- Colonial institutions rarely give up their power without a fight, and the DGH conference is an attempt by White supremacist colonial institutions to exert their dominance over Hindus again.
Early in March of 2021, a group of Hindu students from across the U.S., Canada, and UK college campuses, started a Twitter handle @HinduOnCampus (HoC) documenting the repeated incidents of Hinduphobia by Dr. Audrey Truschke. The students asked Rutgers university to take action against Dr. Truschke in an open letter that was sent to the Rutgers University President. The letter meticulously documented the pattern of how Dr. Truschke, a tenure track professor, has used her platform to push Hinduphobia, and how she painted Hindu texts and deities as inherently violent and misogynistic; something that practicing Hindus have refuted over and over again. Any protest by Hindus was silenced by Dr. Truschke by crying Hindutva. HoC rightfully asked the university to protect the minority Hindu students on campus from bullying caused by the misrepresentation of their religious beliefs.
HoCs efforts mobilized a broad spectrum of Hindus who had experienced similar Hinduphobia but had previously stayed silent, due to the repercussions of speaking out or being labeled Hindutva. Efforts to recognize Hinduphobia had been going on for a long time, however, many who had stayed in the margins joined the fray seeing their children speaking out. Dr. Trushke in the meantime stalked Hindu students and their parents and called them Hindutva fascists. Even as incidents kept escalating, Rutgers University used the excuse of upholding Academic Freedom to try and silence the Hindu Students. Dr. Truschke is a tenured track professor who was under no threat of being silenced. Hindu students in the West on the other hand are from a micro-minority community with little institutional support and have suffered years of silencing and Hinduphobia in their public universities and schooling. In her study scholar, Dr. Yvette Rosser found that:
“When asked to list the topics that were emphasized in the study of India, most of the students listed these, enumerated by this American born student of South Asian heritage who had recently graduated from a high school in Houston, “Wars, disease, population, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, female infanticide, flooding, and starvation.” “India,” stated another student was “only thought of as a third world country–considered inferior and totally ignorant of world events.” Several students mentioned that the “economic backwardness of India” was “blamed on the superstitious and polytheistic nature of Hinduism.”
This essentialist presentation of Indic Civilization can be summarized as the standard pedagogic approach which runs quickly from the “Cradle of Civilization”–contrasting the Indus Valley with Egypt and Mesopotamia–on past the Aryans 3, who were somehow our linguistic (and/or racial!) ancestors–to the poverty stricken, superstitious, polytheistic, “caste ridden” Hindu “way of life”. . . and then somehow magically culminates with a eulogy of Mahatma Gandhi. A typical textbook trope presents the standard Ancient India Meets the Age of Expansion Approach with a color photo of the Taj Mahal. There may be a sidebar on ahimsa or a chart graphically explaining samsara and reincarnation, or the four stages of life, or the Four Noble Truths, and amid the dearth of real information there may be found an entire page dedicated to a deity such as Indra or Varuna, who admittedly are rather obscure vis-à-vis the beliefs of most modern Hindus.”
Dr. Rosser found that American Universities were presenting Hinduism and India with a “white gaze” that depicted Hindus as stereotypically caste-ridden backward people in need of civilizing and the Hindu students attending these universities had little power to change the way their faith was being represented. Dr. Truschke’s claim, that her academic freedom was being impinged, is baseless as the power structures in American Universities were essentially tipped in her favor.
Across the Pond
Across the pond in the UK, another Hindu Student, Rashmi Samant, had been bullied into stepping down from her Student Union President position at Oxford University over 5-year-old social media posts and her usage of the phrase “celebrating women, trans women, men who support us”, due to their perceived offensiveness. Rashmi explained in an interview given to SheThePeople, that this was due to cultural differences between India and the West and apologized for it. Unfortunately, the critique of Samant didn’t stop at her social media but went on to denigrate her parents and her religious beliefs. One Oxford staff member, Dr. Abhijit Sarkar, denigrated her parents and their Hindu religion which caused her to step down completely and leave the UK temporarily. Rashmi explained that:
“In the chain of unfortunate events since what hurts me the most is that my parents were dragged into it in the most insensitive manner by a member of the university. Their religious sentiments and regional background were insulted in the public domain. The fact that I am a Hindu in no way makes me intolerant or unfit to be the President of the Oxford SU. Contrary to this, I understand the value of diversity in its true sense though my exposure to the intricacies of the developed world is limited,”.
Even the Oxford India Society, an organization that is supposed to represent and protect Indian students, failed to support Samant. They whitewashed the role that White Supremacy continues to play at Oxford, a university that is still struggling with its legacy of Slavery while continuing to keep the statue that lionizes Cecil Rhodes, a man who is known to discriminate based on race and gender.
These events against the Hindu students led Hindu scholars Dr. Indu Viswananthan and Dr. Parth Parihar to work with a Hindu Student-led group called Hindu Student Council to organize the Understanding Hinduphobia conference where they generated a working definition of Hinduphobia and made history by having the definition be accepted officially by the Rutgers Student Council.
This definition clearly defined Hinduphobia as:
“Hinduphobia is a set of antagonistic, destructive, and derogatory attitudes and behaviors towards Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) and Hindus that may manifest as prejudice, fear, or hatred.
