Ramesh Kallidai

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Ramesh Kallidai is the former Secretary General of the Hindu Forum of Britain which is the largest umbrella body representing British Hindus.[1] Kallidai was the first Secretary General of the organisation. He has also served as a Commissioner of Integration and Cohesion to the British Government, appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.[2] which brought out a white paper called 'Our shared future', which laid out a new agenda for community cohesion in the UK[3] He has acted as a formal advisor to the British Government on various platforms such as the London Criminal Justice Board, the Race Hate Crime Forum.[4] and the Diamond Advisory Group of the Metropolitan Police. He was appointed a cultural ambassador to the London 2012 Olympics[5] He has also presented evidence to select committees at the House of Commons and House of Lords on issues such as religious discrimination and anti-terrorism.[6]

John Zavos, a Senior Lecturer in South Asian Studies in the University of Manchester says that the organisation that Ramesh Kallidai set up with the help of other Hindu leaders, "...has in recent years been the most active organization in projecting itself as the representative of Britain’s Hindu community, with several prominent roles on government initiatives such as the Commission on Integration and Cohesion.".[7]

In this role he introduced different projects and raised the profile of the community in Great Britain. His initiative in partnership with the Runnymede Trust called Connecting British Hindus highlighted the question of the identity of British Hindus. The Former Secretary of State for Communities, Ruth Kelly, praised the report commissioned by Ramesh Kallidai as one that raised "important issues" between Hindu communities and the government.[8]

As a spokesperson for the Hindu community his comments were carried by British media and Indian broadsheets regularly and he has been quoted on issues ranging from the 7 July 2005 London bombings[9] and hate crime to the death of the Pope and the marriage of the Prince of Wales.

He has submitted written and oral evidence to the House of Commons and the House of Lords Select Committees on various matters including the Religious Hatred bills[10] and Terrorism and Community Relations.[11]

Several British Prime Ministers including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and David Cameron, have been guests of his annual Diwali reception at the House of Commons organised by the Hindu Forum of Britain.[12] Ramesh's conferring of a Hindu name - Govardhan Brown - on the British Prime Minister made world headlines in November 2007.[13]

Personal life[edit]

Kallidai was born in Tamil Nadu in India. From 1977 t0 1982, Sri Rajan Iyengar, a Sri Vaishnava taught him the inner meanings and chanting procedures for various Hindu scriptures like the Vishu Sahasranamam, the Narayaniyam and other Vaishnava textx. He was a student of the Bala Vihar classes run by the Chinmaya Mission.

In 1989, he was initiated into the order of Gaudiya Vaishnavism by His Holiness Gopal Krishna Goswami, a disciple of A C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, with the spiritual name, Romapada Das. In 1990, he became the editor of Hare Krishna Today, a newsletter with a circulation of 25,000 people.

In 1993, Kallidai left a job in Air India and migrated to the UK, where he worked for the Hinduja Group, before joining Fujitsu UK, the third largest IT service company in the world.

He came out of Fujitsu in 2014 as its Global Sales Director for their India GDC.

Involvement in British Hindu organisations[edit]

After migrating to the UK, Kallidai immediately played an active role in the campaign to save Bhaktivedanta Manor for public worship. The temple had been threatened with closure by Hertesmere Borrough Council and had led to a campaign of unprecedented scale, uniting Hindus of all denominations in the UK. Kallidai was instrumental in 1994 to set up a youth group called Pandava Sena that had a major role to play in the Bhaktivedanta Manor Campaign. Since then he has been actively involved in serving the Hindu community in the UK. He served on the Executive Committees of various Hindu bodies in the UK including the National Council of Hindu Temples, the Hindu Council UK, Hindu Aid and the Hindu Forum of Britain.

Community agenda[edit]

Kallidai has advised the British Government on several public policy matters by drawing evidence from community consultation exercises on issues ranging from diversity, equality, discrmination and human rights to anti-terrorism and crime.

