How would you describe your beliefs and identity in terms of religion?
I am a Hindu. I would call myself a Sanatani. I follow basic Hindus principles, but I don’t belong to any particular tradition within Hinduism. I don’t follow a Guru or adhere to any particular strand of Hinduism.
What made you decide to either adopt or retain this position?
I grew up in an interesting family atmosphere. My father was an Agnostic. He did not worship and he did not go to temples unless he had to. For instance, if I had a puja in my house, he would come. He’d help me cook rather than sitting in the Puja. My mother practised ritualistically rather than understanding anything. My father’s elder brother followed a particular tradition. He was a Pushti Margi and a monk, he had only a tuft of hair left (the rest of the hair was shaved off) and he practised devoutly. So, I grew up with all these influences. One of my first memories from my childhood is to pick the flowers for my grandmother’s daily prayers and she followed Shiva. These are all the influences and I had a choice. I could have been like my father, but I always felt there was something more and as a child, before coming to the UK, we went on a mini-pilgrimage, we went to lots of traditional places of pilgrimage in Gujarat and one of them was the shrine of a saint, and there I experienced something that confirmed there is something greater than me, and has been with me ever since. I was ten at the time, and when I started searching for something, Hinduism which is the tradition I grew up in, is the one I turned to. So, when I have spoken with scholars of Hinduism and I describe the way my father lived, they would call it Karma Yoga. He believed in doing good things, but he did not believe in prayers or meditation, and my uncle believed in Dharma Yoga, the power of prayer and these influences made me who I am.
Do you think that GB is an equal and tolerant society, especially in relation to religion and belief?
I think Great Britain is tolerant and equal to a degree, as long as you don’t shake its foundations, because the foundations of Britain are in Christianity and in particular, the Church of England. So, we are equal in the sense that the Church of England tolerates us. We are at the places where the Church of England allows us to be, rather than being entirely equal, because the Church of England is always there and has been there first.
Are there any challenges for you in living in accordance with your faith?
It is not too difficult to live in Britain as a Hindu, except that there are certain ideas about Hinduism in Britain. For example, all Hindus are vegetarian. So, if you eat meat or drink alcohol, people will tell you ‘well, you can’t be a Hindu’, because there isn’t an understanding of wider Hinduism. Particular traditions within Hinduism have greater impact here and therefore, the understanding is different. So, everybody assumes Hindus are vegetarians, but socially living as a vegetarian is quite difficult, to get things to eat and so on. If you go to a party, for instance, what is there for us? For example, you could go to very distinguished places, but the vegetables will have bacon bits in them, or you get asparagus wrapped in salmon, etc. So, it is difficult to find things to eat sometimes.
Do Hindus have a practical influence on Human Rights in Britain?
Politically, Hindus are not active and this is an issue. Many Hindus are of Indian origin. Many have come here via other countries, such as Mauritius or South Africa, but they have an intrinsic interest in the politics of India and sadly don’t concentrate enough on the politics of Britain. There is a stereotype held of us that all Hindus discriminate on the grounds of Caste. Sometimes it is difficult to get away of this. British people just assume that if you are in a position of power, you are of the ‘upper caste’ and everyone from the ‘upper caste’ treat people in ‘lower castes’ derogatorily and that we all live by caste, when in reality we don’t. This stereotyping is something that most Hindus in the UK have to face at some point in their lives, from children in schools to adults and older people who are confronted with it, very often by their English white counterparts and not by their own communities.
I think that if you speak with most Hindus, they will say that. We have been practising what the rest of the world is now bringing forward as human rights. So, that is how it is felt. The concept of dharma is about doing your duties, being free to practie, and that is reflected in the way Hindus lived. We are not restricted to any way of practising our faith. We are free to choose and we respect all other faiths and traditions. The other part of dharma is what service you give to your country, whether you give it as a soldier, merchant or worker, you are giving service to your community
Have Human Rights been a good thing for British society?
