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A Response to the Vilification of Hindus for Human Rights by Suhag Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation

A Response to the Vilification of Hindus for Human Rights by Suhag Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation

  • When they can’t honestly engage on issues of hate and violence being perpetrated by their Hindutva siblings in India, they resort to diversions and play the victim card.

I don’t normally spend much time on social media. However, some of the recent attacks and misrepresentations of HfHR’s work by HAF and its Executive Director, Suhag Shukla, cry out for a personal response. I feel that it’s important to set the record straight, especially for the benefit of HAF supporters who may yet have open minds.

It’s not my intent to start a verbal duel on social media, which accomplishes nothing. But I am always personally open to a public debate and dialogue with those who hold different views than mine, including the HAF.

HAF/Shukla: “Why do some groups claiming to represent Hindus take positions so antithetical to dharma…?”

I could pose the exact same question to HAF, considering their appalling record of uncritical support for the most adharmic government India has ever had.

The BJP governments’ long list of adharmic and unconstitutional acts include: the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA); state level laws that seek to regulate interfaith weddings and people’s dietary habits; stoking violence against Muslim citizens and Christian preachers; demolishing places of worship and bulldozing homes without any due process; incarcerating critics and activists on trumped up charges; corruption at the highest levels, such as the now discredited Electoral Bonds and horse-trading of elected MPs; collusion with oligarchs to take away people’s autonomy over their farms and lands; and more recently, Transnational Repression and political assassinations.

These are a far cry from the Hindu dharma that my parents and grandparents taught me by example, and from what HfHR believes is a progressive and inclusive Hinduism as envisioned by Hindu saints of yore, such as Kabir, Basavanna, Akka Mahadevi, Tukaram, Narayana Guru, and many others.
 

Sadly, HAF seems to be tied at the hip with the Modi government and is either remaining completely silent about its unconscionable treatment of the minorities or is uncritically defending those actions: 

The Bhagavad Gita defines three types of actions: 

कर्मणो ह्यपि बोद्धव्यं बोद्धव्यं च विकर्मण: |

अकर्मणश्च बोद्धव्यं गहना कर्मणो गति: || 17||

“Verily action should be known and forbidden action should be known and inaction should be known…” (Gita IV-17)

Action (karma) is typically seen as an obligatory or righteous act. Inaction (akarma) is not just being silent, but choosing not to intervene in a situation where one could make a positive impact. Forbidden action (vikarma) refers to illegal behavior or engaging in harmful activities, including lying.

If anyone has doubts about where Hindutva’s deep hatred of Muslims belongs under the Gita, the recent vitriolic speech by Modi calling Muslim citizens “infiltrators” tells it all — vikarmaat its worst.

I can’t wait to see how HAF parses or passes on one of Modi’s worst hate speeches since taking national office. 

I remember only too well that back in the 1990s, a U.S.-born Mihir Meghani (who later cofounded HAF) expressed his strong approval of the demolition of the ancient Babri Masjid and even had the audacity and an out-sized sense of privilege to lecture 134 million Muslims living 10,000 miles away on how to behave. He has tried to walk back his caustic manifesto several times, but has convinced no one that he has truly distanced himself from his VHP/RSS siblings and their Islamophobic ideology. 

The fact that HAF hasn’t said a word about the Savera coalition’s extensively researched reports on the global VHP’s trail of hate and violence, and the role of VHP America, is another indication that HAF has never truly distanced itself from its U.S. siblings.

Courtesy, Shashi Tharoor/X

HAF/Shukla: “Follow the money,” HAF commands its supporters. “They represent non-Hindu billionaire funders who prop them up.” 

This Tweet is a reflection of HAF’s insecurity about a far more legitimate Hindu-American voice emerging on the scene. 

