March 9-10th, 2019
Navarro County, Texas: Working with Hindu communities to develop an appreciation of Dharma and Shiva-Shakti principle, with empathy, is at the core of our values at Shaktitva Foundation. This workshop with children Hindu Bhutanese Refugees, conducted on 9-10th March 2019, in Navarro County, Texas, gave us an opportunity to put these values into practice while at the same time, helped us to develop an understanding of the lived experiences of their community.
“When we were in Bhutan, and people asked us where we are from, my dad used to say “we’re from Nepal”. When we moved to Nepal (in refugee camps) and people asked us, where we are from, my dad used to say “we’re from Bhutan”. Now I am in America, I am a citizen, but when people ask me where are you from, I don’t know what to say. We left Bhutan when I was 5yrs old, even though we spoke Nepali, we never found our space in Nepal. I live in America but I don’t connect with its culture. The only identity that has stayed with me throughout is Hindu. So I say to people, I am a Hindu.”
These words of a 14yr old kid, express the agony of displaced peoples fleeing persecution, better than anything we can write about them. These Bhutanese Hindu refugee families, had moved from Nepal to settle in Bhutan, centuries ago. When they had to flee from their homes, they left behind everything they had ever known. After being taken from one refugee camp to another, they finally found a home in USA.
However, once immediate survival concerns of food, clothing and shelter are resolved, they entered a much more difficult phase. A phase where they now have to deal with crisis of identity, with what happened to them, with the culture differences, with the fact that they don’t “look like” Americans, or even the American stereotype of a “Hindu”, among others.
These children, some of whom have spent their entire childhood in refugee camps, are from conservative practicing Hindu families and as a result are often subjected to ridicule in their schools by their peers for being “weird”. Several kids report being bullied, due to their looks or their accent and often even for their faith. Even well-meaning friends reportedly ask offensive questions based on stereotypes they’ve read about “Hindu faith”, that these kids, already struggling with identity issues, don’t even know how to answer. Their community is also very frequently targeted by evangelical missions, which frightens the elders into being even more sensitive about their culture, religion and practices. Hinduphobia, which unfortunately, continues to find strong expression in American mass media, affects these children perhaps much more strongly than others as they are struggle to find themselves.
In our “Shakti workshops”, we attempt to traverse through these sensitive, emotionally-charged lanes. Through our session on “Dharma and You” and “Rajodharma” we had engaging conversations with them, in which we attempted to discover the intricacies of Hindu philosophy, as well as traditions related to menstruation at length. By making a trust circle and setting rules of engagement, we were able to provide them with the judgement-free safe space they needed, to unburden themselves. These heart-to-heart conversations, were perhaps the biggest highlights of the camp, not only for the kids, but also for Shaktitva volunteers. Through our session on “Connecting with Yourself”, Shaktitva volunteer and Yoga teacher, Smt. Kavita Krishna taught the children some chanting and meditation techniques that could allow them to build a personal practice.
Here are some of the testimonials from the participants: