Dismantling Global Hindutva: Anti-Hindu meet masquerading as academic conference
by Naagesh Padmanaban on 23 Sep 2021 24 Comments

The recently concluded conference on “Dismantling Global Hindutva” (Sept 10 to 12, 2021) has garnered attention for all the wrong reasons. The event, organized by an “ad-hoc organizing committee” consisting of 19 individuals connected or affiliated to universities and one organization, went largely unnoticed in the US.


Its stated purpose was to provide a “multi-disciplinary perspective” on dismantling global Hindutva. However, they seemed to be attacking everything core to Hinduism – from Hindu greeting (“Jai Shree Ram”) to Brahminism. For them Hindutva is the alter ego of Brahminism in “its most militant and fascist form”.


Whichever way you slice it, the messaging behind the conference was wonky and confusing to even a neutral observer. While on one hand the organizers claimed it was not anti-Hindu, it lined up speakers with a public record of consistently speaking against Hindus and Hinduism. This naturally irked Hindu organizations in North America.


Secondly, although the organizers claimed it to be an academic conference, it appeared to be a political convention to target India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


It must be acknowledged that the organizers have every right to speak against Mr. Modi, the BJP, or the “ills in Hinduism”, as they enjoy freedom of speech under the first amendment. However, the Hindus perceive this conference has been organized to hurt their religious beliefs. While this may be a recipe for conflict, it is for legal minds to determine how far the former may be violating the religious freedom of the latter (something outside the scope of this piece).


If the conference was truly a gathering of intellectuals and academicians as it claimed, some leading voices from the other side who hold a contrary point of view should have been invited. Further, videos and transcripts of presentations made by various speakers should have been made available publicly so that the conference can be analysed and critiqued. This has obviously not happened. So the claim of an academic conference is not tenable.


In contrast to the media coverage in India, the conference itself went unnoticed outside the Hindu communities in the US and Canada. Mainstream media in the US did not care to cover the conference at all. Even the official video listed on the conference website showed only 1400 views at the time of writing this piece. In other words, the conference was not exactly viral, as claimed by many left-leaning Indian newspapers and websites.


The organizers had claimed that many leading universities were sponsors of the event. However, a review of the conference website does not show any of the official logos of the universities that were supposedly sponsoring the event. Many universities even confirmed to Hindu organizations that they are not official sponsors of the event, though their faculties may be participating in it in their personal capacities.


Nevertheless, the conference had several unintended consequences that open up a whole new vista of how impacted communities will view and respond to such conferences. Organizations that represent Hindu interests in the US and Canada have taken cognizance of these repeat offenders who organize hate campaigns to belittle Hindus and Hindu practices under the garb of “academic events”.


Unlike the past, when these types of events were tolerated or ignored, this time around, Hindu organizations, such as the Coalition of Hindus of North America (COHNA) and Hindu American Foundation (HAF), led the battle from the front. They presented their point of view to their constituents in North America via WhatsApp groups and several media / video presentations etc.


These groups succeeded in getting over 150 Hindu community organizations, temples, and other groups to sign a letter expressing their anger at the universities that supported the “Dismantling of Global Hindutva” conference. The response was swift. Many of the Universities unequivocally stated that they were not sponsoring any event that preached hatred against Hindus. Consequently, their official logos could not be posted on the conference website.


As awareness spreads amongst Hindus in the US and Canada, Hindu organizations are expected to firm up their responses, including legal action, and requests to potential Indian American donors to stop donating large cheques to universities that sponsor overtly anti-Hindu events. However, there is much work ahead of them and may require enhanced support from the community.


More pertinently, there are important lessons to be learnt here. This conference may have flopped – as seen by the lack of response and denial/ withdrawal of official sponsorship by major US universities – but there are most certainly more such events to come in the future.


The key is to understand the deeper undercurrents and networks that sustain Hinduphobia across the globe. Liberal dispensations in the US and other Western countries have always turned a deaf ear and provided tacit support to these forces in the name of freedom of speech.


Hindus cannot expect other religious or non-religious groups to support them. It is for them to stand up for themselves and defend their religion and religious practices. This undoubtedly is a long and lonely battle. Luckily, in the US, they can expect generous financial support to frontline organizations that can be a game changer in favour of the Hindus. The necessary infrastructure and resources can be quickly made available to the frontliners who show leadership and a zeal to stand up for Hindus.


If the conference masterminds thought it would be a cakewalk in the US, they were rudely shaken by the response (or lack of response/ support). Next time around their spit-and-scoot-and-hide-behind-freedom-of-speech model will be more widely and vigorously challenged. 

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