Money & Banking

UK’s Hindu community debates action after Bank of England stands by ‘non-veg’ £5 note

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 13, 2018 Published on February 17, 2017


The news that the notes contain traces of beef fat had triggered public outcry

A debate is currently underway within Britain’s Hindu community to decide on how to react to the Bank of England’s decision not to withdraw the controversial £5 pound note released last year that contains traces of beef fat.

Earlier this week, the bank said that following a review — triggered by the public outcry after news of the note’s content broke last November — it had concluded it was appropriate to keep the existing note, and to issue new £10 notes based on the same polymer later this year. The bank said that re-issuing the note would involve incurring the £46 million it had spent on printing the first note again, as well as the cost of withdrawing those in circulation. Printing of the £10 note had also already commenced. However, it was examining alternatives for the issue of a new £20 note that is due to take place in 2020. The bank said it had been unaware of the traces of animal-derived products when it signed the contract to supply the notes, and had since been treating public concerns with “utmost seriousness.”

Some within the Hindu community have reluctantly accepted the bank’s stance. “They have given a detailed explanation of how cumbersome withdrawing it would be and they have promised to go to the supplier to look for alternative materials. That is good enough: we don’t want to be seen as an obstructionist group,” says Swaminathan Vaidyanathan, a member of the executive committee of the Hindu Forum of Britain, which represents over 300 Hindu organisations in the UK. The forum’s committee is due to meet to discuss its options, and Vaidyanathan will be pushing for that line to be taken, he said. However, Trupti Patel, the forum’s president expressed her concerns about the impact of the decision, which would also affect people from other communities, and vegans too and pointed to the practical difficulties that would face temples and other religious institutions as a result of the notes. The group would work with other religious organisations, as well as vegan and vegetarian groups to come up with a response, she said.

Legal action

Satish Sharma, who heads the National Council of Hindu Temples, representing over 200 temples in the UK, said that there was even a possibility of legal action. “The Bank of England has to recognise that it has overstepped the mark. Its an issue that won’t just disappear.”

“Currency has always been a neutral mechanism — its only purpose is to transfer value from one to another — but now it is no longer neutral,” he said. The council’s members are due to meet this weekend to discuss their options. The revelations about the £5 note last November, triggered a public outcry, with over 134,000 people signing a petition calling for the notes to be withdrawn. Doug Maw, a vegan who initiated the petition, was last month invited to a meeting at the central bank, with others, including Sharma. On Friday, Maw said he was getting legal advise and was consulting members of the public on potential forms of direct action. “When I first started the petition I wasn’t sure what the take up had been but I’ve received support not just from faith and vegan and vegetarian groups, but others too who feel it’s not right that we are forced to do something we object to religiously or ethically.”

Published on February 17, 2017
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