Henry Jackson Society- Which faith views least represented in media?
A major new research report by the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), a cross-partisan British think-tank, says that Hindus are under-represented in the media. The reason appears to be a lack of media-trained, articulate and savvy Hindu representatives, as well as a lack of Hindu civic engagement with issues that affect the wider society.
The report “Faith in the Public Sphere” assessed the impact of faith communities on public life by analysing all articles in three major newspapers from across the political spectrum. It identified 3,945 articles in the period 2000-2010 that reported either a request (a call for the government, state, or a public institution to act) or a response (support for, opposition to, or criticism of the government, state, or a public institution or policy) from faith communities.
Christians participated in 67% of these requests and responses (jointly called ‘claims’), Muslims in 31%, Jews 7%, Sikhs 4% and Hindus 3%. Adjusted by the respective populations in Britain, it meant that Jews were the best represented, by a factor of more than two relative to Muslims. Sikhs were nearly three times better represented than Hindus, and Christians were least well represented. However, “in the least active Christian year, its claims were still higher than the total Hindu claims for the decade,” according to report author Hannah Stuart, a Research Fellow at the HJS.
For Hindus, the leading representative was the Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB). It’s former Secretary General, Ramesh Kallidai, was the spokesperson in 18 of the 23 claims attributed to the HFB. More than 50% of all HFB claims were in just one year, 2007, in opposition to the slaughter of Shambo the cow in Wales. Many of the other claims were to do with asking Royal Mail to remove Christmas stamps featuring Hindu deities in 2005. The only other Hindu representative of note was the Welsh temple, Skanda Vale, for whom 22 of 23 claims were reported in 2007 and linked to the Shambo case. By contrast, one individual, Davender Ghai, was cited more times than the Hindu Council UK in the entire period. Ghai had fought a case against Newcastle City Council asking for land to be dedicated for open air pyres for Hindus and Sikhs.
There were almost no Hindu opinions expressed in the media with relation to foreign policy, international aid, community cohesion, discrimination, defence, environment, justice, anti-terrorism, economic policy, employment, family, immigration and abortion. Around 90% of the 109 Hindu claims related to rural affairs (Shambo), public life (Royal Mail stamps), education (almost all multi-faith) and public policy (burial practices). In contrast, 20% of Sikh claims related to employment issues and 5% to abortion, while many of its public life claims related to the hosting of an allegedly dishonourable play hosted at a gurudwara.
According to Hannah Stuart, “Hindu claims were often more specific, and not about wider society and contributions to public policy.” This means that the data showed Hindus were not shaping wider public discussions in the same way as other faith communities. Admittedly, the author used only three newspapers, but they were chosen for the richness of data, and the research itself is a careful and analytical piece of work of the kind that has not been done in Britain before.
These data highlight several possible trends within the Hindu community. One, that Hindus in Britain do not care much about macro issues, but do care about specific, local-only issues. Two, that Hindus are economically the most successful minority in Britain and therefore focus on business, rather than think about civic engagement. Three, that Hindus often lack cohesion to be able to present a single, unified point of view. Four, that Hindus lack a sole representative body – otherwise why would a single-issue temple in Wales be the second-most represented Hindu body in the country over the last decade, given they only appeared in the news in just one year, 2007? Five, that Hindus don’t have many media-trained, articulate and savvy representatives to present the community. Six, that perhaps Hindus have the will to do this, but not the resources.
The last point is an introspective one for community leaders as well as ordinary Hindus – Hindus are willing to donate to temples and build commemorative schools back home in India, but they collectively lack the foresight to do capacity building within their community in Britain. At the report’s launch this month, John Glen MP, said: “most comments were responding reactively to government policy, rather than proactively asserting a point of view and getting Parliament to notice.”
Without the capacity building, and strong media representatives, Hindus may continue to be under-represented. Of course the real question is – if trends one and two above are true, do Hindus feel strongly enough about issues that affect the country to demand this representation?
This article was first published in Asian Voice newspaper in English. It was also published in the Gujarat Samachar newspaper in Gujarati.