WASHINGTON: An Indian-American couple has donated USD 4.6 million to establish a Hindu Studies program at the Graduate Theological Union University in Berkeley, California.

Dr Ajay and Mira Shingal from the Bay area in California have pledged to create an endowment fund that will create the Mira and Ajay Shingal Center for Dharma Studies at the Graduate Theological Union which is home to the largest Ph.D program in religious studies in North America.

The endowment, valued at USD 4.6 million, will establish the Hindu Studies programs in the new Center for Dharma Studies in perpetuity, a media release said today.

Under the endowment, the Center for Dharma Studies will begin with a focus on Hindu studies and offer a Graduate Certificate MA and Ph.D in Hindu Studies.

It will welcome all traditions that self-identify themselves as a Dharma tradition, including the Jain, Buddhist and others systems of thought, derived from these ancient traditions.
"This Gift from Mira and Ajay Shingal enables the Graduate Theological Union to expand the representation of the world's great religious traditions at this consortium and create a robust and singular place for scholars, students and the public to engage one another to build deep mutual understanding and promote the common good," said GTU president Dr Riess Potterveld.

Ajay, a resident of San Jose, has been a Silicon Valley entrepreneur with a career spanning several brand name Technology companies in the Bay Area and is currently in the hospitality industry.

Applauding this historic gift, Professor Shiva Bajpai, a renowned historian and President of the Dharma Civilization Foundation, observed that "Our philosophy is: The Concord, rather than the Clash, of Civilizations; The GTU is a perfect place for promoting this; We invite the Indo-American community to get engaged with this historic vision and contribute towards its fulfillment."
 
The Sikh community is offering free hot meals to the homeless and the poor in Northampton town in Britain. This is done every Sunday, the Northampton Chronicle reported in October. A Sikh leader, Mr Amarjit Atwal, was quoted as saying that the numbers queuing up for the free food had been growing each week. There were about 140 people over the last two weeks, he said.

"Last November we were having 20 people but more are coming all the time now. I would say about two-thirds are homeless, living in doorways with all their belongings. Some prefer to live like that. But most of the rest are vulnerable people ... who cannot always afford hot meals. There are some people who tell us they have not had a hot meal for three days. I think they come to us because they rely on services that are only there during the week. They need more support at weekends," Mr Atwal said.

Mr Atwal also noted that many of those he spoke to were educated but problems like benefit cuts and wrong decisions cost them their jobs, homes and families, forcing them into poverty. The Sikh community does not take cash donations but accepts clothes and other useful material.