Human rights are a good thing for British society. We all need to be aware and live by human rights. As I said earlier, Hindus live by that. It is something which is part of dharma. Any aspect of human rights… one must be free to practise their religion, that is part of dharma. Do not say to anyone that they should not practise one way or another. There may be minor orthodox traditions that do it, but most Hindus don’t put any restrictions on how people put in practise their faith and tradition.
The only issue we are actively campaigning on at the moment is the issue of caste because the legislation affects the Hindu community adversely effecting our Human Rights. It starts with this assumption that every Hindu discriminates from the point of caste, and, caste is not even a Hindu or a Sanskrit word or invention. Caste was brought to India. This legislation which is supposed to be about discrimination and equality, in reality is affecting the Hindu community adversely, perhaps solidifying prejudices which already exist in British society… seeing Hindus as anti-equality people perhaps using a different phrase here may work better, e.g. seeing Hindus as inherently racist.
Do you think that public authorities generally respect Human Rights?
I think in comparison with continental Europe, in Britain human rights are legislated for and adhered to, more than in other countries, I would say. I think we have actually activated equality legislation, which is part of this human rights agenda, when many countries in Europe have not. They know it is good, but they have not necessarily enacted it, but we have in Britain. In general, I think we do quite well in human rights in Britain. I can’t think of any particular aspect where the Government doesn’t cater for or adhere to…
When should the state intervene in the expression of religious beliefs by citizens? When must it be limited?
It is difficult to state when the State must necessarily interfere, but bearing in mind what recently happened in Paris and Belgium, perhaps some people would say is that the State should step in when extremism comes into religion. It is looking at the safety of people. As long as you are practising your faith, whether it is orthodox or very liberal, that is up to you, but if it leads to a state where the safety of others is at risk, perhaps you need the State to step in. If the leaders of the Faith itself don’t step in, perhaps there is a need for the State to step in. The State makes rules which sometimes conflict with the teachings of a particular religion… how to live or how to worship… For example, when it comes to marriage, you have to have a state marriage, a civil ceremony, and a religious ceremony… For some faiths, there must be two ceremonies, because their religious marriage is not recognized by the State, but other faiths or traditions’ ceremonies are recognised by the State. Therefore, there are different levels of recognition for religious bodies. For example, in Hinduism you need two different sets of ceremonies. You can have a registrar coming to your wedding and conduct a separate ceremony, but it is another ceremony. It is not the same ceremony, which is recognized for the churches…
Do you regard living in a democracy as positive in terms of your faith? Is there a system of government which you would prefer?
I am quite happy living in a democracy. There are people in my community who would prefer a Hindu State, but if it were democratically, elected… I don’t think I would want to live in a country without an elected Government.. Britain has been my home for 45 years at least and it is a system I trust and I have grown up in, and I do think it serves well. It serves the needs of faith traditions
Does your faith mean that you feel that you have a duty to vote?
I do think there is a responsibility to vote and I do vote in every type of election: national, European… I vote, because I believe that my vote will count. Where do I get that from? My grandmother, who was illiterate, used to vote, and if she didn’t like any of the parties, and she felt that they wouldn’t do any good, being tailor by tradition she would actually a put piece of cloth & cotton in the box and that would be the way for her to register her discontent. So, I learnt that I must vote. However, the next generation is not necessarily doing that, and in general, as I mentioned earlier, people of Indian origin have more interest in the politics of India than they have in the politics of here, and sadly many of them are not active in their politics here. Within the Hindu community, I think the figures are just a 20% of people voting
Is it a good thing that Parliament has the final say in making and changing law? Would you like to see an empowered judiciary able to strike down legislation?
Sometimes we may need an empowerment of the judiciary in Britain. Although Parliament is the elected body and the law is supposed to be for the good of all, sometimes the way the laws are made is perhaps to the detriment of the whole or part of the community out of emotion rather than logic, and that is where the judicial rulings can make a difference.
