- While the Hindu American Foundation, Hindu Students Council and others maintain that the three-day event is “a smokescreen for Hinduphobia,” organizers call them out for their inability “to distinguish between a critique of Hindutva and attacks on Hinduism."
A virtual conference — ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’ — scheduled for next month, is facing resistance from Hindu American groups, for its partisan and Hinduphobic motives. The three-day conference, co-sponsored and supported by departments and centers at over 40 universities in North America, will explore “the threat and power of Hindutva, its historical development, the fascist dimensions of the ideology, its alignment with other supremacist movements and define all that is at stake across a range of political, socio-cultural, and economic issues,” per its website.
On its Twitter page, organizers of the conference said: “We are invested in examining the beliefs and actions that constitute Hindutva, an ideology that propagates hate, promotes Islamophobia, and seeks to reduce the myriad practices of Hinduism to a singular notion of a Hindu motherland.”
Speakers include scholars, journalists, and activists like Anand Patwardhan, Ayesha Kidwai, Banu Subramaniam, Bhanwar Meghwanshi, Christophe Jaffrelot, Kavita Krishnan, Meena Kandasamy, Mohammad Junaid, Nandini Sunder, Neha Dixit, and P. Sivakami. Some of the departments and centers supporting the conference include Northwestern, UC Berkeley, UChicago, Columbia, Harvard, UPenn, Princeton and Stanford.
Organizers told American Kahani that it is the departments and centers at the universities that are co-sponsoring the conference. “The reason we have chosen not to specify which departments, centers, programs or institutes within the university have co-sponsored is because we wanted to spare them the kind of massive and hateful backlash we have been receiving,” they said in an email. Adding that they “hope to keep the list of specific entities private for as long as is possible,” organizers confirmed that as of now “61 entities from 49 universities spread around the world are co-sponsoring.” The current poster for the conference lists 48 universities. “No student bodies are cosponsoring this conference, though there is significant interest among students when it comes to signing up to attend,” organizers added.
Alluding to the “disinformation in circulation,” about the conference, organizers stated that “no cosponsoring department or center at any university has pulled out of the conference. To the contrary, we have received messages of support and solidarity.”
Opposing the conference, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) has written to the presidents and key administrators of all universities listed as event co-sponsors, asking them to distance themselves from the event, calling it “the antithesis” of their values. In the letter, the HAF urges the university officials to ask the event organizers to remove their university’s name and logo from its website, promotional materials, and social media posts. And “to ensure the safety and wellbeing of Hindu students, faculty, and staff on your campus who may feel targeted, threatened, or face hostility or harassment as a result of this partisan, anti-Hindu event.”
Emphasizing the it “wholeheartedly supports free speech and academic freedom as we are guided by the Hindu precepts of satya (truthfulness), vāda and saṃvāda (debate and discussion), and viveka (discernment), HAF urged the universities to do the same and “also privilege academic integrity by promoting open inquiry, encouraging a diversity of viewpoints, and modeling constructive disagreement.”
The letter continues: “While academics at your institution may choose to engage in political partisan activism concerning India, we hope you would agree that your institution should not. In fact, strict neutrality and independence are critical to the integrity of academic institutions. The use of your university’s name and logo, in this regard, implies overt institutional partisanship and endorsement of the event’s political and discriminatory motives.”
The Coalition of Hindus in North America (CoHNA) and American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD) and HinduPACT initiatives of World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) also issued statements opposing the conference. The label of “Hindutva” is being used as a smokescreen for overt Hinduphobia, they allege.
“This conference paints Hindus disproportionately and falsely as purveyors of extremism, actively denies the genocide of Hindu people, and most troublingly, labels those who disagree as ‘Hindutva,’ which the conference organizers define as Hindu extremism,” CoHNA says. “Furthermore, many of the conference speakers either have a history of supporting Naxalite/Maoist violence or of disparaging Hindu deities, festivals and practices.
Similarly, American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD) and HinduPACT have initiated an online petition. “Dismantling Global Hindutva ” yet another attempt by some of the best known Hinduphobic academicians and their allies to systematically delegitimize Hindu dharma at the academic institutions in the U.S,” read the statement. “We request the sponsoring universities to take immediate action to prevent vilification and intimidation of students, faculty of Hindu heritage as well as those of Indian origin under.”
Conference organizers took to social media to highlight the resistance from the Hindu groups.
Organizers have emphasized to American Kahani “how totally inaccurate the narrative of this conference being Hinduphobic peddled by Hindutva-affiliated groups is.” They said “they categorically reject the idea that critiquing Hindutva is in any way harmful to Hindu students,” and added that they “consider Hindutva to be the most significant threat to Hinduism’s pluralist ethos, as well as to efforts to fight ills in Indian society like casteism. That certain groups can’t distinguish between a critique of Hindutva and attacks on Hinduism says more about their confusion, affiliation, and desire to defend Hindutva using any rhetoric necessary, than it says about this conference.”
