Britain’s first state-funded Hindu Primary school, set to open in Harrow, north London, in September 2008, has outlined an admissions policy the Hindu Council UK (HCUK) says may rule out applications from the vast majority of British Hindu children in the area. HCUK is also concerned the policy may cause division within the local Hindu community.
 
The Krishna-Avanti school is expected to be oversubscribed when it opens and HCUK has no argument with priority being given to children from ‘practising Hindu families.’ However, the school’s definition of a ‘practising Hindu’ is not one that could be said to be acceptable to the majority of Hindus either worldwide or here in Britain.
 
According to the admissions policy document, the Krishna-Avanti school defines practising Hindus as those who follow a version of Hinduism requiring daily practice of deity worship and prayer either in the temple or at home; undertake weekly temple-related charity work; participate fortnightly in temple programmes; accept and put into practice the teachings of the Vedic scriptures, in particular the teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita; and abstain from meat, fish, eggs, alcohol and smoking.  
 
The admissions policy also allows for available places to be filled by children from families ‘broadly following’ the tenets of Hinduism. But even this requires them to attend a temple monthly, be vegetarian, and attend a local temple for the festivals of Diwali, Janmasthami and Ramnavmi.
 
Rather than reflecting the mainstream, such definitions of practising Hindus reflect the beliefs and practices of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) a new Hindu religious movement founded in the 1960s. Perhaps better known as the Hare Krishnas, this particular Hindu group is represented strongly on the Board of Directors of the I-Foundation, the charitable organisation that will run the Krishna-Avanti school. Ten places at the new school will be reserved exclusively for children of families at Bhaktivedanta Manor, the temple headquarters of ISKCON in Letchmore Heath, Hertfordshire. 
 
Commenting on the admissions policy, Jay Lakhani, HCUK’s Director for education said: - 
 
“While HCUK has no problem with the I-Foundation reserving a stated ten places out of thirty at the school for children of families at Bhaktivedanta Manor, we believe it is unfair to rule out other Hindus by imposing on them the strict rules of one particular, minority Hindu group in order for their children to attend. Because the Krishna-Avanti school was offered state-funding and is being allowed to open as a ‘Hindu’ rather than an ‘ISKCON’ school, that is what it should be, a truly Hindu school that serves and reflects the wider Harrow Hindu community with its kaleidoscopic Hindu diversity.”
 
In particular, says Mr Lakhani, the current admissions policy as it stands would specifically rule out children from the following Hindu families: -  

  • Those who do not take a strict devotional approach to Hinduism 
  • Arya Samajist Hindus who do not believe in deity worship 
  • Shiva devotees (many Tamil Hindus) and Mother Goddess devotees (many Bengalis) for whom temple attendance at only RamNavmi, Janmasthami and Diwali celebrations would be too restrictive a condition 
  • Those who are not strict vegetarians and eat – as many Hindus do – meat (excluding beef), fish, eggs and egg by-products, or who occasionally drink alcohol 

Despite believing that multi-faith rather than single faith schools would be better for community integration and cohesion, HCUK originally supported creation of the Krisha-Avanti school on the understanding that it would be truly open to and reflect the diversity of the wider Hindu community. As this openness now appears to be under threat, the HCUK Executive has raised its concerns with the I-Foundation. The I-Foundation has assured HCUK the policy will be discussed further at a future meeting. However, no date has been set for this meeting and it is not clear whether representations will be permitted from local, non-ISKCON Hindus not connected with the I-Foundation.
 
Suzanne Evans blogs at www.aquariuspr.blogspot.com

Newslinks:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/article2964526.ece 

http://education.guardian.co.uk/faithschools/story/0,,2218801,00.html 

 

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