As 153 million holiday vacationers were packing for elaborate getaway plans, 25 committed Hindu-Americans marked their calendars and traveled from all corners of North America to meet one another in celebration of their millenniums-old heritage. These are youth leaders of Hindu Students Council [HSC], a socio-cultural international forum dedicated to serving the Hindu community at large, through their core values of knowledge, unity and advocacy. They arrived in New Jersey to attend our annual HSC Leadership Meet held at Princeton University from December 20-22, 2019.
The Leadership Meet discussed how HSC works at the national level to support its chapters. Specifically, the HSC leaders provided strategies on how it could better serve students in universities and high schools in creating and maintaining a safe space for Hindus. There was a series of workshops, presentations, and enlightening discussions:
- HSC General Secretary Riddhi Patel and National Team Member Maitreyee Kale led a workshop on Chapter Relations. They emphasized that one of the biggest priorities for HSC is building an effective support system so that students from all corners of the continent can start their own chapters, and this workshop provided insightful advice on how interested students can become part of this inclusive framework that aims to establish a secure environment for Hindus.
- Aditi Bhatia, HSC Executive Board member, led a workshop on chapter activities, lessons she learned leading the HSC chapter in the past at HSC UTSC, along with her experience on the National Leadership Team.
- Patrice Williams, one of our newest members from Baltimore, gave a pivotal presentation on HSC’s efforts to upgrade the website. The goal is to increase the appeal for end-user experience, and functionalities.
- Sohini Sircar, member of the HSC Board of Trustee (BOT), directed a seminar on fundraising, highlighting key financial resources that could ensure the success of HSC’s efforts, including having more outreach to the community and networking. This crucial aspect of having increased financial resources would contribute to numerous events HSC organizes, including campus-wise Diwali, pujas, Holi festivals, Navratri Garba, and international events such as the Global Dharma Conference and Drishti. Added funding will also aid our mission to do seva, a continuous initiative to serve the local community and the underprivileged in India.
Other events during the course of the weekend ranged from HSC BOT Member Ravi Jaishankar leading an afternoon light Asana (yogic postures) and meditation session to Parth Parihar, also a member of the BOT, hosting a roundtable discussion about the brutalities caused during the exodus of Hindu Kashmiri Pandits, and the important contributions of Kashmir to Natya Shastra and Shaiva tradition. This diversity in activities all aimed to strengthen the growing sense of community, increase the reach of HSC’s presence, and contribute to necessary advocacy.
The newest extension to HSC’s reach has been a recent interest of high school students to bring HSC to high schools for the first time in its 30 year history. Several high school students joined the Princeton leadership meet. This Spring, they will be starting HSC chapters at several high schools in NJ. HSC hopes that this will inspire a new network of students that will become pivotal next-generation figures.
The highlight of the Leadership Meet was the Saturday dinner at Shri Rajiv Malhotra ji’s house. After delicious appetizers, the HSC team gathered in Rajivji’s living room, and commenced a two-hour long, invigorating discussion about the pan-Hindu experience across ethno-linguistic differences, obstacles young Hindus faced in hostile academic environments, encouraging Hindu events to maintain their authenticity despite peer pressure, and future steps to take in order to rekindle interest among youth to actively explore their Hindu identity beyond their history textbooks. Clips of the discussion will be uploaded onto Rajivji’s Youtube channel (“Rajiv Malhotra Official”).
The Leadership Meet ended on Sunday with a community lunch that included local community leaders and dedicated parents. They were informed about HSC activities, the successes and challenges it has experienced, the importance of connecting Hindu students across all institutions, and the need for the local community’s help in order to guarantee the continuing success of its chapters. It was an interactive, wholesome event that inspired community members to increase their awareness about HSC, and channel support for its future initiatives.
The experiences coupled with the impact of the Leadership Meet left the attendees with some parting thoughts. Here are a few testimonials to attest to this impact:
“The 2019 HSC Leadership meet was an expression of the HSC’s vision to provide education to youth about issues facing Hindus. It has led the community pioneering the cultivation of Hindu Dharma, ascertaining and building foundations of dialogue to take generations of students, and place them in roles of leadership. I left the meet convinced there are few organizations with the same passion for its purpose or the equivalent team dynamics backing its mission.”
– Patrice Williams, Graduate student, University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC)
“The HSC Leadership Meet has reached a crossroads with a renewed interest in the revival of Hinduism from a younger generation getting involved. HSC has expanded its outreach providing a stronger voice for high school aged students.”
– Yuri Atlman, Alum, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC)
“The HSC Leadership Conference that took place on December 21, 2019 was an absolute joy to attend. I was even given several chances to speak out about what needed to be changed in bringing HSC to high school students, and I felt as if my perspective was being adequately factored into every discussion. Finally, meeting up with Rajiv Malhotra-ji was very enlightening, as I was able to listen to him speak with other HSC members for two hours. …..HSC advocates for the preservation of the Hindu identity without any other strings attached. People spoke about learning from other communities, not fighting them. People spoke about education, not defamation. I am beyond elated to start a HSC chapter at my high school.”
– Bhuvanesh, Sophomore in High School, NJ
“From a young age I felt somewhat alienated due to my seemingly eccentric interests in dharma, but HSC’s Leadership Meet drew me in like long-lost family […] I’m really excited to bring HSC to Montgomery High School- often the search for identity starts in high school, and having a safe space that provides the tools to learn about one’s heritage from unbiased perspectives can really instill confidence and make leaders out of young people that drives them through college and beyond. I’m grateful to HSC for taking “Dharmo Rakshati Rakshita,” and bringing its hopeful, powerful message to millions, and I’m honored to be a part of that.”
– Arushi, Sophomore in High School, NJ
The purpose and mission of HSC resonated through the weekend as experiences, challenges, memories, and goals came together in a beautiful amalgamation of pan-Hindu identity. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Each of us must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Every HSC member, representative, and leader has their dedicated swadharma, an individual’s duty, to being empowering voices for their beloved Hindu community into 2020.