Sadhana and Social Justice
By: Shilpa Rao
October 30, 2017
As an individual who would like to use values from my Hindu faith in the pursuit of social justice, I have been inspired by Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus. Sadhana was created by Hindus committed to drawing upon values of the faith to mobilize against injustice, and it has been a progressive voice regarding several social issues. For example, it has worked closely with Shaanti Bhavan Mandir in Queens, New York, which became the first Hindu sanctuary temple in the United States. Sadhana has also worked with local New York organizations to address domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health, issues often stigmatized in the Hindu community. With the preponderance of Hindu nationalist organizations that exist in the country, Sadhana seeks to provide an alternative vision of Hinduism based in inclusivity.
Founders of the temple chose the name Sadhana, which means “daily practice” in Hindi, to reflect the idea of faith in action. The concept of sadhana resonates with me, as I believe that social justice is an everyday practice. Rather than being confined to explicitly community service or activist spaces, social justice can and should be a part of daily interactions. Social justice can be building relationships through one-on-one dialogues: actively listening to an individual’s experiences and perspectives, connecting over similar struggles and successes, and acknowledging and accepting differences in the context of broader systems of power. Social justice should be lived, not simply spoken about.
Sadhana is committed to challenging racism, casteism, homophobia and transphobia, and Islamophobia in the Hindu community. Doing so is crucial to building solidarity among Hindus and between Hindus and members of other faith traditions. It is often easier for members of privileged groups in a community to overlook intercommunity conflicts in order to appear united. However, this pushes us to neglect the divisions that do exist rather than working to transform them. For example, higher-caste Hindus are privileged over lower-caste Hindus and non-Hindus. Sadhana recognizes these marginalizations and pushes us to challenge them. As Sadhana explains on its website, “We must take responsibility for the physical and psychological violence perpetuated by caste practices…We have an urgent responsibility to identify, challenge and transform all such expressions of caste that are oppressive and dehumanizing.” As a high-caste Hindu, this language of “responsibility” pushes me to combat caste injustices wherever I see them. Speaking about this principle more broadly, Hindus should challenge oppression based on a variety of identities both within and outside of the community.
In the past, I have found it difficult to relate my work around social justice to my personal faith practices and have largely kept them separate in my life. But Sadhana has inspired me to see my faith as something I can draw upon in pursuing social justice and fighting for a more equitable world.