VHP, as the Vishva Hindu Parishad is commonly known, has been in the media more often than not since the Bharatiya Janta Party came to power in India. They often draw harsh criticism from a wide section of the population for the hard-line Hidutva philosophy and belligerence towards what they term the ‘western culture’.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad is a Hindu Right wing organization based on the ideology of Hindutva. According to the VHP followers, Hindutva is a way of life.
Founded in 1964 by M.S. Golwalker and S.S. Apte in collaboration with Swami Chinmayananda, Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s main objective is “to organise, consolidate the Hindu society, and to serve and protect the Hindu Dharma.” Its slogan “Dharmo rakshati rakshitah”, means “Dharma protects its protector” and its symbol is the banyan tree. Their main role was to awaken a sense of self-respect, self-reliance, self effort and self- confidence.
VHP has been in news in recent times for their anti-Valentine’s Day tirade, Ghar vapasi – the reconvertion to Hinduism drive and of course, for the much discussed issue of late – Gau-Raksha, or to be more precise, the beef ban issue. These incidents have often led to clashes with the local law enforcement agencies and the more moderate citizens of the country.
The followers of VHP claim that their actions are meant to protect age old Indian culture and traditions that bear the hallmark of great purity, morality and holiness. It is true that India was dominated and ruled by followers of other faiths and this in turn had a major influence on its culture. These foreign, non-Hindu rulers tried to smother and crush the vibrant Hindu customs, rituals, practices and traditions while imposing their will on the people. VHP feels the urgent need to protect the Hindu Dharma by restoring it to its lost glory.
The VHP has close to seven million members, the organizations is active in many parts of the world. Outside India, it is mainly made up of Indian diaspora and other follows of Hinduism.
As an organization the VHP hardly ever gets any positive press. We delved beyond the headlines to see whether the organization has anything else to offer.
VHP engages in a lot of social activities aimed at serving the poor and the downtrodden. More than 1,30,000 children benefit from their educational facilities spread throughout the length and breadth of India. They mainly reach out to the children in remote areas. It supports 3,266 educational facilities. Through Balawaries and Bal Sanskar Kendras 36,000 children are being introduced to cultural and religious teachings. Training is being imparted in Allopathy, Homepathy and Ayurveda to provide primary health care to tribal and rural folk through their hospitals, medical centres and mobile vans. Sri Datta Bal Sewashram in Gangapur received the national award from the Government of Kerala for their services to the children of leprosy patients.
Around 959 Vocational training centres have been set up by the VHP to provide self-employment training camps in the field of agriculture farming, sewing, tailoring and computer courses. The Organisation runs 45 orphanages, marriage bureaux, help centres, rescue centres, and working women hostels. VHP is also active in environmental causes such as tree planting drives. Social services are provided in religious pilgrim centres across India. VHP volunteers are ever ready to lend a helping hand during emergency situations like natural calamities. In 2014, during the Jammu and Kashmir floods, Vishwa Hindu Parishad organised medical and relief camps. A lot of their humanitarian and social service programmes are run in the rural areas.
Bharat Kalyan Pratishtan launched the programme of Support-A-Child 12 years ago and almost 600 children are supported by the VHP of America. In the United States the organization advocates for human rights for Hindus around the world. They also take part in many charitable causes, such as raising money for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and the Fiji flood victims of 2012. The Australia wing of Vishva Hindu Parishad conducts weekend schools, language classes, cultural workshops, and organizes Indian festivals. The festivals organised by them are open to all communities promoting Unity in Diversity. The VHP has established a Vedic school in Sydney bringing the age old knowledge of the Vedas to those far from the Indian shores.
They fulfill some of the most basic needs, for education, healthcare and vocational training, in regions neglected by the government and ignored by the private sector. Little wonder then that those who benefit from their charitable programmes are ardent followers and staunch defendants.
The hard-line Hindutva preached by the VHP often drown out these social welfare projects that are immensely beneficial to the poor and downtrodden. ‘Seva’ or service to others has undeniably been an intrinsic part of the cultural and spiritual ethos of India.
(Note: information for this article has been collected from Wikipedia and the VHP website)