Following a campaign by UEA Hindu Society, three Hindu chaplains have been appointed by the Chaplaincy to offer advice and spiritual guidance to Hindu students at the University.
The appointment of the three chaplains, two of whom, Gopal-Lila Das of Imperial College, London and Dr. Suresh C. Vasishtha, are based in London, and the other, Shaunaka Rishi, in Oxford, marks a significant victory for the Hindu community at UEA, which has increased significantly in size over the past few years.
An article featured in Concrete last year documented a motion passed at Union Council, which criticised the University for appearing not to welcome students of a Hindu faith. The appointment of the chaplains, whilst appearing to be a concerted move by the University to provide equal facilities and services for Hindu students at the University, was spearheaded by staff at the Chaplaincy. According to UEA chaplain, Marion Houssart: “The Chaplaincy, frustrated that this matter did not move forward, approached several chaplains in the London area.”
Das described the support he would be able to provide to Hindu students at UEA: “On behalf of the other newly-appointed Hindu chaplains, we are honoured to be asked to serve the community of UEA. Our role is to support students in the practice of their faith to ensure they can focus on their studies and contribute fully to University life.”
Houssart continued: “We made contact with Shaunaka Rishi Das, Chaplain at Oxford University as well as Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and Gopal-Lila Das, Hindu chaplain at Imperial College, London. Later we heard of a Hindu chaplain from London, part-time chaplain to Norwich Prison – Dr Suresh Vasishtha – and we approached him about taking on the role as chaplain here. None of the above could commit to taking on the role, certainly not full time, but all were prepared to be a Hindu contact in times of need.”
Some Hindu students have called for the use of flames in the Chaplaincy building to be permitted, and launched a petition aimed at securing the creation of a Hindu-Buddhist shrine on campus. The petition, which had nine pages of signatures reads: “We the undersigned would be grateful for a shrine on campus for the traditional practices of meditation and bhakti-yoga, including the use of naked flames.”
Houssart said: “We have been approached by the UEA Student Union’s Hindu Society President, Pavrita Chotai, and will be having a meeting later this week to see what we can offer in terms of time and space for worship, and possibly storage space for a few items, but always within our constraints.”