A lot of British people already feel that the European Parliament is telling them what to do, and they don’t feel their own Government has much say. I do think that sometimes you need that outside influence, just in case a Government is going too much towards, it is difficult when it is an elected thing anyway… as they are not in power much, 5 years maximum. At the same time I don’t see why occasionally there couldn’t be something in place which gave Parliament a check. So, although I love the democratic system, democracy also includes the judiciary and other bodies, and I think they should have some influence.
I don’t know the judiciary can be viewed as protector of religious minorities. That will depend on what is brought to court. Religious minorities don’t often take things to court. You can get the odd case of a child’s place in a particular school… other than that there haven’t been many faith related issues in recent times that I can think of
Does it concern you that the House of Lords is not elected?
When I say Parliament I think more of the Commons, but I know that the Lords are there… at the moment every political party makes sure they put their own people there probably to balance or get in people who lost an election. … that happens quite regularly. Somebody wasn’t elected, and the party wants them and they put them in the Lords… It has benefited Hindus in the sense that there have been Hindus who have been made peers. Whether they speak on behalf of Hinduism when they are there is a different issue. I think, for me, it is about whether there is commitment. We could end up with two elected Houses. That is the US way of doing this. If you look at our tradition, Britain has always had this system of peers… an elected House of Lords I don’t know how it would work in Britain… when less than 40% turn out in the general election in the first place… How the whole system would improve with a second elected House is beyond me at the moment. And does it work properly? From a Hindu perspective it has not worked for us to have Hindus in the House of Lords. Sometimes, when I have thought about it, I have thought perhaps it would be better not to have it, but with what we would replace it?
How do you feel about the presence of bishops in the House of Lords?
I think either you have representatives of all the traditions which you recognize in a country or none. You can’t have a system which I consider, not balanced. If you have, admittedly, 60% of the country said they followed Christianity in the last census, 40% said they didn’t… so, probably more than 20% were of no faith… But how do you select those who are going? In the Church of England it is easier because there is hierarchical representation, when you have bishops. For example, within Hinduism there isn’t that structure. So, how do you select? For example, you choose a religious leader, but with a very orthodox viewpoint. He may only represent a small group within the Hindu population. So, who represents the rest? The European Council of Religious Leaders invites, actually, community leaders, e.g. the President of the Hindu Forum of Europe, or somebody from the Hindu Forum of Britain. That is how they invite people, so that they have broader representation. Maybe this is one way to look at it, but there has to be some mechanism…You can’t have somebody, as it happens now, who is made a lord because he gave donations to a particular political party, and then have them speak on religious issues… that is no way to get effective voice for religious groups
Bishops of the Church of England are there because of their faith tradition, and for them to say that they speak on behalf of everybody is not right. They don’t speak for me, or other Hindus. I think it is a falsehood and it is unfair. For them,Their tradition comes first, if it then benefits the rest, it is a bonus.
Do public bodies generally respect the will of Parliament expressed in legislation?
I think public bodies sometimes pay lip service when it comes to legislation, and they downgrade or upgrade legislation… for example, equality legislation, which is there on gender, religion, etc. Sometimes it is downgraded. It is not given top priority and other things may be given more priority. Sometimes it is tokenism rather than a real, heartfelt wish to serve equally. I don’t think that always happens
What does your faith teach you about power and the responsibilities which it brings?
Within Hinduism, whether you are a ruler or a worker, you are governed by dharma. So, each ruler should rule according to dharma. Dharma says that you don’t misuse your powers and you govern for everyone and so on. So, you should be aware that whatever you do comes back to you as karma, and so that applies to you whether you are a king or a pauper. They have their duty to perform within the rules of Hinduism, and we have a duty to perform as individual citizens, whether by voting or whether by making sure, if we are in the judiciary, that we hold them to some sort of checks, as I said earlier, or as individuals if they are not very good rulers… we’ll have to think if we’ll vote for them again or how to oppose them… So, power is there… the problem is misuse of powers.
Within the scriptures it is said to misuse powers, to behave in a grotesque way (e.g. killing) and, to put up with it, is always wrong. There should be checks and balances and each individual is part of that. So, power is not necessarily bad. It is only bad if you misuse it
Do you think that Hindus are proportionately represented in public life?
