Akila Ramarathinam’s vision for VHP Australia

By Indira Laisram
Akila Ramarathinam // Pic supplied

As Australia’s national secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an organisation dedicated to promoting Hindu heritage and cultural values, Akila Ramarathinam sees her role as bridging people through shared values.

Originally from Chennai, Ramarathinam came to Australia 36 years ago. She attributes her commitment to VHP to her father, Coimbatore Natarajan, a former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) member and freedom fighter, whose legacy inspired her seamless integration into VHP, Australia.

“Growing up in a family with RSS members, values like desh bhakti (patriotism) and Hindu dharma (religious principles) become ingrained in your DNA,” she explains.

Although VHP Australia was established in 1996, Ramarathinam joined the organisation in 2007. It was the year, VHP organised its first Hindu conference in Sydney with the presence of leaders such as Swami Vigyananand, founder and chairman of World Hindu Foundation.

Ramarathinam reminisces about her encounter with Swami Vigyananand during the conference, where he assigned her the responsibility of coordinating the following year’s event in 2008.

This marked the beginning of her journey within VHP, eventually leading to her appointment as the state secretary for New South Wales (NSW). She chuckles as she reflects on how this role has evolved, culminating in her current position as the national general secretary.

When asked about the strength of membership, Ramarathinam says, “There is no such thing as membership, whoever volunteers are all members. We can say we are one of the largest Hindu volunteer organisations.”

So, what is the mission and objectives of VHP in Australia? Do they align with the values of multiculturalism and diversity?

Ramarathinam explains, “VHP’s slogan itself is called vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the world is one big family). That itself embodies multiculturalism. Multiculturalism began in Australia only 50 years ago, making it relatively new to the concept. Countries like India have long embraced multiculturalism.

“So, wherever we migrate, we live in that country democratically. We learn to coexist and don’t seek to extinguish the local culture or values. Multiculturalism is inherent in every Hindu’s blood. Inclusiveness and pluralism are ideals upheld by VHP.”

Asked how VHP contributes to promoting inter faith harmony and understanding within this multicultural context, Ramarathinam stresses on mainstream projects such as Special Religious Education (SRE) which teaches Hindu dharma in schools. It also runs Sanskrit classes every weekend for school going children.

Currently, more than 80 public and high schools in Sydney suburbs participate in this program, with nearly 25,000 children learning about Hindu Dharma every week. Close to 250 volunteers are engaged in delivering this service through the organisation’s educational wing. Additionally, efforts are underway in other states of Australia to obtain similar authorisation, says Ramarathinam, adding, “We also participate in many inter-faith programs and observe International Disability Day which falls on December 3”.

Hindu Youth Australia (HYA) is another program that empowers young Hindus in Australia, providing a platform to nurture cultural identity and forge strong community bonds. “Through embracing and championing dharmic values, our youth become catalysts for progress within society.”

She clarifies, “Some individuals may portray the VHP as a rigidly Hindu organisation, but fundamentally, it embodies inclusivity and multiculturalism.”

Since assuming the role of national general secretary in 2010, Ramarathinam’s priorities have been about “taking this wonderful tradition of democratic value system and languages to the next generation.”

She emphasises the importance of filling the cultural vacuum for those born and raised in Australia by connecting them to their heritage, culture, and traditions through VHP, serving as a bridge between their upbringing and the rich heritage of Bharat (India).

So, how does she envision the future of the Vishva Hindu Parishad of Australia contributing to the broader fabric of Australian society? Ramarathinam says, “It is very important. The value system which VHP is providing to our children is very important. The children who are coming to our programs and training centres gain a lot of value system and take pride in it. For instance, teaching them to respect teachers and instilling a sense of contribution from a young age so that they become contributing citizens of Australia and give back to society. Unless we have that value system, we cannot.”

In all this, she highlights, “Their identity should be Hindu. We want our Hindu Australian children to lead.”

As our conversation draws to a close, Ramarathinam reflects on her tenure and considers the opportune moment to pass on the leadership role, particularly with the added perspective of becoming a grandmother. Rest assured, for now, she has her hands full with her current responsibilities.

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