Hari Parekh – Manifesto

by Hari Parekh

Hello! I’m Hari, your happy brown (J) Regional Officer for the AHS in the East Midlands, and I want to be your president.

President of what?

Well, the AHS! But what makes the AHS special to me? I grew up in a Hindu family, and I was a pretty enthusiastic Hindu too, but things changed (thankfully) during my time studying psychology and criminology at the University of Northampton. I constantly questioned the philosophies and ideologies embedded within Hinduism, and as an enthusiastic Hindu, I made Hinduism rational (I can’t believe I did either!). But my views were further challenged at university and I realised I was an atheist as my identity was being questioned by its biggest sceptic, me! Being Indian, with culture and religion being so intertwined with each other, this was personally a difficult moment and an enlightening one too.

I founded the Northampton AHS society with my housemate with the aim to create a non-religious community at the university. In the first year, this task wasn’t easy as we had a handful of members, a cautious student body, and due to the dominance of religious societies our society was consistently overshadowed. After gaining the support of the National AHS, I made pertinent, organisational strides in the following year for society members inviting guest speakers on a regular basis and holding weekly talks and ‘think & drinks’! This has all been possible and successful, through the delegation and organisation of roles and responsibilities to committed committee members of the society in Northampton. My leadership skills have been continuously tested due to the (prior) dominance of the religious societies on campus, and this has allowed me to personally flourish under such pressure.

My determination, commitment and passion for the cause of bringing non-religious students together, in a hostile environment like Northampton, have been fundamental for me to maintain a successful relationship with our students’ union. Our students’ union uses a matrix system to rank societies: at the beginning of the year our society was at the bottom and in comparison, the religious societies were at the top. Through the efforts of my committee and I throughout this year, our successful non-religious community, and relationship with students and the students’ union, the union named us Society of the Year, and I was named President of the Year too. This would not have been possible without my leadership and organisational skills.

As regional officer for the East Midlands, there has been further success. Nottingham are striding forward positively, strongly keeping the East Midlands intact. Northampton are progressing further, and we now have an AHS society at the University of Leicester, something I am proud to have been a part of. I kept in

contact with Ryan- the president of the University of Leicester Atheist, Humanist and Secular Society, to see how he was, so he had someone to talk to and share issues and worries when starting their society. This allowed me to reflect on my difficult experiences in setting up an AHS society, and help Ryan every step of the way. I’m also helping Ollie at the University of Cambridge in setting up an AHS society, something that is in its infancy, but having a strong network and community to question and support is a valuable asset of being part of the AHS. This furthers the aim of having an AHS society in every institute of higher education in the UK and Republic of Ireland, something I believe in passionately.

Bringing people together, facilitating cohesion and allowing a non-religious community to flourish is difficult nationally, like herding cats! But this isn’t an impossible task, as we have seen from previous AHS execs, the exec are the foundation to the cohesion of AHS societies, and I have some ideas of what I’d like to focus on.

Cohesion

Cohesion between facets within the AHS and external organisations is needed to uphold a strong, dominant community for non-religious students at every institute of higher education in the UK and Republic of Ireland. Cohesion provides transparency, and this transparency strengthens the network between AHS societies across the UK and Republic of Ireland and further allows a voice and community for non-religious students. How can this be done?

There needs to be stronger, developed and supportive relationships with regional officers ensuring that they, and the societies within their region are supported. But also to foster the ambition for regional officers, in partnership with the executive and other members, to further the aim of having AHS societies at universities who do not currently have one to provide a non-religious community to those who may be unaware of such an opportunity. As President I will hold monthly Skype calls with regional officers to promote such cohesion between the executive and officers. Furthermore, boosting awareness of the regional officers by promoting their work in the AHS newsletter and social media further supports the aim to have a more cohesive AHS. In addition, I will ensure the exec visits the regional officers at their events and societies to increase the network and cohesion of the AHS with students at UK and Irish universities.

Regional Conventions

The success of the Sheffield Freethought Convention is an example of great commitment, dedication and passion for the cause of bringing non-religious students together. It is consequently a great aim that regional officers are given such support to facilitate such conventions in regions across the UK and Republic

of Ireland in the ultimate aim to enhance communal cohesion between non-religious students. Such conventions provide an opportunity to promote this valid and just cause of non-religiousness to universities where such societies do not currently exist. This would be supported by having a target of a minimum of three regional conventions during the next year, for example in the north, midlands and London. Regional officers will be encouraged to organise such conventions with their local societies. I will commit to provide executive support to ensure that such conventions can run effectively for students for example, in approaching speakers on their behalf and providing event grants.

Campaigns

Students are a passionate group of people and as such can be effective in campaigning. Cohesion with external organisations such as the BHA and NSS is needed for the AHS to campaign on issues that are relevant to students. The right for free speech at UK universities for example is relevant to the heart of having an AHS society at every institute of higher education. For example, after the talk by Rory Fenton at Northampton, I wrote a piece for the students’ union newsletter on the right to free speech, and this was received with distinct criticism by some members of religious societies upon the notion of offence, especially during the awareness of the incident at Charlie Hebdo. Through my years at Northampton I’ve learnt how to communicate discussions in a more appropriate manner, which allowed for some serious debates with members of the Islamic Society. Despite the differences of opinion, both parties were able to comprehend the others point of view. This understanding furthers the need for strong, efficient campaigning by the AHS. Such campaigning furthers the publicity and presence of the AHS and allows students a determined voice.

A final word

So this is why I want to do the job, and why I think I can do it. The decision of whether I can is in the hands of you beautiful, intelligent people. I don’t use the word ‘believe’ lightly, and to those who know me, aim to refrain from doing so as much as I can. But, if there is anything I do believe in, it would be the principles and the values that the AHS aim to promote and flourish within student communities. Firstly, having a cohesive network of non-religious student societies and communities in every institute of higher education in the UK and Republic of Ireland, secondly, the flourishing of scepticism and rationality amongst students and thirdly, the ability to have fun whilst doing so! I hope you feel the same way I do.

Hari

The happy brown (J) non-religious person

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