When the whole world is alarmed at the swift takeover of Afghanistan by the regressive, Islamist, self-proclaimed jihadi Taliban, a three-day conference on “Dismantling Global Hindutva” has been announced from 10-12 September 2021. As circulated on social media, the poster of the conference attempts a false equivalence upon unsuspecting readers in the opening lines, “Militant Hindu groups exist and are growing exponentially” and “Rampant violence against minorities”. But what is of much greater cause of concern is the claim that this politically prejudiced crusade disguised as an academic event is supposedly cosponsored by some 60 Departments and Centres from over 45 top universities in North America including Berkeley, Emory, Toronto, Goettingen, and my own alma mater, the University of Illinois.
As a life-long academic myself, with a track-record of over 40 years of university teaching all over the world, I register my concern and dissent. First of all, I would like to ask, who are the organisers of the event? Why haven’t they been named? Yes, some of the featured speakers, who include the usual suspects from Audrey Truschke to Kavita Krishnan, have been listed. But what about the organisers? Why are their identities, affiliations and positions hidden?
Furthermore, which Departments or Centres have sponsored this event? How and why? Are there faculty resolutions or departmental minutes of meetings to support and document such sponsorship? What is the nature of the support offered? Is money involved or just an endorsement by lending the name of the centre, department or university? Many of these are publicly funded institutions or schools. So taxpayers have a right to know.
US and Canadian universities are respected for allowing freedom of expression and debate. True. But, by the same token, should such an overly political event be given legitimacy on Western campuses? Especially, when it is disguised as an academic conference? More seriously, from the looks of it, the meeting is actually propaganda against the RSS and BJP. Why should university forums be allowed to be hijacked for such purposes?
More deeply saddening and dangerous than these obvious objections are the lurking if not obvious Hinduphobic and Hindumisic attitudes and ideologies behind the event. While targeting the un- or ill-defined termed Hindutva, the real peril is Hindu-hatred masquerading as intellectual activism. Hindu-hatred, let us not forget, may lead to Hinducide. The poster shows a hammer uprooting a nail that resembles an RSS worker. Isn’t this an open and undisguised call to hatred and violence?
In the past, during several centuries of Islamic conquest and rule in the subcontinent, the enslavement and genocide of Hindus was widely recorded and vaunted by Islamic historians themselves. Even if these accounts are somewhat exaggerated in their triumphalism, they prove the existence, endorsement and naturalisation of what we might term Kaffir-conversion and Kaffir-killing on a vast scale. The Kaffirs in this instance were Hindus.
Isn’t it amazing that instead of training their ideological guns against such activities in our present times such as the abduction, forcible conversion, and marriage of Hindu girls in Pakistan to older, sometimes already married men; the ethnic cleansing and widespread destruction of Hindu shrines in Islamist Kashmir right within India; the continuing violence and prejudice against Hindus in Bangladesh; or even more flagrant, the Taliban’s avowedly fanatical, violent, women-and-Kaffir-hating track-record in Afghanistan, this motley group of India-bashers has resorted to such an underhand way of “dismantling” what they term “Global Hindutva”?
Would many of them, being self-professed liberals, leftists and atheists, dare to organise a similar event on, say, “Dismantling Global Jihadism” or “Induced or Coerced Conversions by Christian Missions and Organisations”? More importantly, would any of the 60+ departments and centres in the 45+ universities cosponsor such an event? Instead, the aim is to dismantle what is not yet properly established or documented as militant.
Why, we should ask, is such a conference being organised ostensibly in North America rather than India? The question is salient since the event is online and virtual rather than live and in real time. The answer will reveal the networks of Hindumisia and Hinduphobia across global academia.
Having lost the battle against Hindutva in India, these forces are trying to hold on to their Western fortresses and bastions. Many Indian academics, riding on such ideologies, are now deeply ensconced in Western universities. They have ruled the roost, called the shots, distributed jobs, fellowships and largesse to followers and associates.
Anyone who has been a target of their tactics knows that they are a bunch of tyrants and bullies rather than truly liberal scholars who believe in dissent, debate and dialogue. They and their gatekeepers ensure that their opponents are kept out of the portals of the institutions they control through elaborate blacklists and purges.
Their networks are so powerful that they have infiltrated prestigious prizes and awards both in India and abroad. Just to offer one example, it is hardly surprising that two of the listed speakers are Infosys Prize winners. Some years ago I pointed out the preponderance of “LeLis” in the Humanities and Social Science winners of this prize. Should one of India’s top companies lend its name to such politically motivated activism or should the prizes recognise true academic achievements? Perhaps, when it comes to some disciplines, we have erased the distinction between the two.
What is to be done? My answer is simple: Let those targeted, which includes the BJP, RSS and its affiliates, hit back. They have the means and the reach to do so. Until now, it is a US-based activist group such as Hindu America Foundation (HAF)—led by its executive director, the calmly determined Suhag Shukla—which has led the charge. HAF efforts have caused several universities to disassociate with the event. Evidently, their names and logos were used without proper authorisation. Doesn’t this amount to fraud and cheating?
Current and former students, teachers and donors of these universities should write to their respective presidents to cancel the conference or dissociate themselves from it. The organisers should be exposed. Many Indian private-initiative periodicals have already exposed the dubious motives and bona-fides of the event. Even a few mainstream media networks in the country have done their bit.
But none of this is actually enough. What is needed is for Hindus to own up Hindutva as our Supreme Court already did. All variations of being genuinely Hindu should be acknowledged by Hindus. Only then will Hindu-haters think twice before attacking us. Till we are weak and full of self-loathing, this will never happen.
A strong Hindu does not hate or fear others. But he or she is capable of standing up for what is right and resisting what is wrong. Those of us who have not hesitated to criticise Hindutva when we found it becoming too Abrahamic should also not hesitate to defend it from its detractors who are so grossly mistaken or offensive.
If we do not do so, we will be complicit in our sliding down the slippery slope in which Hinduphobia progressing to Hindumisia might, even in this day and age, lead to Hinducide.
Makarand R Paranjape
Professor of English at JNU
(Views are personal)