One must recognize that there is a huge difference between how our two organizations are founded and funded: HAF was founded by the Sangh Parivar to serve a particular purpose in the U.S. and there is very little daylight between their ideologies. In HAF’s case, “follow the money” makes a lot of sense as a way of demonstrating the ongoing connections among these Hindutva organizations and their large Hindu donors, who prop up HAF and greatly influence its priorities.  

HfHR, on the other hand, was started by a small group of individuals greatly concerned with the state of Indian democracy under Modi. We established ourselves against great odds, funding our initial effort with the savings of co-founders and board members, and have since grown into a respected progressive voice with legitimacy among all faith communities, which HAF clearly lacks.  

Hundreds of individuals of all faiths and races, who’re no less hard-working than HAF donors, find our mission so relevant and urgent in today’s world that they support us financially and by volunteering for us in so many different ways.

In the event, HAF/Shukla’s veiled attack on our donors is entirely unwarranted.

I also find it ironic that HAF has come a long way from dismissing HfHR and mocking us as a tiny, inconsequential group to be ignored, to taking us seriously enough today to spend so much time and energy to sue us, snoop on us, and to attack us directly. It reveals their anxiety and their insecurity about the true majority of our community rejecting Hindutva and embracing pluralism and justice.

HAF/Shukla: Accuses HfHR of “Even denying #Hinduphobia exists.”  

This is a clear case of selective reporting, designed to convey the false impression that HfHR is in denial of incidents of hate and bigotry against Hindu-Americans. We have published numerous op-eds to make our position very clear.

While HfHR acknowledges and condemns all acts of hate based on one’s Hindu faith, we do not think that these acts add up to the broad conclusion that there is wide-spread Hinduphobia in the U.S. at this time – certainly not a situation that warrants a congressional resolution.

Hypocrisy is also writ large when Shukla talks about the central tenet of Hinduism “to feel the pain of others as our own.”  Over 34,000 Gazans, most of them civilians, and over 14,000 children, have been killed by Israeli bombs. Yet, HAF has had very little to say about this state-orchestrated catastrophe. In my humble opinion, HAF makes a mockery of the noble Hindu tenets that it loves to frequently quote. 

I’m painfully aware that some of the communities who’re targets of mass violence are tempted to use loaded terms to describe their situation – pogrom, genocide, holocaust, phobia, etc. For example, the Gujarat violence of 2002 was labeled by victim groups as a “genocide,” while the then Modi government of Gujarat called it a “riot,” as if the violence was spontaneous and two-sided, which it clearly was not. I have always described it for it was, a “pogrom” – targeted violence against a minority community meant to send a chilling warning to that community. 

In my view, none of the above descriptions apply to the handful of seemingly anti-Hindu acts in recent months. HAF does a great disservice to the Hindu-American community as well as to other Americans by implying that there is widespread “irrational fear or aversion” to Hinduism in America (Hinduphobia). This is clearly meant to wrench Hindus apart from our other sibling communities, ignoring all the shared challenges we face (namely racism and xenophobia), and create a term that can silence free speech and debate. Just as we are seeing today in the Jewish community, the Hindu right has begun to label Hindus it disagrees with to be “Hinduphobic.”

The fractures HAF is trying to create will only weaken a civil rights coalition and help the MAGA far-right advance.

HAF/Shukla: “Remember: groups like H4HR [sic] don’t actually represent Hindu Americans.”

This is no truer than HAF’s assertion that they’re the true representative of Hindu Americans, and sometimes of all Hindus. However, what’s clear from HAF’s record is that they represent the interests of privileged and upper caste Hindus, who’re a small minority of the Hindu population as a whole. At best, they represent the fears and insecurities of a large number of privileged Hindu Americans.

HfHR, on the other hand, believes that we and our allies together command a greater following among the larger Indian American community. Our Hindu American support base is still modest, but growing steadily. Truth be told, had the majority of Hindu Americans that are in opposition to Hindutva and casteism been organized and visible, there would have been no need to create HfHR in the first place.

