- Everyone has a right to disagree. No one has the right to defame.
Dual loyalty. It was a charge that led to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. For Catholics, it was the allegation of dual loyalty to the Vatican that remained a bar to entry into politics until John F. Kennedy prevailed in winning the presidency.
And now that most insidious charge of dual loyalty is wielded against Hindus in America just as they begin to claim their public voice and effectively advocate for policies that impact them. Not unlike the way that Jews are accused of loyalty to Israel over America, today Hindu Americans’ are accused of the same to India.
These charges, unanchored by facts but buoyed by double standards and nasty insinuations of bigotry and hatred, are being used as a club to delegitimize, demonize, and silence Hindu American voices from college campuses all the way to the halls of Congress.
And that is why the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), an independent, non-partisan U.S. based advocacy and education organization, is in court today.
Early last month, Al Jazeera published two articles presenting false claims that HAF and other Hindu organizations funneled COVID-19 related Paycheck Protection Program relief funds to “sponsor hate” and a “slow genocide” against Christians and Muslims in India.
Offering these false assertions of criminality, as well as the false claim that HAF is a front organization which takes orders from an apparently Hindu supremacist parent organization in India were Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) co-founders Sunita Vishwanath and Raju Rajagopal (who have been prolific here on American Kahani), Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) executive director Rasheed Ahmed, and Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA) chairman John Prabhudoss.
Professor Audrey Truschke, a professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University — Newark, who’s worked closely on a number of occasions with those quoted in the articles, went on to republish and amplify the defamatory articles through social media in concert with the others, while also falsely accusing HAF of organizing violent threats against her.
And there’s more. The author of the first Al Jazeera article, Raqib Hameed Naik, has deep and ongoing connections with both IAMC and HfHR, speaking at events jointly organized by both organizations and serving on IAMC’s executive team. But neither Naik nor Al Jazeera once revealed this connection and instead presented him as an independent, objective reporter.
The publication of false and defamatory statements of facts that inflict harm on an individual or organization give rise to a claim for defamation. When individuals coordinate amongst themselves to publish those false and defamatory statements, they’re liable for conspiracy to defame.
That is why HAF filed a lawsuit against Ms. Vishwanath, Mr. Rajagopal, Mr. Ahmed, Mr. Prabhudoss and Ms. Truschke.
What not just HAF, but Hindu American candidates for office and their donors, academics, organizations, and students have faced in recent years — and sadly at the hands of people within the South Asian diaspora — offers a chilling lesson for all Indian and Hindu Americans about a dangerous us-versus-them intra-community tribalism. It’s a situation that thrives on falsehoods, ad hominem attacks, and guilt-by-association. It also denies that all of us are multifaceted individuals holding at once a range of diverging experiences, perspectives, ideas, and opinions. And what this one-eyed tribalism does is makes an already steep climb for Hindu and Indian Americans to be recognized and represented in America even steeper.
HAF’s legal counsel, in spite of not being steeped in the politics of South Asia, recognized what’s really at play:
“Defendants dislike the political party currently in power in India (which is often labeled a “Hindu nationalist” party), and have political disagreements with the Indian government, especially with respect to its alleged treatment of Muslims and other religious minorities. However, rather than merely airing those political disagreements, they concocted a scheme to defame groups even outside India whom they perceive to be “pro-Indian government” and “pro-Hindu”. Accordingly, they decided to target HAF with a campaign of lies and false statements, attempting to discredit HAF’s educational and advocacy efforts. Defendants routinely conspire to spread mistruths about HAF, in an effort to encourage discrimination against them, and impede HAF’s ability to effect change in accordance with HAF’s guiding principles. To further their aim, and perpetuate the conspiracy, Defendants use each other as corroborating sources.”
Since we filed, several of the defendants have been soliciting signatures in a letter of support from academics to activists and taken to the pages of numerous outlets, even institutes. They are casting this as a free speech and academic freedom issue. It’s not. False facts that defame perceived rivals are not free speech protected under the First Amendment. False facts also fly in the face of academic integrity — the counterbalance to academic freedom.
HAF has never given money to any entity here or abroad that would harm anyone, period. The funding we received under U.S. COVID relief programs, like thousands of other organizations, ensured that our rent was paid and that none of our 13 staff members lost their job because of the pandemic. All of these details are available on HAF’s Financials page on our website and Guidestar, a charity watch-dog where we’ve earned a Platinum Seal for transparency and accountability.
HAF has no parent organization as alleged. HAF is not a “Hindu nationalist” or “Hindu supremacist” organization. HAF does not engage in violence or make violent threats. To even suggest any of this, as the defendants named in our suit have, featuring a piece written by one of the defendant’s own associates is outrageous.
We are an American organization founded by 2nd-generation Hindu Americans. We reject any insinuations of dual loyalty to India or accusations of spreading hatred or Islamophobia.
HAF’s positions are based on a relentless pursuit of facts and deep consideration of Hindu principles and American values, such as freedom, pluralism, equality, and justice. They are not driven by politics nor any political party — here or abroad. If we like a policy, we’ll say so, and rigorously substantiate our position. If we don’t, we’ll do the same. Unfortunately, not everyone does the same.
Everyone has a right to disagree. No one has the right to defame.
Suhag Shukla is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Hindu American Foundation.