Community consultations on public policy[edit]

Kallidai conducted various consultation exercises, stakeholder workshops, surveys and other activities with the Hindu community, and some with the all the major faith communities in the UK. These include:

  • Commissioner leading on Education on the Commission for Integration and Cohesion[14]
  • Multi-faith response to the introduction of ID Cards - with four workshops across UK[15]
  • Fairness for All - Commission of Equality and Human Rights[16]
  • Strength in Diversity – Home Office Policy on Diversity and Equality[17]
  • Home Office Consultation on Ministers of Religion from Abroad[18]
  • Home Affairs Select Committee on Terrorism and Community Relations
  • House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Discrimination

Capacity building and project development[edit]

He commissioned the following projects on behalf of the Hindu Forum of Britain after identifying capacity gaps in the Hindu community in the UK:

  • Launched the Parliamentary Experience Programme where ten Hindu youth shadowed ten MPs to increase democratic participation amongst young British Hindus[19]
  • Launched a pilot RE Toolkit in the 72 schools of Harrow to encourage standardised resources for teaching Hinduism in schools[20]
  • Started a security training programme for places of worship with help from the Community Security Trust run by the British Jewish community[21]
  • HFB Disaster Task Force that brought together 50 aid organisations for the Tsunami disaster[22]

Research[edit]

The Connecting British Hindus Research Project that was visualised, conceived and managed by Kallidai on behalf of the Hindu Forum of Britain in partnership with the Runnymede Trust. It involved 10 focus group meetings and 1000 responses to an online survey, resulting in 20 recommendations on Hindu identity and access to public services that are transforming the manner by which local government engages with British Hindus.[23] The report gathered evidence that demonstrated that a majority of Hindus in the UK did not want to be identified as 'Asian' but preferred to be identified as 'Indian' or 'Hindu'.[24]

He led the research for a consultation on caste discrimination in the UK and published a white paper called 'Caste in the UK', which presented evidence asserting that caste did not play any role in employment or provision of services by the Government, but only had an impact on social interactions. The paper concluded by saying that the Government should not regulate social interactions between people through legislation, but should encourage good practices through education.[25]

Interfaith activity[edit]

Kallidai has worked on various community projects with the Muslim Council of Britain, the Catholic Bishops Conference, Churches Together in England and Wales, the Church of England, Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Office of the Chief Rabbi, the Network of Sikh Organisations, Sikhs in England, National Spiritual Assembly of Baha'is in UK, Network of Buddhist Organisations, Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe and the Jain Samaj Europe. He has organised many interfaith events, consultations and events and is an active contributor to the activities of the Interfaith Network of UK, where he had served formerly as an Executive Committee member.

Events and conferences[edit]

These include the Annual Diwali reception at the House of Commons;[26] Interfaith reception for H H Karmapa Lama, a Buddhist leader;[27] Hindu memorial service for the London Bombings at the Victoria Embankment Gardens; the Inter-faith Memorial Service for the Mumbai Bomb Blasts, Hindu-Jewish reception with the Chief Rabbi of the UK,[28] and many others.

Media and publicity[edit]

Kallidai has run various community campaigns and is one of the most quoted community workers in the UK media. He writes profusely for various newspapers and is quoted regularly in ethnic, regional, national and international media, including newspapers, television and radio.

In 2004, he ran a campaign to get Lacey's to withdraw footwear that featured the sacred 'Om' symbol as Hindus considered offensive to step on the symbol according to Hindu rules.[29]

After the Asian tsunami disaster in 2004, Kallidai organised several Hindu organisations under one banner called the Disaster Relief Task Force, and succeeded in sending aid to victims in India through helpline numbers broadcast by the BBC[30]

In 2005, he ran a campaign to get Royal Mail to withdraw a stamp that many Hindu organisations felt had offended Hindu sensibilities.[31]

After the London bombings in 2005 which killed over 60 people, Kallidai joined the Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and the Metropolitan Police chief Sir Ian Blair in opening a memorial for the victims at the Victoria Embankment in London.[32]

He led the Defend Russian Hindus movement in December 2005 and January 2006, to stop the Moscow government from stopping construction of a Hindu temple, which being opposed by the Russian Orthodox Church. Kallidai campaigned in the British parliament on behalf of the Hindu Forum of Britain, and with the Mayor of London with the Mayor, and the Foreign Secretary speaking to their counterparts in Russia[33]

Asia House in London was forced in May 2006 to cancel an exhibition of paintings by renowned artist M F Hussain, after the Hindu Forum of Britain, led by Kallidai and an activist grouo, Hindu Human Rights protested the exhibition which portrayed several Hindu god and goddesses in the nude. Three men entered Asia House and damaged two paintings by spray-painting them, causing Asia House to cite security fears as the compelling reason for cancelling the exhibition. This led to a major controversy with many other groups citing a violation of freedom of speech, while many Hindu organisations felt that freedom of speech should not abused to cause so much hurt.[34]

