Firstpost is convinced that Dismantling Global Hindutva (DGH), a three-day online conference (from Sept 10-12) planned by anonymous organisers in the US, is a partisan and politically-motivated event designed to malign an ancient religion and its adherents. Through columns and reported pieces, this Firstpost series exposes why such programmes are misleading, agenda-driven, and nothing but thinly-veiled Hinduphobia.
The Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a Washington DC-based nonprofit organisation, has been around for 18 years. We have time and again seen a number of misunderstandings about Hinduism. And time and again we have tried to correct these.
Sometimes, these are because of genuine ignorance about our philosophies and practices. Other times they are wilful misrepresentations of our traditions intended to malign or demonise Hindus.
When we first learned of the Dismantling Global Hindutva (DGH) conference, scheduled to be held online from 10-12 September, and saw the speaker list, it was clear to us that maligning Hindus and Hinduism was as much a goal of the event as is the stated goal in the title.
In the words of the organisers, this conference will “examine the historical development of Hindutva, the fascist dimensions of the ideology, and its perpetuation of violence against religious minorities and other marginalised communities.”
But this conference seems to be a calculated attempt to spread fear-mongering about Hinduism more than anything else.
The student-run movement, Hindu on Campus, has exposed the histories of several of the conference speakers. One, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), tried to say that the killing of a Muslim woman by her brothers was in the spirit of the Hindu holiday of Rakshabandhan. Another placed the blame for bodies being hastily disposed of in the holy Ganges during that last Covid surge on Hindu priests charging exorbitant prices. Another panelist, regurgitating racist colonial theories, claims that Lord Hanuman’s army in the Ramayana most truly represents the Dalit community being dehumanised and portrayed as monkeys.
HAF strongly supports free speech and the right to academic inquiry, even when each results in uncomfortable dialogue — even when such statements veer towards Hinduphobia. In America, hate speech is free speech.
This is why we’ve asked, not for cancellation, but for the universities that have been listed as supposed sponsors to clarify their actual involvement in a partisan event (which is generally against most college policies) and ensure the wellbeing of Hindu students who may face hostility or become targets as a result of the event.
But what the conference organisers and the South Asia Scholar Collective don’t seem to acknowledge is that the right to free speech also means that those people and organisations, such as HAF, speaking out against Hinduphobia also have a right to speak their minds. And doing so civilly isn’t a threat or “silencing” as one academic activist put it. It’s debate and discussion.
Worse, the conference organisers don’t even believe that Hinduphobia is a thing.
The conference website links to the South Asia Scholar Collective’s Hindutva Harassment Field Manual, which states that Hinduphobia is a “recently coined term popularised by the Hindu right.”
The term itself has been used for more than 100 years, even if it has increased in common use in the past two decades. Hindu groups in the UK have traced the term ‘Hinduphobia’ to the late 19th century. The York newspaper in 1883 had used the term. Scholars like Jeffrey Long, Stephen Prothero and Vamsee Juluri have written extensively on Hinduphobia and tracked its long history in the US and rest of the West.
But the organisers of DGH go on to say that Hinduphobia “rests on the false notion that Hindus have faced systematic oppression throughout history and in present times […] anti-Hindu bias […] cannot be easily linked to casualties on such horrific scales.”
Tell that to the 10 million people displaced and the 3 million killed in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, most of whom were Hindu, targeted for their supposed communal identity. Tell that to the 350,000 Kashmiri Pandits cleansed from their ancestral homeland. Tell that to the last remaining 400 or so Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan attempting to flee religious persecution under resurgent Taliban rule.
These are just contemporary examples of the violence that Hindus have faced because of their religious identity that run directly counter to the Marxist calculations of academic, journalistic, and activists that Hindus are always the perpetrators of violence in South Asia and never the victims.
Why are Hindus told they are “muscular” or maligned as fascists and supremacists for standing up for accurate portrayal of their religious traditions?
When other religious community members stand up for accurate portrayal of their beliefs when they are publicly misrepresented, or stand up for their civil and human rights in the face of bigotry and hatred, they are upheld as fighting the good fight.
Why should Hindus be treated any differently?
The author is an attorney and serves as the Executive Director of the Hindu American Foundation, a nonpartisan education and human rights advocacy organisation. Follow her on Twitter at @SuhagAShukla and HAF at www.HinduAmerican.org and @HinduAmerican on Twitter, Facebook, amd Instagram. Views are personal