The Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a nonprofit organisation situated in Washington, DC, has been active for 18 years. We’ve seen a lot of misconceptions about Hinduism over the years. And we’ve tried to repair them numerous times.
These occur occasionally as a result of actual ignorance of our principles and practises. They can also be deliberate misrepresentations of our traditions intended to demonise or disparage Hindus.
When we first heard about the Dismantling Global Hindutva (DGH) conference, which will take place online from September 10 to 12, and saw the speaker lineup, it was evident that the event’s avowed purpose of maligning Hindus and Hinduism was just as important as the stated goal in the title.
Audrey Truschke, a self-described “Historian” and one of India’s most reviled academics, is pushing the Hindumisic “Dismantling Global Hindutva” event. Truschke’s fixation with whitewashing the sins of autocratic Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb has earned her a notoriety in the anti-Hindu propaganda industry.
Audrey Truschke has long been involved with anti-India propaganda. She serves on the advisory board of Students Against Hindutva Ideology (SAHI), a US-based activist group with significant ties to the Democratic Party establishment. When it was simply known as “Students Against Hindutva,” the activist group is well known for organising the Hinduphobic “Holi Against Hindutva” campaign in 2020.
Students at Rutgers University, where Truschke teaches, accused her of pushing a divisive anti-Hindu agenda. According to a petition signed by the students, the lecturer incorrectly associated Hindus with extremists and white supremacists rioting on Capitol Hill. On other instances, she is said to have asserted that the Hindu sacred book, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, “rationalises mass slaughter” and violence. Truschke allegedly called Lord Ram a “misogynistic swine,” insulting Hindu gods and goddesses.
During the protests on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on January 6, this year, there was an odd sideshow that revealed how some forces in Western academics are attempting to incite hatred against Hindus. Academic Audrey Truschke pounced on an image of an Indian flag being hoisted in the pro-Trump throng on Twitter, linking it to Hindus and announcing that it would be included in her history course at Rutgers University. That’s right, the official history syllabus at Rutgers University is being designed in real time, based on rumours on social media.
In the pro-Trump crowd, the frenzied individual with the Indian flag turned out to be one Vincent Xavier, an unexpected candidate for a Hindutva supporter. Consider what it would be like to be a Hindu student on campus the next day. Likely to be an immigrant or the child of immigrants, a person of colour who is now suspected of having cultural ties to a group of people who recently attempted to overthrow the US government.
As evidenced by the upcoming conference on “Dismantling Global Hindutva,” this is how they incite hatred towards Hindus.
When you read the conference announcement, three things come to mind right away. The first is the phrase “dismantling,” which is an unusual action word for an academic conference that is supposed to be more about debate, analysis, and discussion. More crucially, the word “global” is heavily emphasised. Even if a small number of people are worried by Hindu identity politics, how can Hindus, who make up a micro-minority in practically every country on the planet, pose a worldwide threat?
This conference will “examine the historical evolution of Hindutva, its fascist features, and its persistence of violence against religious minorities and other marginalised communities,” according to the organisers.
But, more than anything else, this gathering appears to be a planned campaign to disseminate Hinduphobia.
Hindu on Campus, a student-run campaign, has exposed the backgrounds of several of the conference speakers. One, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), attempted to justify the murder of a Muslim woman by her brothers by claiming that it was done in the spirit of the Hindu festival of Rakshabandhan. Another blamed Hindu priests demanding high sums for carcasses being hurriedly disposed of in the sacred Ganges during the last Covid outbreak. Another panelist, repeating racist colonial beliefs, asserts that Lord Hanuman’s army in the Ramayana most accurately portrays the Dalit community, which is dehumanised and shown as monkeys.
HAF is a staunch supporter of free speech and intellectual inquiry, even when they lead to difficult debate — even when such views border on Hinduphobia. Hate speech is protected under the First Amendment in the United States.
This is why we’ve asked the universities listed as supposed sponsors to clarify their actual involvement in a partisan event (which is generally against most college policies) and ensure the safety of Hindu students who may face hostility or become targets as a result of the event, rather than cancelling it.
Hindu phobia is a reality
What the conference organisers and the South Asia Scholar Collective don’t seem to realise is that the right to free speech extends to those individuals and organisations, such as HAF, who are speaking out against Hinduphobia. And, as one academic activist put it, doing so in a courteous manner isn’t a threat or “silencing.” It’s a time for debate and discussion.
Worse, the conference organisers deny that Hinduphobia exists at all.
Hinduphobia is a “recently formed term popularised by the Hindu right,” according to the South Asia Scholar Collective’s Hindutva Harassment Field Manual, which is linked on the conference website.
The word however, has been in usage for more than a century, however it has become more popular in the last two decades. The term “Hinduphobia” dates back to the late 1800s, according to Sarah Louis Gates, an Australian Cultural Studies Ph.D. candidate. The word was first used in a York newspaper in 1883. Scholars like as Jeffrey Lengthy, Stephen Prothero, and Vamsee Juluri have written extensively about Hinduphobia and its long history in the United States and the rest of the Western world.
Hinduphobia, however, “rests on the fallacious concept that Hindus have endured systematic persecution throughout history, and that anti-Hindu bias cannot be easily linked to casualties on such awful scales in modern times,” according to the organisers of DGH.
In the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, ten million people were displaced and three million were slain, the majority of whom were Hindus who were targeted for their alleged sectarian identity. 350,000 Kashmiri Pandits who have been expelled from their ancestral home. Afghanistan’s last 400 or so Hindus and Sikhs hoping to flee religious persecution under the Taliban’s resurgent reign. The Moplah Genocide, where the aggressor were trying to establish caliphate.
