Following on the heels of Buddhism, which will be officially recognised as a religion in Belgium from October, adherents to Hinduism are petitioning the Federal Government for official status.
Hinduism is the largest faith in India, practised by around 80% of the population. The henotheistic religion is worshipped by 1.2 billion people worldwide, or roughly 15% of the world’s population. Worshipers also come from Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
According to statistics published by Statbel in 2016, there are around 11,200 Indian nationals living in Belgium. The Hindu Forum of Belgium puts this figure as high as 40,000 active practitioners, including Western converts who account for almost half of this number.
Belgian law currently offers official recognition to Catholicism, Protestantism, Anglicanism, Islam, Judaism, and Eastern-Orthodoxy, as well as several non-religious philosophical organisations.
Official recognition means that priests or preachers can receive a State stipend and parents are able to choose to send their children to specialised religious schools.
On 19 July, the plenary chamber is due to approve a vote to grant subsidies to the Hindu Forum of Belgium. €41,500 in subsidies would enable the Forum to hire more staff and pay for its upkeep on Brussels’ Avenue d’Auderghem. If approved, this subsidy would later double to €83,000. The Forum hopes to achieve official religious recognition within the next 10 years.
“Being recognised by the State is very important from a moral point of view,” Martin Gurvich, Executive Director of the Hindu Forum of Belgium told Sudinfo. “It means that we are accepted as a religion that contributes to people’s well-being and that we can contribute to the country’s multicultural development.”
Gurvich hopes that the rapidly growing religion will no longer be viewed as a “second-rate religion” and that they will be able to secure material support from the Federal Government. The Forum currently maintains 10 places of worship across the country.
“In principle, we will be entitled to one spiritual advisor [whose salary will be paid by the government] for every 150 practising members. This equates to around 300 full-time positions. This will also make it possible to send chaplains to prisons and hospitals,” he said.
Hindu temples in Belgium often play an active role in the cultural experience of many cities. For example, the Brussels Mandir hosts its annual Holi celebrations in praise of the gods Radha and Krishna. Practitioners and non-practitioners alike celebrate by throwing coloured dyes, playing music, and enjoying seasonal meals. Hindu temples also play an important humanitarian role, giving out free meals during weekend services.