- These appointments set a “really terrible and dangerous precedent,” signaling “ignorance” in the DHS of the difference between Hinduism and Hindutva.
Indian American organizations, activists and academicians are raising concern at the appointment of three Indian Americans aligned with Hindutva – the Hindu nationalist ideology – to high-profile jobs in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The three are tied to India’s Hindu supremacist outfit, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which controls India’s federal government and persecutes Muslims and Christians in that country. Their appointments raise fears that the DHS will discriminate against Indian Americans Muslims, Christians and Dalits, the activists have said.
Earlier this month, the DHS named Chandru Acharya, a leader of the U.S. nonprofit Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), to its faith-based security advisory council. Two months ago, the DHS appointed Amit Jani, who has RSS ties, as its acting White House liaison. In March, the DHS named Sonal Shah, also connected with the RSS, to an advisory council. In May, Shah was also named Chief Commissioner of the White House Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.
“The appointment of Acharya, Jani and Shah to important DHS positions is extremely concerning as Hindutva is intrinsically Islamophobic,” said Sunita Viswanath, Executive Director of Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR). “In the past, the DHS has discriminated against Muslims by the surveillance of mosques. Recruiting Hindu nationalists will increase and amplify Islamophobia, racism and anti-immigrant positions at the DHS.”
“The problems with the DHS appointing people linked to far-right extremist groups are obvious. Such a move – which imperils minority communities and human rights advocates – is bad news for U.S. multiculturalism and all who hold progressive values,” said Dr. Audrey Truschke, an Associate Professor at Rutgers University. Dr. Truschke has been at the receiving end of online Hindu supremacist attacks and threats for years.
Jani has earlier served with the election campaigns of President Biden; U.S. Senator from New Jersey, Bob Menendez; and New Jersey governor Phil Murphy. Shah has worked with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA).
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) once characterized India’s VHP as a “religious militant organization.”
Shah’s father was a president of the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP), the Bharatiya Janata Party being India’s Hindu supremacist ruling party. After Barack Obama named Shah to a White House position in 2008, she was forced to publicly distance herself from the VHP and condemn its role in anti-Muslim violence.
“These appointments will make many of us in the U.S. vulnerable as we work to expose Hindutva in the U.S. and protect the vulnerable Indian American communities such as Muslims, Dalits and Christians,” said Rasheed Ahmed, Executive Director of Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC). “The U.S. government must not include extremists.”
The presence of Acharya and Jani at the DHS also sharply contrasts with the fact that the Department has not hired a single Indian American Muslim in a key position.
Added John Prabhudoss, Chair of the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA): “By appointing such people in return for political support, the U.S. government is validating violent extremist organizations. Now they will network with and influence the DHS’s policies from an official position.”
Prabhudoss said there was an “infiltration of extremist ideologies” in both federal and state governments. “Unfortunately, people in Washington, DC, lack a clear understanding of their extremist ideologies.” Calling for a “rigorous and thorough vetting” of such appointments, he said, “such appointments could become a vehicle for extremist outfits to seriously impact our domestic policies, with implications for the U.S. foreign policy.”
Rohit Chopra, an Indian American professor at the University of Santa Clara, California, said these appointments set a “really terrible and dangerous precedent,” signaling “ignorance” in the DHS of the difference between Hinduism and Hindutva.
“It is all the more egregious that the appointments were made in the name of diversity,” Chopra said. “Allowing adherents of Hindutva to represent all of Hinduism is like allowing a militant White Christian nationalist group to speak for all Christians.”
Chopra said there was a “real risk” that the DHS will target Americans critical of Hindutva as the U.S.-based Hindu right-wing organizations label their criticism as Hinduphobia. “American Muslim organizations may well be discriminated against and Hindu nationalists from India who have participated in or endorsed anti-Muslim violence and genocidal acts may be given a free pass to enter the US and spread their poison.”
Sarita Pandey is an artist, a digital media professional, and volunteers for human rights advocacy groups. She lives in the D.C. area. She posts her art on instagram.com/saritatheobscure and tweets about issues she cares about at twitter.com/saritapandey.