I don’t think evenly or equally represented, but funnily enough, yesterday I was going through my local boroughs and in almost every borough there is one Hindu elected as a councillor, and in some boroughs all three are Hindus. that this borough has the highest population of Hindus in Britain. So, that is reflected in the number of councillors. However, that is not translated into Parliamentarians. So, in my opinion we don’t have enough parliamentarians who are Hindus, and the ones who are there, either in the HofC or in the HofL (there are a few in the HofL but they are there because they are good doctors or business people), as well as the elected MPs, they don’t necessarily carry their values in. So, when they are there, looking at their behaviour and voting habits, you can’t always tell the difference between a Hindu or a non Hindu Parliamentarian. This is the sad fact, that those who seem to go into politics, are then coloured by Politics and you can’t then see their Hindu l values. Most Hindus would like to see politicians with dharmic values and more politicians behaving differently.
Do you think that there is enough distance between the judiciary and Parliament/the executive?
In general the perception is that there is enough separation between those who make the law and those who interpret it in the court. I think in general it is enough. I trust the judiciary.
What are the best systems for keeping a check on the use of political power? Do we need any further checks and balances?
I think the system of checks and balances between Parliament and the Government works and so it should remain. I think there has only been one piece of legislation(on Caste), as I stated earlier, that hasn’t been carried through properly. Other than that I haven’t encountered anything else even in my capacity as an equality and diversity consultant, that I felt hadn’t been sufficiently dealt with.
How do Hindus seek to intervene in decisions which they perceive as problematic?
I think we Hindus are very ineffective at trying to stop or modify a piece of legislation. Going back to my previous example of the Caste legislation, most Hindus, would say ‘this is not how we live, this law will be to the detriment of our community, we’ll be labelled, etc’, but when you say ‘ok, let’s act on it, either as a community (writing to the MPs, etc) or even taking it forward to the judiciary and challenging it… we are not able to do it effectively. Hinduism says we should not put up with something… in reality most of the community does not follow that. So, it is difficult to challenge things which are not working properly if you don’t have the right mindset. A lot of Hindus are passive… they tend to sit back and take what comes… and they have this idea of karma, that because it is wrong, it will be put right… but they don’t realise that an important part of karma is Action. You have to do something to get things changed. I don’t think our community as a whole has registered that karma does not change because it is the right thing to be done. It changes because you actively take part. You actively campaign, you actively voice, you actively work for it.
Do you think that public authorities have a good understanding of the needs of Hindus in GB? Are they respected?
Public authorities don’t understand the needs of Hindus in Britain. Take the NHS as an example. The rule for doctors is that if there were an accident and the medics arrive, you don’t treat first those who are shouting, but the quietest one, as probably they are more in danger… but they don’t carry that philosophy into the general population. So, when the Government is looking at something or a local authority is looking at something, they will respond first to those who are shouting, rather than the Hindu population, which is very quiet. We find it very difficult to get our needs met. We don’t shout, we don’t threaten to blow people up and so on… Our needs often get forgotten. We don’t have strong lobbies, because we have lack of people in Parliament and so on. Other faiths have easier vehicles, such as the Archbishops, etc. Sadly they look at faith in this way. To some degree a lack of hierarchical structure is to our detriment, but the lack is in the system for not understanding that. Ruling bodies want to consult wit one person or organisation, Hinduism does not have one person or organisation, vistually every temle is freestanding body, and the UK government machine is not equippes nor does it understand how to deal with that. So often they will consult just one Hindu Body; that doesn’t suit us as Hindus and that leads partially to perhaps the majority of Hindus’ disenchantment with the Government, local authorities, the NHS, etc. However, the opportunities are there. You can interact with the NHS by different means… I have done it, but I am only one person
Is it important to you always to act within secular law?
