- At the recent Parliament of World Religions, Indian American Muslim Council and the Hindus for Human Rights tried to get away with their slanderous charges against the Hindu American Foundation in particular by using the language of social justice.
Between August 14-18, the Parliament of World Religions gathered leaders from a wide range of faith, in the name of “stand up together in all their diversity and defend freedom and human rights.” Given the lofty call to action, the treatment of Hindu organizations and Hindu speakers at the Parliament of World Religions has stirred much debate. Hindu speakers were banned, and Hindu organizations were demonized in a way that does not honor standing together, defending freedom, or engaging in improving human rights. The organizations that engaged in harassment and willful mischaracterization of Hindu individuals and organizations at the Parliament, the Indian American Muslim Council and the Hindus for Human Rights, are able to take for granted that their behavior pushing the Parliament won’t be questioned and their statements unpacked if they use the language of social justice to engage in actions antithetical to the idea of being “progressive” or the spirit of the Parliament itself.
Dr. Anantanand Rambachan, Professor of Religion at St. Olaf College, recently published a piece in Religion News Service, in which he defended the organizations that engaged in heckling and harassing some Hindu groups attending the Parliament saying that “What those who complained [about harassment] didn’t address was that they, along with a growing number of Hindu organizations in India and in the United States, have tied themselves to those contentious and aggressive politics.”
The entire piece hinges on this point: that Hindu organizations are deserving of being bullied or banned because they themselves are actively engaging in the fomenting of hate and violence in their alleged attachment to a Savarkarian understanding of both Hinduism and Hindutva.
If this point is taken on its face, of course there are two types of Hindu organizations, and only those which entirely condemn Hindutva and the Government of India are welcome at the Parliament of World Religions. All others are deserving of any bullying and banning they experience.
The problem with the assertion that the Hindu organizations that do not fully condemn Hindutva and the Government of India are by default actively fomenting hate, is that it is a blatant lie. It is used again and again to justify the type of behavior that would be openly understood as hateful if not for the cloak of the lie.
Dr. Rambachan, and the organizations he supports openly, Hindus for Human Rights, and by association, Indian American Muslim Council, have peddled the falsehood that the Hindu organizations they demonize are tied to the creation and fueling of hate against non-Hindu minorities in India without any qualms about the lack of evidence for this, and have managed to do so without any accountability, to spread their nefarious agenda of disempowering anyone with any pride in their Hindu identity.
These lies were displayed publicly all on one poster that IAMC displayed with pride in the Parliament exhibition hall for hours, before the egregiousness of the duplicity had it taken down.
The statements slandered many organizations, but it is easiest to point to how clearly absurd they are when it comes to the Hindu American Foundation in particular. To be explicit, the statements were that HAF lobbies the U.S. Congress (false: HAF is not a lobbying organization) defends India’s government alleged attacks on Muslims (false: the complete lack of evidence to support this statement, and the presence of statements condemning hateful attacks are completely ignored as they fail to support the peddled narrative); supports an allegedly anti-Muslim citizenship law (false: in that the law in question does not single out Muslims, and that HAF has criticized its wording) ; supports a ban on beef in India (false: HAF has never made any such statement); supports a ban on interreligious marriages (false: no such statement has ever been made); support a ban on wearing Hijab (false: no such statement has ever been made).
That such lies get stated repeatedly makes them no more true. It is getting tediously necessary for me to repeat that none of these claims have any basis in truth or reality at all. That there is space between engaging in political advocacy to make sure that the Hindu American perspective on Indian politics is understood, and actually engaging in forming Indian policy is completely disregarded.
It is incredible that he can speak about the attacked Hindu organizations “limiting the potential of the tradition to be a blessing for the world” without any reflection on the fact that organizations like Hindus for Human Rights and Indian American Muslim Council attack every proud Hindu for their identity and presumed support for the Government of India without any consideration of their actual actions or statements of the individual or organization in question.
Dr. Rambachan goes on to say, “Organizations that describe themselves as Hindu in the U.S. are obliged to be explicit about their view of the topic [of Hindutva], and failure to do so leaves room for misunderstanding.”
If Dr. Rambachan’s point is that Hindu organizations at the Parliament must be those who disentangle themselves from, in his words, the “specific, historical expression of the Indian state” then he must wrangle with the fact that H4HR is very much actively entangled in Indian politics, in their support of any and all opposition to the ruling party, in their meeting with opposition party leaders, and lobbying for India being labeled a County of Particular Concern by the U.S. government.
By Dr. Rambachan’s internal logic such actions also do not meet the muster of avoiding “a grave disservice to the religion.”
Is a logical exception to be made, because vocally opposing the current Government of India is a moral action, and not actively condemning it is immoral? What of the fact that these organizations have actively dismissed and denied the statements by Hindu Americans about their actual stances? When the misunderstanding is willful denial, misinterpretation, and flat lies, how can the Hindu organizations be the ones held as failing to engage in truthfulness?
Ultimately Dr. Rambachan, Hindus for Human Rights, and the Indian American Muslim Council operate from the standpoint that only they can approve or disapprove of the validity of viewpoints on the Indian state and its ruling party. If they disagree with you, then you must be immoral and engaged in a problematic mixing of politics and religion. There is nothing progressive about this.
If the spirit of the Parliament of the World’s Religions is bringing people together for dialogue about, admittedly sometimes contentious, contemporary issues then such insistence that there is only one morally acceptable stance on the intersection of religion and politics in India, and that all others must be shouted down or banned from participation, is ridiculous. To engage in falsehoods to make such a rigid and illiberal stance palatable to their audience is simply morally abhorrent. Reflection on this hypocrisy seems unlikely, so holding them to account for their dissembling is necessary.
Dr. Kavita Pallod Sekhsaria is a member of the National Leadership Team for the Hindu American Foundation. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and invested in using her practice, KPS Psychotherapy, to fight the stigma against seeking mental health in the Hindu Indian American community.