Vikram Masson


Navya Shastra Announces International Untouchability Awareness Campaign. Welcomes New Advisor

Troy, Michigan--April 20, 2005-- Navya Shastra, the international Hindu organization of scholars, practitioners and priests dedicated to fostering the spiritual equality of all Hindus, has announced an International Untouchability Awareness Campaign to highlight the persistent and pervasive discrimination faced by so-called lower castes and Harijans, in rural India every day.

Unlike secular human rights organizations, Navya Shastra is comprised of religious Hindus who seek religious solutions to the problems faced by these communities. "We are deeply frustrated that the Hindu religious leadership rarely speaks out against the caste atrocities that Harijan Hindus face every day, said Dr. Jaishree Gopal, Navya Shastra Co-chairman, "unless Hindus themselves seriously examine these problems, we have no right to criticize international agencies who do substantive work on their behalf."

Dr. Gopal noted that the leaders of the Hindu community in the United States were focused more on presenting a positive image of Hinduism and tend to be apathetic about using their resources to redress the religious problems faced by the so-called lower castes.

There are over 40,000 reported caste crimes in India every year, and many more go unreported. Lower castes are denied entry into rural temples, cannot obtain water at village wells, and are raped, beaten and tortured. Navya Shastra's awareness campaign will include presentations at temples and conferences in the United States, other nations with substantial Hindu populations, and in India. "We believe that caste discrimination is not sanctioned by the Hindu scriptures. It is a convenient ruse employed by so-called upper castes to retain their privileged position in society", said Dr. Gopal.

Navya Shastra recently welcomed Bhagwati Charan Bhatpare to its Board of Advisors. Mr. Bhatpare, a high school teacher from India's state of Chattisgarh, comes from the Satnami community, considered Harijan by the area's surrounding caste Hindus. "Bhagwati's experiences and insight will help Navya Shastra better understand the day to day problems faced by Harijans", said Professor Ramdas Lamb, a Navya Shastra advisor from the University of Hawaii. "Once when I asked him what I could do to help his Harijan students, he emphasized the need for educational opportunities for them as well as for poor students from all castes. He and his family have been able to minimize their direct encounters with the prejudice of untouchability by becoming educated, and people like him can help show the way to many more," he added.