I have been asked to break the law and I find that very difficult to do. I think one should act within the law. Occasionally bending it is as bad as people think. If the law is completely unworkable, you may need to show it by bending it or breaking it, but in general we must stay within the law, because if we start breaking it, those who are looking at you as a mentor or a role model, will also do the same and it is a very slippery slope for a community to get on… it is an easy thing to do. I feel that in my own position I need to show by example, but it is also that by my very nature I live by karma. I’ll give you an example. As a Chaplain I can give Prashad, but I can’t bring something which I have cooked at home, because it has to be from licensed manufacturers. , I can’t accept anything from prison families, and I cannot afford to buy the ready packed foods which costs more. It is tempting to make at home and pretend it is from a licensed manufacturer, but I can never do that because a. it would be a lie and b. it would be against prison law., Sadly the Prison Service does not provide culturally acceptable food and therefore, Hindus who are in prison really struggle… particularly if they don’t eat meat, the vegetarian diet is dire.
There is only one thing which has hurt the Hindu Community in Britain. Other than that, we all act in a democratic way, a few of us vote (not many), we always accept the laws passed by Parliament, except the law on caste which we feel casts a cloud over us and our progeny and it discriminates against us. This is the only thing in which the Hindu community has come together, in two or three groups, but that is better that 20, to campaign and to say that the law is unjust and we want it removed.
Do you feel that you have a responsibility to speak for the vulnerable?
Absolutely… we need to speak on behalf of the vulnerable and the weakest. To put up with unfairness is an atrocity in itself, so we must speak against atrocities which effect the weak and the vulnerable first.… The world is one family
Is the Rule of Law applied equally? Do some groups receive preferential or prejudicial treatment?
In the criminal justice system, there is an issue of how much you can pay for your legal assistance. The more you can afford to pay, the better your outcome, and sadly I see some of that first hand.
How do you feel about the general trend towards an increase in police powers over the past 15 years?
I think increasing prerogatives of the police is sometimes needed for the safety of all, and if it is, it should be allowed, but when the crisis is past, the prerogative should be laid down again. Some of the issues come when the powers keep increasing and then they are open to abuse. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely… If you keep giving powers, and there are no checks and balances, and the particular branch of Government does not act properly… you must really have the mechanism in place to take away power when it is not needed.
Are there any laws which you feel have a negative impact on your life?
Are there laws which should have a negative impact on my religious freedom which I would like to see go? The law on caste should be removed from the statutes. it is curtailing the aspirations of the community as a whole… I think parliamentarians have legislated on something based on a wave of emotion rather than facts, to the detriment of the entire Hindu Diaspora. I think in this case the law is unjust and will have a negative impact n my, mine, my children’s and their rogeny’s lives. Other than that, have there been other laws which have had an impact on the way I practise my faith? I don’t think so. My faith, some of the traditions and I have referred to this earlier, we need to have two ceremonies to get married as Hindus… in that way, there are some restrictions on how we live and how we adhere to things, but in general no…
Is there anything which you would like to add?
I think freedom and belief are well catered for in Britain. I think in other countries the understanding of religion is far less precise and less comprehensive than it is here. In that sense, Britain serves people of faith well. The only downside would be that there is a State religion and that, of course, gets priority in everything. We are aware that we are only there under the tolerance of the State religion. We don’t feel as if we are there in our own right and recognise that sometimes this is a difficult thing. I think there should be other faiths in Parliament with equal/proportional representation as the Church of England.
Bharti Tailor was the first female to be elected Secretary of a Hindu national umbrella body in Britain and the first Hindu female to be invited to join the European Council of Religious Leaders. She was also the first woman to be elected President of the Hindu Forum of Europe.
She started her voluntary career reading stories to children on a local playbus. In her time she has also volunteered for her Samaj and local Mandir before taking national and international office.
Bharti went to university at age 37 to catch up on education she had not valued in her youth. She then went on to serve as a Non-Executive Director for a Health Trust in England, and work at a strategic level in a Local Authority. In 2002 she set up an Equality and Diversity Consultancy intending to specialise in race relations however, her election to national Hindu bodies have taken her towards Religious equality and religious literacy.