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'British Hindus have lost faith in BBC'

Hindus leaders allege BBC gave undue prominence to an Awaaz report which said Hindu charities in UK funded violence in India.

india Updated: Mar 31, 2004 20:44 IST
UK Bureau

There is a major disquiet in the community. Hindu leaders representing several leading organisations from all regions of Britain have accused the BBC of having failed British Hindus and thereby has lost its credibility. The allegations were made after the BBC's coverage of claims made by Awaaz, a London-base network, that a Hindu charity had collected funds for the Gujarat earthquake and diverted them to radical organisations.

"Although Awaaz has not provided a single figure or fact, the BBC gave three minutes of coverage to Awaaz's conjectures and assumptions. On the other hand, they only included one sentence of denial from SEWA," said Swami Nirliptananda, Chair of the Hindu Centre for Communications. "It seems like the BBC is constantly lowering its standards of fair reporting."

Referring to the BBC's indictment by the Hutton Report, Venilal Vaghela, Chair of the Hindu Council of Brent, which represents 60 Hindu organisations in London, added: "BBC has lost all credibility in the eyes of British Hindus. We know exactly how Tony Blair felt about the Kelly affair. We requested the BBC many times to reduce their anti-Hindu bias, but they continue to dupe the British public with their misinformation campaign."

Jay Jina, Secretary of the Shree Hindu Community Centre in Birmingham explained that this had not been the first time the BBC had ignored Hindus. "There are many documented instances of this disturbing trend. Last week, in a 90-minute documentary about God, the BBC interviewed Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists, but not a single Hindu or Sikh," he cited. "On Radio 4's Thought of the Day programme, they featured only one Hindu in the last fifteen months, whereas there were four to five speakers from Sikhism and Islam. It almost seems like Hindus don't count for the BBC."

It was claimed that Hindus in Birmingham felt so irritated by the BBC's coverage of the allegations made by Awaaz that they have threatened not to co-operate with the Corporation. "It seems that BBC has a bias against one section of the British public," said Jo Thanki, Chair of the Hindu Council of Birmingham, which represents over 20 organisations in the Midlands. "It seems like they have not investigated the authenticity of the source of information from Awaaz. If this trend continues, I can assure them that Hindus from Birmingham will not cooperate in any way with the BBC," Jo said.

Ratilal Chohan, General Secretary of The Hindu Council of the North, which represents 18 organisations from Manchester, Oldham Leeds, Bolton and Ashton, commented, "Hindusim has a long history, a deep philosophy and a rich culture that promotes respect for all faiths. Ignoring such a noble tradition can only reflect on ignorance within the BBC."

Some Hindu students in universities across UK have demanded a thorough overhaul of BBC's reporting policies on faith matters. Nishma Shah, Vice President of the National Hindu Students Forum, the largest student body of Hindus in the UK said: "We back all Hindu organisations on the stand they have taken about BBC, and call upon the BBC to undertake a complete rehaul of the processes by which it reports on faith issues."

"We have been complaining for more than two years against the BBC's anti-Hindu bias, but they have turned a blind eye to our reasoning. Moreover, VHP UK, HSS and SEWA have close relations with most national and regional Hindu bodies in Britain. Why has the BBC not asked for the views of these organisations?" asked Kishore Ruparelia, General Secretary of the VHP UK. "Such a bias against Hindus is not in keeping with the Government's community cohesion agenda."

"SEWA has helped people from all faith traditions. We have sent aid to Kosovo, Turkey and Somalia. It is clear that this report is not a case of SEWA duping the British public in raising funds," added Vice Chair of SEWA International, Arjan Lal Sharma. "On the contrary, it is the media that has been duped by the spurious and uncorroborated allegations made by Awaaz. So far, the UK Charity Commissioner has found no wrong-doing in SEWA International, but the BBC is more keen to take the word of organisations with a hidden agenda," Sharma said.

In a press release by Hincom it was revealed that in January 2004, a 51 member delegation representing 40 organizations from Hindu, Christian and Islamic faiths in UK "visited Gujarat and was overwhelmed by the rehabilitation work initiated by SEWA".

One of the members of the delegation Dr. Wali Tasar Uddin, a Bangladeshi Muslim from Edinburgh, who owns a chain of Indian restaurants, said: "This visit has opened my eyes and I sincerely appreciate the work done by SEWA International UK. I would not hesitate to associate myself with this organization in future."

Others like Rami Ranger, PRO of the Punjabi Society, felt that such biased reporting will aggravate racial and religious tension amongst minority communities in Britain. "We are disturbed by the biased reporting of BBC, which can only be termed irresponsible. It will surely increase disharmony and mistrust amongst the faith communities in Britain," he added.

Mahesh Bhatt, President of the Federation of Brahmin Association of Europe, the largest representative body of Brahmins in Europe, felt appalled by the sustained negative coverage of BBC for the Hindu community, and said, "The BBC's reputation of fair and unbiased reporting is no longer unquestioned."

Hindu politicians from several parties also expressed their anger. Harshad Patel, Tory Councillor from Brent commented: "It is totally wrong to link SEVA to extremism. The BBC and other media organisations should first investigate thoroughly before deciding to give high publicity to mere allegations."

Labour Councillor from Brent, Ramesh Patel, added, "From the beginning the BBC has always been biased and reported against the Hindu community. This has been true on many occasions in the past including their coverage of the Godhra riots and the Gujarat earthquake. SEWA has conducted relief work even amongst Muslims in Kosovo and Turkey. How can they label such an organisation as communal? They have never given us a proper chance to respond back."

President of the National Council of Hindu Temples, O P Sharma, said, "The NCHT considers the contents of the Aawaz report to be inaccurate and misleading, often bordering on mischief, that will unnecessarily and inevitably affect current inter faith relations in the UK. We are the opinion that the methods employed, on which the above report is based, are not scientific and authoritative and therefore the report should be withdrawn immediately."

"The BBC should at least have investigated the secular credentials of Awaaz before they publicised their unfounded allegations," said Dhiraj Shah, Joint Secretary of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh. "Awaaz, which is predominantly dominated by Muslim and Far-left organisations, claims to be the South Asia Watchdog, but they have been completely silent over ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Thirty thousand Kashmiri Hindus have been massacred in Kashmir and half a million have been driven out of their homes by Islamic terrorists and made refugees in their own homeland. Why doesn't the BBC question Awaaz's selective choice of human rights issues to understand the lack of credibility in their reporting?"

It is learnt that Hindu organisations and leaders will be writing to the BBC and the Press Complaints Commission to report their grievances.

First Published: Mar 04, 2004 21:34 IST