- Here are several examples of the country’s institutional bias and concrete policies that could address Hinduphobia at an institutional and governmental level.
The rising tide of anti-Hindu hate has found fertile ground in Canada, arguably due to a hostile political landscape. The contours of Canadian Hinduphobia are remarkably similar to the aversion towards Hinduism in other parts of the West. The common themes center around attacks on Hindu temples, defaming of Hindu organizations, and non-Hindus seeking to dictate the parameters of acceptable Hindu conduct by drawing parallels between common Hindu traditions like the Bhagwa Dhwaj and Swastika and fascist regimes, putting commonplace Hindu traditions in a sinister light. Finally, the leaders of political parties, governmental institutions, and public broadcast media often try to minimize and deflect the concerns of the Hindu community.
Canada is a highly diverse country with over 30% of the population being non-White. It’s seen as having a strong track record of protecting the rights of minority populations through governmental institutions such as the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) and various Provincial Human Rights Commissions. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a Crown corporation, is an influential national TV and Radio broadcaster funded by the Canadian government, similar to the BBC in the UK. These institutions have been very vocal in taking a stance against bigotry in the form of Islamophobia or the Black Lives Matter movement. However, Hinduphobia and anti-Hindu hate crimes remain largely ignored and unrecognized by them, despite direct outreach with the impacted community.
We document several examples of this institutional bias and outline several concrete policies that could address Hinduphobia at an institutional and governmental level.
Hindu Places of Worship Under Siege
The most striking and visible aspect of hate against Hindus has manifested in repeated and regular attacks against Hindu Temples across Canada — with more than 2 dozen break-ins between 2021 and 2022; and more than 15 incidents of vandalization in the last 2 years. There have also been repeated incidents of vandalism of Mahatma Gandhi statues — targeted because he happens to be one of the most visibly Hindu figures admired in the West. Even an innocuous park sign which was inaugurated in 2022, was defaced, simply because it is named after the Bhagwat Gita.
Naturally then, there is a corresponding rise of fear and a sense of being vulnerable targets among the Hindu community. Yet in coverage of these attacks on Hindu temples, the authorities and media (like CBC) deflect this as anti-India sentiment, rather than being upfront and calling it for what it is — Hinduphobia. It’s hard to imagine the repeated attacks on another community in Canada being dismissed as summarily and as quickly! For comparison, the vandalism of a synagogue is considered antisemitic and not anti-Israel. The defacement of a mosque is Islamophobia and not an act against any Islamic country. Equal treatment requires that the vandalism of Hindu temples must be reported as Hinduphobia and not masked as “anti-Indian” especially given their distressing regularity and frequency.
Similarly, academic voices that are rightly quick to condemn Islamophobia, seek to minimize these temple attacks as “political” in nature. As an example, last year some professors and doctoral students at the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM), wrote an open letter that acknowledged the increase in the vandalism of Hindu temples, but then went on to claim that the text of the spray-painted graffiti on the temples was “pro-Khalistan” and it was intended to “denounce Hindutva politics and can hardly be considered Hinduphobic”1. When did the walls of a private sacred space, become available to opponents for political slogans?
Commonplace Hindu Traditions Cast in a Sinister Light
An example of trying to vilify and distort widespread and routine Hindu cultural and religious practices occurred during the recent controversy over the passage of a Bill declaring November as Hindu Heritage Month in 2022. Liberal Party MP Chandra Arya raised the Bhagwa Dhwaj in Parliament Hill, Ottawa to commemorate this event, leading to a cacophony of protests. Several religious organizations wrote a joint letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denouncing the saffron flag. The letter was signed by various non-Hindu institutions like the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, Palestine Youth Movement, and India Civil Watch International (ICWI), among others. Even more alarmingly, they provided “direction” on the limitations that must be put on the ways Hindus celebrate. The letter claimed that although the saffron color is sacred to several far-eastern faiths, it has been used by fascist groups and therefore must not be hoisted in Canada. The letter went on to state that lighting a diya or lamp to mark the event would have been more appropriate. No media house sought to question the presumption of non-Hindus dictating to Hindus how they must celebrate their own faith and cultural traditions.