Hinduphobic rhetoric reduces the entirety of Sanatana Dharma to a rigid, oppressive, and regressive tradition. Prosocial and reflexive aspects of Hindu traditions are ignored or attributed to outside, non-Hindu influences. This discourse actively erases and denies the persecution of Hindus while disproportionately painting Hindus as violent. These stereotypes are used to justify the dissolution, external reformation, and demonization of the range of indigenous Indic knowledge traditions known as Sanatana Dharma.
The complete range of Hinduphobic acts extends from microaggressions to genocide. Hinduphobic projects include the destruction and desecration of Hindu sacred spaces; aggressive and forced proselytization of Hindu populations; targeted violence towards Hindu people, community institutions, and organizations; and, ethnic cleansing and genocide.”
Back in the UK, a study released by 1928 Institute, showed that a majority of British Indians experienced prejudice because of their Hindu Faith.
Hindus who have experienced Hinduphobia for generations were finally being heard and getting some institutional recognition for their experiences. Western Academics who had been free to peddle Hinduphobia like Dr. Trushke were finally being held accountable by her students and the wider community for silencing Hindus and erasing our experiences of genocide. Hindus had made a small measure of progress towards being treated as actual human beings, rather than being treated as people in need of Civilizing.
White Supremacist Colonial Institutions
However, colonial institutions rarely give up their power without a fight. The Dismantling Global Hindutva Conference is White Supremacist colonial institutions exerting their dominance to Hindus again. They wish to disenfranchise and isolate us from the larger society so that our voices become whispers again. As Edward Said argued in his seminal book Orientalism, “the production of knowledge cannot be viewed independently of the power equations inherent in the production of such knowledge.” This is the context in which the DGH conference needs to be understood. It’s an exertion of power to uphold the West’s hegemony over knowledge production about Hindus so their colonial project of destroying Hinduism can go on.
Leading up to the DGH conference, its sponsors insisted to Western Media outlets like the WashingtonPost and to anyone who would listen, that their conference was not about Hinduism but only about Hindutva. Hindus protested by sending over 1 million letters and emails and contacting their representative, and asking for congressional support because as soon as the community looked at the DGH conference’s actual statements we understood that this was about Destroying Hinduism as it actively erased the genocide of Hindus and our experience of Hinduphobia.
In an open letter signed by 8 Hindu Scholars, Dr. Viswananthan and Dr. Parihar quoted the DGH conference webpage as saying, “individual cases of discrimination, no matter how painful, do not amount to Hinduphobia since Hinduphobia rests on the false notion that Hindus have faced systematic oppression throughout history and in present times.” This assertion actively erased Hindu genocide in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kashmir, and Afghanistan, in addition to erasing the experience of millions of Hindus who live in Western countries and face daily harassment and bullying due to their religious beliefs. The conference also asserted that anti-Hindu bias and anti-Hindu violence are not linked, and lastly anyone who disagrees with their assertions is Hindu Supremacist or Hindutva. The Hindu scholars unpacking this explained:
“Such an assertion is disturbing, and dangerous when put forth by those with academic credentials. As this scholarly definition notes, “outright denying or accusing Hindus or any people of inventing or exaggerating the persecution of Hindus, including genocide,” constitutes Hinduphobia.”
The Conference leaders continued to maintain that this was about Hindutva and not Hinduism. A post-conference analysis, however, proved the Hindu scholars and Hindu community right. The conference was really about dismantling Hinduism and not Hindutva. Speaker after speaker at the Dismantling Global Hindutva conference made it clear that, in their view, Hindutva can’t be separated from Hinduism, if they wanted to dismantle Hindutva, they insisted that Hinduism must be dismantled.
None of this is new of course. As Dr. Arvind Sharma showed in his book Ruler’s Gaze, Western Academics produced Orientalist “knowledge” about Hinduism going back to the 1800s German Indologists and British Indologists. It’s just that Orientalism and Hinduphobia have found new homes in Western South Asian Departments where the same colonial theories get pushed with Brown faces. Hindus, like other marginalized people, resisted this oppression by simply being Hindu. By wearing a bindi, by going to temple, by calling out Hinduphobia, or by teaching our kids about Hindu Dharma and in a million big and small ways. We resisted and we made ourselves heard. However, these institutions that have upheld white supremacy for 200 years will always seek to silence us. What we need to do is continue to empower our people with knowledge to combat this Hinduphobia. Tell out stories as Sankalp Gildadid. Advocate for equal treatment, protection, and recognition of our persecution from our political leaders at every single level.
Lastly, we as Hindus need to build allyship with other marginalized communities in the lands we have chosen to immigrate to. In the United States, that means forming allyship with Black, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, and Indigenous communities and listening to their stories. It means showing up at school boards meetings and congressional hearings and town council meetings at every level! That means becoming allies against White Supremacists institutions that harm marginalized communities every day. The Dismantling Global Hindutva conference is a call to action for Hindus around the globe, especially in the diaspora, to take a stand against Hinduphobia and keep speaking our truth.
Sneha Rao is a Hindu American first-generation immigrant to the U.S. She moved to the U.S. when she was 13 and has struggled with issues of Hinduphobia and assimilation into the larger American society. After becoming a mother, she started deeply examining the ways in which American culture can be harmful to Hindu children. She found that Hinduphobia and appropriation of Hindu culture deeply affected her as a teenager growing up in the U.S. She started working on articulating and writing about these issues on her social media and is now a contributor to Shaktitva and Hindus for Decolonization Group.