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UK college pledges not to disrupt Hindu events

By Shyam Bhatia in London
March 09, 2004 18:18 IST
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Sant Shree Morari Bapu has delivered sermons there, so have Rameshbhai Oza and Swami Satyamitranand Giriji Maharaj. In fact, their trips to Rushey Fields, which attracted up to 100,000 devotees at a time, have given the area a holy significance.

So plans by a local English college to build a £17 million campus on Rushey Fields require a combination of utmost delicacy and tact before they can be implemented.

Gateway College says it needs the new and bigger site so that it can enrol up to 1,500 students and form closer links with secondary schools.

But it is a measure of the clout enjoyed by the Hindu community in Leicester, the first English city forecast to have a South Asian majority population by 2020, that college bosses have been liasing with a local ethnic Indian businessman to make sure any building plans are compatible with future religious events.

College Principal Nick Goffin, who has been liasing with Vinod Popat, responsible for organising the last major Hindu festival in 2001, said, "We have gone to great lengths to explain our plans to the community and ensure that they won't be conflicting with the festivals."

The proposed campus will only take up one corner of the recreation ground, next to Rushey Mead School, leaving the rest, including the Bharat Football Club, available for religious use, he said.

The sacred land also covers two other schools, which have hosted festivals in the past, and both have indicated they are prepared to continue to do so. "We would expect the college to be open during the festivals and we will have facilities for catering, toilets and first aid," Goffin said.

Gateway authorities are also looking sympathetically at suggestions to create a Vrindavan Garden within the campus, as well as examining ways of recognising local Hindus' views that the land is sacred.

Popat, chief executive of Leicester-based Asian TV channel MATV, said, "I have been assured by Bharat Football Club and the two schools that they will be able to provide space for the festivals to go ahead in future on this sacred land."

Ramanbhai Barber, president, Shree Sanatan Mandir, one of Leicester's largest Hindu temples, said: "It would not be incompatible to build a sixth-form college on sacred land, as long as it is done with sensitivity."

Sujata Barot, of the St Alban's Road Community Centre, who lives in Harrison Road, said, "We are pleased they seem to be responding to people's concerns about the future of religious festivals on the site.

However, the community still have concerns about additional traffic and mixing of older and younger children."

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Shyam Bhatia in London