With Irreverence Towards All – A monthly column on the musings and rants from a Bay Area Indian American about all that ails, affects, or matters to Desis here and across these fine United States. Many will disagree, and sometimes aggressively.
A few days ago, I received a frantic message from a close friend who implored me to write an email in support of an initiative to call for the cancelation of an upcoming event called: Dismantling Global Hindutva. Now, this is a person I take seriously and their request seemed earnest, so I decided to look into it. Moreover, I was wondering how did “Hindutva” become so important to an American audience, and since when did cow-slaughter protesting, Islamophobic/xenophobic behavior in India become global?
The conference, if you haven’t heard of it, has some prestigious sponsors according to its website. It lists names such as Stanford University’s Center for South Asia and Harvard University’s Mahindra Humanities Center among a pretty impressive list of over 50 universities.
What caught my eye was that this was taking place in September right around the time we annually celebrate Swami Vivekanand’s participation in the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago back in 1893. This was perhaps the first, and arguably the most authentic, representation of Hindu thought or, as some prefer to call it, Vedic thought. So, what has caused a number of universities and other organizations to be motivated to hold such a conference? What is it about the conference that some people, like my friend, are all upset about?
The term Hindutva essentially means the essence of all that is Hindu. By itself a noble term. As someone who thinks of himself as a good Hindu, I could perhaps even relate to it, if only it hadn’t become synonymous in recent times with bigotry, hatred, and vitriol of the kind that one used to associate with some of the most radical movements. When a group calling itself a defender of Hindutva becomes a marauding mob of murderers because someone of a different faith sold or ate beef, or when it renders judgment in any civil or criminal matter (in the course of public discourse with complete disregard for judicial proceedings) solely based on the defendant’s non-Hindu identity, one wonders what has become of Hindu thought. It is easy for anyone to find numerous examples in recent times where the term “Hindutva” is associated with those indulging in such savage behavior. Is the intent of this conference to combat the rise of this trend? If so, I see nothing wrong in its intent.
But the picture isn’t all that clear. Quite legitimately, those opposing this conference have pointed out that the panelists have in their ranks individuals who are communists (and hence with perhaps scant regard for religious sentiment) as well as those who have long held anti-Hindu views. This is important to note because if a conference that is ostensibly intended to fight the rise of uncivil downright un-Hindu behavior masquerading as a right of Hindus is actually going to paint Hindus across the board in a bad light that can have severe negative consequences. This could have a uniquely detrimental effect right here in the US where we find that the forces of xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment have been growing almost unchecked in recent years. The safety of all minorities, Hindu or not, is under attack and a conference that seeks to address fascist and supremacist traditions will have unwittingly fanned the flames of precisely that behavior against Hindus in the United States.
So, should the conference go on?
A belief and value system that has withstood the most vicious attacks on it for thousands of years will certainly not be damaged by a few individuals who might attack it. However, given the current climate in the US, there is a need to be more thoughtful and purposeful about how we engage in this debate. As a staunch supporter of freedom of speech, I do not wish for an opportunity for dialogue to be abandoned. But wouldn’t it be nice if these same organizers added segments or even held a separate conference that addresses the safety and well-being of Hindus in the United States? The “dot-buster” gangs of the last century may not be around but there’s plenty of vitriol directed toward Hindus by white supremacists. It would really help if there was clear evidence that the focus of the conference was solely to educate folks against what is downright egregious behavior by those claiming the mantle of Hindutva, and that the organizers are equally concerned about the safety of all Hindus in the United States (at the very least).
Besides it being a matter of free speech, perhaps we should refocus on what Swami Vivekanand said on September 11, 1893, in Chicago:
“The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world, of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: ‘Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me.’ Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”
I believe with all my heart in the form of Hinduism that Swamiji advocated for and am willing to fight for those ideals as much as I am going to resist the Hindutva hordes from hijacking my Hinduism.
Darpan is a Bay Area artiste with a background in technology and finance. He shares his unfiltered views on a broad range of topics. He agrees to be restrained only by editorial diktat.
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