Monday, January 10, 2011
As per Obama's call, the Hindu Americans organized as many as 1,300 small and large seva projects through 120 "Seva Centers" during the summer in 2009 in different parts of America. Of the total 1,300 projects, the largest number of projects (47 per cent) was on poverty reduction; while 30 per cent was on health, 9 per cent on environment, 5 per cent on youth, 4 per cent on elderly, 3 per cent on education and the remaining 2 per cent on refugee issues. Perhaps it was something unprecedented in American history that so many activities were launched in the country from the non-governmental sector and that too with a sense of devotion for the welfare of the fellow beings.
In the health sector alone, thousands of physicians, nurses and volunteers largely supported by American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin and National Association of Indian Nurses of America launched health camps. Many of the uninsured Americans irrespective of their religious faiths and races were benefited from such health care activities in areas like dentistry, cardiology, ophthalmology, gastroenterology, endocrinology, orthopedics, dermatology, pediatrics, podiatry, neurology, obstetrics, gynecology, physical therapy and urology.
Encouragingly, the Hindu American Seva Charities of which Anju Bhargava is the founder convener coordinated such activities. The Charities was founded under the guidance of US President Barack Obama's Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in order to bridge the gap between the U.S. government and Hindu/Dharmic institutions.
In fact, whatever that the Hindu Americans were able to perform in USA through their charitable activities is something imbued in their samskara or their culture. By tradition, the Hindus are known for extending helping hand to the people in distress. The seer Dadhichi, an emblem of selflessness and sacrifice had offered his bone to the Gods for the creation of Vajra, which later helped Indra to win over the demon, Vritrasur.
In case of Hindu Americans, it is not merely the seva spirit that led them to serve the fellow Americans of different religious groups or even those who were non-believers but also it was due to their economic affluence. Constituting 2.3 million people or nearly 1.5 per cent of total American population, the Hindu Americans today are the wealthiest among all the ethnic groups in America. They are the fifth largest religious group in the country next to the Christians, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism. They made their presence felt in this country mostly after 1965 when the immigration laws in the USA was relaxed.
Virtually, the Hindu Americans dominate in medical sciences and technology sector in America. As expected most of the Indian Americans constituting some 12 per cent the total American scientists, 38 per cent of the doctors, 36 per cent of NASA scientists, 34 per cent of Microsoft employees and 28 per cent of IBM employees are the Hindus. Also, 50 per cent of all economy lodges and 35 per cent of all the hotels in America which have combined market value of over 40 billion US dollar are owned by the Indian Americans. The general perception is that the owners of these lodges and hotels are mostly the Hindu communities, particularly from Gujarat state of India. Since the Hindu communities are treated as most smart and intelligent in America, their clout in politics has also started growing in the recent years.
Perhaps, no country in the world outside the Indian sub-continent has been able to welcome the great Indian spiritual and enlightened masters as America did. Such names as Vivekananda, Yogananda, Mahesh Yogi, Ram Dev and Ravi Shankar are well known to the Americans. Spiritual discourses by the Hindu sages and saints are common in America.
According to Yoga Journal (yogajournal.com), Yoga is now part of 15.8 million Americans comprising nearly 7 per cent of US adults - a direct contribution of Hindus. Many of the Americans have appreciation for the Hindus as they do not proselytize. The Swamis, teachers and other enlightened souls have shared the self-realization philosophy, meditation techniques and yoga - all intrinsic to Hindu faith with other American people.
Against the above background, it is all the more important that the Hindu Americans should give continuity to their support to the fellow Americans as there is hunger, health care problems, illiteracy and even unemployment in America. As per the statistics provided by the US Department of Agriculture, 49.1 million populations in America had to survive in food insecure households, while additional 17.3 million had very low level of food security in 2008. Among the different ethnic groups, the black and Hispanic population experienced food insecurity of more severe nature. Besides, nearly 40 million Americans constituting 13 per cent of the country's total population lived in acute poverty in 2008 and in this group the children were affected most.
Since 15.3 per cent of the American population is uninsured and 35 per cent are underinsured, this has largely denied them of health care facilities. Significantly, the USA has higher infant mortality rate than many of industrialized countries. In addition, life expectancy in USA is at 50th position in world and this country is lagging behind not only the developed countries like Japan, France, Germany, UK but also countries like Chile and Cuba.
According to the data provided by the United States Department of Education, 32 million adult population or 14 per cent of population of USA have either very low level of literacy or some of them are illiterate to the extent that they cannot even read or write. Worst, however, is the situation in unemployment as one out of every ten Americans is unemployed now. And what is more alarming is that the situation of American population in hunger, poverty, education, health and unemployment has deteriorated in the recent years.
Therefore, the Hindu Americans further need to consolidate their ties with fellow Americans. Given the credibility of these people in American society, organizing the seva activities as the one organized by the Hindu Americans in 2009 at President Obama's call should be made a regular feature in America. This would set a milestone that they are as much concerned about America as any other people in the country. About these people, President Obama on November 24, 2009 rightly told the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during state dinner, “It's a bond that includes more than two million Indian Americans who enrich every corner of our great nation -- leaders in government, science, industry and the arts…".
Professor Jha is Executive Director of Centre for Economic and Technical Studies in Nepal.