You are the first woman to lead a Hindu organisation in Britain. Has it been difficult?
Non-Hindus assume that Hindus treat women in a less favourable way, which surprises me. In Hinduism, women and men are considered equal. They are seen as two halves – and you need both halves to make a whole.
Earlier this year, David Cameron said that multiculturalism has failed. Do you agree?
I don’t necessarily think that it’s bad to have distinctions between communities, but if there is no interaction, then you can have a lot of problems. Perhaps that’s lacking in some parts of Britain.
Are Hindus well integrated?
We are known as one of the most successfully integrated communities. It’s partly down to our ethos of viewing others as equals. Our history goes back more than 5,000 years so, to us, Christianity is relatively new, Islam is relatively new and Sikhism is relatively new. We are quite used to living in a changing world.
Is the caste system an issue in the UK?
I don’t think those dogmas have been imported over here, as some would have you believe. It is [used as] a way of knocking a community that
is very well established.
How are relations between the Hindu and Muslim communities?
There are issues of disharmony but, overall, they are harmonious. I’ve asked for meetings with Muslim groups after a TV programme on 14 February [Channel 4’s Dispatches] showed a madrasa teaching very derogatory things about the Hindu faith. You have to tackle the problem where it is, rather than generalise.
Do you think that we have a problem with racial or religious prejudice in the UK?
Some prejudice exists. Sometimes, it is ignorance – the assumption that all brown people are of one faith or from one country. There is no awareness of the differences. What about the brown Christians? There are Christians in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Is there a rising tide of Islamophobia?
I am not sure. Perhaps there is more consciousness of what it is. But I could have said the same thing [about Hinduism] after watching the 14 February programme: that there is a rising . . . There is no word for it, you see! There’s a word for people who are anti-Jewish – anti-Semites. There’s a word for those who are afraid of Islam – Islamophobes. But there’s no word for people who are against Hinduism.
Do you worry that the next generation of British Hindus will be distant from their faith and culture?
This is the way the whole world is moving – towards secularism. All we can do is be open to those who ask questions. So there is that worry. But am I worried? I’m not sure. I grew up in a secular family but became more spiritual. I think that’s also happening in many families, and parents find it quite bewildering.
Britain’s first Hindu state school opened in 2008. Are faith schools a good thing?
Faith schools are a good development for people who want their children to have a religious education. We have one Hindu school at the moment and there are plans afoot to open a second and a third.
What do you think about Hindus marrying outside the community?
I don’t think that it is a bad thing, as long as it is done with mutual consent. The objections that Hindus have, at present, are to marriages in which somebody will feign love and then say that they will only marry you if you convert out of Hinduism. To me, that is emotional blackmail. If you change your faith, you are no longer the person with whom they fell in love in the first place.
Is there anything you would like to forget?
I am sure there are things in everybody’s lives that they would like to forget.
Was there a plan?
The Lord has taken me many ways, and I am quite happy to meander as He takes me.
What role does religion play in your life?
I follow karma: what you do is what you get. It influences my life a lot.
Do you vote?
Yes, I do. But I am not telling you who I vote for. Not to vote is a waste. Although my father could not read English, he would always vote. He would memorise what the letters looked like, just so he could vote for the party he wanted. He was born in the time of the British empire, so he knew what independence and dependency meant.
Are we doomed?
Again, karma, which is one of the fundamental [concepts] of Hinduism, says: “Your destiny is in your hands.” So we can work on our past to change our future. I do not think that we are doomed. We are an optimistic race.
1959 Born in Nairobi, Kenya
1997 Gains BA in community management from University of Bedfordshire
2001 Is appointed non-executive director of a primary care trust
2009 Is elected secretary general of Hindu Forum of Britain, established 2004
2010 Is elected a British representative to Hindu Forum of Europe
2011 Will join the European Council of Religious Leaders in June