Monday Nov 5, 2018
For Immediate Release:
Despite Threats, Sadhana Hosts Panel at Parliament of World Religions with Swami Agnivesh
Sunita Viswanath, firstname.lastname@example.org; 917-518-2441
(Swami Agnivesh is available for interview through Sunita.)
Nikhil Mandalaparthy, email@example.com
Gautham Reddy, firstname.lastname@example.org
Yesterday evening, Sadhana hosted its first ever panel at the Parliament of World Religions (PWR) in Toronto. The panel, entitled, "The Co-Creative Dance of Dharma and Justice: Building a Progressive Hinduism," was moderated by Sadhana cofounder Sunita Viswanath and the panelists were lifelong human rights activist and Arya Samaj leader Swami Agnivesh and Sadhana board members Gautham Reddy and Nikhil Mandalaparthy. Swami Agnivesh is particularly well-known for his tireless work to end bonded labor, and for his vocal advocacy against Hindutva (Hindu nationalism). Swami Agnivesh has been arrested at least 11 times for his human rights activism and has been beaten up twice in recent months by Hindutva mobs.
Sadhana was informed by PWR leadership that they had received many emails from Hindu conference attendees who see Swami Agnivesh as an anti-Hindu who should not be participating in the conference. The most recent emails received threatened to disrupt any attempt by Swami Agnivesh to speak at the conference.
Sadhana's panel was the first opportunity for Swami Agnivesh to speak at the conference. Sadhana is grateful to PWR for providing special security at our session, and doing everything possible to ensure Swamiji's safety and defend his right to speak.
In spite of the threats, Sadhana's panel was very well-attended and took place with no disturbance. Sunita Viswanath opened the panel by discussing Sadhana's work in the Hindu community to encourage Hindus to connect their faith to social justice, and to add a Hindu voice and presence to interfaith initiatives for social justice. Sunita spoke about the urgency for all faiths, including Hinduism, to stand up to the extremists of their faith.
Gautham Reddy spoke about Sadhana's political advocacy against social injustice broadly, and against Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) in particular. He stated, "We believe it is the responsibility of every Hindu to speak out against the corrupting presence of Hindutva in our temples, schools, and community organizations. We cannot let the RSS, VHP, and BJP hijack our religious symbols and sacred teachings. We must resist the politics of fear."
Nikhil Mandalaparthy spoke about Sadhana's work as a reform Hindu organization, for instance, pujas (worship rituals) and ceremonies which have no place for caste, and are earth-honoring and egalitarian. He said, "Sadhana's reform work is directed at the way we as Hindus think about and practice our faith.... Our reform work is in many ways new, creative, constructive, almost experimental work; but it is not without precedent. We see ourselves as part of a tradition of Hindu reform movements and individual voices--of which there have been many in the past--calling out against injustice from within our traditions. We derive a lot of strength from the past as we move forward in our reform and advocacy."
Swami Agnivesh identified as a proud Hindu and gave an impassioned call to action to all Hindus, saying, "It is high time that those who are really proud to be a Hindu should find out what it really means because Hinduism today is under threat. Like most other religions, there are hijackers from within the religion, and these hijackers are bringing about all sorts of violence, sectarianism, parochialism, corruption in the name of religion."
The audience included many Sikhs because the Sikh community considers Swami Agnivesh a strong ally and brother. In fact, Swamiji spoke at the end of the one hour panel about the horrific massacre of about 30,000 Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. After the panel, Swamiji was the guest of honor at a prayer vigil for all the Sikhs who lost their lives in 1984.
Swami Agnivesh will speak at the opening plenary of the conference on the morning of Tuesday, November 6th, 9 am - 12 am. PWR has promised Swamiji extra security for that morning. And what is more, the Sikh conference attendees have also promised to stand by Swamiji's side throughout the conference to ensure his safety.
Video of the entire panel
Photographs from the panel
Photographs at the Sikh Prayer Vigil