Rise, Organize, Lead, and Emerge: Strengthening Hindu Identity

whc_inBy Parth Parihar

The Hindu Youth Conference, held as part of the World Hindu Congress 2018 in Chicago, was attended by nearly 300 young Hindus from across five different continents With the theme “Rise, Organize, Lead, Emerge,” the conference focused on the pivotal role the up-and-coming generation of Hindus can play in the fields of media, politics, activism and entrepreneurship where Hindus are traditionally underrepresented.

One of the important issues that was explored was, “Strengthening Hindu Identity.” As speaker Murali Magesan of New Zealand put it, “We see the vast achievements of Hindu society and would expect that people would identify as Hindu very proudly. But, it’s not happening… so we must ask, ‘why?”

As the conference would elaborate, “not knowing” how to represent Hindu dharma has led to voices outside the community speaking for our traditions and in the process misrepresenting them at times. The goal before the current generation of young Hindus is to build a positive, modern vision of Hindu identity and present this vision confidently in all walks of life. The conference took this mission as a motivating call to action and developed several key projects that would address this goal. Speakers emphasized individual action as a requisite for the change envisaged by the Congress. As National Hindu Students Forum President Drishti Mae of the UK noted, “If not you, then who?”

While the first session of the Hindu Youth Conference stated this central challenge and presented the personal journeys of three young Hindu leaders in tackling it, other sessions explored the unique contributions Hindu dharma can make to several fields and the need for Hindus to speak out in these sectors. The final session was a workshop to build structured plans to pursue the opportunities afforded by each specialized area.

Attendees heard from Gopal Patel of the Bhumi Project, an environmental activist, who explained his method of working with other communities in international bodies like the United Nations in communicating the inherent earth-caring ethic present in Hindu dharma.   Nihar Sashittal, a community activist in the California textbook case, spoke about strategies to force change in the public space. A presentation by Nikki Avalokitesvari of Bali underlined the relevance of Hindu knowledge in the modern context citing Chanakya’s theories in global defense. A project workshopped from this session was a Global Mentorship Program that will help young Hindu women achieve their goals in various walks of life by giving them access to accomplished female mentors in those fields.

Delegates also heard from young entrepreneurs on the role Hindu dharma played in shaping their business strategies and vision for the economy. Aditya Mishra of ZenPrivex spoke about blockchain as both a popular business model and an organizing principle that has many dharmic qualities, while Shobhit Mathur of Vision India Foundation presented his vision for a Hindu economy. Nisha Holla of Biomoneta Research spoke about how the innovation that pervades Hindu culture, such as in Panini’s grammar, can be translated to entrepreneurship. They underlined the growing need for more young Hindus to be job creators in order to support the economic needs of the global community while staying true to the tenets of Hindu dharma. The organizing team has put into place the Young Hindu Business Network, a forum that brings young Hindu entrepreneurs together to network and share business know-how.

Since the focus of the Hindu Youth Conference was on re-owning the narrative of Hindu identity, an entire session was devoted to discussing media platforms, the very places where these narratives are created and disseminated. The session was kicked off by Vinay Singhal, founder and CEO of WittyFeed, one of the fastest growing Internet media and viral content companies in the world. Filmmaker Aditya Patwardhan spoke about how dharmic ideas—like classical music and cosmology—appeal to Western audiences and form the motifs of his films. Karolina Goswami shared examples of how she has personally fact-checked and corrected the record on what Hindu dharma stands for through her YouTube channel India in Details.

A panel discussion took the question of Hindu identity into the arena of politics and Hindu human rights. While Mayuri Parmar of Conservative Friends of India in the UK and Himanshu Gulati, a Norwegian MP, affirmed the need to stand for your values as a Hindu in public life and to champion those values in service of the broader society, Devika Sital of Global Human Rights Defense addressed the need to publicly address the abuse of the human rights of Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Sital will head the Hindu Human Rights Taskforce, a dedicated team of volunteers that aims to leverage youth power in social media to publicize the plight of localized Hindu communities and seek justice for them. Mayuri Parmar led a workshop on how young Hindus can better engage at the level of local politics. She also plans to run a Global Mentorship Program for those interested in careers in public service that will allow these young Hindus to shadow politicians and learn the skills needed for the job firsthand.

Two Houstonians Karuna Kankani and Ayush Sharma shared their thoughts on the conference: Karuna found it “inspirational to be in an environment where people who are working with different organizations on different honorable causes united globally. Ayush echoed these sentiments and said “WHC was such a unique and unforgettable experience. Hearing the stories of Hindus from all over the world boosted my own resolve for the Hindu cause.”

The youth delegates that came to Chicago left inspired, and ready to tackle the mission thrown up by the Hindu Youth Conference. The positive mood and active engagement of the young delegates is indeed strong evidence of a vibrant future for Hindu society worldwide.

(The article is written by Parth Parihar, national president of Hindu Students Council and a graduate student at Princeton University.  He was the co-coordinator of the Hindu Youth Conference.)