Is religious oppression coming to Canada?

Maybe, warns a Hindu advocate; no, Muslim rep says

Ron Banerjee, director of the Canadian Hindu Advocacy (COURTESY OF RON BANERJEE)

Local Hindus sometimes feel oppressed by other religions seemingly imposing their beliefs on them, says Ron Banerjee, director of Canadian Hindu Advocacy.

Banerjee is determined to stand against the oppression and promote Hindu nationalism and ideology, as well as Canadian values, he says.

He sees the oppression of Hindus by religions in other countries as spreading to Canada, he says.

Banerjee has organized several events where he has spoken about the problems Hindus face in countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan and now, he says, in Canada. In particular, he says the Hindu religion is being suppressed by the Muslim and the Sikh religions.

But Omar Farouk, president of the International Muslims Organization of Toronto, says the oppression of Hindus in Canada and other countries might be blown out of proportion. Although he has seen media coverage and has heard comments made by people to support that view, Farouk says he has not seen any concrete evidence and he questions if the reality of the situation is being exaggerated.

“I have heard that Muslims are being oppressed in the media but then again, the media seems to escalate and expand issues especially abroad,” Farouk says. “The media is making things bigger than they really are.”

Farouk says the International Muslim Organization of Toronto promotes the tolerance of all religions. Imposing one set of values on another culture is wrong and he stands for tolerance and equality, he says.

“In my neighbourhood, my neighbour on my right was Hindu and on my left was a Christian. Whenever we had our religious programs or celebrations, we would invite them and they would invite us to their celebrations. It was such a loving and peaceful celebration — we enjoyed each other’s cultures. That’s what we want to do — we want to portray tolerance for other cultures at all times.”

Despite not seeing any oppression of Hindus or Muslims in Canada, Farouk says the dog protest that took place outside a Scarborough Mosque on Sept. 14, as reported in other media, was unlawful. He does not refer to the incident as oppression, but he does see it as a sensitive matter for Muslims.

“Everyone has a right to walk their dogs on public property, but you should respect the sanctity of the mosque,”said Farouk. “We are all creations of God and it is better for us to know each other and truly understand each other and live in harmony and in peace. Islam means peace and peace is always what we try to demonstrate in our words, in our actions and in our belief.”

Gaurav Sharma, a resident of Scarborough and member of Canadian Hindu Advocacy, said in an interview the advocacy has helped him understand his religion, as well as elements that threaten it. Although some people who do not understand the cause of the advocacy might perceive it in a negative light, Sharma says it is part of belonging to a group that stands up for a specific cause.

“For some groups, there are always some negative aspects,” Sharma says. “People also think negatively about the Conservatives and the Liberals — so it’s just an opinion. I believe that being part of Canadian Hindu Advocacy is the right thing to do.”

Banerjee says the Canadian Hindu Advocacy is also trying to prevent Muslims from imposing their beliefs on Canadians. He says he fears the imposition of the Muslim religion in other countries might have the same affect in Canada.

“We are trying to protect the Hindu values and Canadian values,” Banerjee says.

In the past, the group has reached out to diverse ethnicities and has partnered with Christian and Jewish organizations to promote their cause, he says.

“The traditional Hindu values and Canadian values are very similar in terms of liberty, equality and democracy — that’s what we’re fighting for … it’s what all Canadians should be fighting for,” he says.

“You don’t have to be Hindu to join us.”