UK: Hindu Sewa Day pulls out of government Jubilee initiative

by - 30th May 2012

Selfless performance? Sewa Day Chairman, Arup Ganguly

A Hindu group has pulled out of a government interfaith volunteering initiative celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee citing a ‘lack of financial transparency’.

Sewa Day, the Hindu initiative which encourages social action, formed part of the reference group for A Year of Service – launched by Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Secretary Eric Pickles - which links faith-based social action projects in the Jubilee year.

But the Hindu group member dramatically pulled out on Monday (28 May) claiming its repeated requests for allocation details of a £65,000 grant to the project leader, Jewish representative Mitzvah Day, were met with silence.

Speaking to Lapido, Arup Ganguly, chairman of Sewa Day, said he was forced to pull out after the DCLG ignored his ultimatum.

‘I thought that in times of austerity when a lot of people are losing their jobs, £65,000 is a lot of money,’ Mr Ganguly said. ‘It’s not a problem in itself, but as a registered charity we thought that for our own due process we should ask what the money was being used for.

‘I was told in no uncertain terms that it was none of my business which I thought was inappropriate given I was part of the committee.’

On his blog, Ganguly wrote that all AYOS group members were funding their own AYOS activities.  ‘We organise Sewa Day for a fraction of the cost.’

In response to the claims, a DCLG spokesman told Lapido: ‘DCLG has always replied promptly to all private communications from Sewa Day.’

But when told of the department’s response, Mr Ganguly said this was a ‘blatant untruth’, adding, ‘For the last two and a half months, they have not communicated with me at all.

‘We have been stonewalled and are extremely disappointed that we have still not received any financial breakdown for this initiative.

Hindus performing ‘an act of kindness’.  Photo: Sewa DayGanguly claims Sewa Day – now in its third year - planned such activities on an annual basis anyway.

The private sector is also being encouraged by the charity Business in the Community to back A Year of Service.

Said a fuming Ganguly: ‘We were approached because we were a ready-made event that could be labelled a Hindu event. We didn’t need to do this, but we wanted to do it so it’s sad that it has ended this way. We did not take the decision lightly, but because of the difficult working environment, we have decided to walk away.

‘We are committed to the highest levels of accountability and transparency, and it's unacceptable that the DCLG isn’t too.’

Hansard, the public record of Parliamentary business, reveals however that Andrew Stunell, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, gave an oral answer on 1 May to a Parliamentary question about funds being allocated to the Jewish group to ‘play a central coordinating role’ in the A Year of Service project.

‘The funding is a contribution towards the employment of a dedicated worker to work with faith communities, the development and maintenance of a website, and monitoring of projects,’ he said.

It remains unclear why this answer did not satisfy Sewa Day – or why an interfaith experiment should need the draconian measure of a parliamentary QandA to clarify a project management issue.

Mitzvah Day emailed Lapido saying:  ‘Mitzvah Day received two grants to allow it to use its expertise in the field to coordinate and facilitate the programme.

‘Mitzvah Day did not receive funds to run the Jewish-led day of social action, which operates within the programme in the same way as the other faith groups’ days of volunteering.’

Arjan Vekaria, president of the Hindu Forum of Britain, made clear that the Hindu community will still mark the Diamond Jubilee this weekend.

He said: ‘Our plans are still on course and we will not detract from celebrating the Queen’s remarkable service to the Commonwealth, which has inspired so many to become involved in worthy causes across the UK.’

Random acts of kindness
Sewa is a universal concept, which involves performing an act of kindness without expectation of reward. It is performed selflessly and without ulterior motive. Sewa Day takes place on 7 October 2012.

A Mitzvah is a commandment.  In Judaism there are 613 mitzvot many of which relate specifically to a requirement to do good works. Specifically three commandments or mitzvot underpin Mitzvah Day, which takes place on 18 November 2012.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles launched a Year of Service earlier this year.  He announced that throughout 2012, nine faith communities – including the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, Buddhists, Sikhs and Zoroastrians – would hold volunteering days focusing on a different aspect of social action such as community clean-ups and visiting old people’s homes.

Pickles said: ‘Faith is a great motivator… We want to help them do what they do best, recognising that just a little support can make a big difference.’

In the first four months there had been 20 multi-faith volunteering projects, from visits to old people's homes to wrapping gifts for the homeless.