A serious controversy has erupted following the release of a report by the House of Lords select committee on religious offences from Westminster.
The committee was asked to decide whether the present law on religious offences that so far protects only the Anglican church against blasphemy should be extended to include other faiths or be scrapped.
Many prominent leaders of the UK Hindu community are now irked over a statement made by a member of the committee, the Earl of Mar and Kellie, that has been published in the minutes of the oral evidence given by the Hindu community to the select committee in November 2002.
During an oral evidence before the members of the select committee, Ramesh Kallidai, speaking on behalf of the Hindus, pointed out an article by the Christian Medical Fellowship's Pastor Juge Ram that claimed that Hinduism was a false religion and Hindus were lost and spiritually blind.
Responding to this statement, the Earl of Mar and Kellie said: "They (the Christian Medical Fellowship) were not actually telling any lies about the Hindu religion in the sense that they were not actually putting out any false remarks which were possibly going to distort people or mis-educate them."
Hindu leaders, who are shocked, alleged that a person who sits on a panel to discuss laws relating to religious offences must not be seen to support a sweeping statement amounting to that of vilification of Hindus all over the world.
"To say that all Hindus are spiritually lost and blind and that Hinduism is a false religion is not something that most Hindus would agree to be a truthful statement," said Kallidai. Added OP Sharma, president of the National Council of Hindu Temples, "I was distressed to read this statement by the Earl. This is not conducive to interfaith relations in this country, particularly in light of the Government's community cohesion agenda."
"The crucial issue here is that the Earl purports to say that the statement, Hindus are lost and spiritually blind, is not a distortion," pointed out the chair of HINCOM, Swami Nirliptananda. "It is clear that a person holding or supporting such views may not be in an appropriate position to enquire about the legalities of religious offence."
Similarly questioning the position of the Earl on the religious offence committee, Venilal Vaghela, chair of the Hindu Council of Brent said: "An enquiry should be conducted as to why a person who holds supports such shocking vilification of one religion by another can sit on a panel that will enquire about religious offences."
President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad UK, Dr Giridhar Bhan pointed out that vilification of Hindus and their faith had been going on for a long time. "In recent times, efforts have been made to increase interfaith initiatives to rectify this. However, we are appalled by this statement which is deeply offensive to the Hindu ethos, and is a major setback to the interfaith initiatives. We hope people of goodwill will disown it."
A few leaders pointed out that historically, the Houses of Parliament have witnessed earlier attempts to vilify Hindus. Lord Macaulay had made a statement in the 19th Century at the House of Commons to say that all the ancient books of wisdom from India could not compare with the one shelf of books from England. "
Dr JC Sharma, director of the UK Council of Hindus said: " I'm surprised that thinking like Lord Macaulay's still exist in modern Britain."