Hindu ethics teaches us to wish for the good of all people. The above prayer from the Atharvaveda is a perfect example that we should not just wish for our own happiness and prosperity, but for the well-being of entire humanity. For ages untold the hallowed verses of the Vedas have inspired Hindus, given us strength, and provided us with Divine guidance to walk in the path of dharma. As we forge ahead with the Hindu renaissance movement, we need constantly remind ourselves of the teachings of our spiritual ancestors, the Rishis. Navya Shastra takes pride in the fact that our movement is one of dharma; not one that wishes to undermine present-day Hinduism, but to awaken the true spirit of the Veda-Agamic tradition. We are convinced that our religious tradition, as embodied by the Rishis, Siddhas, Yogis, Acharyas, the innumerable saints, and other God-realized souls, does not discriminate against any person on the basis of caste, gender or race. We firmly believe, therefore, that spiritual equality of all people must exist not only in theory, but also in practice. Only then can we, as members of the global Hindu society live, rise and flourish. Only then will we walk on the path of dharma; only then will we truly be living per the guidelines of our spiritual ancestors.
With our twin goals to foster a movement toward spiritual equality of all Hindus, and to provide a moderate pro-Hindu voice on a worldwide forum, Navya Shastra has taken the following steps in the year 2004 CE, the year of the Kaliyuga 5105-5106.
• Navya Shastra’s youth coordinator, Ramya Gopal’s article entitled “Bound by the Same Thread” is published by India Abroad (January 23, 2004). The article written from a second generation Hindu perspective focuses on the Vedic sacrament known as upananayam. Ramya expresses strong desire to reform this “upper caste” males-only sacrament into one that is open to all Hindus, regardless of caste or gender. The article receives mixed responses from the Hindu community. On the one hand, the article is lauded by many scholars and leaders as a step in the right direction. However, some others are more critical, claiming that young girls do not need to be initiated into the upanayanam sacrament, and are already custodians of Hindu culture.
• The World Social Forum meeting is held in Mumbai, India. The issue of caste is highlighted as one of the five major themes at the meet, which was supposed to set up an alternative voice to the Western and East-Asian neo-liberal economic machine. The National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights and others groups form the delegation representing Dalits at the meeting. In an article, Navya Shastra expresses complete solidarity with our oppressed brothers and sisters, but criticizes the Dalit representatives and organizers of the World Social Forum for highlighting the Hindu dimensions of discrimination against the Dalit community, but refusing to work with the Hindu leadership to bring about reforms in Hinduism. The article is published by Hindu Press International (January 23, 2004). Following the World Social Forum, Navya Shastra invites Mr. K.P. Singh, a well-known Dalit leader, to participate in discussion of Hindu reform and to play an advisory role in the organization, but Mr. Singh does not oblige.
• Navya Shastra’s senior advisor and priest emeritus, Sri Rajarathina Bhattar’s ongoing efforts to reform Hindu customs is published in the perspectives section of the India Herald (May 24, 2004). Sri Bhattar highlights the need to reform certain archaic customs, in order to facilitate optimal spiritual development of all Hindus regardless of caste or gender. Sri Bhattar opines that these reforms are necessary for the progress of Hinduism and for its sustenance into posterity.
• A prominent scholar and preacher of the Sri Vaishnava school of Hindu philosophy, Sri Velukkudi Krishnan Swamiji, gives a lengthy theological discourse in English and Tamil in the Detroit area on May 20, 2004. During the question and answer session that ensues, the Swamiji states categorically that women are not entitled to chant the Vedas, and that there are “easier paths” for them to follow. In response, Navya Shastra co-founder and chairperson, Jaishree Gopal, meets with Swamiji the following day to discuss the issue, and hands him an official Navya Shastra response in a letter imploring him to reconsider his opinions. Navya Shastra informs Swamiji of our strong opinion that the only criterion for determining who is entitled to chant the Vedic mantras should be ability and willingness. Further, Swamiji is told that it is prominent scholars and influential members of the Hindu orthodoxy, like him, who must initiate reforms in the system for the tradition to survive into posterity. Although he is skeptical, Swamiji receives the Navya Shastra letter and an informational packet, saying that he will do what he can. Overall, the meeting is a success.
• Navya Shastra co-founder and chairperson, Vikram Masson, meets with the spiritual head of the Bochasanvasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), HH Sri Narayanswarupdas (Pramukh) Swamiji Maharaj. At the meeting, Vikram presents a packet to Swamiji discussing the goals of Navya Shastra, as well as the issues of caste reform and Dalit upliftment. Swamiji receives the packet and, in turn, invites Vikram to come have a formal meeting with him in India at a future time to discuss the issue further.
• Tukaram, a young Hindu Dalit man of 19 years, scores first class in his intermediate examinations and visits the village temple of Hanuman to make the traditional coconut offering in Allapur, Andhra Pradesh. When members of the so-called “upper caste” community discover this, they condemn the boy for worshipping in the temple and extort Rs. 500 fine from his father, Tulsiram. Navya Shastra strongly condemns the discriminatory action against the Dalit student by the so-called “upper caste” members and promises to award Tukaram a scholarship of Rs. 10,000 to help his family with Tukaram's educational costs. Navya Shastra also asks the Indian government and Hindu religious leaders will pay more attention to the apartheid in their midst. Navya Shastra’s condemnation of the Tukaram incident is published by Indo-Asian News Service (June 7, 2004).