The M F Hussain exhibition closure resulted in several academics raising the subject of extreme Hindu views being peddled in Britain, and with one even suggesting that there were two versions of 'Hindutva' in the UK, the 'soft' approach of Kallidai and the Hindu Forum of Britain, and the hard-line attempts of organisations such as the Hindu Human Rights, and the HSS.[35]

The Birmingham Post invited Kallidai to write a full-page story they published in 2007, titled 'The British way to a Hindu future' in which he pointed out that discrimination against Hindus was not addressed by the Government in the same successful manner as discrimination against Jews and Muslims.[36]

In January 2007, he led an international campaign to get German efforts to get the use of the Swastika banned across the European Union, terming the swastika as a 'symbol of peace for thousands of years before the Nazis adopted it' and claimed that the ban on the symbol would discriminate against Hindus.[37] Germany eventually gave up the idea of banning the symbol after an international media campaign that was reported widely in over 25 countries.

At a conference he had organised to discuss security for Hindus in partnership with the Metropolitan Police in February 2007, Kallidai alleged that many Muslim men were targeting young Hindu girls for conversion. This generated controversy with several Muslim organisations refuting the allegations made in the presence of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner at that time, Sir Ian Blair.[38] This resulted in the Commissioner admitting at the conference that many Hindus felt neglected by the Police and the eventual setting up of a Hindu Safety Forum.

He started the first Diwali celebrations at the House of Commons which were hosted by MPs from all three major parties of the UK, and have been attended by several Prime Ministers including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and recently, Theresa May.[39] At one of the receptions, he called Gordon Brown an honorary Hindu with the name 'Govardhan Brown', which was immediately reported widely on the front pages of Indian broadsheets and several UK newspapers.[40]

In 2007 an investigation in the Evening Standard called Kallidai "the fundamentalist father" and stated that many of his claims of Muslim men "forcibly" converting "hundreds" of Hindu girls were based on no evidence. It also cited his defense of more controversial organisations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, cited by Human Rights Watch as being responsible for thousands of deaths in Gujarat, India, in 2003.

In response the Hindu Forum of Britain clarified that the Evening Standard had not given them more than a few hours to respond despite requests for adequate time, and said that the statements in the Evening Standard were wrongly attributed to him without verifying the truth with them. The HFB said that, "While having meetings around the country, officers of the HFB have observed a high level of resentment from leaders of the Hindu communities about perceived aggressive conversion techniques. We have maintained that the resentment level is factual, and detrimental to community relations, but that we do not know the scope and extent of the problem.Therefore, during our discussions with the Police and others we have requested a formal study to understand the extent of the problem, and either bust myths to reassure the community if the problem is not real, or to deal with it if it is. When explaining to the reporter Mr Kallidai and our media spokesperson also referred to a news story that appeared in Luton, several years ago, about a flyer that had been produced encouraging the conversion of Sikhs. Even though these comments were not from Mr Kallidai, several of these were attributed to him."[41]

After the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008, Reuters quoted Kallidai as saying that there was a great concern here in Britain because of the emotional and family links the community maintained with India.[42]

In May 2007, Kallidai led a campaign to save a bull named Shambo in the Skandavale temple in Wales from slaughter after it had been diagnosed with Bovine Tuberclosis. This campaign received unprecedented publicity all over national media and after an interim relief, the bull was finally slaughtered.[43]

Memberships and positions[edit]

Kallidai is a member of various organisations. Some of his positions are as follows:

  • Commissioner for Integration and Cohesion, reporting to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
  • Secretary General, Hindu Forum of Britain
  • Vice Chair, Hindu Aid
  • Member, Race Hate Crime Forum, Metropolitan Police
  • Member, Diamond Advisory Group, Metropolitan Police
  • Member, IAG London Criminal Justice Board
  • Executive Member, Religions for Peace (UK)
  • Fellow, Royal Society of the Arts
  • National Working Group, EU Campaign to Combat Discrimination

Publications and papers[edit]

