25,000 Hindus demonstrate in central London.
DEVOTEES OF KRSNA continue their struggle to keep Bhaktivedanta Manor open to the public. The local council of the Borough of Hertsmere is trying to close it. The Manor, the Hare Krsna movement's center north of London, is respected as the oldest Hindu shrine in the U.K. Hundreds of thousands of British Hindus revere the Manor as a place of worship and pilgrimage. But the Council has issued an Enforcement Notice, making it illegal for visitors to come.
Attempts to reach a sensible agreement with the Council have been going on for seven years, to no use. Legal appeals have also failed.
On March 16, the day the temple was to close, twenty-five thousand Hindus marched in peaceful protest through central London. The march was the largest demonstration in British history by the Hindu community outside India.
The temple, meanwhile, had proposed a way to settle the controversy. According to the Council, the problem was traffic: visitors driving to the temple disturbed the local village of Letchmore Heath. The temple put forward a solution: Build a new access road, so that visitors can bypass the village entirely.
The temple has offered to pay for the road, the devotees have secured options to purchase the needed land, and detailed professional studies have shown the plan to be legally, environmentally, and logistically sound.
The temple has applied to the Council for permission to build the road. The Council has put off deciding until July 12. Meanwhile, it has also put off acting on its Enforcement Notice. Till July 12, visitors to the Manor are technically breaking the law, but the Council has said it will do nothing about it.
But if the Council, following the course it has stuck to so far, turns down the plan for the road, after July 12 it will force the gates of the Manor to close.
On May 26 supporters of the Manor, five thousand strong, held a second demonstration, outside Parliament. The fight to keep the Manor open seems to be gaining Parliamentary support. A recent Parliamentary motion aimed at keeping the Manor open drew signatures from 117 members.
Anticipating the possible closure of the temple, the temple youth group, called Pandava Sen, has already held several vigils in Letchmore Heath. "If we can't get inside the temple," they said, "we'll come up every Sunday and worship here on the green. Is there any problem with it?"
That, apparently, is a prospect some villagers would not look forward to. Though the Council says it has acted to close the Manor because of traffic, temple supporters say this is merely an excuse to cover other motives: racial prejudice, religious intolerance, and fear of losing property values.
Anyway, say temple leaders, if the genuine concern is traffic, the Council should swiftly grant the temple's proposal for the access road and let worshipers keep coming to the shrine.