Hindus and non-Hindus from the Armed Forces got together with the local communities across the UK last week to celebrate Raksha Bandhan; a major Hindu festival that celebrates the bonds of protection that exist within society. Organised by the Armed Forces Hindu Network for the first time, the concluding event was held at the Ministry of Defence Headquarters on Thursday 27 August, where members of the AFHN tied rakhi on the wrists of senior representatives of the Ministry of Defence and the Armed forces, to represent the bond of protection between the community and the defence forces.
This morning event in London started with a welcome and a formal set of prayers by the Hindu Chaplain Acharya Krishanji, followed by an introduction by Sgt Lt Cdr Dr Manish Tayal, Chair of AFHN. There were speeches by representatives from the National Hindu Students Forum and City Hindus Network.
Lt General Andrew Gregory, Chief of Defence people spoke about the significance of diversity and the rakhi festival, followed by dance performance by Arunima Kumar dance company. He said he was hugely honoured to host this festival of raksha bandhan and celebrate the bond between the community and the Armed forces.
Speaking to Asian Voice, he said, "The similarity between all our communities are the shared values. In Armed forces community what we are trying to ensure that everybody can be true to themselves, respect their values and traditions. That's not always easy, but this is what we are trying to achieve. You can practice your faith, rules of your religion, the more we understand each other's faith, better we will do.
"We are not as diverse as we would like to be. The number of BME (Black, Minority, Ethnic) people recruited in Armed Forces is way below (10%) the number of BME people coming out of secondary school (22%) and primary school (26%). We should reflect the society, otherwise the communities will not see us as a part of their society and we will not be realising in the talent in those communities. We have a diversity inclusive programme, which is all about creating an inclusive culture, so that people could be themselves, and make a more diverse Armed Forces. It's a huge priority for me, as otherwise we are wasting talent."
Radhika Keshav who is a student of Cardiff University and represented NHSF spoke about the importance of raksha bandhan. She said, "It is easy to lose yourself in University life and forget about our culture. Rakish Bandhan brings us together and reminds us of our roots."
Prinai Nathwani from the City Hindus Network spoke at the event in London, commenting: “The first exposure that I had to Hindu principles and values were the stories I was told as a kid. There’s a common thread that runs through these stories, which is the triumph of good over evil and the requirement that every one of us ensures that good prevails. The link between that and what the UK Armed Forces do is abundantly clear, and that’s why it’s important we have events like this – to have effective engagement between the Hindu community and the Armed Forces. It’s about recognising the common and shared values.”
The festivals also applauded the contribution of Hindu serving personnel throughout the history of the UK Armed Forces: World War I, where 750,000 Hindus deployed overseas in the British Indian Army (earning 8 Victoria Crosses); World War II where 1.25 million Hindus fought in the British Indian Army (earning 18 Victoria Crosses); and the 950 current serving personnel.
Sgt Shiv Chand from RAF who has served for 29 years told Asian Voice how the armed forces have changed over the years, becoming much more open to diversity, "Over 30 years the Armed Forces have changed immensely. We were not allowed to wear a rakhi with our uniform before. Now they understand what it is about.
"This rakhi reminds me of my family, a bond of protection and by family I not only mean my parents or sister, but it means my country too.
"The response we have got this road show from Scotland to London celebrate rakhi for the first time, has been fantastic."
Guests included many representatives from the Hindu community, including Nilesh Solanki and young members from the HSS (UK).
Before the event concluded, there was a prayer by young girls from BAPS Swaminarayan Temple, Neasden, followed by a spread of delicious lunch.
Speaking from Balaji Temple in Birmingam, Dr Rao, the Temple Chairman, said: “It was pleasure and honour for Balaji Temple to host Raksha Bandhan alongside the Armed Forces. Having serving personnel join in reminds us of the many ways we are protected; by our family, our friends and of course the Armed Forces.”
The bands tied around the wrists of serving personnel also represented a promise for the Hindu community to respect the work they do, and a desire that they keep safe. This symbolism heralds from when Sachi, wife of Lord Indra (King of Heaven), tied a sacred protective amulet to his wrist before he went into battle with evil King Bali, whom he ultimately defeated.
Speaking from the Raksha Bandhan event in Birmingham, Minister for the Armed Forces Penny Mordaunt said: “Our challenge in the UK Armed Forces is to ensure this solemn vow of Defence and protection extends beyond the family, beyond even the community, to the country itself. This is the exact principal we see today in the Hindu community as we celebrate Raksha Bandhan. Events like today remind us that Defence depends on more than money and muscle. It’s about individual commitment, that willingness to take on responsibility for the wellbeing of others and bringing the nation together.”
Asian Achievers Awards
Our Asian Achievers Awards that would celebrate its 15th year on 18th September 2015, will be hosted at Grosvenor House. The theme of this year's award is Uniformed and Civil Services, celebrating the contributions of Armed Forces and its members in our community.