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An Open Letter to the American Public on Institutionalizing Prejudice: Hinduphobia

Author:
Publication: Understandinghinduphobia.org
Date: September 2021
URL:       https://understandinghinduphobia.org/open-letter-campaign-to-institutionalize-hinduphobia/

The Campaign to Insitutionalize Hinduphobia

We are writing this open letter as a coalition of Hindu American organizations invested in safeguarding the rights of our community and as responsible members of American society. Our community is predominantly immigrant; ethnically and religiously, we are a micro-minority.  We are socio-economically and ethnically diverse.  Most of us have ancestral roots in recently decolonized countries; many members of the oldest generation of Hindu Americans alive today were born into colonization. Some of us live in the United States as religious refugees who were violently driven from our ancestral lands because of our faith. 

Over the past few years, we have observed and documented, with increasing concern, the concerted efforts of a group of actors to institutionalize Hinduphobia in the United States. We do not say this for dramatic effect or without evidence. Their gatekeeping project includes a stated initiative to create and institutionally disseminate curriculum that reflects a singular, fundamentalist view about Hindus and Hinduism and to “inform” the U.S. Congress and the public at large about our community.

We understand Hinduphobia to be:

A set of antagonistic, destructive, and derogatory attitudes and behaviors towards Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) and Hindus that may manifest as prejudice, fear, or hatred.

Hinduphobic rhetoric reduces the entirety of Sanatana Dharma to a rigid, oppressive, and regressive tradition.  Prosocial and reflexive aspects of Hindu traditions are ignored or attributed to outside, non-Hindu influences. This discourse actively erases and denies the persecution of Hindus while disproportionately painting Hindus as violent.  These stereotypes are used to justify the dissolution, external reformation, and demonization of the range of indigenous Indic knowledge traditions known as Sanatana Dharma.

The complete range of Hinduphobic acts extends from microaggressions to genocide. Hinduphobic projects include the destruction and desecration of Hindu sacred spaces; aggressive and forced proselytization of Hindu populations; targeted violence towards Hindu people, community institutions, and organizations; and, ethnic cleansing and genocide.

As such, we draw your attention to a particular pattern of documented rhetoric, attitudes, and actions that ought to cause alarm to any upstanding American concerned with the protection of our fundamental rights, including and especially those outlined in the First Amendment.  This group of actors creates panic and fear within and from the scholarly, media, and activist communities, to which they belong, about the motivations of Hindu Americans. Simultaneously, they prod the Hindu American community– and the global Hindu community– with blatantly Hinduphobic provocations and cherry pick reactions and/or misrepresent community responses as “evidence” that the fear they are stoking is well-founded. This combination of panic and provocation is used to a) feed a mob mentality that targets any Hindu who doesn’t fall in line and b) establish a logic for institutionalizing Hinduphobia. The logic is enhanced by weaving together misrepresentations and outright lies while directly undermining the fundamental American rights of the Hindu American community.

One example of this phenomenon centers around a conference entitled “Dismantling Global Hindutva.” Below are three pernicious claims these agents have made through the conference (provocation) and about the Hindu American response to the conference (creating panic) that fall squarely into the pattern described above.

Claim 1: Hindu genocide is a mythical invention of the Hindu Right.

The conference organizers reference the Hindutva Harassment Manual as a resource, “to defend those attacked [by the Hindu Right] and how to educate others.”

Members of the Hindu Right often accuse scholars who refuse to advance politically-motivated fictions about the South Asian past—specifically, invented atrocities committed on Hindu subjects or civilians by Muslim rulers or armies—of atrocity denial. This is a powerful accusation due to real problems with genocide denial regarding the Holocaust (also see anti-Semitism). But, in the case of the Hindu Right, the accusation is false on two scores. Scholars have written a great deal about the violence of premodern [sic] South Asia. Also, the Hindu Right relies upon a politics of grievance, in which they invent mythological atrocities in the past, divided along religious lines that only became operative in modern times, in order to justify their all-too-real atrocities in the present-day. Such violence is increasingly deadly for non-Hindu religious minorities.
~ Hindutva Harassment Manual

This paragraph alone is disturbing. There are sufficient examples of contemporary ethno-religious cleansing and genocide to render this argument ahistorical and deviously inhumane. 2021 marks the anniversary of four massive targeted attacks on Hindus:

  • The 30th anniversary of the seventh ethno-religious cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus from their ancestral lands.

 

  • The 30th anniversary of the ethno-religious cleansing of Bhutanese Hindus.
  • The 50th anniversary of the Bengali Hindu Genocide, which was also recognized by the U.S. Congress this year.

 

“Nothing is more clear or more easily documented, than the systematic campaign of terror and its genocidal consequences launched by the Pakistan army on the night of March 25th… Hardest hit have been members of the Hindu community who have been robbed of their lands and shops, systematically slaughtered, and, in some places, painted with yellow patches marked 'H'."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, November 1971

  • The 100th anniversary of the Moplah Genocide

 
The conference organizers deny these historically documented genocides and connect any attempts to raise awareness or heal the victims of these tragedies as connected to anti-Muslim bigotry.  This is a malicious and disgustingly hollow tactic used to displace Hindu trauma as Islamophobic.

