Australian Human Rights Commission refuses to help Hindus on Parliament opening-prayer issue

Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) seems to think that Australian Parliament’s denial of Hindu opening-prayer request does not appear to be covered by the Commission’s complaint handling powers.

Responding to distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, who had raised this issue, Ms. Tallulah, AHRC Complaint Information Officer, wrote in an email: …it does not appear that the Commission’s Investigation and Conciliation Section can help you with this matter. It does not appear to be covered by the Commission’s complaint handling powers.

Email further adds: It appears the most appropriate body with which to raise this would be the Australian Parliament itself. Which human rights organization, instead of investigating the alleged breaches of human rights, would tell the complainant to just go back to the alleged wrongdoer? Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, asked.

Despite boasting to “protect and promote human rights in Australia and internationally”; and stating that human rights “are based on principles of dignity, equality and mutual respect, which are shared across cultures, religions and philosophies. They are about being treated fairly, treating others fairly…”; AHRC seems to be shying away from its responsibilities by not pressing forward with this issue of blatant unfairness and inequality; Rajan Zed emphasizes.

Zed urged AHRC and its President Rosalind Croucher and Chief Executive Leanne Smith to enlighten themselves about the real role of AHRC, the taxpayer-funded “body with a statutory responsibility to ensure the observance of human rights in Australia”, which self-proclaimed itself as “Australia’s human rights watchdog”.

Both the houses of the Parliament of Australia, Senate and the House of Representatives, have turned down Rajan Zed’s requests to have Hindu opening-prayer in one of their sessions.

At the beginning of each sitting day, on taking the Chair, Senate President and Speaker of House of Representatives of Australian Parliament read Lord’s Prayer, a well-known prayer in Christianity; which has reportedly been the prayer since Australian Parliament came into existence in 1901.

Zed, who wrote to Senate President and House of Representatives Speaker requesting that he be scheduled to read opening-prayer in one each of their sessions and received the denials; feels that it is simply a case of brazen inequity, exclusionary attitude, discrimination; and does not speak well of a democratic and highly developed nation like Australia.

Adherents of minority religions and non-believers, who had made a lot of contributions to Australia and continued to do so and paid their share of the taxes, thus felt left out by this monopoly on prayer. Not allowing prayers of minority religions in the Parliament seemed like efforts at belittling these faiths under government patronage; Rajan Zed pointed out in a statement.

Democratic governments should not be in the business of promoting one religion and excluding others and non-believers and thus infringing upon the human rights of minority religions and non-believers; Zed, who has opened both the United States Senate and US House of Representatives in Washington DC with Hindu prayers, indicated.

Rajan Zed further said that Standing Orders handling the prayer in the Australian Senate and House of Representatives needed to be urgently changed as we were well into the 21st century and Australia was much more religiously diverse now as compared to 1901, when Lord’s Prayer reportedly took hold in Parliament.

Zed’s offers to read Hindu prayer after the prescribed Lord’s Prayer; and Senate-President/House-Speaker reading the Hindu prayer supplied by Zed after the prescribed Lord’s Prayer; were also not accepted.

Rajan Zed suggested that it was time for the Australian Parliament to move to multi-faith opening prayers. Since Australian Parliament represented every Australian irrespective of religion/denomination/non-belief, it would be quite befitting in this increasingly diverse nation to do a rotation of prayers representing major religions and indigenous spirituality and including slots for thoughts of non-believers.

Zed was of the view that the existence of different religions was an evident symbol of God’s generosity and munificence. Australian Parliament should quest for a unity that hailed diversity.

Hinduism, oldest and third largest religion of the world, has about 1.2 billion adherents and moksh (liberation) is its ultimate goal.

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