Scholars and academics from around the world have strongly condemned the “campaign of harassment and intimidation” against an online conference that intends to examine the “beliefs and actions that constitute Hindutva, an ideology that propagates hate and promotes Islamophobia”.
According to a letter signed by more than 700 academics in support of the three-day conference, titled ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’, political extremists are trying to smear the conference as “Hinduphobic” or “anti-Hindu”.
The conference, which will be held from September 10-12, has been criticised by several groups and individuals, including US-based advocacy group Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA), author and mathematician Abhishek Banerjee and Ohio senator Niraj Antani.
Several Indian academics, journalists and activists will participate in the conference, whose organisers wish to stay anonymous. Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation leader Kavita Krishnan, filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, poet Meena Kandasamy, Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Ayesha Kidwai and Delhi University professor and sociologist Nandini Sundar are some of the prominent Indian participants.
According to the official website of the conference, a range of topics from ‘What is global Hindutva?’ and ‘Gender and sexual politics of Hindutva’ to ‘Caste and Hindutva’ and ‘White supremacy’ will be discussed.
Sponsored by around 70 departments of more than 49 universities—including Harvard, Stanford, Cornell and Princeton—the conference, which aims to explore “the consolidation of Hindu supremacist ideology in India and elsewhere”, has been targeted by a “campaign of intimidation carried out by Hindutva affiliates”, the letter says.
The academics say such a campaign “cannot be allowed to take root in the academy in the US, Europe or around the world” and “the attacks on academics, students, professors and all conference participants must stop”.
The signatories believed that that the conference “is guided by an ethical commitment to protecting the rights of minorities, dissidents, and ordinary people whose very existence is under attack by Hindutva’s proponents”. Firmly rejecting the “misleading attempts to conflate Hindutva and Hinduism”, the letter says “Hindutva is NOT a religion nor is it a synonym for Hindu cultural identity or “Hindu-ness”.
Terming Hindutva as an “authoritarian political ideology that historically drew inspiration from Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy”, the letter says it wants to transform a secular India into a nation that will treat Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities as second-class citizens.
“In the name of Hindutva ideology, the current government of India has instituted discriminatory policies, including beef ban, restrictions on religious conversion and interfaith weddings” and introduced “religious discrimination into India’s citizenship laws”, the signatories say. “The result has been a horrifying rise in religious and caste-based violence, including hate crimes, lynching and rapes directed against Muslims, non-conforming Dalits, Sikhs, Christians, Adivasis and other dissident Hindus.”
The letter also criticises the Narendra Modi government for using “every tool of harassment and intimidation to muzzle dissent”. “Dozens of student activists and human rights defenders are currently languishing in jail indefinitely without due process under repressive anti-terrorism laws.”
(CoHNA) has requested the universities sponsoring the conference to dissociate themselves from it. In a letter addressed to the universities, the group wrote: “This conference falsely paints Hindus as purveyors of extremism, actively denies the genocide of Hindu people, and most troublingly, labels those who disagree as ‘Hindutva’, which the conference organisers define as Hindu extremism.”
Former Infosys director TV Mohandas Pai shared CoHNA’s letter on his Twitter account and tagged academic Makarand Paranjape, who wrote an opinion piece titled ‘Hatred of Hindutva may lead to Hindumisia’. Banerjee wrote a piece slamming the conference titled, ‘How the ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’ Conference in the US Dehumanises Hindus Everywhere’.
Antani, the youngest Hindu elected official in the history of the United States and the first Indian-American Senator of Ohio, said that “the conference represents a disgusting attack on Hindus across the United States, and we must all condemn this as nothing more than racism and bigotry against Hindus. I will always stand strong against Hinduphobia”.
Tagging the conference and Antani, the Hindu American Foundation tweeted: “If there is a silver lining to the cruelty of @dghconference, it is in its uniting of #HinduAmericans in opposition to it. Our gratitude and respect to Sen. @NirajAntani for his leadership and support in this crucial time.”