(Indian Express, April 22, 2005)
VHP summer camp for Gujarati kids in US
Parents request Parishad to keep issues like Ayodhya, Gujarat and 9/11 out of summer camp agenda
RUPAM JAIN NAIR Posted online: Friday, April 22, 2005 at 0200 hours IST
AHMEDABAD, APRIL 21: Summer vacation is round the corner. And this time, non-resident Gujaratis aren’t packing off their children for a holiday in the motherland. Instead, they will be sent to summer camps organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s American wing. The objective is simple: to teach them ‘‘the way of life’’ — Hinduism.
The maximum number of applications for the VHP’s summer camps in Atlanta, Houston and Medford are from the Gujarati community. While requesting the VHP to train their children to recite shlokas and read Bhagwad Gita, the Gujaratis have also made a humble appeal: ‘‘Please do not discuss or encourage issues like Ram Janambhoomi, Godhra train carnage and 9/11 attacks.’’
‘‘Over 1,500 parents have applied for their children, some aged below eight,’’ says Shushila Bhagat, member-secretary of VHP (America). ‘‘The children learn and practice Hindu values and Hindu philosophy here. They also learn skills like applying mehendi and tying a turban. Kabaddi and gulli-danda are the games they play.’’
‘‘We are not trying to impose Hinduism, nor asking anyone to convert. Our aim is to tell Hindus living abroad that they should be aware of their roots and accept Hinduism as a way of life,’’ says Abhijit Desai, a camp co-ordinator who has been living in New York for over three decades now.
The VHP also organises Bal Vihar — a weekly two-hour programme for children in the age group of 5-12. They are trained to perform surya namaskar, chant gayatri mantra and hanuman chalisa.
Sunita Verma, who runs a restaurant in Houston, has enrolled her two children for the Bal Vihar programme. ‘‘I am aware of the VHP’s stand on the Ram Mandir issue and the allegations levelled against them during the Gujarat communal disturbances. As a Hindu, I do not want my children to grow up as hardliners, but I do want them to know about the Vedas and learn the traditional values.’’
Organisers of the summer camp admit that parents do enquire if they will be speaking on the Ayodhya or the Gujarat issues.
‘‘The unanimous feedback from parents has always been that no discussion on terrorism, 9/11 attacks or Godhra train carnage should be encouraged as they do not want their children to form an opinion,’’ says Maithili, a story-teller at the camp.
‘‘It’s tough to choose between right and wrong. Sometimes, I feel that the VHP agenda is justified. But I cannot ask my children to follow it as they have the right to decide. My aim is to help them understand our culture,’’ says Prof G Raaj, a teacher in Texas.
Raaj sends his three daughters for Sanskrit classes at the VHP community centre. ‘‘America is very big, I do not want them to be lost. They should know the basics of life.’’