Last year the festival of Diwali was singled out and shamed by Canada’s Federal environmental regulatory agency Environment Canada, as a “cause for air pollution” even though similar celebrations for Victoria Day/Canada Day or New Year’s Eve had never drawn similar adverse comment despite their much larger scale. These double standards infringe on the right of Canadian Hindus to equal treatment and the ability to celebrate our festivals and traditions.
Defamation of Hindu Organizations
Hindu organizations have also come under attack in Canada in a way that organizations of other minority religions have not. In a glaring display of double standards, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO), combined forces to publish a report, “RSS Network in Canada,” which made a slew of unsubstantiated accusations against Hindu charitable organizations operating in Canada such as Sewa Bharati and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS). It also criticized the cultural activities of the HSS involving Hindu children in Canadian public schools. An appropriate media response would have been to ignore or adopt a skeptical approach toward these unsubstantiated allegations. The allegations made in the joint letter, amount to an infringement of the religious freedom of Hindus in Canada. What is especially disturbing is that once again we see non-Hindu religious groups seeking to define what are acceptable norms for Canadian Hindu organizations and Hindu cultural practices. The CBC amplified this report and gave it a prominent airing, further alienating the Canadian Hindu community.
Reluctance to Prosecute Violent Assaults as Hate Crimes
The CHRC and various Provincial Human Rights Commissions have yet to give prominence to Hinduphobia and this institutional apathy plays out at the local level with Canadian law enforcement often being reluctant to add hate crime charges to deadly physical assaults.
- Just last month, 68-year-old Dilip Kumar Dholani was stabbed 17 times in broad daylight, while simply pushing a stroller with his grandchildren. Despite the severity of the crime, law enforcement agencies have been quick to dismiss the act as “random”, following a pattern we have seen play out multiple times.
- In another horrific incident from 2022, a 21-year-old university student from India was kidnapped, stripped naked, and kicked in the face multiple times. The assailant callously declared, “You don’t belong here. This is what you deserve” – yet there was no investigation into this as a hate crime.
- A young family with kids was abused and attacked while performing a religious ceremony at a park in Mississauga in 2021. The violent abuse and assault led to the hospitalization of one family member.
Cause and Action
A historic study from NCRI at Rutgers University in 2022 uncovered shocking levels of hate against Hindus in a number of online platforms – genocidal memes and coded language patterns advanced by white supremacists and Islamists to caricature Hindus, present them as less than fully human, and normalize hate or violence against them. Their study also highlighted the similarity of anti-Hindu and antisemitic tropes and the general lack of awareness around Hinduphobia. The violence we are seeing in Canada and the attempts by institutions to ignore, minimize or recategorize it, is in line with the findings of the Rutgers report which also highlighted the importance of the Hindu community taking security measures to ensure safety
In light of the above, it is incumbent on Canadian Hindus to speak up, represent, and advocate for Hindu Dharma and to counteract disinformation on India. While India is a vibrant secular and multi-religious country, any anti-India violence seems to be directed at adherents of one faith only and allegations of dual loyalty also seem to come mostly against Hindus residing in Canada. All these immediate problems require focus.
Advocacy can take many forms and strategies, starting with outreach to lawmakers via letter writing and email campaigns, making phone calls, and signing petitions. It is also important to engage the local elected officials, interfaith groups, diversity councils, and other civic groups. This will allow us to represent Hindu issues and reinforce positive views of Hindu Canadians in the community. Another example is the House of Commons petition e-4507 to recognize Hinduphobia in the glossary of terms in the Human Rights Code to describe anti-Hindu prejudice and discrimination.
A vibrant diverse democracy like Canada requires space for multiple voices and viewpoints living in harmony. Canadian Hindus need to engage in the civic process at all levels to ensure their stories are being told and heard.
Pushpita Prasad is a storyteller and communications professional with a background in working with media, technology, and history. She is passionate about topics related to India, Human Rights, Hinduism, and Culture. Pushpita is involved with organizations focused on advocating for minorities — finding their stories and helping to elevate their voices through multiple media and channels.
Rishabh Sarswat is an Environmental Scientist and the President of CoHNA Canada, a grassroots-level advocacy organization representing the Hindu community of Canada.