FAITH, community and tireless efforts to promote the vaccine has helped guide Bradford’s Hindu community through the most “challenging” months of the pandemic.

In an interview held by the T&A and leading healthcare professional Dr Mahendra Patel, members of Bradford Hindu Council and priests gathered to reflect on the pandemic which has seen many loved ones lost to the virus.

When the first lockdown began the Council reacted quickly to fears that loneliness and pre-existing health inequalities were likely to be worsened by restrictions, furlough and job losses.

Made up of more than 20 Hindu places of worship, the Council used their faith connections to create a food bank, Covid-19 secure youth work as well as cook meals for police, paramedics, the ambulance service and care homes.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:  Bradford Hindu Council organised a huge food collection in December 2020 Bradford Hindu Council organised a huge food collection in December 2020

The Council’s Deepak Sharma said: “When the lockdown happened we were one of the first communities that managed to step forward very quickly and become very active within the whole Bradford district community area.

“We had a lot of elderly people who come to the temples and, for them, it’s the solace of faith and community and looking out for each other really like with any other faith institution. We realised people were feeling lonely and isolated because we were at home.

“As with any faith institution a lot of people come to worship for the community and we had to very quickly set up Zoom meetings where people could actually talk to each other. It was quite challenging especially for the elderly, getting them onto their phones and teaching them how to do it. We would have morning prayers. It was a possibility to keep their faith alive which really helped but it also helped spread positive words about how we had to move forwards.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The meeting: Top left, Priest Dipak Trivedi, centre reporter Natasha Meek, top right Dr Mahendra Patel. Pictured on below, in order, is Bradford Hindu Council's Mahesh Mistry and Deepak SharmaThe meeting: Top left, Priest Dipak Trivedi, centre reporter Natasha Meek, top right Dr Mahendra Patel. Pictured on below, in order, is Bradford Hindu Council's Mahesh Mistry and Deepak Sharma

Mahesh Mistry, the chairperson of Bradford Hindu Council, said they have been acting as a “funnel” for coronavirus updates.

“We’ve been asking round in our communities if there’s anyone concerned about the vaccine or refusing to take it,” he said.

“From our network, we don’t know one family or person within the Hindu community that doesn’t want to have the vaccine. They’re probably crying out for the vaccine rather than the latter.

“Behind us is the whole community we represent, any messages that come to us get fed back into the community and we feedback as the funnel as to whichever relevant body.

“If there’s anybody that’s got any concerns they would come and speak to me. People will approach us and if there’s anything we need to find out we find the right person to get the questions to.”

Dipak Trivedi - priest for the Prajapati Association, Leuva Patidar Samaj Hindu Temple Yorkshire and Vishwa Hindu Parishad - has been at the heart of efforts to promote the vaccine from a religious perspective. Many people have reached out to the priest to discuss their concerns.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

His message was translated by Deepak who explained: “Scientists and doctors have been gifted with the talent of being able to save lives. In our [Hindu] scriptures a doctor or scientist, their job is to save lives not take lives so when a scientist steps forward we believe they have the power of God flowing through them.

“We take that as gospel. There’s very few people who would turn round and not take that advice. We have to look after our villages, our towns, our societies. It’s not down to one individual saying, ‘I don’t want to do this’.

“It’s in our system, it’s just like a moral obligation. He used a word called ‘Dharma’ - it’s a given law or responsibility that you have to abide by.”

Translating more details of Priest Trivedi’s speech, Dr Patel said: “Whilst his wife and his mother in law’s up for the vaccine, he actively went forward to his GP and said, ‘Can you register me for the vaccine?’ and he rang them up a couple of times too. That just shows the strength of having the vaccine, both from protecting health and not contravening any Hindu beliefs.”

Other priests like Ramesh Purohit, of Leeds and Bradford temples, had the vaccine alongside his wife and is calling on others in the community to take up theirs - adding that he didn’t have any side effects.

The priest said: “Please take this vaccine for you, your family, our society, our community. This is a huge benefit.”

Meanwhile videos are being shared across Whatsapp and the Council’s social media pages to show people getting the vaccine in real time.

These epic efforts have resulted in a mass vaccine uptake with the Council bringing on board the help of Dr Patel, a leading pharmacist on national and local boards, to assist with questions about science and bust virus myths.

In light of recent discussions about the term ‘BAME’ as reported in the British Medical Journal, Dr Patel says how important it is for the Government to recognise that there are a number of cultures and societal norms under the umbrella term which might affect uptake.

Dr Patel said: “As we have heard today the Hindu community is showing comparatively very little hesitancy towards having the vaccine which is very different to the messages we’ve seen under the use of the wider term of ‘BAME communities’.

“It’s coming back to that old message that one size doesn’t fit all. We need organisations like the Bradford Hindu Council and the likes of mosques, gurdwaras and churches to establish what their local needs are. – ultimately to help greater uptake of the vaccination.”

Deepak, who works as a youth liaison officer at the Lakshmi Narayan Hindu Temple on Leeds Road, said the Government needs to better target messages towards young people.

He said: “A lot of the youth want clear concise facts especially for them who have gone through the system here. We’re educating them, ok they might be healthy however they have a responsibility to take the vaccine because they may be carrying the virus and not be aware of it.

“The word ‘BAME’ is being banded around very loosely at the moment. Wholeheartedly the Hindu community within Bradford is taking up the vaccine.”

Reverend Haridas Shukla, who works as a Hindu chaplain at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and freelance priest in Bradford and beyond, held calls with respected religious leaders and scholars across the world, including India, to discuss teachings.

These scriptures inspire his pitch to patients on wards and out of the hospital environment about the vaccine.

His focus has turned to the mental health impact of the past year and how faith and yoga is a key part of people’s recovery.

He said: “People were not just experiencing physical problems but also mental health problems. The worship places were closed and people were locked at home. As an opportunity to just help the Hindu communities to get a little bit of relief from problems, I used to organise ceremonies in the form of a retreat and help build up a little bit of confidence and provide them the best comfort to boost their mental health.

“When it comes to faith it has been said when the outer world is locked enter in the inner world. It means find the God inside you.

“Depending on our consciousness they always explain in such a beautiful way people could enjoy the union with God from within and they do not need to go outside. That straight away helped them spiritually and helped their consciousness drive them to the home.”