These are just a few recent incidents of Hindus being targeted for violence based on their religious identity, which run opposed to academic, journalistic, and activist Marxist assumptions that Hindus are always the perpetrators of violence in South Asia and never the victims.
Why are Hindus labelled “muscular” or branded fascists and supremacists for speaking out against inaccurate depictions of their sacred traditions?
Others in the religious community are praised for standing up for honest portrayals of their beliefs when they are publicly distorted, or for standing up for their civil and human rights in the face of intolerance and hatred.
In the West, there must be a lot of dissatisfaction and humiliation. Is there a group of intellectuals who are using this occasion to pitch Hindus as a new enemy for the West? Hindus are simple to demonise. They are from a faraway place about which everyone has heard but which no one quite comprehends. Their language and practises are unusual and alien to Westerners. And because they are economically successful in the West, it is easier to despise them. The terrain is fertile for invoking old biases against persons regarded as pagans, idolaters, or natural forces. This ostensibly intellectual gathering seems to be tapping into that.
The proponents of this conference, as well as many others with a left-liberal worldview, defend themselves by emphasising that their aim is Hindutva’s political philosophy, not Hindus as a people. This is a flimsy and intellectually dishonest defence. First and foremost, is there any reason why Hindus should be denied the right to proclaim their group identity? Are there objections to political Islam or political Christianity, for example? Not in the least.
Several special interest organisations in most Western democracies encourage Christian political expression. In fact, Christian political expression is frequently institutionalised, with Vatican City being recognised as a sovereign state with diplomatic representation in nearly every country on the planet, as well as the United Nations. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is Germany’s most powerful political party, led by Angela Merkel, who has been Chancellor for 16 years. Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled in 2010 that allowing the majority religion of a country “preponderant visibility” does not breach the separation of church and state. This was in reference to an Italian law that mandated the exhibition of the crucifix in all public school classrooms.
The international perspective on political Islam is very clearer. The Organization of Islamic Conference has 57 member states and is represented diplomatically at both the European Union and the United Nations. In fact, just 49 of the organization’s 57 member states have a majority Muslim population. Even more intriguing, India attempted to join this organisation in 1969 under Indira Gandhi, but was denied membership due to Pakistan’s objections.
So, why do we have this strange liberal desire to single out Hindutva and deconstruct it? We have a diverse range of political movements in India based on language, regional, and caste affiliations. While these interests do not always coincide, they can all coexist in a strong, democratic India. So why isn’t Hindutva a viable option? How did it become socially acceptable, even liberal, to chant anti-Hindutva slogans? In December of same year, the latter occurred at Aligarh Muslim University.
When reading the announcement for the meeting, one comes across the usual charge that Hindutva rejects caste politics and denies social justice. To begin with, just because someone or a group can have numerous identities does not mean they must be at odds with one another. Otherwise, every other political movement on the planet would be opposed to the women’s movement.
Moreover, caste politics in India is changing rapidly, with the backward caste and OBC-based parties themselves moving towards a ‘sarvjan’ identity across all Hindu groups. The effort to show Hindutva at war with caste-based social justice is now more of an elitist crusade. It is mostly run by activists today. Ironically, these activists are most often from an upper caste background themselves, and believe they have a right to tell the ‘bahujan’ what to do. Could anything be more condescending?
As a result, this reflexive rejection of Hindutva can only be interpreted as an attempt to deny Hindus their rightful place in the world. All of this animosity toward the inhabitants of a country that has been continuously invaded and ripped apart at the hands of invaders and colonisers. As photographs from Kabul and Bamiyan’s damaged Buddhas demonstrate, the Indian subcontinent will not be a safe haven for Hindus anytime soon. Worse, everyone now refers to it as South Asia. Another step towards oblivion for India.
When it comes to the history of Hindutva, the left has perpetrated a particularly devastating smear. They use MS Golwalkar’s previous works to imply that Hindutva and Nazism have anything in common. However, this would only be fair if the Nazi designation was applied equally to all other institutions, particularly those in a position to assist the Nazis. Does the Nazi name, for example, apply to Hitler’s military partners, the Communists? Invading Poland with the Nazis in 1939, the latter kicked off the Second World War. Do we have the right to question members of the CPI(M) now about why their ideological predecessors supported Hitler?
Similarly, given the Catholic Church’s strong association with Mussolini, what do we make of its role? In truth, Mussolini gave the Vatican City to the Pope as part of the Lateran Treaty of 1929. What about the fact that a Nazi intelligence officer served two terms as UN Secretary General, was elected President of Austria, and was knighted by the Pope upon his retirement? It was 1994 when this happened. So, all Nazis are Communists, the Church, the European Union, and the United Nations?
When it comes to Hindus, however, academics have a spiteful tendency that causes them to twist facts in ludicrous ways. Even the Mahabharata is not exempt. Because it was invoked on a battleground before the Kurukshetra war, the Bhagavad Gita, according to Audrey Truschke, “rationalises mass slaughter.” Can you envision any other religion’s texts being understood in this way? Because conflict occupies so much mental real estate, any civilisation or people at any moment in history could be tarnished in this way. What about General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s speech to Allied forces before their D-Day landings in Nazi-occupied Europe? Is that also deemed justification for mass slaughter?
Is there any Hindu that they wouldn’t slander, at least not directly? Yes, it appears. Truschke acknowledges Gandhi’s interpretation of the Gita as supporting nonviolent resistance. However, she quickly adds in the next phrase that the Bhagavad Gita rationalises mass killing in the Mahabharata plot. So there you have it! According to them, Mahatma Gandhi was the only decent Hindu ever, and that was only because he failed to understand the Bhagavad Gita in context.
It is past time for Hindus all across the world to recognise that an attempt is being made to demolish our civilisation’s identity. And that we stand to lose much too much.