• Journalist, Arun Venugopal, writes an article highlighting the efforts of Navya Shastra to bring about changes in Hindu tradition. The article entitled “NRI group battles Hinduism's inequalities” emphasizes Navya Shastra’s pro-active approach to the issue of caste-based discrimination as well as some of the recent accomplishment of the group. Navya Shastra co-founder and chairperson, Jaishree Gopal, and priest emeritus, Sri Rajarathina Bhattar, are interviewed for this story. The article is published in India Abroad (June 18, 2004).
• Navya Shastra advisor and the Indian Ambassador to Finland, O. P. Gupta, sends a letter to HH Swamiji Purna Anandapeethadhiswar Acharya Mahamandaleshwar Srimad Paramahamsa Brahmanistha Yogiraj regarding the Vedic equality of all people. The Mahamandaleshwar replies promptly that he is working closely with Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath, and gives his unconditional support to efforts of Navya Shastra. Ambassador Gupta, who is in close touch with several Hindu spiritual leaders, expresses the opinion that most Hindu Swamis are now leaning toward a social movement to eradicate the social ills in Hindu society, and to bring all Hindus under the Vedic banner. Ambassador Gupta also announces that he is almost ready to send his manuscript entitled “Dalit Emancipation and Return to Vedic Brotherhood” for publication.
• Navya Shastra participates in a campaign initiated by the Hindu American Foundation to protest the forcible restructurization of the governing board of the Ganesh Temple of Queens (New York, USA), ordered by the New York Supreme Court. The concern with a court-ordered restructuring of a governing body of a religious institution is that it may prohibit the temple from engaging in certain forms of religious exercise and speech, and imposes a voting membership requirement, including the definition of who is a Hindu – all of which violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. On September 2, 2004, ten organizations representing various religious denominations, including Navya Shastra, submit an amicus curaie (friend of the court) brief in support of The Becket Fund's motion for a preliminary injunction against the defendants of the federal suit.
• The Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram, HH Swamiji Sri Jayendra Saraswati, participates in a ceremony to gift a diamond-studded gold crown to the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanam, the second wealthiest religious institution in the world following the Vatican. The crown worth $425,000 (Rs. 20 million) is encrusted with diamonds, two marble-sized emeralds, and rare Burmese rubies and is an offering to Lord Venkateshwara from the wealthy industrialist Goenka family of Kolkata, India. The ceremony is presided over by the Christian chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Dr. Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy. Navya Shastra expresses its disappointment at the Shankaracharya, who could have used his considerable influence to direct the funds for programs for the betterment of struggling and downtrodden Hindus. Navya Shastra also questions the participation of the non-Hindu chief minister in the opulent ceremony, asking whether the Shankaracharya and the Tirupati authorities could have considered bestowing such an honor upon a leader from the Hindu Dalit community as a gesture of Hindu spiritual equality and unity. Navya Shastra’s criticism of the Shankaracharya is published by Newindpress (October 27, 2004).
• Navya Shastra again joins forces with the Hindu American Foundation in filing an amicus curiae brief with the US Supreme Court in a case involving the placement of a permanent monument enshrining the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol. The brief supports the position that the monument violates the separation of church and state guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In particular, one section of the brief elaborates how the Hindu concepts of panentheistic monotheism, the omnipotence and omnipresence of God, and the use of consecrated images in worship directly conflict with specific commandments. The amicus curiae is cosigned by several Hindu, Buddhist and Jain organizations, including Navya Shastra.
• An earthquake-triggered tsunami in the Indian Ocean devastates several regions of South and South-East Asia, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India on December 26, 2004. In the midst of the tragedy, a handful of journalists and organizations in India publicly attribute the natural disaster to divine retribution for the arrest of Shankaracharya, HH Swamiji Sri Jayendra Saraswati, on murder charges in November. Navya Shastra strongly condemns such self-serving interpretations of Hindu theology by certain organizations and individuals. In addition, Navya Shastra appeals to the global Hindu community to follow their dharma and generously contribute to the victims of the tsunami. Navya Shastra’s objection to the radical interpretation of Hindu theology is widely published in several high-profile newspapers including the Times of India, Hindustan Times, Express Newsline (Europe), and Guardian UK on December 28, 2004. Furthermore, in an effort to help the victims of the tsunami in South Asia, Navya Shastra initiates formal ties with Art of Living and All India Movement for Seva, both of which are Hindu charities actively working for the tsunami relief in South Asia. In addition, Navya Shastra sets up a website with information on Hindu charities working for aid of tsunami victims, and actively urges all Hindus to contribute in whatever way possible.
Overall, calendar year 2004 has been a successful one for Navya Shastra. Once again, the success of the organization is solely attributed to the outstanding efforts of all of our committee and general members. In the year 2004, Navya Shastra’s name and aims have yet again been further disseminated into the Hindu world, particularly for our condemnation of adharma. As we forge ahead into another year, we fully intend to continue our agenda for the reform of Hindu religious tradition from the evils of the discrimination based on gender and caste. Since the inception of Navya Shastra, we have observed an ever-growing consciousness among Hindus worldwide that until we take an active role in reform our religious tradition, Sanatana Dharma cannot stand strong. Navya Shastra is steadfast in its belief that the time to reform has come and the time is now.
|| Aum Tat Sat ||
Summarized and edited by Gautham Rao