Today, popular New York Times-owned website About.com announced the winner of its 2011 Readers’ Choice Award for Best Hindu Organization: Hindu Students Council (HSC). The largest Hindu youth organization in North America edged out four other finalists, all of which were selected by editors from numerous nominations submitted by hundreds of readers.
HSC enjoyed a near outright majority with 48% of the votes, and HSC Executive Board member Arjun Pradeep acknowledged the achievement, noting, “Receiving the award is a great honor in itself, but knowing that such a great portion of the readers recognized HSC’s efforts makes this award even more special!”
HSC was founded in 1990 by three students and has since grown to over fifty-five chapters in North America and several inspired chapters around the world, evolving into a truly international effort. The non-denominational, non-sectarian organization’s mission is three-fold: first, it seeks to provide opportunities for college students and young professionals to learn about Hindu heritage and culture; second, it strives to foster awareness of issues affecting Hindus; and third, it provides Seva (service) to the community.
The first part of the mission manifests itself in the form of various activities, events, and projects held at each of HSC’s chapters, all of which aim to educate young adults about Hindu culture. Activities include camps, trips to local mandirs (temples), discussion forums on Vedantic philosophy, Bhagavad Gita study, and dinner socials. Among the events held are celebrations of major Hindu holidays such as Diwali, Pongal, Holi, and Shivratri, as well as movie screenings featuring films with Hindu themes. For instance, UC Berkeley’s chapter recently screened “The Legend of Bagger Vance”, which is based on the Bhagavad Gita, and “Hanuman”, which presents the Hindu hero’s story in animated form. College chapters at University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Penn State and Yale hold weekly poojas (prayer services) and have dedicated prayer space on campus. University of South Florida is holding a Regional Retreat at the end of March for the Southeast chapters. Other examples include Boston University’s weekly Saturday morning Bhajan sessions, to which 15-25 students gather and sing religious hymns harmoniously in groups. Stony Brook hosts a Dharmathon which includes speaker sessions, yoga classes, Mandir trip, ending with a celebratory Holi event. Each chapter uniquely promotes Hindu Dharma through their events and meetings.
Raising awareness on issues concerning Hindus is also a key focus for HSC. For example, a few years ago HSC became aware that California school text books featured blatantly false and offensive misinformation on Hinduism, including claims that the religion is responsible for the current caste system in India and the source of the practice of “bride-burning”. The organization spread awareness about the efforts of California parents and other Hindus to fight such misinformation. In another instance, HSC worked with other organizations to successfully lobby a Seattle based company to stop manufacturing toilet seats with the image of Ganesh and sandals featuring Hindu deities on their soles.
Lastly, Seva (service) for the community plays a large role in HSC’s mission. Each year, thousands of youth across North America and indeed the world organize and participate in service work projects such as environmental cleanups, blood drives, soup kitchen service, and low-income housing construction. In light of the recent events with the Tsunami and Earthquake in Japan, HSC-TT (Trinidad and Tobago) chapter immediately took the initiative to set up a relief fund and work with the Japanese Embassy for effective distribution.
Members of the HSC Executive Board felt humbled and honored by the recognition About.com’s readers bestowed on the organization, thanking the organization’s members and supporters for their votes.
HSC General Secretary Ravindra Jaishankar aptly explained HSC’s popularity in the community:
"It touches the people who need to learn about Hinduism the most -the youth. The future of our Dharma is in the hands of our children, and therefore HSC is playing an integral role in preserving the future of Hinduism. HSC inspires students in a positive way by bringing the beautiful and balanced teachings of Hinduism to light on college campuses, and it also transfers the torch of knowledge to the next generation. Without HSC, I think the future of Hinduism in America among the youth would be bleak."