Claim 2: The Global Hindutva machine is trying to shut down the DGH conference and squash academic freedom.

Below are links to the template letters from the two largest Hindu American community organizations (Hindu American Foundation and Coalition of Hindus from North America) as well as a template letter from Hindu on Campus, a Hindu American student initiative.

None of these letters ask for the DGH conference to be cancelled.  Instead, these letters seek clarity from Universities whose logos were prominently displayed on the DGH website under “Sponsoring Institutions” and call on administrators to ensure that Hindu students and faculty are not intimidated as a result of this speech.  On the first count, the use of these logos was dishonest, as DGH has itself tacitly admitted by removing them.  Administrators of many institutions have themselves clarified that the use of these logos was unauthorized and intended to create the false impression that the Universities at large supported the conference.  They did not.

Once again, this campaign contorts its own unethical behavior into an attack on the Hindu community.

Claim 3: The DGH organizers and speakers and their supporters are the victims of a powerful and nefarious global Hindutva machine. ​

This is an absurd claim and is handily debunked. On their own website, the conference boasts:

  • The sponsorship of over sixty elite, accredited institutions, including ones funded by the Department of Education.
  • The support of over 900 academics from elite institutions around the world.
  • The support of genocide and mass violence scholars in denying the genocide of Hindus.

 
It is irrational to argue that the conference organizers, presenters, and supporters are speaking from and for a position of vulnerability when they are quite literally the gatekeepers of some of the most elite, moneyed, powerful academic institutions in the world. Moreover, 35% of the total signatures come from 25 U.S. Institutions that support the conference and its claims. 

  • How is their academic freedom threatened in any way when they have the support of so many of their colleagues?

 

  • While they are also actively and successfully delegitimizing and demonizing the voices and suppressing the agency of Hindus and censoring fellow academics and students who disagree with them
  • While they are effectively erasing documented Hindu genocide and persecution with the support of the aforementioned genocide scholars?

 
In fact, Hindu American students and scholars are becoming the silenced subjects of their witch hunt.

Hindu Americans received nearly identical boilerplate responses to their letters from the supporting institutions, which consistently dismissed our concerns, our diverse narratives, our history, and our definitions of our own traditions as articulated in the letters shared above.  This includes explicit concerns from Hindu American students for their own academic freedom and safety on campus. This begs the question, how can these actors claim to be the vulnerables ones when they are

  • Positioned within these institutions?
  • Successfully promoting and normalizing such overt categorical discrimination
  • Benefiting professionally from this endeavor and with so much institutional support?

 
Even as they continuously point their xenophobic fingers at the spectre of an imagined global Hindutva “virus,” they are avowed members and beneficiaries of the universally-recognized system of power that is the Western Academy. And the Western Academy has buttressed this reality on the conference website.

Any critical social analysis would surface critiques and concerns about a group that holds this much institutional power and is buoyed by popular consensus and the conventional wisdom of the press, particularly when they are speaking categorically about a historically persecuted community and even when they claim to be speaking from a place of morality.

Anytime any movement (if this campaign can be considered one) that claims to be anti-oppressive has this much institutional consensus, it is critical to examine why this is the case.

A responsible, ethical movement would do this themselves, but it is clear that this is not the case here. The goal of this campaign is to create institutional consensus in order to justify silencing dissent. When a critical mass from the Western Academy uses the shield of academic freedom to carry a partisan endeavor by gathering consensus around misleading conflations, lies, and misrepresentations about a minoritized American (mostly) immigrant community without any room for dissent — this is a direct threat to democracy.

We have seen this occur time and again, to different minoritized groups at different times, throughout American history.   Repeatedly, immigrant communities are deemed less trustworthy and beholden to a “nefarious foreign power” that undercuts their status as equal stewards of American democracy.  This is precisely the animus that lay at the heart of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  It undergirds the 3D test for anti-Semitism developed by Jewish scholarship.  It has always been in the background of American politics.  This is the real threat.

And, yet, we can take lessons from that same history to guide us forward.  Xenophobia is legitimized when voices are excluded, pathologized, and diagnosed.   These educators have taken it upon themselves to teach the public how to view us– through their inflamed rhetoric.  They have arrogated to themselves the exclusive authority to tell us how we ought to view ourselves and our tradition.  Hindu Americans are being excluded from the conversation about our own community.   The antidote to the feverishness that drives the systemic isolation of a group is to incorporate multiple perspectives into public discourse, particularly ones that push against the “conventional wisdom” extended by the most powerful institutions.  Such pluralism allows for learning and respect, fosters rationality and growth, and helps us navigate the complexities and uniqueness of American democracy.

Lōkāḥ Samastāḥ Sukhinōbhavantu

 
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