Hindus from across Oxfordshire took to the streets on Monday evening, calling on the Council to help establish the county’s first Hindu Temple. The march was organized by the Oxford Hindu Temple and Community Centre Project (OHTCCP), who estimate that 80 people attended. It ended at the Town Hall, where representatives of OHTCCP handed a petition for a Hindu Temple in Oxford with over 2900 signatures to the City Council and held an address.
OHTCCP was formed in 2008, after a small group of Hindus started meeting in their homes for prayers because there was no designated place of worship for Hindus. The group began renting halls, grew bigger over the years, and is now an established community organization holding major spiritual and cultural events in Oxford. However, it still does not have its own designated temple.
OHTCCP hopes that the City Council will sell them one of their over 800 properties. They have been in negations with Council officials regarding properties over the last two years, but have yet to receive a property. One of the properties OHTCCP has asked to buy are old changing rooms at Court Place in Marsh Lane. Yet the council has recently revealed that it will sell the property on the open commercial property market. This means that OHTCCP could be outbid by developers willing to pay above market value. OHTCCP Spokesman Mark Bhagwandin said: „to be clear we are not asking them for financial assistance [to build the temple]. We are asking to buy one of their derelict properties which they have and we will pay to renovate it and convert to a Hindu temple”.
Chairman of OHTCCP, Mukesh Shori, said: “After more than a decade of appeals to the council, all we have to date is a pile of empty promises […]. The council talks incessantly about inclusion, but there can be no real inclusion when one important section of the Oxford community is overlooked and undervalued. The Hindus of Oxfordshire bring tremendous value to this city and county’s rich social and cultural fabric, yet our needs are ignored as if we don’t exist.”
Councillor Shaista Aziz, Cabinet Member for Inclusive Communities, said: “Oxford City Council has been actively working with the Hindu community to help find premises that could be used as a prayer space, alongside other wider community initiatives. We understand the needs of the community and there has been open dialogue between us. We look forward to this continuing.
“Unfortunately finding suitable and available property within the city is challenging. Whilst the Council may have a significant number of properties, the vast majority of these are houses and the pressure for houses is sadly all too apparent. It is also likely that housing stock would present challenges in regards to planning and suitability. Most of our non-housing properties are either in use or are part of our commercial investment portfolio that delivers rental income to support core services.
“The Hindu community in the city is valued for its charity work and for bringing people together regardless of background. The Council would like to thank the campaigners for their strong commitment to diversity and inclusion and all their work.
“We have every sympathy with their difficulties over the high price of property in the city and have done our best to help them identify possibilities, but we cannot use taxpayer’s money to subsidise any single faith group.”
Oxford University Hindu Society Vice President said: “We welcome efforts to establish a place of worship and community centre for Hindus in Oxford, as spaces like these are so important for us to practise our faith and we believe every Hindu should have access to one. At the Oxford University Hindu Society we hold weekly aartis at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies where students can sing bhajans and discuss their faith in an informal and relaxed setting. We also run social and cultural events for students of all faiths and backgrounds at the university.”