Tag Archives: #hindutva

I am a Hindu. I stand against ‘Hindutva’.

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.

Dismantling Global Hindutva Conference Flyer

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.

Irreverently yours,

Darpan


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.


 

Hinduphobia in Academia Leaves Students Traumatized

The Guru or teacher has always been a hallowed concept for the Indian subcontinent. A teacher is respected as the moral compass of the community, and responsible for the accurate enlightenment of the general population, in Hindu society. 

The key term here is responsible. Teachers, or academics, are responsible to their students to ensure their work is accurate, free of overt bias, and open to corrections when not. So what do Hindu students do when faced with teachers who don’t?

These standards have not been met when discussing the case surrounding some American Indologists and their study of the Hindu religion. As a community, we must recognize that irrational prejudice against the Hindu community is a definitive problem within vast swaths of Western academia. Scholars have allowed their personal beliefs against Hinduism to influence their work, leading to the crude misrepresentation of the Hindu community in academic circles. In order to evade responsibility for their Hinduphobic content, Indologists have labeled protest from the Hindu community as “Extremism” or a “Hindutva conspiracy.” Not only have student protests been ignored, but pleas from religious organizations and temples have been declined as well. 

Last month, a coalition of 75 Hindu temples and religious organizations sent a letter to Rutgers University regarding the biased works of Professor Audrey Truschke. Truschke had previously misattributed the works of another scholar, to claim that the original Valmiki Ramayan had a quote where Devi Sita abuses Bhagwan Rama – something that was swiftly contradicted by the academic she was quoting. The temple letter stands in solidarity with the students, and states that the coalition “could not help but feel intensely hurt and abused when a Professor uses her authority and deliberately misinterprets Hindu sacred texts or slanders Hindu deities while rationalizing such behavior as “academic freedom.” 

American Indologists are allowed to publish these works under the guise of academic freedom. But what does “academic freedom” mean when used as a cover to protect action that puts vulnerable students at risk? According to the Freedom Forum Institute, academic freedom allows a university to teach what it pleases without government interference and for teachers to teach without interference from university officials. Nowhere does it deny students (vulnerable to the power yielded by tenured academics), and minority communities, their own free speech rights to peacefully protest. 

The temples state, “Bigotry and Hinduphobia on social media and in scholarship cannot be excused as academic freedom, especially when these remarks have grave consequences for how Hindu students at Rutgers will be perceived by their own peers.”  As a student who faced discrimination due to the misrepresentation of Hinduism in California textbooks, I cannot state the importance of these words enough. In California, kids as young as sixth grade had to face discrimination due to how schools taught Hinduism. In 2016, a significant advocacy movement led by Hindus in California paved the way for positive change. Similarly, the temple letter represents an effort from the broader Hindu American community to stand against systematic discrimination – making it invaluable support to students dealing with bias that results from Hinduphobic teachings.

For years American Indologists have ignored these pleas and petitions for correction or even a hearing. Any student, parent, scholar, or even an academic with an opposing view has been ignored. All this while those misattribute quotes or fake translations, choose to put out claims that they are facing “harassment”.

On the morning of July 6th, 2021, just days after the collective plea from Hindu temples, the SASAC, or the South Asian Scholars Activist Collective, released a statement regarding their “harassment.” The report included the “Hindutva Harassment Manual,” or tips for those who had been harassed by “Hindutva extremists.” The SASAC comprises Indology scholars across the United States and has Truschke on its board. 

In its attempt to gaslight Hindus, the manual has some glaring flaws. The most important one being its definition of Hinduphobia, which in fact, denies the very existence of such a term. The manual says, “Hinduphobia” rests on the false notion that Hindus have faced systematic oppression throughout history and in present times… Anti-Hindu bias, on the other hand, cannot be easily linked to casualties on such horrific scales.” 

The SASAC academics are scholars with countless resources at their command. So one has to wonder at the ease with which they ignore Hindu persecution. This amnesia includes the 1971 Bengali Hindu genocide — the largest the world has seen since the Holocaust, whose horrors documented in numerous US State Government reports, by no less an icon than Senator Kennedy. The cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus and even the decimation of Hindu minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan are blithely ignored in this attempted body count of casualties. 

Barely after I had finished writing this article, I learned about another outrage. A cabal of Indologists has put together the “Dismantling Global Hindutva” conference which is an overtly political attempt to malign the religion of Hinduism under the guise of “fighting Hindu extremism.” They have done so without taking the input of the Hindu diaspora or representing them in any way. Many of the universities affiliated with the conference are unaware of such a politically motivated conference occurring, underlining the lengths that the academics behind the conference will go to in order to perpetrate their hate. To join the protest against this bigoted event, please read this petition

The SASAC’s denial of Hinduphobia has a simple purpose; to deflect from their wrongdoing, and importantly, silence any protest regarding their works – no matter how legitimate – by ascribing them all to Hindu extremism.

In doing this, the SASAC breaches a fundamental pillar. As Professor Arvind Sharma puts it, as academia is allowed to criticize the practices of a population freely, it is the fundamental right of the people in question to critique academia. Attempting to take away that right by removing their sense of accountability as an academic allows others to discriminate against the community in question. The standard set by today’s intellectuals will determine the way the American curriculum will teach future generations about Hinduism. 

The price of staying quiet is high and borne by the most vulnerable. Just hear the words of Aishwarya, a graduate student “I joined Rutgers with the impression that it’s a very reputed university and will give me the perfect environment to grow. However, when I heard the comments of Professor Truschke about my faith, my scriptures, and my Gods, it broke my confidence. I felt scared about mentioning my faith, that students will judge me and might hate me because that is what they are learning in the class or on social media.” It behooves us all to stand with Aishvarya and help her feel safe.


Chinmaya is a CoHNA volunteer and student journalist with a passion for Hindu human rights and politics.