not just when it comes to voting at General Elections but also in the form of educating, engaging and lobbying our local MPs.
UK Parliament week (UKPW) puts the power firmly in the hands of the people. This annual programme of activities organised by House of Commons and House of Lords is steered by the Education and Engagement team of Parliament. The event this year took place from last week and the UK was buzzing with 9,500 activities which gives the people a chance to explore what the UK Parliament means to them and empowers them to get informed and take action.
This year, the – winner of 2020 UK Parliament Week Partner of the Year Award – celebrated five years of UKPW engagement. Since 2017, we have seen encouraging increase in interest in activities such as debates, writing a petition, lobbying MPs, among others. At the height of the pandemic in 2020 we were joined by 40 MPs and councillors and over 2,200 participants on a virtual platform.
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In 2021, HSS joined communities across the country getting involved in UK Parliament Week and getting more people involved in playing a vital role in their democracy. The focus has been on how small actions can lead to big changes, encouraging participants to get informed, take action and make an impact on issues they care about. HSS shakhas hosted activities up and down the country joining the UK-wide conversation about our environment and sustainability and contributed to the debate at . All participants, aged 4 to 94, were invited to contribute an “Action for Climate Change” leaf to the campaign tree (Kalpavruksha in Sanskrit) to highlight the importance of respecting Mother Nature and taking action to protect it.
At the Barnet event, MP Theresa Villiers praised HSS for its volunteering projects during the height of the pandemic.
In congratulating HSS, she said: Five years of active engagement with UK Parliament Week is a milestone and encouraging people to participate is at the very heart of our democracy. Protecting our environment is the responsibility of every citizen.”
Solicitor General Alex Chalk MP at Cheltenham commented: “It is essential to get young people from Hindu community interested and involved in Parliament, democracy and how our country is run so that they as future leaders can preserve our values and freedom.”
I spoke about joining communities across the country participating in UK Parliament Week 2021. It is a fantastic way for more people in HSS to get involved in democracy and play their part in making change happen especially with respect to the environment. We believe the entire universe is one family; in Sanskrit we say Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and we work towards a Zero-carbon planet. At HSS we value “responsible citizenship” and support environmental initiatives.
Amy Baxter, Head of Education and Engagement at UK Parliament, noted: “We are delighted that Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh UK are one of the many organisations taking part in UK Parliament Week this year.
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“It’s a great opportunity to get informed, take action and make an impact in your chapters up and down the country. Change starts with you and UK Parliament Week is a great way to learn how you can make a difference.”
To cope with a myriad of challenges, our community faces a common goal and vision, which must be to cultivate the next generation of parliamentarians who will be our voice in Parliament. Just tapping away at the mobile phone keyboard is no longer enough, our concerns must translate into our united, collective efforts to drive a fundamental change in our attitude.
Dr Harsha Jani is the National UK Parliament Week Lead for the .