(RNS) – This weekend, the Dismantling of Global Hindutva: Conference on Multidisciplinary Perspectives, sponsored by more than 70 departments and study centers at 53 universities, meets online to discuss Hindutva ideology, or Hindu nationalism. Hindutva is a growing threat to religious minority communities, oppressed caste groups as well as to academic freedom and democratic values.
The conference was met with violent threats, contentious tactics and other attempts at intimidation by right-wing Hindu nationalist organizations. A meeting organizer recently received an email saying, “If this event takes place, I will become Osama bin Laden and kill all the speakers, don’t blame me.
We write as scholars of Hindu Studies, founders of the Feminist Critical Hindu Studies Collective, and as people of Hindu descent to speak out in support of the goals of the conference.
Hindutva is a political movement that claims that only Hindus can be legitimate citizens of India, excluding the burgeoning Muslim, Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasis communities. In South Asia, resistance to Hindutva has been led by Muslim, Dalit and feminist activists. The DGH Conference builds on the momentum of such activism.
In recent weeks, Hindutva-aligned organizations and individuals have opposed the conference, calling it a form of “Hindu-phobia”. In a letter On August 19, the Hindu American Foundation asked the presidents of sponsoring universities, including Harvard, Stanford, University of Chicago, Rutgers University and the University of Virginia, to withdraw their support.
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The letter was articulated around an allegation of victimization, stressing the need to “ensure the safety and well-being of Hindu students, faculty and staff on your campus who may feel targeted, threatened or face threat. hostility or harassment as a result of this party, anti-Hindu event.
The point is, there is little evidence that Hindus on college campuses face widespread religious persecution, and their use of “Hinduphobia” is little more than a smokescreen. The term co-opts the language we use as social justice activists to challenge racism, white supremacy, castism and Islamophobia, even as Hindu nationalists claim troll victim status and threaten southern studies. -Asians and Hindu studies researchers. The term and the violent rhetoric employed by Hindutva supporters are based on misinformation and fear, which are classic tools of fascism everywhere.
Yes, Hindus are victims of racism. But challenging a casteist and Islamophobic way of being Hindu is not the same as Hinduphobia. Calling caste discrimination a form of Hinduphobia and a violation of religious freedom is simply an attempt to erase caste history from the history of Hinduism and South Asia. It would be like erasing the history of race and racism from the history of the United States. We must be able to take a critical look at our own communities if we are to create change.
The Dismantling Global Hindutva lecture is about real bodies, not just abstract theoretical ideas about academic freedom or free speech. It seeks to expose and criticize the ways in which Hindutva has sanctioned violence against Dalits, women, Muslims, Christians and anyone who denounces the spurious ways in which they seek power and control.
To be clear, we were not involved in the planning of this conference. We got involved as organizers because we have privileges as US and Canadian citizens and as people who enjoy caste privilege. We are committed to contesting Hindu complicity in the oppression of others and also to contesting racism in its many forms. Can critics of the DGH Conference claim the same?
(Shreena Gandhi is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Michigan State University. Sailaja Krishnamurti is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Harshita Mruthinti Kamath is Associate Professor of Culture, Literature and Telugu history at Emory University. Tanisha Ramachandran is Associate Professor of Religion and Director of Religion and Public Engagement at Wake Forest University. Shana Sippy is Assistant Professor of Religion at Center College and Co-Director of the Religious Diversity Initiative in Minnesota at Carleton College. Dheepa Sundaram is Assistant Professor of Hindu Studies at the University of Denver. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)