The OCVHS British Hinduism Oral History Project was officially launched at, the Indian High Commission, London on Tuesday, 27 March. Those attending included the High Commissioner himself, Members of Parliament, noted academics and prominent members of the Hindu religious and business community.
Keynote speakers were HE Nareshwar Dayal, Indian High Commissioner, Lord Addington, Peter Luff, MP, O. P. Sharma, MBE (National Council of Hindu Temples), Dr. Gillian Evison (Indian Institute Library) and Helen Jackson (Heritage Lottery Foundation).
Lord Dholakia, a member of the Centre’s Patron’s Board said ‘I am delighted that the OCVHS is undertaking such a project. There is a danger that a significant portion of history may be lost forever, if we fail to record the recollections and contributions made. This has my full support.’
The launch also attracted a great deal of media attention with journalists from the BBC World Service, Eastern Eye, Sunrise Radio, India Monitor, Indian Express, Asian Age and History Today in attendance.
The BBC ‘South Today’ programme also featured a news item on the Project in its evening bulletin the following day.
The brainchild of scholars and Hindu community leaders, the project aims to capture the stories of first generation Hindus in Britain.
For Shaunaka Rishi Das, Director of the OCVHS and the Project’s Manager, the project is vital to the Hindu community: ‘It is a chance for them to engage in their own history, explore issues of identity and begin to interpret their tradition.’
Prof. Kim Knott is the project’s Research Co-ordinator. Her extensive work on the Hindu community in England led her to recognise the importance of establishing such an archive.
A major portion of the project is being funded by a grant of £86,200 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Speaking on behalf of the Fund, Helen Jackson, Deputy Director of Research commented: ‘We feel the project has huge model value for other communities. There’s no denying the strategic and important vision behind the Oral History Project and the work of the Centre.’
She added that the ‘ground breaking and much needed project’ was exactly the sort of undertaking the Lottery wanted to fund.
In his opening speech, HE Nareshwar Dayal said: ‘This project – The Life of Hindus in Britain – will mark the beginning of an important process of documenting that which makes pluralistic United Kingdom a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural democracy.’Peter Luff, MP paid tribute to the HLF for supporting ‘something of such cultural and political importance.’ He also rejoiced in ‘the confidence you will give the new generation from understanding their roots and their origin’. He also remarked on how well the Project fitted in with the Centre’s own aims.
P. Sharma, President of the National Council Hindu Temples (NCHT), stated that the project was very much needed. Mr. Sharma, who was recently awarded an MBE for services to the Hindu community, affirmed that the NCHT would be supporting it wholeheartedly. ‘This project will do justice to us,’ he said.
Lord Addington, who officially launched the project, emphasised the need to learn from the past in order to grow in the future. He spoke of the Hindu community’s experiences as being an integral part of Britain’s history. ‘It’s about our own past and how we integrate people into it.’
The launch was hailed by all present as an enormous success. This was in no small way due to the wonderful hospitality, warmth and efficiency shown by HE Nareshwar Dayal, P. C. Haldar and the rest of the staff at the High Commission, for which the Centre is extremely grateful.