The recently concluded conference on “Dismantling Global Hindutva” (from Sept 10th to Sep 12th, 2021) has garnered attention for all the wrong reasons. The event, organized by an “ad-hoc organizing committeee” 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 seem 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 public record of consistently speaking against Hindus and Hinduism. This has 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 Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Modi.
It must be acknowledged however, that the organizers have every right to either speak against Mr. Modi, the BJP party or the “ills in Hinduism” as they enjoy the 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).
But if the conference was truly a gathering of intellectuals and academicians as it claims, 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 must be made available publicly so it could be critiqued. This has obviously not happened. So the claim of an academic conference is not tenable.
Contrary 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 their website showed only 1400 views at the time of writing the 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 are supposedly sponsoring the event. Many universities have confirmed to Hindu organizations that they are not official sponsors of the event, albeit their faculties may be participating 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 interest 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, the Hindu organizations (like Coalition of Hindus of North America (COHNA), Hindu American Foundation (HAF)) have led the battle from the front. They have presented their point of view to their constituents in North America via WhatsApp groups and several media / video presentations etc.
These groups have 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 has been swift. Many of the Universities have unequivocally stated that they are not sponsoring any event that preach hatred against Hindus. Consequently, their official logos are no longer seen 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, requests to potential Indian American donors to stop donating large checks to universities that sponsor overtly anti-Hindu events. However, there is much work ahead of them and may require stepped up support from the community.
Most importantly, 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.
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 on their feet and defend their religion and religious practices. This undoubtedly is a long, lonely battle. Luckily, in the US, they can expect generous financial support to the front-line organizations that can be a game changer in favor of the indus. 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 cake walk in the US, they were rudely shocked at the response. Next time around their spit-and-scoot-and-hide-behind-freedom-of-speech model will be widely challenged.