And to address “this issue head-on,” organizers said they are “about to announce the ninth panel to go with the other eight.” Titled Hinduism and Hindutva, it will feature practicing Hindus in conversation with experts.”
“This conference, like any entity that calls out Hindutva’s actions, has received voluminous hate. In the spirit of dismantling Hindutva to understand it, here is what their hate mail says about them,” says the conference’s Twitter page. “TW: Slurs, NSFW Language, Discrimination, Islamophobia, Hate-Speech.”
Joining the conversation is Audrey Truschke, Associate Professor of South Asian History at the university’s Newark campus. Truschke has confirmed to American Kahani that she is not among the organizers.
“The US Hindutva machine–part of the Global Right–has mobilized to target sponsors of the upcoming Dismantling Hindutva conference,” Truschke tweeted.
In another tweet, she wrote. “US-based Hindu Right groups have a long history of targeting academics,” Truschke tweeted. “Know about this and the threat to academic freedom.” Truschke herself has been a target of online threats and vitriol from the Hindu nationalists.
She also shared a link from Sadhana, Coalition to Hindus, to throw light on what Hindutva is. “First of all, understand Hindutva, which is a hateful political ideology. Some scholars describe it as authoritarian or populist; others as fascist. We all agree that it is right-wing, trends towards violence, and is intolerant.”
This July, the South Asia Scholar Activist Collective (SASAC), a group of scholars and activists including Trushcke, launched a new online resource for those targeted by Hindu nationalists. The Hindutva Harassment Field Manual offers educational and practical resources for the targets, allies, students, and employers of those subjected to Hindu Right assaults.
In a press release, Truschke wrote: “We wrote this field manual for academics who find themselves involved in a right-wing Hindutva assault. We hope it might prove valuable more broadly to the targets of Hindutva harassment and help start a conversation about the threat this poses to us and our fields of study.”
The field manual offers pages devoted to targets, allies, students, and employers who may find themselves targeted by a Hindu Right assault. It defines Hindutva as a narrow political ideology that threatens academic freedom, the rights of minorities, a wide range of Hindus, and more. It provides a series of educational resources, covering the organized nature of Hindutva harassment, legal resources, a glossary, academic freedom, and more.
Other members of the SASAC include Manan Ahmed, Columbia University; Ananya Chakravarti, Georgetown University, Purnima Dhavan, University of Washington; Supriya Gandhi, Yale University; Simran Jeet Singh, Union Seminary; Davesh Soneji, University of Pennsylvania; and Dheepa Sundaram, University of Denver.
Hindu groups in the U.S. have also taken to Twitter, calling the conference “a smokescreen for Hinduphobia.” The Hindu Students Council posted a video on Twitter with several students urging the boycott of the conference.
In Dharma Dispatch, Sandeep Balakrishna calls the conference “a xenophobic declaration of war against the RSS and Hindus,” which must be “given a muscular response from the highest levels.” He notes that “the credentials of the cast of characters and their stated objectives make its warlike character unambiguous, “it is neither the first nor will it be the last. On the contrary, it is entirely predictable.”
Author Harsh Gupta Madhusudan tweeted: “All right-thinking Hindus must come forward and own the term “Hindutva” which is the idea behind a united, democratic, diverse Indian civilizational state. One can disagree on nuances (like Zionism) but there is a global attempt to discredit any political Hindu awareness. Own it.”
Many decried it being held on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. “Notice two things about the ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’ conference,” mathematician, author and columnist Abhijit Banerjee tweeted. “1. They are doing it exactly on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 2. The word ‘Global.’ In other words, they want to stigmatize Hindus as a grave worldwide threat.”
Some wondered if the universities would support a similar event on Islamic terror. “The global universities do programs like, ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’ but will never do programs on ‘Dismantling Islamic Terror,’” said a tweet by Wake Up India. “The moment they do this, that university campus will be bombed and massive repercussions will happen and there will be no media mileage and funds.”
Some tweets called out certain speakers at the conference. “Kavita Krishnan is one of the main speakers for a Dismantling Global Hindutva conference,” tweeted Vedic scholar Dr. David Frawley “She is a member of the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). Hindus have never invaded any country, but Communists have caused genocide in numerous lands.”
“Look at the speakers – it’s a who-is-who of rabid Hindu haters, virulent anti-Indian voices, oblivious to the Taliban terror,” tweeted Toronto Sun columnist Tarek Fateh.