At the World Hindu Congress in Chicago

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By Dr Vishnu Bisram

Several Indo-Caribbeans, including myself, Ravi Dev, Dr. Vindya Persaud, Deo Gosine, Vikash Ramkissoon, Pt. Ram Hardowar, Vice President Ashwin Adhin of Surinam, attended the second World Hindu Congress (WHC) held in Chicago from September 7 to 9.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader Dr. Mohan Rao Bhagwat delivered the keynote address on Friday while Vice President of India, Shri Venkiah Naidu gave the closing remarks. The congress was organized to commemorate 125 years of Swami Vivekananda’s historic Chicago address at the World Parliament of Religions (Sep 11 1893). The first Congress was held in Delhi in November 2014. Under the theme ‘Sangachchhadhwam Samvadadhwam — Step together, Express together’. The next congress will be in Bangkok, Thailand in 2022 (no fixed date as yet). There were several participants from other Latin American countries and Indo-Caribbeans from UK. The conference ended with several recommendations on how to protect rights of Hindus around the world.

The theme of the second Congress was “Sumantrite Suvikrante — think collectively, achieve valiantly”. As the organizers said, the World Hindu Congress is global platform for Hindus to connect, share ideas, inspire one another, and impact the common good. “It offers Hindus an opportunity to introspect towards improvement and tap into collective resources to seek tangible solutions to most pressing issues of our age”.

In Chicago, over 2,500 delegates from 60 countries, plus media personnel and organizers including high profile political leaders, attended the second congress. There were seven concurrent sessions on economy, women, youth, education, media, politics, and Hindu organization. Several prominent industrial, media and political leaders spoke at the varied sessions. Among the speakers were U.S. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois; Ohio Republican State Rep. Niraj Antani; former Iowa State Senator Swati Dandekar; Connecticut State Rep. Dr. Prasad Srinivasan; and Bollywood actor Anupam Kher, and others.

Speakers on the dais on stage at the opening plenary session included luminaries from business, religious, educational, political, musical, and theater walks of life. A message of Hindus uniting for the common good reverberated throughout the large hall at the Westin hotel. A huge statue of Swami Vivekanand on stage towers over the grand hall.
The Assistant to the Lt. Gov. of the state of Illinois, Evelyn Sanguinetti, welcomed the august gathering. She said: “Illinois is a very diverse state and has a robust Indian community. We honor your strengths, culture and the business you bring.”

The plenary session began with a moment of silence in memory of the late Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and late Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul, both outstanding Hindus.

Media coordinator Manu Shah told the media that the conference was “very well organized”. She said, “Everything was on schedule, sometimes with few minutes of delay because people had millions of questions”. She added, there was so much networking going on during the sessions and during breaks and breakfast, lunch and dinner. She said a lot more people wanted to come to the congress but space could not accommodate them. There were overflowing halls. Registration was closed two months prior to the conference.

Manu Shah summarized the proceedings as follows: “It was a great meeting and the presence of Mohan Bhagwat and India’s Vice President Naidu gave it high quality content and addresses the questions on what it means to be a Hindu and what is Hinduism”.

Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, Chair of several publications and ITV, said the conference attempted to dispel misconceptions about Hinduism. He also said “It encouraged young people to conduct themselves according to the Hindu tenets because Hinduism is a way of life, and the world would be better if those were followed”.

Dr. Abhaya Asthana, convener of the conference, said at the concluding session in Sunday, Sept. 9, that Hindus worldwide should become more visible as positive change makers in their respective countries they call home.

In his keynote address, Vice President Venkiah Naidu called for the rededication of oneself to “the ideals of Swami Vivekananda “for the greatness of mankind”.
Naidu, whose speech was laced with humor, delivered in English but interlaced with Hindi, Sanskrit and Telugu quotes, emphasized “the philosophy of tolerance and acceptance of all religions, and plurality, unity in diversity that Vivekananda embodied”.

He said “these are essential part of the timeless, eternal, holistic, integrated and universal world view of Hinduism”. He also reminded the gathering that “compassion, service, charity, gender equality, protection of the environment are key ingredients of Hindu philosophy and relevant to this day” and should be practiced. The Vice President said “one should not condemn or appease other religions for the sake of votes”.

A message from the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi was read by Dr. Bharat Barai urging Hindus to help with development of their societies.

Ravi Dev said Hindus must work collaboratively with local groups in their respective societies. Dr Vindya Persaud spoke with great acclaim about the heroic struggle of the indentured Indians and the role of women in that struggle.

Some of the proposed outcomes from the congress included setting up a permanent secretariat in the United States or United Kingdom for the cause of Hindu rights around the globe. The WHC said that a group of eminent persons will be recruited for the task. The WHC said there is “a need to assert a strong political voice especially in countries in the Caribbean and Africa, and developing young political leaders. A dynamic digital database of all political leaders by country is to be developed.

The economic session recommended: finding new ways to open trade, further regulatory reforms in India, skill development, building ecosystems providing capital to startups and mentoring programs for young entrepreneurs.

At the women’s conference, Grammy nominated artist Chandrika Tandon, outlined the short term goal of conducting value based workshops, seminars and symposiums for young girls, and long term goals of establishing an ‘Angel Investor’ group for women entrepreneurs.

A strategy for developing scholarship in religious studies and a strong international network of Hindu scholars was among the outcomes of the Education conference.

Other recommendations: Hindu youth should leverage their social media skills, speak out against biased portrayals of Hindus, draw attention to persecution of Hindus, educate emerging politicians on the effective use of media, and identify the key roadblock to Hindu youth in embracing their Hindu identity proudly. The conference decided to establish at least 20 internships for youths who aspire to enter politics.

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