There have been recent news articles about Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) mandir construction project in New Jersey. While we cannot comment on the legal matters, we understand that BAPS is cooperating with the relevant law enforcement agencies and the truth will eventually prevail. The attack on BAPS, for caste discrimination bewildering. We have a long history of working with BAPS and have always known it as an exemplary organization working for the upliftment of all Hindus regardless of caste, creed or race. These attacks fit the recent pattern of characterizing American Hindus as castist in various forums.
As HMEC, we request all the mandirs to come together and sign the enclosed statement as members of Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference, as a statement on equality, and expressing a unified Hindu support for BAPS.
HINDU DHARMA COALITION Statement
As practitioners of the many diverse traditions that constitute Hindu faith in North America, we stand united in valuing the life of every being. We believe that each soul is divine, in this world and beyond. Inspired by the values found in the ancient Upanishadic mantra “vasudhaiva kutumbakam,” that the whole world is our family, we strive for justice for all members of that family, regardless of caste, religion, race, and gender. Thus, as is true of many faith communities, Hindus are committed to addressing instances of injustice whenever and wherever they appear.
On May 11th, 2021, the New York Times outlined allegations against the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) regarding its temple construction project in Robbinsville, New Jersey. BAPS disagreed with the allegations and stated that they are cooperating fully with all relevant investigative authorities. We trust that the truth will be brought to light through the legal process.
The allegations, however, confound our and numerous others’ experiences with BAPS as a Hindu tradition that rejects caste-based discrimination of all kinds. Those familiar with the tradition know that dismantling caste differences has been a central priority of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the gurus of BAPS. Observing BAPS’s commitment to justice in their religious, social, and charitable work in North America over the past five decades gives us faith that they will remain committed to justice, and they deserve the basic presumption of innocence until the conclusion of the legal proceedings when all the facts emerge.
We recognize that this is a difficult time for the American Hindu community. These unproven allegations challenge our core values, portraying them in public discourse as fact in a way that perpetuates misinformed and damaging stereotypes about Hindus and Hindu dharma.
Caste is not a principle that guides Hindu society. Caste is not even a Hindu concept and ideas about caste among Hindus have never been monolithic or static. This does not diminish the fact that Dalit, Bahujan, and Vanavasi communities have unjustly suffered from mistreatment, both historically and today. We recognize that we all have a role to play in overcoming all inequities and are committed to doing so.
As we continue to stand with marginalized members of society, we urge members of mandirs, Hindu organizations, civil society organizations, and the interfaith community to recognize the damage that an unfounded prejudice against any community does to all of us and express our commitment to allow the facts to emerge through the legal process before passing judgment or supporting those who do.
In the Service of Dharma,
HMEC & HMPC Leadership Team