70 Years After Independence
Seated in his office at Oxford’s Centre for Hindu Studies, Shaunaka Rishi Das, 56, speaks eloquently about the representation of Hinduism in British society.
He hopes to solve an emerging dilemma: the lack of cultural interest from newer generations.
“Even more and more in India now, they become disappointed and passively reject their culture. Young people now, the third and fourth generations, don’t know these [classic] stories anymore,” said Das.
With the Centre’s academic programs, they aim to trigger a new wave of interest in Indian culture.
“People in the West have always dipped into India, they’ve always looked at India as something profound,” said Das. “Whatever we can do to inspire them, is whatever we can do to inspire India as well."
Das’s institution began as a fireside chat at the University of Oxford's Christ Church with Professor Keith Ward. The idea became a muse, and developed “organically,” as Das believes many organizations in Oxford do. Housing one of the greatest universities in the world, Das and his colleagues found Oxford to be the most appropriate place for their centre. They aim to foster the academic understanding of Hinduism through lectures and online courses.
The Centre for Hindu Studies is open to anyone that wishes to become more educated in Hindu culture.
“We’ve had students from Pakistan, Tanzania, Russia, China, Japan, Australia, Africa, South America, from North America, and many more,” Das said.
The impact of his institution reaches outside of Oxford, spanning to areas in India and America as well. It’s an impressive feat that leaves a memorable presence of traditional Hinduism.
Regarding the current immigration crisis in England, Das has much to say.
“I think the relationship with the Indian community in England is highly developed. Indians have become more and more integrated, rather than assimilated, and they’ve actually brought their culture with them.”
He explains that Hindus have begun coordinating with their local communities to host Diwali celebrations in the Houses of Parliament, Ten Downing Street and Trafalgar Square.
“Now there’s hardly anyone in this country who wouldn't salute to Diwali,” he says.
On July 1, Oxford’s annual Alice’s Day included a thrilling street performance by the Circus Raj, a traveling Rajasthani troupe. The acts included a bejeweled woman dancing with a pot on her head and a man with a painted face climbing a bamboo stick. The troupe’s owner, Farzana Neazi, emphasized the purpose of the circus in educating Oxford civilians about Indian culture.
“British kids have not been exposed to this kind of color and culture. They are foreign to it,” she said. Neazi continues by disclosing that all the performers learned their stunts not from school, but through their families. It’s a tradition passed down in Rajasthan, which the Circus Raj hopes to inspire in Oxford.
In lieu of cultural integration efforts, the United Kingdom celebrated the UK India Year of Culture in 2017, and the people of England responded joyfully.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told the press, “I hope through this series of cultural events we can connect the next generation of Britons and Indians and inspire people to play their part in shaping UK-India relations over the next 70 years.”
With an increasing emphasis on cultural relations, England is preparing for a better future. Uniting the nation starts with attempts to integrate Indians, and the excitement of some politicians is comforting to witness.
“We live in a global context, so let’s make it global. Let’s loosen the borders a little bit, and go around the world and share the good ideas,” said Das.
He speaks in an earnest tone, and the room gravitates with the weight of his last statement.