  • *Caste in the UK, a research paper on the situation of caste in a British context providing fresh evidence from surveys and research, 2008
  • Working with a Hindu Ethos, Ramesh authored a guide for Hindu charities in the UK, published by the Hindu Forum of Britain in 2007. This book was launched in the House of Commons by Harriet Herman MP, Leader of the House
  • Oral and written response to the Home Affairs Select Committee on Terrorism and Community Relations, 2005
  • Oral and written response to the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Discrimination, November 2002
  • Response to 'Fairness for All' White Paper on the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, July 2004
  • Response to 'Strength in Diversity', Home Office White Paper on race equality and community cohesion, July 2004
  • Using the UML Uniformly, City University, September 2000
  • Screaming Hot Bhajiyas - weekly column in the Asian Voice, largest English weekly for Asians in UK
  • Angrezi Matters - fortnightly column in the Hindustan Times, largest circulating newspaper in Delhi, India

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1], 11 Apr 2015, Report in the Sunday Guardian referring to HFB as the largest and fastest growing Hindu organisation in the UK
  2. ^ [2], 25 Aug 2006, The Information Daily.com
  3. ^ [3] 14 July 2007, Final report of the Commission of Integration and Cohesion
  4. ^ [4], Website Archives, The Metropolitan Police Authority
  5. ^ [5], January 2012, Cultural Ambassadors to the London 2012 Olympics
  6. ^ [6] 27 November 2002, Examination of witnesses by the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Discrimination
  7. ^ [7], 20 Aug 2013, Representing British Hindus
  8. ^ [8], 11 Jul 2006, 'Racism debate excludes Hindus, BBC
  9. ^ [9] Kallidai joins Culture Secretary to lay wreath in memory of London bombing victims
  10. ^ House of Lords Select Committee Examination of Witnesses, The Stationery Office, 27 Nov 2002
  11. ^ Home Affairs Select Committee Witness Examination, Terrorism and Community Relations, 14 Dec 2004
  12. ^ [10] 10 November 2002, British PM lights Diwali lamp in Parliament
  13. ^ [11], The Times of India, 16 Nov 2007.
  14. ^ [12] 14 June 2007, Building united and resilient communities
  15. ^ [13] 14 March 2005, Multifaith consultation on ID cards in the UK
  16. ^ [14] 12, October 2004, Britain bans religious discrimination
  17. ^ [15] 9 July 2004, New UK citizens to face tough English test
  18. ^ [16] 20 December 2005, Non-settlement UK visas for 'pujaris' soon
  19. ^ [17], March 2006, Ten British Hindus to make debut in politics, Hindustan Times
  20. ^ [18] April 2006, 'Heart of Hinduism' teaching toolkit launched, Redhotcurry.com
  21. ^ [19] 2004, Written submission to the Home Affairs Select Community on Terrorism and Community Relations, Scribd
  22. ^ [20] December 2004, Hindu Forum lauches Disaster Relief Task Force, Redhotcurry.com
  23. ^ [21], 2006, Connecting British Hindus, Department for Local Government, Runnymede Trust & the Hindu Forum of Britain
  24. ^ [22] 2006, BBC report on 'Race debate in the UK excludes Hindus'
  25. ^ [23], 2008, Caste in the UK
  26. ^ [24] 2003, British PM lights Diwali lamp, Hindustan Times
  27. ^ [25] 2005, HFB reception for the Karmapa in London
  28. ^ [26] March 2005, Chief Rabbi and HFB host Hindu Jewish Reception, Hindustan Times
  29. ^ [27], July 2004, Company withdraws offensive sandals, BBC News
  30. ^ [28] December 2004, Emergency Aid in Action, BBC News
  31. ^ [29] 2005, Royal Mail climbs down over stamp, BBC News
  32. ^ [30] 2005, Forum joins Leaders in opening first terror memorial
  33. ^ [31] January 2006, Britain backs Russian Hindus, Times of India
  34. ^ [32] May 2006, File Room from the Asia House
  35. ^ [33] January 2015, Neo-Hindutvca, the Asia House MF Hussain Campaign, Routledge
  36. ^ [34] 2007, The British Way to a Hindu Future, Birmingham Post
  37. ^ [35] January 2007, Hindus Opposing Swastika Ban, BBC Europe
  38. ^ [36] February 2007, Hindu girls targeted by Extremists, BBC South East
  39. ^ [37] 2002, British PM lights Diwali lamp, Hindustan Times
  40. ^ [38] November 2007, Gordon Brown becomes a Hindu, Daily Star
  41. ^ [39], Red Hot Curry.com, June 2007.
  42. ^ [40] 27 Nov 2008, As it happened: Mumbai attacks, BBC News
  43. ^ [41] May 2007, Slaughter fight for sacred bull, BBC News

External links[edit]