"Hinduism Goes Back 5,000 Years. We're Used to a Changing World"
Shackle, Samira, New Statesman (1996)
You are the first woman to lead a Hindu organisation in Britain. Has it been difficult?
Non-Hindus assume that Hindus treat women in a less favourable way, which surprises me. In Hinduism, women and men are considered equal. They are seen as two halves--and you need both halves to make a whole.
Earlier this year, David Cameron said that multiculturalism has failed. Do you agree?
I don't necessarily think that it's bad to have distinctions between communities, but if there is no interaction, then you can have a lot of problems. Perhaps that's lacking in some parts of Britain.
Are Hindus well integrated?
We are known as one of the most successfully integrated communities. It's partly down to our ethos of viewing others as equals. Our history goes back more than 5,000 years so, to us, Christianity is relatively new, Islam is relatively new and Sikhism is relatively new. We are quite used to living in a changing world.
Is the caste system an issue in the UK?
I don't think those dogmas have been imported over here, as some would have you believe. It is [used as] a way of knocking a community that is very well established.
How are relations between the Hindu and Muslim communities?
There are issues of disharmony but, overall, they are harmonious. I've asked for meetings with Muslim groups after a TV programme on 14 February [Channel 4's Dispatches] showed a madrasa teaching very derogatory things about the Hindu faith. You have to tackle the problem where it is, rather than generalise.
Do you think that we have a problem with racial or religious prejudice in the UK?
Some prejudice exists. Sometimes, it is ignorance--the assumption that all brown people are of one faith or from one country. There is no awareness of the differences. What about the brown Christians? There are Christians in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Is there a rising tide of Islamophobia?
I am not sure. Perhaps there is more consciousness of what it is. But I could have said the same thing [about Hinduism] after watching the 14 February programme: that there is a rising ... There is no word for it, you see! There's a word for people who are anti-Jewish--anti-Semites. There's a word for those who are afraid of Islam--Islamophobes. But there's no word for people who are against Hinduism.
Do you worry that the next generation of British Hindus will be distant from their faith and culture?
This is the way the whole world is moving--towards secularism. All we can do is be open to those who ask questions. …