HAF/Shukla:. “Double standards” is not the same as “Dual loyalty”

See Also

Suhag Shukla often claims that opponents of HAF falsely accuse it of having a “dual loyalty.’ 

I am afraid that she misunderstands the meaning of that term. As far as I know, no one has ever accused HAF of having “dual loyalty.” But, HAF and other Hindutva groups do exhibit a troubling case of “double standards” (“hypocrisy” to be more precise) — agitating for religious protections and other essential rights as a minority in the diaspora, while supporting the massive and systemic abuse of minority rights in India by the Modi government. This approach reveals a strategy where such fundamental protections are viewed not as universal rights but as strategic privileges to be secured for one’s own group and denied to others whenever possible.” The idea that the rights of the Hindu community and the rights of other communities is zero-sum will be HAF’s fatal flaw. 

Let me close with Suhag Shukla’s recent Tweets expressing objection to Hindus on campuses who’re closely identifying with the Palestinian cause.

Shukla: “Seeing many people aghast by the sign and wondering if it’s a false flag—it seems implausible that a Hindu would actually place “Hindu” alongside “intifada.”

She further says:

“Folks, I have family studying at Columbia and on the ground (they are not involved with this nonsense). But they’ve confirmed that yes, some Hindu kids are supporting the protests—but thankfully they are the fringe minority of the Hindu population on campus…A Hindu should understand the pain that sign — glorifying indiscriminate violence against Jews – inflicts on their classmates…They must know the central tenet of our tradition is to feel the pain of others as our own.” 

I’m glad that Shukla has spoken her mind on the Palestinian-Israeli issue — which, unfortunately, betrays her astonishing ignorance on the issue: 

“Intifada” simply means uprising or revolution – a fundamental right of Palestinians to resist Israeli occupation. Anyone who understands Gandhi’s nonviolent satyagraha would understand how “intifada” is so closely wound up with India’s independence struggle. But then, coming from the Savarkar/RSS tradition, which had no role in the independence movement, and who in fact promised the British that they would not be a source of resistance, Shukla’s disdain for the word is understandable. Her lament that the sign “Hindus for Intifada” glorifies indiscriminate violence against Jews is pure hyperbole, steeped in ignorance of the ground reality for most Palestinians.

Courtesy, Shashi Tharoor/X

Hypocrisy is also writ large when Shukla talks about the central tenet of Hinduism “to feel the pain of others as our own.” Over 34,000 Gazans, most of them civilians, and over 14,000 children, have been killed by Israeli bombs. Yet, HAF has had very little to say about this state-orchestrated catastrophe. In my humble opinion, HAF makes a mockery of the noble Hindu tenets that it loves to frequently quote. 

Indeed, HAF has not just been silent on Gaza but has amplified disinformation and divisive rhetoric, and supported police crackdowns on peaceful protesters. They have sided with might over right and history will remember their acts of vikarma.  

In contrast, HfHR strives to speak up for the pain of all communities who are targets of majoritarian or state sponsored discrimination, violence, and hate – be they Jews, Palestinians, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, indigenous, black, Latino or Asian. But we do so with a progressive Hindu lens that has no tolerance for Hindutva and casteism. We earnestly believe that we’re laying the foundation for Hinduism of the future in America.

I’m sure that the Indian American community and the larger American public can see the real difference between our two organizations.  

###

P.S.- Re: Holi Against Hindutva: Holi has been a typically inclusive festival, which used to be celebrated primarily in North India. We see nothing wrong in using the occasion to educate people on extremism. “Holi against Hindutva” is an attempt to draw attention to the violent and exclusivist Hindutva ideology, which is attempting to claim Holi as an entirely Hindu festival and is trying to saffronize what’s been a multi-hued holiday. 

No one is insulting Holi, Suhag Shukla. We are only condemning Hindutva.

As I have said before, I welcome HAF to the public square to debate these issues in earnest. 


Raju Rajagopal is a co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights USA.

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